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22nd June 2004

Found in France!

Roy Workman didn't go looking for a bike museum while he was on holiday in France - but one found him...

Some time ago I had spotted a couple of holiday homes to let in the Ardennes region of France in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine. They looked good and we booked a week's holiday. We had a nice ride down from Calais, down through France, past Reims, then bearing left towards Verdun, turning left at Ste Menehould towards our chalet near to Autry.

The chalets are run by Liz and Graeme, a Yorkshire couple who both ride bikes. Graeme showed me a picture of the bike he hopes to get next -- an AJS trials bike of about 1956 vintage -- so that he can go off riding in the local woods. We had a very pleasant stay here, and Liz and Graeme made us very welcome.

Ignore the bikes; check out the flat tyre and the dodgy mannequins...

On day, whilst wondering where to go the next day, I was thumbing through a brochure on the Ardennes when I spotted a write-up about a local motorbike museum.

This was only a few miles away at Sault Les Rethel. The museum is open every day of the year, but by appointment only, and we had to phone to arrange a visit. Liz got the job of making the phone call and she managed to arrange a three o'clock slot the same day. Although her French is good, Liz was not too sure about the directions she had been given. We headed off to the town, about 15 miles away, looking for the 'Marie' or Town Hall, which we found easily. We parked the outfit up in a layby to take stock of the situation when along came a local family who told me that we wanted the house across the road. Keith, one of the lads who was staying in the other chalet, arrived on his motorcycle and at the appointed hour we rang the door bell.

More ropey mannequin action - Maybe the owner should open a wig museum?

The museum owner's wife met us at the gate and invited us in. She showed us through to the rear garden where her husband met us. He led the way to his big shed, dodging under the fruit trees and past the geese, which were his guard dogs.

Enough mannequins; this is a Dresch. But you knew that already.

He has a collection of over a hundred motorcycles, mopeds, scooters and pushbikes, together with a lot of motorbike memorabilia. The collection included a couple of BSAs and a Norton, a very nice BMW R26 and a couple of Japanese classics, but mainly the exhibits were French and Belgian. I spotted a 1910 pushbike and the newest vehicle was a 1991 Ural outfit, but there were lots of bikes in between. This was a real Aladdin's Cave, decorated with lots of period advertisements . The majority of machines were in an 'as found' condition, not restored as those in many of our museums are. Apparently this is quite common in French museums. There was a Visitors' Book with a pot beside it so you could make a donation to the upkeep of the display.

A Norton with a pink tank next to a Gnome without a fishing rod.

Keith and I have very limited knowledge of French and the owner spoke little English, so conversation was limited - however we must have been there for the best part of an hour before saying our goodbyes. The owner walked out with us to see our bikes, and he was a little surprised to see the outfit. Chris had waited in the sidecar, and as her French is quite good she and the owner had quite a nice chat. We all had a laugh when Chris asked him what French for sidecar is, only to be told with a huge smile 'Le sidecar'!

Gas lamps and girder forks.

Graeme did not know that the museum existed. He said that he'd take a ride over and have look himself. Graeme and Liz have been to several classic shows in France where the machines are ridden in, and he said that many of exhibits could do with lots of spit and polish.

Liz and Graeme's chalets are first class, the area is quiet and agricultural and the roads are good and very free of traffic. There is lots of World War I/II history in the area, and Liz and Graeme are good company. For more information contact: We enjoyed it so much that we are going back next year.

For the museum phone +33(0)3 24 38 46 27 The owners are really nice people with a passion for motorcycles, well worth a visit if you are in the area.

MCN got 167mph out of this bike during an extensive road test.

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