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23rd January 2012

Continental Touring by FJ1200
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Simon Lock figured he could depend upon a Yamaha FJ1200 to clock up the miles on the Continent. But before he even left the UK, it rained... and the FJ ruined its reliability record...

The freedom of the open road, the beauty of two-wheels, the joy of camping: all these wonderful enrichments to life are open to the owner of the most reliable classic of them all: Yamaha's FJ1200, written about in these very pages not so very ago long ago, and in terms of glowing endearment, by yours truly. Wonderful!

So, not surprisingly, after all the praise and celebratory laudations I took it for another foreign ride: a long ride and a train ride too. Well, that was the plan, carefully hatched over numerous winter pints, emails, maps, discussions, counter-discussions and more pints, alongside pleadings with my boss for just one Friday off so I could get to Hergenbosch in time to catch the train to Italy with my travelling mates.

Ready for the off...

With life disintegrating on the domestic front, the trip seemed a blissful lifesaver; you can imagine that it wasn't, therefore, a whole bundle of laughs to be standing under a very drippy tree, just over a very high wooden fence, on the M4 near Newbury, with a very loaded and very dead FJ1200 on the hard-shoulder being lashed by a gale and the spray from passing trucks… in the gathering dusk… and the expectation that my phone would be drowned before I could make it clear to the nice recovery man that I needed his services.

I had been making FJ-like, smooth, rapid progress in the outside lane at a significant rate when a passing monsoon had deigned to lob its large black cloud all over me and the bolide in question. Luckily the rapid rate of progress allowed me to move from outside lane to hard-shoulder with an instantly dead engine, and de-clutched, without any undue concern. 'Well, officer, I was going that fast in case it rained and the engine cut out,' may not always be true, but has some merit of originality next time I have cause to discuss velocities with the unmarked members of HMC.

But a laugh this little catch certainly wasn't. Said recovery man finally arrived on his unsuitable low-loader with no bike specific kit. Not to worry, I've loaded plenty of bikes on flat-beds but Mr Recovery was having none of that; he proceeded to lash tie-downs around as I wheeled three tons of loaded Fudge up the slippery slope of his truck. By the first slip road he remarked that cars behind seemed to be backing off. We stopped to discover that the FJ was trying to get its footpegs down all by itself. Hmm, I began thinking of how well insured it was and what waterproof machine I could get with the money… Next he decided to pull in to the services for a drink; at the rate we weren't going I wouldn't have been surprised to hear he'd booked a room for the night.

It was 9pm and the sky was mockingly clear. I should have been in Calais a couple of hours before, and I was going the wrong way on the M4, in a truck cab, with a carefree, 'all the time in the world, mate' type driver and a seriously leaning FJ behind me. Seething. Hating. Wishing I'd kept that ginger (Anniversary Gold, my backside!) Pan European, when my phone received a call from Calais. Grrrr!

I actually felt utterly depressed; I'd been banking on a break to clear my mind, and now the world's most wonderful sports tourer had chosen to pack up on me. I knew, I was pretty sure, where the problem lay: low tension connectors. I'd put on nice aftermarket coils the previous year and had had to re-make the low-tension connections to suit. Nicely done but never rain-tested and, after an earlier blip near Bath, I'd had to stop and unload the bike to empty the water out of them. The monsoon deluge had obviously overcome the vinyl glove protection I'd added on the previous hard-shoulder stoppage.

So the trip was over for me.

At least it was until my Calais-bar-ensconced, beer-swilling, laughing mate said, 'If you can make it to Hergenbosch in thirteen hours we'll meet you by the train.'

Righto then. Why not? (Actually I said some riper things than that but you probably don't want to hear them - it's a family-friendly site, after all, but rest assured no Anglo-Saxon profanity was spared in the making of my description). Arriving home to a very surprised audience I shoved the FJ into the garage, made a cup of tea and, without so much as stripping off my soaking wet riding gear, ripped of the camping stuff, panniers, tank-bag harness, seat, panels and tank and set to work.

A hairdryer dried out the connectors (the only use I've had for one in years), silicone filled them up to the brim with waterproofing and I made a nice little splash guard, out of an old plastic bottle, to keep them safe from direct spray. Job done. Reassemble, press switch, all four lovely cylinders roar into life, just as they should: pack, pee, go. It has to be said that knowing your bike like the back of your hand does help in these situations. If it had been the Pan that had conked out I'd have been ages finding out where all the bits were. But, of course, the Pan wouldn't have done that…

Bristol to London was achieved in 1hr 12mins that night; spotting what was, hopefully, the only unmarked car on the motorway that late already having a 'chat' with some other poor bugger, I was able to crouch behind the screen and use the mighty power of the Fudge to charge into the darkness. Which it did with great aplomb. It's lovely when given an open road and a large handful of unrestricted throttle. Tuned with S&B pod filters and jetted up, 4 degree ignition advance (my only use for trigonometry since leaving school!) and stainless, slightly freer-flowing silencers, it has plenty of go for a 19yr old battleship, even fully laden.

