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

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“The Riding Season Is Over” – Oh Really?

There are times in my motorcycling life that I find the need to do a little bit of explaining…

The title of this blog is “Hogrider Dookes.”

This is because:
a) I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles.
b) My name is Dookes.

Simple…well yes, so far, but as regular readers, the “Blogonaughts,” may recall, I like to class myself as “A Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s” and not a Harley Rider. There is a big difference.

Back in November I visited the “Motorcycle Live” exhibition in Birmingham, this annual event is the biggest motorcycle show in the UK and goes on for nearly two weeks. All the major manufacturers attend, along with countless aftermarket suppliers and trade stands, it’s a fantastic event for anyone with a passion for motorcycles. I had a super day looking at everything from the latest things on two wheels to clothing, luggage and other accessories. True I did have a sit on one of Harley’s 2018 models, but then I also sat on Honda’s, Ducati’s, KTM’s, Yamaha’s and even a Royal Enfield…eclectic, is probably the best way to describe my taste.

Royal Enfield at Motor Cycle Live.

Then, just before the nonsense of Christmas and New Year, I found myself chatting to one of the Road Captains from our local Harley Owners Group Chapter; the subject of the exhibition came up in our conversation and I enthused about all the different bikes I had seen.

“I’m not interested in other bikes, just Harley’s.” Was the somewhat scornful response. Fair enough, point taken, said individual then went on to tell me that his own bike, an Ultra Limited Low, had been put away for the next few months as “The Riding Season is over until Spring.”

The thing is, he’s not alone. Lots of motorcyclists pack their bikes away in the Autumn and hibernate until the Spring, maybe Harley Riders more than most.

I guess that’s what I mean about being a Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s and not a “Harley Rider.”

You see, I ride all year round and I’m in a silly way I’m bloomin’ proud of that!

True, sometimes a four-hour ride equals eight hours of cleaning and polishing afterwards, but it isn’t half worth it! Take the situation just before Christmas for example.

For a few weeks we had been enduring our usual share of Cornish winter gales; loads of rain, high winds, hail and just a dusting of snow on the high moors. Then the wind dropped, the sun came out and the temperature plummeted.

What better thing to do than to hit the road on two wheels with a motorcycling pal for company?

My artist mate Mark is always up for a ride at the drop of a hat and like me isn’t too bothered by winter weather. Mark rides a solid Honda CB1200, a real no-nonsense bike that suits him down to the ground and if I’m honest a model that I really like too, but which one of my two-wheeled ladies should I take?
Well, I did consider Baby Blue so that I could hide from the cold behind her big faring, but as Harls was already pretty filthy from me riding around in the week before I settled on her. Anyway, my heated jacket and gloves would keep the cold out!

High on Dartmoor and just a little dirty.


For some reason, probably just because we could, we decided on the delights of the high ground of Dartmoor on the border of Cornwall and Devon. Only a few days earlier the moor had been lying under a light blanket of snow, but now the roads were clear if a bit wet from running-off water, the sky blue and the air crisp. This was motorcycling for the purist!

Highway to heaven.


I think that I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Views like this are always better on two wheels.


On the way back we called in on the local Harley Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson, ours were the only two bikes in the parking lot.

In the showroom, salesman Kev grinned at me.
“Hi Dookes, I see the 12 month riding season is still open then?”

It certainly is Kev, it certainly is!

“Bleak winter sunset with sky of lavender…”*

Catch you soon.

Dookes

* Images In a Moment of Time, Ryan Richard Nych

Liebster Award

Way on back in the earlier days of their blog my dear bogging friend Lili, of fantastic cakes and rock climbing fame nominated me for the “Liebster Award.” I was pretty chuffed at the time (Chuffed = British slang for pleased) and duly did what was required of me and posted a response as required by the award; you can link to that here.

Fast-forward to the present and out of the blue that USA based Scottish Photographer, Blogger and International Chocolate Connoisseur, Alba has challenged me with another “Liebster.” This is of course both very cool and a bit humbling; after all it is an acknowledgment by another blogger that you must be doing something right, therefore thank you Alba!

As part of the deal with the award I have to answer a series of questions set by Alba; so here goes, this should be fun!

