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1st August 2005 (Although I'm creating this page on the 18th of July. It's all very confusing. RM)


Five Days In Provence, Part 3

Want to get away from it all and ride some great classic bikes on brilliant roads, under a shining sun? Steve White tried a Sunbeam and a Velo during his last days in the south of France...

After three days of riding different machines from the Classic Bike Provence stable, and seeing the sights of the area, we were accustomed to the routine.

Saturday's trip was to the Petit Luberon mountains. My steed at the start of the day was to be 'LaRue' the Sunbeam S7 500, to be followed in the afternoon by the Triumph Tiger 650. The others out on today's run were Neil (of CBP, who leads the tours) on the Honda, and Dave and Kathy Selwyn on the Triumph. We met up with Dave Broderick on his Kawasaki 900 Ninja at the first coffee stop at Lourmarin, which was almost at lunchtime, so we then rode on for half an hour or so before stopping for another al fresco lunch in the foothills of the Petit Luberon range at Gordes.

What *is* that man doing to that Norton?

That Sunbeam was something else! It was weird to ride (compared to what I am used to), with the plunger rear suspension doing its own thing over the bumps, and the sprung saddle doing the opposite sometimes and the same at others. Trying to take bumpy bends smoothly took some doing at times! But (and don't bring out the men in white coats please), I found that I had the widest grin on my face, and actually laughed out loud once while riding it. It was great fun, but I was happy to change over to the Tiger after lunch.

After this last stop, we set off back to base. Progress was good that day, as everyone had become used to the bikes, so the ride could be enjoyed so much more.

C'est un grin de fromage.

Oops! I spoke too soon. The Triumph started misfiring, and eventually stopped. Neil dug out his bag of tools, which included a multimeter, diagnosed a discharged battery, which was of course no good to the Boyer ignition set up, which needed a full 12-Volts to produce the goods. Out came the jump leads, connected to the trusty Honda, which was revved at about 2000rpm for 10 minutes or so, and the Tiger was purring again. Enough to get home anyway.

The Sunday was the last official riding day of my stay. We started off with some bike maintenance tasks (optional for guests naturally), though there is a certain pleasure in getting your hands dirty, messing about with bikes, particularly when the bike isn't your responsibility. We dropped the back wheel out of the BSA which I had ridden on Friday, and investigated the rear brake overheating. Most of the grease had gone liquid, and run out of the bearings. So the job of stripping the bearings to clean and re-grease them was started, to be finished after our return.

Filling the rear wheel with lead was not the success that was expected.

We were off to the Grand Luberon today, and I had the Commando until the lunch stop. Dave and Cathy were on the CB750, Bill was on the Indian Enfield 500, Neil on the Triumph (with new battery) and Dave B joined us again on his Kawasaki. We had a nice meandering run out to the first coffee stop, and then uphill to the summit of the Col de l'Aire del Masco (696 metres), and down again.

The lunch stop was a bit special. Some friends of Neil and Sarah who run the CBP tours, Nick and Maggie, have been building up their own B&B business in Provence. They have now moved to their third property near Cucuron, which contains six en-suite double rooms, a swimming pool, amazing food (I found out later) and stunning views of the Grand Luberon mountains. They have just finished renovating this property, and we were the first guests for a meal, and we got the works -- I almost had to jack up the pre-load on the Honda for the afternoons return trip to Ventabren!

And as we had our cozzies with us, in for a swim we went! Very refreshing.

Man in purple trunks attempts to hide his identity in case his boss visits this site. He's supposed to be in bed in Solihull with a bad back.

I was on the Honda for the rest of the afternoon. Needless to say, I kept going for a sixth gear! It was nice for a change, but I can honestly say that the British bikes seemed much more suited to the roads in Provence, and the pace of life as well.

We had another ace meal prepared by Sarah in the evening, and said farewell to Bill and Rachel and Dave and Cathy. I was staying on for another day, and flying home next evening. So the Velo was going to be put back together in the morning, and if all was OK, I would ride it in the afternoon.

On my last day I needed to get a couple of souvenir presents to take home, and Sarah took me on a tour of Aix-en-Provence, the nearest town. It looks very nice, and good for anyone who might happen to like shopping, with loads of classy, upmarket shops. There are plenty of markets as well, and we stopped off at one of them for me to buy the gifts.

Back at the house, Neil and I finished off the brake and bearing maintenance, and then got on to the Velocette job. The cylinder head only needed refitting, so it didn't take too long, and she started after only a few kicks. She was a bit temperamental at tickover, but otherwise all was OK again. We had a late lunch, and then went out for a test ride.

Neil was on the Venom, I took the Enfield, and Dave stayed on his Ninja. There was another purpose for the outing. I couldn't return home without any local produce (wine!). So throwover bags were loaded onto the Velocette. Once Neil was happy that she was performing OK, we changed bikes. For two 500 singles, they couldn't be more different, the Venom far outclassed the 'modern' Enfield in all areas, especially the sound!

Random Velocette Stuff on eBay.co.uk

And then it was all over. Even though there were a few stoppages over the five days, the bikes clocked up the best part of 2000 miles in total. Most of these were two-up and over some very demanding roads. None of the breakdowns were serious, and all of the bikes made it home each time, a compliment to the bikes, and Neil's knowledge of them.

Neil took me to Marseilles airport for 9 o'clock that night, and I was home by midnight. The holiday was over far too quickly (as usual), but it made a big impression on me. Provence is a beautiful part of France, with miles and miles of interesting and challenging empty roads in good condition. When there is traffic, it seems to be motorcycle friendly. The sun shone all the time, and the hospitality; food and wine was excellent.

Just writing this piece has reminded me how much I want to return, and I will. Anyone else interested?

If ever a picture needed a caption...
Classic Bike Provence

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