Movin’ On

Dear Blogonaughts, it’s nearly 22:00hrs local time.

It’s well over 25ºC and the air is still. Around me crickets chirp and the last birds are calling as the head to roost. Beneath, in the valley, the river gently purrs as it caresses the boulders that stand in it’s path.

I’m sitting outside writing and getting eaten alive by mosquitos and a million other airborne bloodsuckers!!!

This morning I was sad to leave our mountain base. Not half as sad when we dropped into the valley thirty minutes later and the temperature suddenly rose to 35ºC, where it has stayed for the rest of the day!

We ground out some quick and serious miles to Grenoble Airport on the péage autoroutes; tedious, but they get you moving quickly, which was just as well as that was the only respite from the heat I could find.

From the airport we headed for the Rhône valley, crossing the mighty river at Sablons, where I pondered that just nine days ago we had bridged that same river in it’s much more youthful state shortly after it had drained out of Lake Geneva.

Then we vigorously climbed up onto the Massif Central, the high plateau that stretches down the spine of France from Clermont Ferrand in the North to Montpellier by the Mediterranean coast in the South. Specifically we were heading for the Auvergne, one of my favourite parts of France with it’s deep valleys and extinct volcanoes.

Once up on the Massif I relaxed, not because it got any cooler – look, I’m sorry, I’m not moaning about the heat, it’s just the reality of what it was like – but we hit an altogether different sort of road, in a place that has a different pace of life!

Today has been a bit strange. Today the French Government brought in a new maximum speed limit on the ordinary roads of the country, 80kph. This excludes dual carriageway and motorways, but applies to all single carriageway routes. I must admit that for the majority of the time I have been a good boy and stuck to it, which is more than I can say for the majority of French drivers that I saw! On the type of roads that we were on this afternoon 80kph/48mph is actually quite relaxing, but would be a pain if you needed to get anywhere quickly!

Tonight we are in the hills near Ambert, a delightful yet busy little place on the old main-road through the Massif
Even though in the back of my mind I know we have started the run home, I think that tomorrow really is that “Returning Point” moment. That second when the trip that has been so long in the dreaming, planning and execution is now starting to head to its conclusion.

The view from our base near Ambert.


Tomorrow will be a transit day, maybe with a drop in on a Harley Dealership, but mostly it’s mile munching/kilometre krunching time. On the plus side we are heading for the wine-producing town of Bourgueil on the flood plain of the River Loire. The region around the town produces some of the most delightful light red wines in France, that are high on Mrs Dookes “likes” list….note to self…!

The forecast says we may have some showers, certainly it will be a tad cooler, which won’t be a bad thing.

Catch you soon

Dookes

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Rest day

Today was meant to be a rest day, a sort of “recharge the batteries” day.

…only one problem, what to do?

I admit, I made a bit of an administrative error staying at a hotel without a swimming pool, but the food more than makes up for that; tonight Magret de Canard, for example!

So what does a long distance motorcyclist do on his day off?

Go for a ride on his bike, that’s what!

To be more precise, go for a lightweight spin up Cime de la Bonette without the encumbrance of luggage, do a bit of exploring and have a nice picnic lunch on the high alp.

All of which came together perfectly.

We got out good and early and managed to reach to summit before the hoards descended. The big Cols often get busy late morning and mid afternoon, so if you want to have a bit of peace either go early or aim for very late afternoon/early evening.

We did a bit of trundling around at altitude and some on-foot wandering around, which at altitude was a tad tough, then found a lovely spot off the beaten track to enjoy lunch.

Not a bad view over lunch!


The altitude thing is interesting and effects people in different ways. It’s generally agreed that doing what I did, going up quickly and then trying to do some strenuous exercise like hike-climbing isn’t a great idea; I can agree with that. You really need more time to acclimatise than I had, my body is used to living at 600ft above sea level in Cornwall, not 9400ft in the high alps!

This afternoon I got Harls fuelled and sorted for tomorrow then planned to have a quiet time doing some writing or maybe having a little snooze, but somehow it didn’t happen and I sort of trundled into supper time…which is where I am now!

The highlight of the evening so far, apart from the Magret de Canard which is incredibly good, has been watching Madame, the hotel owner, giving five German bikers a good dressing down for turning up for dinner in their riding leathers. Then telling them that they smell and sending them off for a shower before she serves them and even then that they must sit outside on the terrace! Priceless!

She winked at me as she strutted past after delivering her instructions; this formidable lady has a sense of humour without a shadow of doubt!

As for the Germans, well they seem to have slunk off for the shower as instructed!