1. Why do you blog?
I started blogging as a way of recording some of the motorcycle tours that I do. I used to tour around and send friends emails to let them know where I was and what I was up to. It just sort of seemed the logical thing to progress to, I hate “Face-Twit” and blogging enables me to capture thoughts and moments that I can look back on and relive the moment. It has also enabled me to develop some posts into magazine articles, which is pretty cool!
The blog has developed into something more than just being about touring on motorbikes and I’m pretty pleased with that. In the not to distant future I’m looking at overhauling the site, changing a few things around and maybe going “Premium.” So I may need the considerable skills of Alba in the field of Website development!

2. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’d like to be able to visit anywhere in the world that I wanted to and have the freedom and peace to be able to do that without the restrictions of Politics, Fanatics, Race-hate, Dictators and Wars…
…as John Lennon said “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Broadly though, I’ve pretty much gone everywhere that I really want at the present, my only current “Itch” is to go to Nordkapp/Northcape in Norway, it’s the most Northerly point in Europe. I would naturally have to go on a motorbike.
Why?
Well, because it’s there of course!

3. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek. No doubt at all.

4. Favourite Movie?
Diamonds are Forever.
Pure escapism James Bond before it all got too commercial.

5. Favourite Book.
Tricky this one.
I’ve a number of railway and engineering technical tomes that I really enjoy dipping into from time to time, but would be far too boring (and specialist) to recount here.
Fiction-wise I like Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger” and I had a lot of fun retracing some of the route described in the book on one of my trips a few years back.

In the footsteps of James Bond.

If you click here you can read about it, there’s more than one post though!

6. Favourite Song
Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen.
“Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau,” the Welsh National Anthem – I have tears running down my face every time I sing it at a rugby international!

Do you like to Cook and what is your best dish?
Yes, I adore cooking. Best dish, well I make a pretty ace Game Pie!

My Game Pie.

8. What makes you laugh?
I’m very British when it come to my sense of humour, so I love irony and satire. I like laughing at myself too!

9. Most embarrassing moment?
With skin a thick as mine, embarrassment doesn’t come into it!

10. Singing or dancing?
With my Welsh Blood, naturally it’s singing!

11. T.Rex or Dragons?
Hmm really tricky.
I loved T.Rex in those far off Glam-Rock Days of the 1970’s; Marc Bolan was just fantastic and amazingly it was 40 years ago this year that he died in a car crash.
Dragons live in my beloved, magical, Welsh mountains…if you know where to look! The Red Dragon/Y Ddraig Goch is found on the flag of Wales.

The Welsh Dragon at Mametz Wood, The Somme.

I’ve got one on each of my bikes too, Dragons that is.
I’m going to have to say Dragons…!
Did you know that T.Rex made an album called “Futuristic Dragon”?

There you are then, I hope that answers your questions Alba.

Now at this point I’m supposed to come up with my own string of questions and pass it on in a chain letter sort of way, but ‘cos I like breaking the rules I’m just going to suggest a few sites that I follow and are well worth dropping in on!

Two Wheeled Life

Midihideaways

Old England to New England

Finding Myself Through Writing

Louise’s World Travels

Aging Gracefully My Ass

My Ride Blog

Motorcycle Rambler

My Own Private Idaho

2 Wheel Travellers

If anyone feels like having a go themselves and linking me in on their answers here’s a few questions from me:

1. How do you decide on a subject for a blog post?

2. What has been your own favourite blog post.

3. Vinyl or digital?

4. Have you ever been surfing? (No not the internet – real surf, as in the Ocean!)

5. Where are you planning to go on your next adventure?

6. If you could go back in time to witness something in history what would it be?

7. Have you ever seen a ghost or UFO (or both)?

8. Rolling Stones or Beatles?

9. Most precious item that you possess that has no monetary value?

10. Who do you most admire and why?

11. I have a spare pillion seat on the back of my Harley, where shall we go?

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Golden Anniversary – Or 50 Years of Roller-Coaster Emotions!

Sport is a funny thing and one way or another is pretty much guaranteed to polarise people.

With Sport you generally find that there are two kinds of folk; those that are largely indifferent and those that are passionate about it.

So cards on the table, I’m definitely one of the latter!

Which is a bit strange really, as pretty much no-one else in my immediate family is at all sports orientated…that is except my late Uncle Pete. He was like me, sports mad!

In his younger days Pete played football, lots of football (that’s soccer in some parts of the world!) and he was by all accounts pretty good at it. Good enough to be in the squad of a professional football club; until sadly a knee injury cut short his playing career. Ironically if he had the same injury today he would be fixed up and playing in a matter of weeks, such are the advances that sports medicine as made.