I arrived at the Chunnel in time for a crossing to Calais, getting there at 5.30am. After faffing round Calais, and wishing I'd listened in French lessons at school, I finally found my mates at their hotel. Just time for 15 minutes 'rest' before breakfast. It was a shattered but relieved tourist who chomped on the croissants and slurped the coffee that morning.

K1300, Fireblade, FJ and KTM, eating Pizza in Pisa..

My companions and I made an eclectic little foursome: the FJ joined forces to conquer Europe with a K1300GT (lovely but pricey, complicated and expensive to run), a CBR1000RR Fireblade (ho, ho, how uncomfy did you say? Where were you putting the tent? Oh, on the FJ!) and a KTM990 (Oi, you, up there; nice windblast matey). Off we rocketed in a non-stop race to Hergenbosch through the rain that had followed me. Not much rain though; not enough to test my repairs (something I was free to wonder about until much later in Germany). One mate had the only incident of the trip on this section when, in an excitable moment of Fireblading, he opened up to overtake a car and did so speedway-style. Gulp!

The motorail from Hergenbosch cannot be recommended highly enough. Great service, people who love their jobs, efficient and not even too pricey. If you listen to their advice and book early, ask for the last sitting in the restaurant car and keep your table for the whole evening. Lovely. 24 hours later we disembarked in Livorno, northern Italy. Only to find that the KTM rider has misplaced his key with the fancy in-built immobiliser transponder - no hot-wiring opportunity there.

Keys found, we headed for Pisa for lunch. As you do. Sipping a happy cola and tucking into sundry pasta-rinesses we contemplated our fortunate situation; ten days of Eurotouro ahead through the alps, across Switzerland, Germany and then home via Holland, Belgium and France. Lovely.

And off we went. First campsite, in some mountainous area that I can't now recall, saw lashing wind and rain in the night but a thankfully dry-ish morning and serious hangovers. Ho hum! Day two saw us whizz up past Milan and just over the border into Switzerland. Pretty indeed. Pretty damn expensive. Thirty pounds to park your tent on a cramped campsite in a pitch the size of... your tent. This was just a sign of times to come.

Switzerland; tranquil but pricey..
Should've got a 'Pan, on now...

Next day produced the highlight of the trip; dry roads and a country-full of mountain roads. We enjoyed the climbs, turns, descents, rests, views and some lovely demonstrations from the locals of how to do it. That night we camped near the Reichenbach falls, scene of the untimely demise of Sherlock Holmes. Obviously it rained in the night! Actually, prior to retiring we'd been injured... well, not so much our persons as our wallets, which had bled profusely since entering the country. My recommendation for your Swiss trip is, start and end at a country outside Switzerland, do your trip in one day, and take sandwiches.

The next day, travelling lighter (in the wallet department - have I made my point?) we zoomed to Lucerne to meet up with a foreign exchange student who'd stayed at my place. Due to some sad news from home for one of our party, we had decided to make rapid tracks back, otherwise our host would have hired a bike to take us to see some more good roads - sadly, it wasn't to be.

We passed on into Germany and took up residence in a rather kitsch hotel - all sombre, wooden rusticity and oompah music. Very avocado on the bathroom suite front too! Still it wasn't raining inside...

Next day we split; the rest of the bunch to travel with chap heading home and myself to Koln to visit another exchange student's family. The Autobahn was a bore, if a high-speed one. As I approached within 50 miles of Koln the heavens truly opened and I discovered that I'd repaired the right fault - the submarine Fudge raced through blinding rain with no hiccups at all. Maintaining average traffic speeds of about 90mph to avoid being tailgated, in atrocious conditions and on a road awash, was not a recommended pastime. Still, I arrived in the nick of time to get a bed for the night.

This is why we do it..

The journey home was not enjoyable - motorway all the way resulted in hearing problems as the day wore on. But, I arrived back in Bristol after six days of Eurotouro with a very different attitude to motorcycle touring from my previous Fudge-powered trip to Spain and France a couple of years before.

A few lessons learned were:

Intercoms are brilliant (especially Autocom), crash helmets are not - if they are not as soundproof as you'd like. High-speed windblast had been a constant problem for me on this trip. Wearing a Shark Evo helmet (easy to get the intercom to fit see) as opposed to my old Box helmet, meant I ended up deafened despite the use of ear-plugs. This seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the trip.

A sat-nav saved my bacon racing to Koln to get there before my host went to work. I arrived at her door with one minute to spare - literally. What a great bit of kit.

Weather had been generally less than fun.

Camping had been hard.

Worst though was the cost. Fuel was very pricey, not helped by poor consumption because of the high-speed work. Switzerland is a place I'm unlikely to visit again, purely on a matter of economics.

Upon returning home to re-order my life I came to some unexpected conclusions; Much as I've loved previous tours I'm unlikely to tour abroad again, at least not for some time, by motorcycle. The cost, potential hearing damage and long days just spoiled it this time - probably not helped by stress at home. However, it did strike me quite forcibly that bicycle touring would eliminate many of those irritants. Next summer it's likely that a different two-wheeled tour, of a much more leisurely nature will be the one I'm on!


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