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12th September 2008

Touring Abroad, Part Two
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Jim Patten lives a lifelong dream and rides the very best of British bikes, from Velo Venom to Triumph Tiger and Norton Commando, in the glorious French countryside...

Despite a late night we were roaring to go the following day and were chatting like school kids over the bikes we would choose. Paul was easy - he would not be parted from Black Bess. Andy and I were drooling over the Norton 750S but he won. I had the 1973 oil in frame Triumph 750 Tiger, Lee, adapting well to right foot gear change was on the BSA Thunderbolt. Neil took the Velocette Venom, realising that we would want that in our toy box too.

A couple of examples of ancient engineering that have stood the test of time. And a Norton. The Norton 750S, the Velocette Venom, and some Provencal scenery

Somehow that day became a bit of a blur for me. The Tiger was a fine bike but a little too, er easy, for me. We were soon sipping coffee when Andy confessed an unnatural longing for the Velo. So we played merry go round. Andy got his Velo, Lee took the Tiger and as nothing could get Paul off Black Bess, Neil rode the Thunderbolt.

Now this is where the narrative goes all wobbly. I simply adored that Norton - it was a real beast. It takes a firm foot to kick life into the 750 twin and with a clutch like an on/off switch, it demands attention. And that's what I gave it. Sure we passed unbelievable scenery. I'm told there were deep gorges and even an aqueduct. There probably was but all I was looking at was the next bend, almost salivating at the prospect of giving the 750S a bit of counter steer and tipping in to the turn. Neil got the hint and being an excellent rider with local knowledge, took me quicker and quicker. I was pleased to see that Lee had got the hang of old things British and often caught a glimpse of him in my mirrors, despite the vibration. Paul and Andy were smitten by the scenery and had I been on anything other than the Norton, I'm sure I would have been too.

... Photo by Jan Dirk Onrust
Sunbeam stuff on

We did another change when Andy and I switched; I now had the Velo. What a delightful bike this is, although it has to be said that I never mastered the black art of starting the thing. I felt like the apprentice as Neil had to breath the blessed engine into life. Andy could do it okay. On these roads the Velo was in its element. It could almost be ridden on a fixed throttle with just a mild adjustment for the corners. It's not an especially powerful bike but it more than compensates for that with its flickability. But I couldn't get that Norton out of my mind and when I saw Andy stranded with a stalled engine, I took my chance. And yes, he would change back.

Once again I was living my dream. Waiting for everybody to pass I gave the Norton its head, blitzing them all. They later remarked on the delicious sound as the Norton passed at speed. But they were not the only appreciable audience. We passed one restaurant where we had a standing ovation - the outside diners were literally on their feet clapping as we rode by.

Wish you were here? Le Cafe Tournelle at l'Ongles

It was the end of our second day and sadly, the end of our riding. Once again, we dined at Chez Thomas where we could not stop jabbering. Some interesting facts came filtered out and some self realisation. None of us had the same bike as favourite and we all got different experiences from the trip. Where possible, Neil had given us the low-down of the different regions. We learnt much about the early glacial days through to how the French resistance fighters used the hills to hide from the Nazis.

Wish you were here, 2? Some BSAs, and some more scenery (Gordes, apparently)

As an introduction to riding in Europe or just plain having fun, this trip comes with top marks. Our group's feelings went something like this: More than anything, we all loved the bikes on these roads with the stunning scenery and felt re-assured that someone else was sorting out the logistics and was ready for any problems. Paul loved the gentle nature of the A65 and felt as though he could have ridden anywhere with confidence. Lee, the youngster more used to modern machinery now understands the charms of these old machines and is keen to have one for himself. He would like to return to expand on his education. Andy, a Laverda 750SF owner, adored the sweet handling on the Velo and was charmed by the engineering excellence.

Wish you were here, 3? It took seventeen attempts, but the boys were finally able to balance the Norton on the Velocette's seat

As for myself, well it was a bit of an eye opener. I've always considered myself reserved, preferring to stay in the background rather than push forward. And yet I love the 750S so much it hurts. All trip it was called the hooligan bike needing a rough nature to ride it. Is that really what I am about? Well if it is, I don't care. I want a 750S and I want it bad. If you have one to sell (and I'll pay slightly more than Frank W's customary 100) just let me know. In the meantime, it's not *if* we go back - rather when. I suspect our small group will be slightly larger next time.


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Classic Bike Provence hold tours throughout the autumn, and are booking for 2009, if you'd like to escape the UK climate and live you own classic biking dream

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