It’s good to have standards.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Keeping My Word

Some years ago, I’ve got to check exactly when and it may have been pre-blog days, I took Harls up Col de la Bonette.

We had a great time, but it was slightly tinged with a bit of sadness as we couldn’t quite reach the summit of Cime de la Bonette due to heavy snow.

That day I told Harls that I would bring her back and we would finally reach the summit together.

Call me bonkers if you like, but that motorbike has a personality and trust me, she understood.

I don’t think, therefore, it went down well with Harls when three years ago I took Baby Blue up to the summit before her!

Cime de la Bonette is an interesting place and only in existence due to the wonderful attitude of the French people who saw an opportunity to make their mark on the map of Europe. For some reason the French were not content to just have the highest pass in Europe, Col de l’Iseran at 2770m/ 9087ft, they wanted to go one better and make a totally pointless loop around the adjacent mountain to Col de la Bonette and add 300m to the record!
I love the attitude, though if I had been a French tax-payer I don’t know if I would have been so enthusiastic!

La Bonette itself is a formidable place. From the South, the Nice side if you like, the climb is long and at times tedious, with numerous hairpins and tricky road surface. From the North, it’s one of my favourite alpine roads; sweeping ever upwards though delightful country in lovely geometric curves. You can really get into the groove on this climb, I love it!

On both sides though , as you near the top of the climb the scenery changes dramatically; you could be on the moon! The green high alp gives way to barren frost shattered rock, scree, tortured slates and mud stone.

On top of Europe!


It’s high, cold and sterile, even the delightful Marmots, clowns of the high alps, don’t bother going up here! Get caught on a bad day and you can be in serious trouble in a very short time indeed. Today though was benign.

With altitude Harls got sluggish and I must say that I was feeling it to, sea level to over 9000ft in one go hits you…!

We chugged our way to the summit and I kicked down her side stand.

Silence.

I leant forward and patted her tank, “See, I told you we’d come back.”

At the summit Cime de la Bonette-Promise kept!


This bike of mine is amazing and I’m probably boring you all stupid saying so, but honestly she is.

Then we dropped down into Jausiers and I swear that she ran better and truer than ever before on this trip; I kept my word and as a result, she’s happy!

Let it never be said that I am not a man of my word!

“Well its alright ridin’ around in the breeze, well it’s alright, if you live the life you please.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Dookes is on the Road Again!

Well almost!

It’s like this people, the old itchy feet syndrome has kicked in again…!

I though that the idea of this “Early Retirement” stuff was that I wasn’t as crazy busy as when I was doing a real job. Pondering for a moment I realise that actually having a “Real Job” give you structure and boundaries, not having one makes everything a bit blurred.

As a result when someone says to me can you help? I inevitably say yes; which is good and bad at the same time.

Certainly life has taken on a lovely unpredictable path and really interesting things come my way to get involved with, which for a variety of reasons I can’t tell you all about; I know, it’s a cruel tease, but that’s just the way it is!

I do know, however, that it’s definitely the right thing for me at this moment in time.

That said, of late I haven’t been out on two wheels quite as much as I would like.

Which is why I’ve said “Screw It, time to ride!”

This coming Wednesday I’m off to La France and am going to chase down a route that I’ve been promising to ride for years – La Route des Grandes Alpes. Click here to read more about it.

Basically it runs from Thonon les Bains, on the shore of Lake Geneva, to the Mediterranean Sea at Menton, via all of the high French alpine passes. It’s going to be quite some trip!

“Harls” in the High Alps


I’m also taking my trusty “Harls” with me, for lots of different reasons, which I’ll explain more as we go along the route.

We leave on Wednesday, which gives you all time to saddle up and ride along with us on the road, as ever I’d love to have you tag along!

“Dookes is on the road again
Wearin’ different clothes again
Dookes is turning handouts down
To keep his pockets clean”. (With apologies to Manfred Mann!)

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Snow

The “Beast from The East” blew through Europe this past week bringing sub-zero temperatures and snow on a biting Easterly wind.

Predictably, large parts of the UK ground to a snowy halt as our infrastructure and many citizens failed to cope with the conditions.

Here at Dookes H.Q. we found ourselves nicely snowed in for two days, no drama and no panic. These days we don’t have a 4×4 vehicle; mostly we have no need. We also do not have snow chains or special snow tyres; again largely no need. What we do have is a good stock of firewood, two log burners, central heating with a full tank of fuel oil, plenty of food and an emergency generator if we need it; no worries there then!

