Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Two in France: "Tell me when you see a petrol station..."

I usually see my VFR everyday. It stays right outside the front window so even if I go for a walk I can never avoid a wuick glance. I thought about it as I had my breakfast in the apartment here in La Ferte Bernard. Would I see the bike today? There was a lot of blue sky around, almost perfect weather for a spin. A light breeze to keep things cool. Yeah, the feet were becoming itchy, it was time to get out on the bike for a while.

This time Denise would be coming on the bike with me and although we were going out for this spin by ourselves there were more stunning examples of why, when you are on a bike, you really are not ever on your own (which is kind of funny when you consider that a lot of biking, for some people, is the feeling of just striking out by themselves and being independent, it's a contradiction that has yet to be resolved I suppose). Denise is lucky in that fellow Google+ World Motorcycle Community (WoMoCo) member Frédérick lives very close by and was kind enough to lend bike gear, from boots to gloves, to Denise to enable her to come out for the spin as all of her own gear was back home in Ireland. However Frédérick went one better than this the previous night in allowing me access to his garage to store the VFR safely while I am here. And more touching still was the present of a Le Mans 24 Heures Moto mug from him and his family to me on completion of my journey to La Ferte. Yes in most racing classes you get a gold or silver cup but this porcelain one was the perfect reward for my trip from Cherbourg, especially when later filled with some nice Barry's tea. So while my journey was supposed to be a solo one, there was always people on the other end willing for me to get here safely and interested in my tales from the ride and who were willing to accommodate requests for help to make the time here even more fun. You really are not that alone when on a bike.
My victory cup for making it to La Ferte, along with a small Eiffel Tower that Denise brought from Paris!

Hitting the road later we took the VFR north-west to Mamers along the D2, we cruised along at a gentle pace, this being Denise's first time back in the saddle for a few months. The roads were relatively quiet and the gentle pace fitted well with the breeze which just about managed to keep temperatures comfortable. Getting out of the familiar areas of La Ferte, and traversing a road that I had already covered, but at a more frantic pace, was refreshing which was a lot more than can be said for our travails in Le Mans, but I will get to this later. In Mamers we stopped for a cold drink, took a look around and snapped a few photos as I saw various junctions that I had negotiated on Monday as I made my way to La Ferte originally.
The VFR parked in the sun in Mamers

At Denise's request we sat out in the sun while we drank some Coca-Cola. It was all a bit paradoxical really as drinking the Coke was supposed to cool us down but here we were sitting in the sun. My legs were beginning to roast underneath the bike trousers and I could feel my skin beginning to tan but the people-watching from the outside seats was interesting all the same. It is so easy to see the roots of small French villages such as Mamers and see how the villages grew and expanded. Sitting where I was the church was behind me, but providing no shade unfortunately, and in front of me was a large square where a market would usually take place. On this particular day it was either a very large car sale or else it was being used for car parking - I never asked. Eventually we made our way back to the bike and Denise carried the camera to try and snap some shots on the move. I didn't expect much to come out of this but it was worth a try. This area of France doesn't seem all that spectacular, scenery-wise it is not like the Alps or perhaps the Ring of Kerry at home, but you can really get a sense of what life is like here. The wide open fields and broad horizon make this perfect farming country and you can see all of that work in action. It's quite endearing. Not to mention that it makes it very easy to see far ahead on the roads. There are some hills though and some gorgeous castles and abbeys as well, one of which Denise was able to capture from a passenger point of view that I really am not used to!
Taken from the passenger seat as we went around some bends on a small hill.
Looking at the map we had decided to make a bit of a triangle and go south towards Le Mans. The only problem was that it was nearing rush hour. As we approached Le Mans I recognised the old town to the left of us and a river shot from the great TT Legends TV series that was on ITV a while back (now on Youtube). Denise took some more pictures while we were stuck in traffic but I was much more worried about the temperature gauge on the VFR rather than the traffic as such. Looking at the dashboard as we were stopped at traffic lights I could see the fuel gauge showed we had half a tank left, although it is never accurate anyway, and the temperature gauge was now climbing to half way. Now this might not seem like a problem but this is when the thermostat decides the fan needs to come on to cool the radiator, and thus the engine. I needed a fan myself really, sitting atop a roasting V4. Being a VFR owner my thoughts turned immediately to the regulator/rectifier located not far from the rear bank of cylinders. It was going to be boiling. If all came to all I could have probably fried a waffle on it, it even has the griddle markings for cooling. Or in this case waffles. Or steak. I was getting hungry now. Hungry, hot, worried about the bike's electrical system. All going well then. Keeping the revs down I pulled away from the lights and into more traffic but at least this was in the shade. The temperature gauge didn't budge. I hoped that the VFRness wiring harness that I had fitted would cope. Filtering up through traffic it became clear that we had no plan of action, no idea of where we were going, and no knowledge of Le Mans as regards riding around it. Instinct told me get to the centre, stop the bike, allow it to cool, use a loo, eat an apple, get back to La Ferte. I tried to follow signs for Gare SNCF, the train station, as I knew that location, but missed a couple and just followed my own sense, accompanied by inputs from Denise. A couple of bouts of anger at car drivers who didn't seem willing to give me a break, unusual on the trip so far, and worried glances at the temperature gauge, saw me finally end up outside the Irish shop in Le Mans.
It as time to sit down and relax for a moment before we moved on to the main square at least where we, coincidentially, parked next to Frédérick's gorgeous NSR125 and a plethora of other bikes. The square was busy with a lot of people outside drinking coffee and meeting friends. There was a real buzz about the place but before we could actually go over to talk to Frédérick, who was seated nearby, we went to McDonald's to find some macaroons. Nothing fancy but just something to bring back for the night. A fight outside however delayed us and when we came back the NSR125 was gone. At this stage it was also time for us to make our way.
Doesn't that NSR look like an NR?
Getting out of Le Mans was quite an experience though as the temperature gauge and I became best friends. Traffic was still heavy but at least I was learning how to ride in a French city along with other traffic - it is certainly a different experience to driving on the quieter country roads and motorways. After numerous wrong turns I finally decided to just point the bike south and follow the road until the city came to an end. Eventually it did, with signs for the Le Mans circuit coming up fast. And then "Le Mans" with a red diagonal line through it. We were out. At last. Where to go from here was another question. Searching for the D323 we ended up in Allones which is as close to Le Mans as Ballincollig is to Cork. They are practically the same place it seemed to me. Fuel was also becoming a concern at this point but not a huge one. Finally making it on to the D323 we were on the right road but going in the wrong direction so I pulled in to a layover and checked the map once more. It indicated that we had to head back to Le Mans and then follow the ring road towards the east. To be honest it was useless, it had no detail for urban centres so we were pretty much on our own. Just as I was about to ignore a "no U turn" sign at the layover two police bikes rode by. I could see the FJRs slowed down and the two gendarmarie had a good look at the VFR. Not in the best of moods at this point and with a very empty stomach I didn't want to have to deal with them so pointed the bike south again and found a roundabout to turn around at. Signs for the D323 were now plentiful with La Ferte Bernard even being marked. We had done it. The last problem was fuel. 

