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18th September 2008

Touring Abroad, Part Three
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If you haven’t seen much in the way of sunshine this summer then why not follow Stephen Benson’s example, and head south for dry roads and a warm welcome...

My wife, the lovely Liz, surprised me with an unexpected request. We had such an enjoyable time touring in Norway on the Sunbeam S8 that Liz wanted to do something similar. This, I decided, needs to be encouraged! There is only one thing that improves touring on an old bike for me and that is touring on an old bike with Liz as pillion. But what to do? It had been a very busy year work-wise and the Sunbeam stripped a halftime gear on the way to the Dragon Rally that dented my confidence somewhat.

So I had read about Classic Bike Provence (CBP) in RealClassic magazine. The idea seemed great: fly down to Marseilles, get picked up at the airport and taken to your accommodation, given a splendid and very sociable evening meal with the other riders, then shown the selection of BSAs, a Velo Venom, a couple of Norton Commandos and even one of the most famous Sunbeam S7s (LRU) that you could be riding next day.

... Steve Benson and the lovely Liz...
BSAs on

Neil and Sarah run CBP and really pull all the stops out so you have a great time. They normally run day trips from their location but at certain times of year they do special trips. It was one of these special trips that we were booked on - the Canyon du Verdon tour around the largest canyon in Europe. (This tour is being run again in October 2008. Here’s the details: #gorges)

For this three-day trip Neil had selected the nimblest of his bikes as the roads were going to be very twisty indeed. So after a few practice runs around the garden in front Neil's house off we go on three unit 650 BSAs , an Indian Enfield Bullet, a Honda 750 four, with Liz and I on the 650 Triumph Tiger. We had strict instructions to keep the bike behind in view but I am ashamed to admit it was me who split up the group within 10 minutes of us setting off! The first couple of miles are the worst as you grapple with an unfamiliar machine on the wrong side of the road, so looking behind for other riders takes second place to basic self-preservation.

It's the late sixties all over again. But sunnier and drier... "For this trip Neil had selected the nimblest of his bikes as the roads were going to be very twisty indeed..."

But the unflappable Neil soon had us rounded up again and through out the trip mishaps like that were rare indeed. It was not long before the roads got narrow and scenery lovely, the sun was high so all was well then we stopped for coffee. This took me by surprise as we had barely been going an hour or so it seemed but I was still in UK mode. Neil and Sarah really understand that this is supposed to be a holiday not an endurance trial.

We had stopped in a very picturesque little village, where we all learned how to pronounce the various coffee types we enjoyed and in doing so got to know each other a little better. We had Neil (Squadron Leader), John, Dave, Viv, Viv's dad Noel, then of course Liz and me; so a nice small group. It felt more like a very pleasant dinner party than a motorcycle tour at times.

The 'Album Cover' photo... "It felt more like a very pleasant dinner party than a motorcycle tour at times.."

We were soon on our way again and the roads started to get quite challenging. We rarely got over 30mph which was fine as I had soon decided that my natural place in the group was at the back, out of the way. A problem with this type of group is the very varied road experience of all the riders. I ride old bikes every day and some of the others had not ridden old bikes for many years, Viv had not had chance to ride anything for several months before the holiday.

We all got to the lunch stop quite exhilarated with the roads and the scenery. But it was quite clear Viv was finding the big Honda a bit of a trial on these very challenging roads and John wanted a change from the Enfield. Viv asked Neil if was possible to go pillion the rest of the tour as she wanted to see the views and this was not a problem Neil parked one of the unit BSAs in a local garage and took the Enfield, giving John the Honda.

Throughout the day it was clear we that we were getting higher. When we crested the last hill we found ourselves riding on a plateau covered in fields of lavender, clearly a local speciality crop. At that point we were all relaxed enjoying the bikes, roads, views and the atmosphere of the South of France. It’s not easy to describe… however I had a big, cheesy grin and I am certain the rest were smiling as well.

Another picture postcard village...

We were taken to our hotel in another picture postcard village and while Neil did a bit of bike fettling we explored the place. We decided that the bar with the most locals in it was probably a good starting point so we soon located a full but slightly scruffy candidate and promptly ordered a couple of carafes of Rose. Rose is incredibly cheap here and very drinkable, but I decided it was the UK equivalent of Babycham so ordered a more manly House Red as well.

Next day we got our first views of the gorge and – wow! -- it is spectacular, as well as being very beautiful. Neil also promised us eagles! And sure enough it was not long before he came through on his promise; at one point we had 21 eagles circling directly above us! After a while it was a little unsettling; it was as if they knew something we didn't…

'Next day we got our first views of the gorge and – wow!'

The day was following the same pattern as the previous one with lovely sunny weather, twisty roads, super views and lots of stops. Unfortunately rain was forecast for the third day (a rare occurrence in Provence) but it turned out to be just a few minutes of warm light rain every now and again: nothing really. We had scheduled our flight for a couple days after the tour so we had time to spend a day touring with friends in their rented car and a day lounging in the sun at Sarah and Neil's. On both extra days Sarah cooked our evening meals and what splendid cook she was -- I would have needed larger clothes if we had stayed any longer.

It was a really relaxing holiday that I can certainly recommend to any other classic bike enthusiasts and their partners.

From left to right... some of the group.


Do It Yourself!

Classic Bike Provence hold tours throughout the autumn, including the Gorges du Verdon tour in October 2008. if you’d like to escape the UK climate and live you own classic biking dream

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