The thing is though, as I look back over the years, this small dose of winter weather is exactly what we used to get on a regular basis when I was younger. I don’t know if you can blame it on “Climate Change,” but our weather is definitely different from when I was a child. Now before anyone pipes up that I must be looking back through the rose-tinted view of a child, statistics seem to support me. In the UK our winters are definitely warmer and wetter than they were as recently as fifty years ago. Our recent “Cold-Snap” has lasted about a week, in 1963 the cold spell lasted nearly three months!

Back when I worked in the railway industry we had, and often used, large snow-ploughs that were propelled by hefty diesel locomotives to keep the track clear. Then as winters got shorter, warmer and wetter many of the ploughs fell into redundancy. Over the years many of these ploughs were gradually disposed of, they were not being used and the cost of their maintenance simply did not make sense when balanced against the probability of their use, or so it was said! True, a number of ploughs were retained in Scotland where snow is often guaranteed, but overall the numbers fell.

Snow Ploughs at Blair Atholl, Scotland, 1982.
Photo Steven Duhig

In a way those old snow ploughs represent the situation throughout the United Kingdom in many other organisations and infrastructure; our response to adverse snow and ice is based on the likelihood of it occurring. No surprise that this attitude originates from accountants and bean counters, not from the people who actually get out there and deal with the conditions!

To be fair, here in the UK when we do get some winter rolling in we can generally get by with a dusting of rock-salt on the roads and an extra pullover. I just wish that with our “Everything Now” society that people would just take a moment to accept that some journeys really are not necessary and why not just embrace the conditions and enjoy it?

Outside Dookes H.Q., going nowhere!

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying that I haven’t been out on any motorbikes for a few days… Actually, the thought of a nice 400cc single cylinder scrambler with big knobbly tyres really appeals, but Mrs Dookes just frowned at me with that idea!

In a way, I’m practicing what I preach. I haven’t needed to go anywhere, so why risk it. I have in the past ridden in snow, it’s OK but I really wouldn’t recommend it as a real fun experience. Some years ago I was heading up the North side of the Grimsel Pass in Switzerland. At the start of the climb by Lake Brienz it was raining and raining hard. I was heading for Andermatt and to get there I had to climb the Grimsel, which at 2165m/7103ft is quite a barrier.

Snow and Harls, not great fun!

As “Harls” and I began to climb, the air suddenly became noticeably colder and beyond the village of Innertkirchen the rain gradually turned to sleet, then it began to snow. Bear in mind that this was late June!

Somewhere down there is Innertkirchen.


The snow started to get heavy and I began to question whether I should go on. A pair of headlights came up behind and a van passed, giving me plenty of room on the whitening road. The van was sign-written for a builder from Andermatt, that was good enough for me, I set in to follow. The only problem was that it promptly disappeared into the murk.

My helmet visor was white with sticking snow, as was “Harls” touring screen; worst of all, my glasses were also covered over and I was peering over the top of them. I gritted my teeth and got on with it, I kept the bike in second gear and plugged away at the incline. My feet skimming the surface of the road acting as outriggers, but getting covered in snow! Bends came and went, I really had no idea where I was in relation to the summit of the pass; somewhere near the top I knew there were a couple of lakes, but I couldn’t see anything. I felt the gradient ease and we swung through a gap in the mountain, suddenly the snow turned to sleety rain we were over the top.

Grimsel Pass, South side.
Oh those twisties!


Within a few hundred metres the rain eased to mist and half a mile later we dropped out of the cloud, it had been quite an experience!

The lake on the top of the Grimsel – Nope, never saw it first time round!


Last summer I returned to the Grimsel and smiled to myself as “Harls” and I swept down its magnificent Northern flank. “So this is what it looks like” crossed my mind frequently!

Grimsel Pass North side.
“So this is what it looks like!”

Yes riding a motorcycle in snow is possible, but y’know I can’t really recommend it!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant – Saint David’s Day

Bore da pawb. Heddiw yw Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant, y Diwrnod Cenedlaethol Cymru. Dymuniadau gorau i chi i gyd!

Good morning everyone. Today is Saint David’s Day, the National Day of Wales. Best wishes to you all!

Dewi Sant/St David was born towards the end of the 5th Century in the region of West Wales known as Ceredigion. Whilst alive he built a reputation for his preaching, teaching and simple living amongst the Celtic people. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosin, which became an important early Christian centre. Dewi died on 1st March 589 and was buried in what is now known as St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire where his shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage.

For centuries 1st March has been a national festival in Wales with parades, concerts, poetry readings and of course traditional food all being enjoyed. Around the country not only will you see the flag of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) being flown, but also the flag of St David, a simple yellow cross on a black field.P1030045

Today is also the time when Welsh exiles around the world remember ‘The Land of My Fathers’ and try to ease the sense of “Hiraeth” that yearning homesickness tinged with grief, nostalgia, wistfulness and pride that we often feel.

