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29th September 2006

Opinion: Magic Roads

You can use a motorcycle to travel from A to B. Or you can just go motorcycling. Jim Peace does both, and on the way he continues his quest to find those magic roads...

A few weeks ago I found a magic road. It had been several years since I last discovered one, and I'd begun to think that my luck had run out, but then it happened. I was heading west from Millau in southern France, as you do, and took the D911 to Cahors. And suddenly, there it was, a hundred miles of perfect motorcycling.

I was introduced to the concept of magic roads many years ago, at a campsite in northern Norway. There were several bikers at the site that evening including a German couple on two old BMW R75s, a Dutch lad on an ancient BSA and a young French chap with his girlfriend on a Super Tenere. I was a bit put out by the French couple at first, with their posh bike, large tent with garage, and general air of superiority. But when they produced a coffee pot and offered us all a mug of delicious coffee, I decided I quite liked them. It was certainly better than the Nescafe / sugar / powdered milk mix that I normally made do with. The fact that the French girl was stunningly gorgeous helped as well.

We sat around drinking and chatting, and waiting for it to get dark, which, being well above the Arctic Circle, it didn't. At one point there was a lull in the conversation and the German lady, who hadn't said much all evening, suddenly spoke.

'Yesterday, we found a magic road', she said.

Nobody spoke for a moment; we were all lost in our own thoughts. Possibly because she thought we hadn't understood, she turned to me for confirmation.

...the road from Tarbert to Stornaway in the Isle of Lewis is pure magic.

'Is that the right word, magic?' she asked.

'Oh yes', I replied, 'that's the right word'.

And it was. We all started to think of our own magic roads. And it has to be the road. Not the bike, not the weather, not the fact that you got lucky the night before. Just the road. At the time my clear favourite was the road that runs south from Jausiers in eastern France, over the Col de Restafond, and on down to the sea at Nice.

This really is a magic road; from the top of the col you can coast for almost thirty miles, apart from one short uphill stretch. I've encountered several magic roads since; ones that come to mind are the Missouri section of the trans-American Route 50, and the road that runs north from Huesca in northern Spain into the Pyrenees. Nearer home - but not much nearer to my home - the road from Tarbert to Stornaway in the Isle of Lewis is pure magic, as are some of the minor roads in the Black Mountains on the Welsh border. I also like bits of the A30, but not all of it.

As the long arctic evening wore on we all put forward our own favourites, and over the years, I've been able to follow up some of the routes mentioned. One of the suggestions was the Plocken Pass on the Austrian / Italian border, which I managed to do this summer. It was very good. At one point the French guy asked,

'Has anyone found a magic autoroute - autobahn?'

The young Dutch lad and I both replied together,


Then we looked at each other, neither of us wanting to say it first. I decided to go ahead.


He nodded in assent.

'So you felt it too?'

This was the stretch of motorway near the little town of Jabbeke in Belgium that Jaguars used in 1949 to test out the iconic XK120 sports car. It did do 120mph, as they had hoped, but only with the windscreen removed, and the 'pool' petrol freshened up with a good dose of Avgas*. I'm sure that when I first rode along this ageing stretch of concrete I felt the ghost of a long, low sports car sweep by me. Maybe.

Random Guzzi bits on

Before we turned in I asked the German lady about the magic road they'd found the day before.

'From Karasjok to Tana Bru', she replied, 'next to the river'.

The next day I made a diversion and rode along it. And it was, as she had said, a magic road. I stopped by the Tana river to brew up, and sat with my back to a tree in the warm sunshine, listening to the noises from the forest and the splash of the salmon leaping up the rapids. I saw one vehicle in half an hour, and the driver slowed to make sure I was OK.


But back to the D911. I was heading for home after a long European tour, and the road was a complete surprise. I had wanted to see the viaduct at Millau, which was a bit disappointing. Firstly you can't see much from it, and when you get to the service area at the northern end you can't see the bridge itself. Brilliant. I was told this was deliberate because the architect was British. Could be. Anyway, I picked up the signs for Rodez and Cahors and set off. It took me a few minutes to realise what I'd found; then slowly it became clear. The road was well surfaced and virtually empty. There were short straights and sweeping bends, with rolling hills and scenery very like England. An occasional village would cause me to slow briefly, but I wasn't riding fast. I swept along, the Moto Guzzi delivering just enough power to be fun, but not too much to spoil it. Sometimes a vehicle would come past, and once a tractor and trailer provided a mobile chicane. It was, in short, a perfect motorcycling road.

Jim's part-time job as a Moto Guzzi sidestand was not his most enjoyable employment experience.

And the best thing was this: I had no speedometer. It had packed up in Italy a few days before. So I rode at my speed, not at that dictated by a tyrannical clock.

Eventually I rode down into Cahors. I stopped at a little café and treated myself to a coffee and a generous slice of Tarte aux Pommes. There are times, and this was one of them, when life just can't get any better.

Magic, pure magic...

*Actually, that's not quite right. Jaguar took chassis number 670002 and with Ron 'Soapy' Sutton driving, it reached 126.448mph with the screen still fitted and hood erected. With the screen removed it made an average 132.596mph. In 1953 they took a modified car back with a bubble top to make 172mph! Jim Patten, Exec Editor, Jaguar World Monthly (and sound RC Clubman!)


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