Uncle Pete was also my Godfather and he took things seriously enough to not only take me to buy my first pair of football boots, but also to my first football match – a very lowly non-league affair. The seed had been sown though and I began to hanker after going to a “proper” football match, a league game!

That’s how, exactly Fifty Years ago, my late Father took me and a few of my young friends to my very first “proper” game.

Watford F.C. v Grimsby Town

Football and indeed football grounds were very different in those days, particularly in the third tier of the English Leagues. The home of Watford Football Club since 1922 was and still is, Vicarage Road Stadium. To be honest, calling the place a “Stadium” in 1967 was tantamount to breaking the laws of Trade Description; glamorous it was definitely not!

In this aerial photograph from the time you can see that the ground was shoe-horned in between residential suburban housing and to the extreme left Shrodells Hospital. I remember queuing to go through the rickety old turnstiles on Vicarage Road itself, that’s the road cutting across the top of the photo. We stepped onto the banked concrete terrace behind the goal at the Vicarage Road end and I fell in love with the place!

At the far end was the “Rookery Stand,” that’s the light grey shed-like structure at the bottom of the picture, actually it was simply more terracing with a roof over it! To our right was the Shrodells Stand, which had some seating and on the opposite side of the pitch stood the grandly named “Main Stand” that also was about 50% seating. From that dear reader, you may be able to deduce that the majority of Vicarage Road Stadium was for you to watch football standing up and largely without any protection from the weather. Happy days!

For some reason we made our way to the area in the bottom corner of the photo, between the Shrodells and Rookery Stands. This was football at it’s most basic, the area was simply a compacted bank of ash, but it was magical.

In those days the pitch was only loosely described as grass; it appeared to be around 60% mud, 30% sand and possibly 10% grass/weeds, but to my young eyes it was the original field of dreams. As the sun dipped in the early winter sky and the simple floodlights came on, it got even more magical.

The game itself was a thrilling affair to a first time supporter, as I was suddenly becoming. Little did I know that the peculiar thing about supporting a team is that it gets into your very DNA. You share the euphoria of great victories and promotion with the despair and depression of defeats and relegation. All this was still in the future though…

Watford went on to win 7-1! Could it ever get any better than that?

Well, yes it could, but it would take nearly 15 years when eventually my beloved “Hornets” as Watford are known, eventually won promotion to the top-tier of English football, the old “First Division.” The next season, 1982-83, they finished runners-up; still their best ever finish.

I still have the programme from that match and it’s interesting to look at the team line ups for that day 50 years ago. Playing at full-back for Grimsby and wearing number 3 is one Graham Taylor, at that time a young 22-year-old. The same Graham Taylor who later would become manager of Watford, guide them to successive promotions and the glory days of the early 1980’s and subsequently manage the England national team. Sadly Graham passed away suddenly earlier this year.

Over the years though it’s been quite a roller-coaster of emotions. Yes there have been incredible highs, but oh my, those low points have also been very dark places too!

Today Watford F.C. play in the Premier League, the highest level in the English football league system and the team squad is drawn from a wonderful mix of nationalities. The club was founded in 1881.

These days living 300miles away I don’t get the opportunity to visit Vicarage Road very often, but I diligently follow what my beloved “Hornets” are up to every time that they play.

Yesterday then was the 50th anniversary of my very first Watford F.C. experience.
The Hornets hosted Tottenham Hotspur and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Vicarage Road Stadium today is truly worthy of the name; it’s a wonderful amphitheatre with an all seating capacity of 23,700 and great facilities, quite a change from the days of standing on a mound of ash!

Vicarage Road Stadium today; from roughly where I first stood 50 years ago! Photo by Jbb503

Why back in 1967 did we go to watch Watford F.C.?

Well I told you my late Uncle once played for a professional football club…

Guess which one????

Yep, Watford!

As for me; well I never really was much good playing football, except as a Goalkeeper and you don’t need many of them in a team.
With my Welsh blood, it was always going to be rugby that I embraced and excelled in. I played for a number of clubs, at a reasonably good level, before finally hanging up my boots in my mid-thirties after 24 years of playing the game!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Learning to Fly

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.”