The National Flower of Wales is the delightful and cheery daffodil which brightens the hedgerows at this time of year. I hope you like them as much as I do. My late Grandmother always said that when you take daffodils into a house, then you take sunshine into that house; I think she got that pretty much spot on!

In the words of St David:
“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mean bywyd.” “Do ye the little things in life.”

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.

Hwyl Fawr!
Dookes

Test Riding the New Softail

Motorcycle manufacturers are a funny bunch. By and large they stick to the tried and trusted, at least for those that they view as their dedicated customers.

Every now and then though one of the manufacturers produces something that is either so radical that it’s pure genius, or it leaves you pondering what on earth they were drinking or smoking when the new creation was first committed to paper!

On the “Genius” side a few that sprung to mind and from a quick trawl of the motorcycling Internet, we have:

In 1935, Italian marque Gilera shoehorned a transverse four-cylinder engine into a motorcycle frame, when just about everyone else was making two-cylinder machines.

The following year BMW produced the first telescopic front forks.

1969 saw Honda produced the CB750, basically the first production superbike universally available and the first to have disc brakes and for me a real big step change. – But then I like Honda’s!

1976 saw Yamaha fitting cast alloy wheels to a production road machine for the first time.

In 1980 it was the Kawasaki KZ1000 leading the way with fuel injection.

I’ve tried really hard to come up with big innovations that Harley Davidson has made….

Nope I can’t think of any, but to be fair the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company do one thing very well indeed; they make bikes for specific customers, “Harley Customers.”

OK, I ignored the V-Rod muscle bike, which was made in partnership with Porsche and had a dual-overhead-cam 1131cc water-cooled engine; it didn’t really break any new motorcycle ground, but bear with me!

All of this is probably why when Harley Davidson does change something we all tend to rock on our heels a bit. A few years back H-D introduced the 103cubic inch engine and on Touring models included liquid cooling for engine; to be fair it was only for the exhaust valves, but still a bit radical for some Harley customers as unlike the V-Rod this was an engine in a mainstream bike, not a niche machine.

In 2016 the next new thing was the 107cubic inch “Milwaukee Eight” engine with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder, oil cooling and fully counterbalanced; only the eighth “Big Twin” engine since 1909, Harley know how to live on the edge!

I had the opportunity to test ride one of the first “Milwaukee Eight” bikes, a Street Glide, back in October 2016, you can read about that here.

First impressions were that I liked the new engine, finding it very smooth and certainly not lacking in power, but it wasn’t really very special sitting in the frame of a big Street Glide!

Fast forward to the end of last summer and we hit the release season for 2018 bikes.

Harley Davidson did something, for them, that was radical, very radical!

When the 2018 models were announced a whole line had been deleted, the much-loved “Dyna” models were no more. In addition the “Softail” range were, well, different; actually they weren’t different; they were a whole new design.

Harley Davidson introduced the Softail frame in 1984 and designed it to look like the retro rigid-frame bikes so beloved of the custom school. The bikes had shock absorbers mounted underneath the gearbox and a clever swing-arm that absorbed bumps in the road.

Riders tend to be a bit polarised about Softails, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em; my beloved “Harls” is a Softail, so you can figure where I stand!

“Harls” all Softail, all motorcycle!


The new Softail line launched with eight models and two engine options, the 107cu Inch and a really beefy 114cu Inch, that’s respectively 1753cc and 1868cc.

I must admit that early last Autumn I took a sly look at the H-D 2018 catalogue, the new models looked interesting and I made a mental note to investigate when I had time.

Then I went to the Motorcycle Live exhibition in Birmingham in late November.

Spinning round in the middle of the Harley Davidson stand was something that caught my eye…another new Softail model – The Sport Glide.

Now for the life of me I can’t figure out why Harley Davidson would, with a big fanfare, introduce a new line and produce all the glossy 2018 model catalogues only for a few weeks later to roll out another model of the line and one that wasn’t in the catalogue?

I’m mighty pleased that they did though!

There’s an old saying in engineering and design, “If something looks right, it probably is right.” To me the Sport Glide certainly ticks that box!

The new 2018 Sport Glide.

There was only one problem, the bike at the show was the only one in the UK and further supplies were not expected until January 2018, plus the total UK allocation was only around 250 bikes, Hmmm. I got in touch with my local Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson and issued strict instructions that when they got their hands on a Sport Glide to let me know!

