Bikes in the Ballroom

About 30 years ago I was part of a group of “ner’do wells” who were on our annual pilgrimage to the Le Mans 24hr race. It was raining and a decision was reached to have a night in a hotel before the extreme camping of the race weekend.

The small town of Bernay in Normandy was chosen. We found a hotel in the main street called the Lion D’or. Not only were our damp, scruffy bunch welcomed in but we were told not to park our bikes in the courtyard but to put them in the ballroom! I kid you not.

We were then given a large dining room to ourselves for a sumptuous feast. The staff just laughed and got out of the way when the meal descended into a food fight. I’m not proud of everything in my past.
This was a fairly typical experience when travelling on bikes in France.


Fast forward to the present day.


A group of middle aged blokes, plus Young Tel, are trail riding from Calais to Caen. The mad late spring weather is doing the wet, cold thing. We are pretty soaked and suitably muddy. The destination is the Camping Municipal in Bernay, (that town again,) where the other half of our posse, the “set off early” gang are already tented up.
“Sod that”, say the late, dripping, shivering, muddy group. “Let’s find a hotel”.

I’m sure you are ahead of me here. We coincidentally stop outside the very same Lion D’or and get a similar reception to all those years ago. Sadly there's no ballroom any more and we ate in a restaurant nearby but the welcome was just as warm and we were just as wet.

The following morning the weather was still pretty rubbish. The local Bricolage had closed down so getting some waterproof trousers was proving difficult. We asked at reception and were told the nearest shop was 20 miles away. That was too much for me, I was not going anywhere in the cold rain without more weather protection. Then out of reception came our patron, Monsieur Stephan with a MotoMod one piece waterproof suite straight from the 80’s. “You can use this” he said “and post it to me when you get back home”.

Motomod man - how happy he looks! Shoes might be a good idea.
Now I’m not saying that this would never happen to a group of foreign riders over here but........

France seemed close enough for a minor adventure.

Anyway allow me to explain our presence in this biking friendly environment. We are all marshals for the Dawn to Dusk 24 hour Enduro and as such we all enjoy a bit of an off-road challenge. Having decided that a change from Wales and “up t'north” was due, France seemed close enough for a minor adventure. There are many, many trails that criss cross the whole of northern France so a date to suit the majority was chosen and a rendezvous point in Bethune, south east of Calais picked.

We didn’t want to ride in too large a group as this can be a little antisocial, so we split into two small groups. There was no big discussion but we divided geographically, northerners and southerners. I can only say it seemed the natural thing to do.

From the start two things became very apparent. One was that navigation would be a challenge and two, people were going to slip over…….a lot. The ground was extremely slippery due to the significantly inclement spring and early summer. Most of us had been on the snowy, frozen North York Moors in February where we fell off less. Many of the trails we rode in France were far less predictable and far more slippery. There may have been one or two that didn’t succumb to the experience of the front wheel instantly sliding out of control but we will no longer invite them to ride and fall over with the rest of us.

Perfect for cross rutting

A lot of the trails are across agricultural land which have wheel ruts from tractors and such, perfect for cross rutting where the front and rear wheels find themselves in different tracks and more often than not the riders feet will be desperately stabbing the ground in an attempt to remain upright. These areas are often large open spaces with nothing but crops in sight.  Other trails go through lovely ancient woodland, up and down the attractive valleys that are numerous throughout the region. Small roads connect the trails going through tiny villages and market towns. Us softy southerners would stop in town for a coffee or a plat du jour whilst the more hardy northeners, some might say uncultured, would only have a sandwich on the go.


A trip down Memoire Ruelle

Another trip down “memoire ruelle” was finding ourselves in Duclair. A small town on the bank of the Seine, west of Rouen. There is a ferry that takes you across then you can travel along a road that follows the river valley eastwards past orchards where apples are waiting to become Calvados. Then some houses that would not have been out of place featured on the cover of Country Life. The road goes on through La Bouille where we turned right and up the steep, twisty, climb giving panoramic views across the Seine Maritime.

We came across a good number of des-resi’s that were definitely do-er-uppers, including an amazing small chateaux that seemed to have been abandoned. Perhaps the houses were victims of the complicated French inheritance laws. Whatever the reason we all started daydreaming about talking to our mortgage lenders.

At intervals along the trails we came upon war cemeteries and other memorials to those killed in both world wars. When we got to a Caen we rode across the Pegasus Bridge and next to it a cafe dedicated to the paratroopers who liberated the bridge. It is called Café Gondrée, and is run by Arlette Gondrée who was a young child when the war was on and has lived there ever since. The cafe tells an incredible story and is well worth calling in for a coffee and croissant.

Fun can be had...

Our group came on a diverse selection of trailies from KTM 950 Adventures at one end of the spectrum, to a Honda CRF 230 at the other end. Each has their inherent limitations but fun can be had and distance covered. It proves that whatever you are happy riding will do the job.

Lessons can be learned...

Inevitably on such journeys there are non-trail riding related incidents and our trip was no exception. So here is a short list, just so that lessons can be learned:

1. Beware of putting throw-over panniers on a trail bike. It is possible for the pannier to push a plastic side panel onto the silencer. This can result in smoke, swiftly followed by flames and ultimately burned T shirts and underpants.

2. Modern riding gear tends to come with a plethora of pockets. It can be difficult to keep on top of the zipping up procedure. This can mean wallets disappear shortly after a filling station, never to be seen again.

3. When riding a small capacity four stroke (Husqvarna for example) at constant speeds of, lets say 50ish mph. Check the oil each day. Or you may need a relay home. Nuff said.

4. When riding a smaller capacity bike, like say a CR230, with 200 plus road miles to go, there is an alternative to a gel seat. A €2 blow up cushion and a bit of duct tape.

5. If when approaching Calais you find that you need to stop for a wee, keep your eye out for groups of desperate refugees who may take a shine to your bike. You will soon understand how quickly one can stop weeing !!!

As our time progressed the weather improved. A good number of the trails remained stubbornly greasy and treacherous but at least we stayed mainly dry. The terrain is not the most dramatic but between the conditions and the environment we had some great rides. And of course the food, drink and company were exemplary. This, I’m sure, is destined to become a regular feature in our calendar.

Huge thanks to the generosity of Stephan at the Lion D’or. Call in when you are passing. Dave Newman for Wemoto News

Posted by Dave Newman
for Wemoto News on 17 July 2013 in General News

Edited By: Daisy Cordell



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