I knocked “Harls” out of gear and let her roll to a stand on the edge of the car park. I let the engine idle freely for a minute or so, letting the valves cool a bit after the arduous climb, then switch off and … silence, save for the gentle metallic “tinkle” of an air-cooled engine cooling down.

Time to take stock.

We were sitting on top of the Nufenen Pass, at 2478 metres/8130 feet above sea level. It’s the second highest paved pass in Switzerland and the eleventh highest in Europe. There was early snow lying around, the air crisp, cold and blown by a keen North Westerly wind was just enough to catch your breath.

Nufenen Pass

We had just climbed from Airolo in the Bendretto Valley; 1319 metres of climbing over a distance of 24 kilometres, average grade 5.5%, maximum grade 10%. No wonder her engine was warm! The panorama of the Bernese Alps before us was magnificent, a fair reward for the effort of the climb.

It had been a long day with seven passes collected, a fair distance covered and hideous traffic on the Gotthard Autobahn, but we now had only 14km and 1108 metres of decent down to Ulrichen and our stop for the night. I was almost blowing the froth off the top of a cold one!

First though, I just needed to drink in the scenery and bask in the satisfaction of crossing another high pass…

It’s been just about a fortnight since Harls and I got back from our Italian travels and I think that I’ve almost recovered. If I’m honest, for the first few days after I got back I could have done with a holiday to get over the trip, these long distance adventures don’t get any easier with age!

That said, our schedule on this last excursion was pretty punishing, even with a day off from riding, but you know I never seem to learn! The trip was pretty epic; 2736 miles in total, 40 “mountain” passes, 7 countries, one return sea crossing.

The thing to focus on though, is those mountain passes….that’s where I have a bit of a problem.

I’m hooked on them!

I’ve always had a love of high places, right from an early age stomping around the beautiful Welsh mountains in Snowdonia. It’s something I can’t really describe adequately, other than “Put me on a mountain and see a happy Dookes!”

As I result, when I got into this motorcycle touring habit it just seemed such a natural thing to head for the high passes and then keep going ever higher. Please understand that I don’t necessarily have to go touring in the mountains, it just makes me a bit happier. I written before about my quest to ride Galibier, but by visiting that magical place it sort of opened up a “Pandora’s Box” of other possibilities; the more I pondered the map of Europe things just got even more interesting.

What started out as a whimsical idea began to grow into a list of targets!

I made a few rules for myself along the way, otherwise the whole thing was going to get totally out of control.

1. The road must be paved, no dirt tracks.
2. Dead end roads do not count.
3. The road must be open to all public traffic.
4. Military or private service roads are not allowed.
5. Closed or disused roads also not allowed.
6. Europe West of the Carpathian Mountains only (at the moment).

Oh yes, whilst I think of it. For those of you who may be wondering what old Dookes is on about with a “Mountain Pass”…..

A Mountain Pass is a route through a mountain range which often crosses over a ridge, gap or saddle. Mountain ranges make formidable barriers to travel and transport, even in our modern era, so passes have through the centuries become vital for trade and defence. They are also some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Albula Pass

Looking at the options from my self-imposed rules, the highest road is the Cime de la Bonette, 2802m, which is near Jausiers in the French Alps; the highest Pass being Col de L’Iseran, 2770m, which is near Val d’Isère also in France.

Cime de la Bonette


Now because I’m not the sort of chap who settles for the easier option, it had to be the big ones that I went after first, but no it’s not at all been downhill from there! At the beginning I didn’t make a conscious effort to chase the list, but it’s sort of evolved and become a bit “semi-organic” …almost with a life of its own. To be honest, one day I started crossing out the places that we’d been and it sort of took off from there!

Back to the recent trip. I have to admit that “Pass-Hunting” was part of the planning process and that we were pretty successful with it too. Of the highest paved passes on my list I’ve now bagged the top nine, 24 of the top 30, 40 out of 50 and a whole bunch of “lesser” passes too; the really great thing though is that most of them have been done on my beloved Harls and I can’t be happier for that.

Cole de Mont Cenis 2083m.

What’s next then?

Well, I had been thinking of a trundle around Scandinavia to Nordkapp sometime next year, after the snow has melted. The thing is, I’m torn, there’s still unfinished business in the high mountains and that little obsession is gnawing at me again. The other consideration is the small matter of age. Riding some of the passes is hard work and whilst I love the scenery and flying around the clouds, but I’m not the greatest fan of really tight hairpin bends, they are far too much hard physical work on a big bike with an impingement in one shoulder and arthritis in the other!