Now the guys and girls at Plymouth Harley Davidson are a good bunch and sure enough at the end of January I got the call, a Sport Glide fitted with the 107 engine had arrived and was being prepared for the road – would I like to test it? Do Bears poo in the woods? Darn right I wanted to test it!

To add icing to the cake, it was suggested that I also try a different Softail model that was fitted with the 114cubic inch engine, just for comparison.

Those folk at Plymouth Harley Davidson must really like me, because on the day I turned up for my test session on two brand new bikes the weather was filthy, but “Hey, no problem Dookes go ride and enjoy!”

First up was the 114 engine Fat Bob.

2018 Fat Bob


Now this isn’t the sort of bike that I would normally go for, a naked “Street Fighter,” but wow, was I glad that I did!
With it’s brutal lines I suspect that this bike is aimed at the younger end of the Harley market, but in my late fifties I don’t see many Harley riders younger than me; hey ho!
The 114 engine coughed into life and a deep aggressive growl emanated from the twin exhaust pipes, this already was sounding like fun!
The pipes are interesting 2 into one and back to 2, I’ve never seen that before, but the look great.
Up front is an LED headlight that looks straight out of Star Wars, really aggressive yet soo cool!
Throwing my leg over the bike and settling in the saddle it was surprisingly comfortable. I toed the shifter down, selected first gear and pulled away. The bike nimbly responded to the throttle and within a quarter of a mile I was already thinking to myself, “I like this…. a lot!”
I turned onto the nearby A38 trunk road and filtered into the mid-morning traffic. Once I had settled into the feel of the bike it was time to see what this bad boy could do. I gave a slight twist of the throttle and wow, in came the power accompanied by a deep throaty roar from that fancy exhaust system; my smile became a big stupid grin!
Actually the power delivery was, to be honest, a tad too aggressive on the greasy wet road and with no traction control I had to be a bit careful not to have the back-end misbehaving, but hey I guess that is what this bike is all about.
Turning off the trunk road and onto some twisties, I was very pleased to feel how nimble the bike was through corners, even with that big fat front tyre. It’s brakes are
Good, with twin front discs and ABS as standard, it’s shame that they are not linked to the back ones though in my opinion.
Then we get to the ride, oh my, it’s a dream. That new Softail chassis is sublime!

Riding back into the dealership it was time to swap, the Sport Glide was outside waiting for me.

At first glance the difference between the two bikes is like chalk and cheese, but that’s only a veneer. Underneath, apart from the Sport Glide having a 107cubic inch engine they are pretty much the same bike.
The exhaust is a straightforward 2 into 1 and the front wheel has only one brake disk. It’s got a small “bikini” faring and a pair of medium-sized hard panniers, all of which can be quickly detached if wanted. I found the small faring quite adequate at diverting the wind off my chest, but if I ever own one I’d probably swap the standard 1.5” screen for the alternative 5.5” option.
Performance wise it’s another gem, though unlike the 114, the power delivery is much more precise and enjoyable. Which also means that you are not so likely to get stung by the lack of traction control! Now please don’t think that the 107 is lacking in power, oh no not at all, it’s got plenty of grunt but just delivers it in a more refined way.
I do feel that only having a single brake disc on the front wheel is not the greatest idea from Harley Davidson on a bike that weighs in at around 330kg.
Cornering on this little beauty was lovely, even better than the Fat Bob, though with a lean angle of only 27º before the pegs start to hit tarmac, you do have to be a bit careful!
The Sport Glide, like the Fat Bob has a six-speed gearbox. The front suspension is non-adjustable, whilst the rear now has a spring pre-load adjustable shock.
If you are like me, a dedicated touring motorcyclist, you’ll like the new Holdfast detachable latch system that Harley has fitted to this machine. I allows you to easily quickly add a Tour-Pak top box and other touring type accessories.

So there we are, two very different, yet essentially very similar motorcycles.

I really couldn’t tell you which one I liked most; they both have a certain “Wow” factor and both for different reasons.

Looking back on the test ride and with the benefit of a few days to mull it over, I think I’d probably have to go for the Sport Glide.

Why? Well, as sexy and bonkers that the Fat Bob is, I think I’d get fed-up with it after a while. It reminds me of a big black horse I once owned; sure you could ride him all day and have the time of your life, but drop your guard for one second and he’d take over; these days I like things to be a tad more relaxed!

On reflection though, I really believe that Harley Davidson have, at last, produced something different from their norm and will probably reap the benefit for doing that. Could we not have linked brakes and twin front discs right across the range, even as an option please?

With thanks to all at Plymouth Harley Davidson for making the two bikes available and not being too upset when I brought them back absolutely filthy!

“Get you motor runnin’ head out on the highway”

Catch you soon

Dookes