The VFR's tank is 21 litres with an approximate touring range of about 200 miles. It was about to be tested. The fuel gauge was now dropping in to the empty portion but no warning light had yet come on so we were ok for now. Converting kilometre signs to miles in my head and then calculating remaining fuel I was sure it was going to be close one. The odometer ticked over to 200 miles (I reset it at every fill up). Then orange "Don't make me tell you again" fuel light came on to join the chorus of nagging that the fuel gauge itself had started earlier. Oh dear, it was getting serious now. Seeing a sign for a Carrefour with petrol pumps I pulled in to a small village, rode around, saw a Carrefour with no petrol pumps and had to make my way again. Great. I just wasted precious millilitres of fuel. Getting back to the D323 I stuck the bike in 6th gear and toddled along at 60mph at 4500rpm. This was real economy territory, with me certain sure that it would have to be. Every movement on the throttle would have to be as smooth as butter. The kilometres ticked down as the miles on the odometer rose. 210 miles. 215 miles. The orange "FILL ME" light was now bright and on permanently but finally we entered La Ferte Bernard. At least if I had to push the bike the distance wouldn't be too bad here. We saw another Carrefour and swung towards it, coasting in to the pumps. 217 miles. Preparing myself, and my wallet, for 21 litres of monetary pain, I stuck the SP98 nozzel into the tank and filled it up. I had to look twice at the display however as it indicated that the tank was now full at 19 litres. I withdrew the pump a little and continued filling. The most I could get in was 19.5 litres. I still had 1.5 litres in the tank. I could hardly believe it and felt stupid for thinking we were going to run out at the side of road earlier. Calculating how economical, or not, that the last 217 miles had been saw that the VFR had returned a very respectable 50mpg (21.26 kilometres per litre). Considering half of this was done two-up and half of it was done at much greater speed than the gentle cruising of the day, it was impressive. Especially for a 17 year old bike. Who said carbs aren't efficient?! Using that average mpg figure of 50 there were another 13 miles left in the tank before it was properly empty. A touring range of 230 miles?! Not bad...

Tank filled it was time for home. Today had been a good one.


  1. Happy Easter to you and Denise- I'm sure ye will splash out with a cup of Barry's Tea !!

  2. This has been a very interesting and useful read for me as I'm doing something very similar in about two weeks. I know exactly what you mean about the fuel gauge though. I recently did a trip where I filled up at 205miles (and I thought I was pushing that) after cruising around 80-85mph. Still had a litre and a half left. Anything 200+ is decent in my book.
    I'll read on - it's getting interesting ;o)

    Paul (Leathertramp on bikersoracle)