Learning to fly around the clouds…

BUT…

There’s a tourist itinerary in France called “Le Route des Grandes Alpes.” It runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea and takes in some of the best mountain roads and passes in Europe; it caught my eye a few years ago. For sure there are a number of the “big ones” on the route that we’ve done in the past, but hey going back to Galibier and dropping down to the Med would be no hardship at all! In addition, we could put in a side trip just across into Italy and grab a couple of targets that have eluded us so far and whilst I’m still half capable.

Notice I keep referring to “We” and “Us” in my narrative?

That’s because “Harls” and I are a team when it comes to those Passes. Sure, big “Baby Blue” is more comfortable on the transits and she has got a few Passes to her name, but she’s sooo heavy when it comes to doing the business in the mountains.

Déjà vu.

It’s a no brainer, there’s only one bike for me and anyway I want “Harls” to have the glory when we finally clear the list!

Déjà vu two!

Looks like that’ll be the plan for next year then, with suitable domestic approval of course.

“I’m learning to fly, around the clouds
But what goes up must come down.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Tom Petty 1950-2017

Red Sky In The Morning.

Sometimes it’s worth getting up the first time the alarm sounds and not hitting the “Snooze” button. Yesterday in Brittany was a case in point.

Surprisingly the evening with Denis didn’t get out of hand and I slept “The sleep of the just,” with only the alarm disturbing me. I got out of bed and threw open the shutters, dawn was breaking in the Eastern sky with rich hues of amber, red and gold; it was too good to miss, so I sat I the window taking in the show that the sun was giving.

In the back of my mind I pondered the old adage,”Red sky in the morning, sailors warning.” Hmm, oh well, we’ve taken pretty much everything that the weather clerk has thrown at us this trip, something else won’t matter. Will it?

Denis was waiting when I wandered downstairs, his smile every bit as warm as the sun.
“Bonjour Gallois, bien dormi, ça va?”
“Oui mon ami ça va et merci, j’ai très bien dormi!”

He broke into a rare bit of stilted English,
“Bacon and eggs? Zee full English?”

He roared with laughter as I shook my head…he knew what I was going to say.

“Merci, non. J’aurai une omelette, comme d’habitude!”

More laughter, Denis knows I always have an omelette for breakfast with him; it’s because they are the best, which I frequently remind him. Anyway he gets fun out of the bacon and eggs routine!

Of course there’s the usual French breakfast fare to go with it; bread, croissants, pain au chocolat and as this is Bretagne, little Madeleine cakes…which just beg to be dipped briefly in your cup of coffee to give sublime breakfast happiness!

Soon, too soon, it was time to hit the road again and in the French way there were hugs and kisses all round. Ann stood on the steps of the Château waving me goodbye, Denis had disappeared off to feed his horses, he doesn’t do the actual departure bit very well.

I turned Harls North West and headed for our ferry port at Roscoff, just over 100 miles away through delightful Breton scenery. True, Brittany isn’t as spectacular as the mountains that we’ve been in for the last fortnight, but to me it has a homely feel. It’s the region of France where I first “got it” about the country and the people, that’s wholly down to Mrs Dookes; she worked here years ago and imparted her love of the place to me. I’ve never really looked back since!

Then there was the weather, what a lovely day it had turned into and stayed that way right to the ferry. Thank you La France, I’ll forgive you the downpours we had to endure previously!

….and so to sea. The ferry link between Brittany and Plymouth is really convenient for me as Dookes H.Q. is only about 25 miles from the port and usually a doddle to cover.

I like travelling with Brittany Ferries, that’s not an advert for them – I’m just a satisfied customer. I always get a cabin, irrespective if it’s a day or night sailing, as it makes a good base to securely dump things whilst I enjoy the facilities of the ship and also because I appreciate getting some sleep. No difference this time either!

Getting near to the U.K.the weather closed in and by the time we docked it was full-on driving rain. Oh joy in the darkness!

Then, just to add to my overflowing cup of happiness on the way home, the highways authority had decided to dig up the road and install diversions…then we ran into fog and still it rained…bear in mind that these are rural roads with no street-lighting, not fun. That blasted red sky!

Grumbling aside, it was good to roll Harls into my workshop, shut the doors, turn on the dehumidifiers, thank her for a job well done and promise in the next couple for days to wash the considerable amount of road grime off her.

