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18th July 2005

Five Days In Provence, Part 2

Steve White had just settled down to the Provencal routine of open roads, blue skies and brilliant classic bikes. Time to see how well the BSA A65 Lightning could perform, then...

Over in France, well in Provence at least, bikers seem to be a friendly bunch. Riding on the right helps, because as you pass bikes going in the opposite direction it is easier to move your left hand out to the left as you acknowledge the other rider with a two finger 'Victory V' salute (palm forwards please!). You also get to know the 'right leg salute'! Basically, you lift your right foot forward and outwards slightly off the footpeg when overtaking another bike (without making distinctions for engine capacity or manufacturer). Car drivers are much more aware of bikes in France than here in the UK, and most times they pull well over to the right to let you past easily, at which point you use the 'right leg salute' again.

Two more couples joined Friday's tour. Jim and Susan Kell from San Francisco, and Dave and Cathy Selwyn from the Forest of Dean area. They would be riding the Honda and Norton, chosen from the Classic Bike Provence fleet of about a dozen British and Japanese classics. Neil, who leads the tours, was going to be on 'Black Bess', the BSA A65; Bill and Rachel on the Triumph Tiger 650; and I had 'Red Rocket', the BSA A65 Lightning. All to change later on of course.

Two problems with the photos for this story.

In the breakfast picture, clockwise from the left: Sarah Thomas (Neil's wife); Jim & Susan Kell; myself; Bill & Rachel Lee; Cathy & Dave Selwyn. The usual breakfast was croissants, pain-au-chocolat, coffee and juice.

They were all carefully numbered, but the numbers used for file names didn't relate to the numbering used in the text.Today's ride was to the coast, in the area of Cassis, which is between Toulon and Marseilles. The first photo opportunity was only after about 10 minutes, at the Aqueduc de Roquefavour, a massive piece of engineering sculpture carrying the fresh water supply down from the mountains to the local area, our host's house at Ventabren included.

I was really enjoying this BSA, far more than yesterday's bike. Although they were both A65 engines they were set up very differently; this one had a sharper acceleration, and quicker steering. The gear change wasn't quite as smooth but the brakes were miles better. This one was a real scratcher's bike, as I was to find out later in the day.

The rest of the morning, I asked to be 'tail end Charlie' because usually (or so I thought), the rider at the back has to keep up a faster pace to keep up with the others!

Going through a small town later on in the morning, a Frenchman was crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing, pushing a bicycle. The first two bikes stopped OK, unfortunately, the third bike, the Honda, didn't, and bumped the Triumph exactly on the rear tyre, and thus pushed it forwards into the BSA with Neil onboard. The front wheel of the Triumph went between the wheel and the right silencer of the BSA, forcing it outwards, and snapping the mounting bracket. It also shoved the BSA onto the Frenchman's bicycle, buckling his front wheel!

It was a big heap of metal and much language followed, a mixture of French; English and American, but no-one was hurt. There was some oil spilled but the vast majority was dumped by the Honda -- when the filler cap came off the separate oil tank as the bike went down.

Following roadside repairs to the injured bikes, we set off to find a lunch stop at Gemenos, following which we reached the coast at Cassis, and stopped to take in the breathtaking views from the clifftop above the town.

Random BSA A65 Stuff on

The road around this bit of the coast is called the 'Routes de Crete', and is a delight to ride fast if you concentrate and ignore the scenery. Otherwise it's nice to meander along, taking it all in. There was some swapping of bikes here, with Jim and Sue choosing Black Bess, the BSA. Neil went off ahead to get some shots of us riding round a slight bend. We were to follow at suitable intervals to allow time for the correct camera to take a photo of its owner! It worked OK for the first two of us, but Jim and Sue went the other way for some reason, and having changed bikes from the Honda to the BSA, he got the gears mixed up on a bend, and came to grief on some gravel, gathering some more bruises to add to those from the morning, and bent poor old Black Bess a bit more -- but she kept soldiering on. No prima-donna this one, but a tough old bird!

Secondly, they were all a bit small and were a bit over compressed. If you're sending in photos, let us do the cropping and the resizing.

He returned to the Honda after that, and rode very slowly from that point onwards, I was still the tail end Charlie on Red Rocket, and rarely got into top gear for many miles. At one of the catch-up stops, Neil told me to follow the road, no turn-offs for the next few kilometres, and to wait at the summit. There was no hesitation, as I selected first and set off up the pass. Again, I didn't get into top gear but for a much better reason -- really trying! That was a very twisty road, with no traffic, and the BSA was great for the job. I'd had all day to get used to her, especially the brakes. That one bit of road is top of my list of many memories of Provence. It was a five kilometre scratch, from one hairpin bend to the next… Pure magic!

After a short maintenance break to re-adjust the brakes on my BSA and take some photos, we were off again. After about 10km of fairly slow riding again, I noticed a faint aroma of cooked brake shoes! It seems we over-adjusted my back brake and it had been binding un-noticed because of the slower progress. So slacken the adjustment off again, and use only the front brake for the remainder of the ride.

We were presented with the usual quality meal, a chicken based paella type of dish (I know I wasn't in Spain, but good food is good food!) Got off to my pit about 12:15am for yet another deep sleep.

It's a shame, because these are good shots spoiled by lack of display quality. Compare them with photos in last Fridays Knebworth story. Classic Bike Provence


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