2736 miles without missing a beat. “Pas mal,” as Denis says, yes not at all bad for an old lady, the true star of the show!

Incredibly big thanks to Mrs Dookes for the latitude that she gives me to go travelling, whilst she keeps H.Q. ticking over; yeah I know that I’m a lucky chap in so many ways.

There’s more to tell about this trip dear reader, so please pop back again soon when I post more pictures and stories of things we saw along the road.

“Let me be a travelling man, I’m a roadrunner baby, roadrunner.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Denis – Le Grand Chef!

Yesterday evening Jacques suggested that the sunshine was so nice it would be a good idea to sit outside with the wine….five minutes later it started to rain! To be fair it was just a short shower, but wetness falling from the sky nonetheless.

The weather forecast said that today would be nice, lots of sunshine and warm after a cool start. So how come I woke to a thunderstorm?
Breakfast, still raining.
Pack bag, still raining.
Load Harls, still raining.
Start up and move off…..yes, still the blasted rain was falling!

I rode for fifty miles in grim wet stuff, heavy spray and general murk, then there was a line in the road and “Ping!” Dry.
About time too!

Having been spoilt by the back roads for the last couple of days, hitting the Autoroutes again was a bit of a culture shock for me, but I swear that Harls was enjoying it; cruising really is her thing.

We called at Bourgueil for fuel and to get a bottle of one of Mrs Dookes favourite wines, then it was back to mile munching the asphalt.

I don’t know what it is about the City of Angers, but every time I pass that way I seem to find one of the “Idiots of the road” out on exercise and today was no exception….”Street Fighter” mode it is then!

The D775 road between Angers and Rennes is gradually being rebuilt, where the new bits exist they are sublime, but some of the old sections are rough, hellish rough. Fortunately these days, there are more new bits than old and the dry new(ish) smooth black-top is good, very good indeed. Harls and I loved it!

I took a coffee and comfort break at Segré then pushed on and refueled just South of Rennes. The old centre of the City of Rennes is truly lovely, but take my advice and go there by train as the traffic is always a snarl up, right from La Périphérique inwards. Today though, we just sort of did a tangential ricochet from South East to South West and hunted out the N24, a good old-fashioned French dual carriageway.

Frequently the old ’24 is a pain in the backside, but today we hit it just right; not too much traffic to slow us down, but enough to have some fun overtaking and letting them hear how Harls on full-chat sounds – which is fantastic….at that point I remembered that I didn’t put my ear plugs in after our coffee break and that is why, my dear Blogonaughts, my tinnitus is screaming tonight!

The reason for this 300 mile dash was to see my old friends Ann and Denis at their lovely Château in the heart of Brittany. Ann is one of those French women who don’t really age, they just improve; Denis, he lights up a room with his smile and is never happier when he’s with his horses or cooking for friends, he plays the amiable buffoon well, but is a shrewd operator really.

The view from a Breton Château, pas mal/not bad!

Harls was ushered into a garage and for some reason Denis parks his car outside, strange as he has three other garages!

He pours me a cidre, this is Brittany after all.
“OK Gallois, j’espère que tu as faim!”
After a hard day’s riding I am truly starving, trust me. The shower washed away the road grime, but now the road hunger is kicking in.
Denis is, as I frequently pull his leg, “Un Grand Chef!” – A great chef!
He knows it, but it’s more than that, it’s more about the love he puts into his cooking.
The French, it is said, live to eat and the rest of us…well, we just eat to live!

Anyway, after more cidre, nibbles and merriment, Denis disappears into the kitchen and wonderful smells start to waft out. Ann smiles, she knows what alchemy he gets up to in there!

In due course, large duck breasts appear sizzling on stones, Denis like cooking on stones!
The frivolity continues, except that the food isn’t frivolous and the company is great.

More cidre, this might hurt in the morning.

Apple tart, Tarte aux Pommes, like only the Bretons can make, follows on.

Then it’s coffee and Lambig, a type of Breton Calvados and now I’d better go as Denis is giving me stick about loving my iPad more than him!

I tell him that he is a great chef – “Un grand Chef!”
He laughs, “Non Gallois, Denis c’est le petit Chef.”
We laugh like friends do, he knows that I know that he is talking rubbish!
Ann just winks at me.

Catch you soon. Bon soirée.

Dookes