3rd European Harley Festival, Golfe de St. Tropez

St. Tropez

7th-10th May 2009

Some rides cannot really have been said to have been enjoyed until several weeks have passed and the discomfort or disappointment has had time to fade - but I am sure that this is not the case for the Chelsea & Fulham or Meridian rides to and from the Harley festival in Port Grimaud near St. Tropez. I had the pleasure of riding down with Scottie and C&F, but back with Dave Mann and the Meridian contingent so really got the best of both worlds. Whilst down there the riding was limited by the demands of tagging for HD-Europe but of course included JW’s ‘Riviera Ride’ of which more later.

Ride reports, like any information recording, is best done with the events still fresh in mind. So it is that I am sitting in a rainy and cold London on Wednesday remembering the sunshine and warmth of the French Riviera, only two day’s riding away. Truly the English summer is a wondrous thing.

St. Tropez

We left on Sunday to catch a mid-day ferry, a civilised start to what turned out to be an excellent week. It was nice to leave the house in daylight, although overnight rain meant it was definitely not warm. Nevertheless everyone was on time, so on the train it was helmets off and meeting and greeting our companions for the next few days. Riding down I was in a group of seven (yes, they were magnificent) and Scottie led while I brought up the rear. Out of Calais onto the A26 we escaped the northern French industrial plain and soon enough were lunching at Le Buffet, a find from a previous trip where the food bordered on the gourmet and lacked nothing in flavour and good service. First night’s hotel was a typical C&F chateau, where the indoor parking was in the stable-block cum occasional ballroom. Nothing so crass as a bar, the waiter was ever attentive and kept the beer (Leffes) and wine flowing.

Day 2 was to be a day of Péage, where we would earn the right to a day in the High Alps by despatching about 400 miles of the necessary distance. Thus it was that we proceeded at a fairly steady 80 as far as the town of Grenoble - the views of the Alps as we approached were fabulous and a promise of an excellent day’s riding to come. Dinner was more prosaic, the local pizzeria being the only thing open by the time we had checked in and rinsed off the day’s bugs.

St. Tropez

So on to the Alps on Day 3. This was a first for me, riding up to altitudes near the snow line, where the roads themselves (although generally well surfaced) frequently lacked the minor consideration of a crash barrier but were well supplied with vertiginous drops. The mountain air was as crisp and clear as promised, the views were simply stunning, but the penalty for a minor error could have been catastrophic, thus limiting the opportunity to concentrate on anything but the next switch-back turn.

A restrained pace in the morning after an early start saw us coffeeing in Gap, then lunching on a reasonable steak-frītes some way to the south. In order to get to St Tropez we then had to get up and over the remaining Alps and down onto the coastal plain. Not to be out-done, Scottie decided that the best way was the steepest and highest pass, the Col de la Bonnette. From the south, the climb starts at Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée and is 25.8 km long. Over this distance, the climb is 1652 m. (an average percentage of 6.4%). On the climb to the actual Col de la Bonette, there is one short section at over 10%, but on the loop around the Cime de la Bonette, the gradient reaches 15%. However not much of this is any use if it is still under 6 feet of snow, which is what we found when getting near the top. Nothing for it but to turn round and go all the way back down, where the lady in the petrol station informed us that all the high passes were still shut as it was too early in the year. Never mind, we’d tried!

St. Tropez

The next event was the Gorge du Verdon, which was utterly spectacular. Words cannot do justice to this limestone canyon, with walls hundreds of metres high, and it’s a magnet for motorcyclists, climbers, cyclists and the world’s most bonkers kayakers. Go and see it if you do nothing else this year! There is one road through the canyon, never more than narrow, so lots of anticipation and awareness of oncoming traffic is mandatory.

What with the slow pace caused by the switchback roads and the sheer distance we had to travel, it turned out to be an twelve hour day so it was with some relief that seven weary travelers arrived at the hotel in Port Grimaud at 8pm, keenly anticipating dinner. Unfortunately the staple at the hotel restaurant appeared to be boiled fish accompanied by salad that had been prepared with a chain saw and a shredder rather than normal kitchen equipment.

Our time at the rally itself from Wednesday to Saturday involved tagging participants (same as last year except the tee shirts were yellow, not pink). C&F and Meridian both provided teams and between us we covered from 8.30am to 9pm each day, ensuring a smooth entry to the site for many thousands of guests. Time was made available to attend the C&F evening event in St Tropez itself, and also to take part in the Riviera Ride on Saturday morning, another looping jaunt into the high hills.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear but the temperatures were dropping and rain was forecast to arrive soon. Meeting with Meridian outside the local boulanger, we fuelled up and headed for the motorway north. Little to report about a day at 80mph stopping every hundred miles or so to fuel up and stretch legs. The mile-munching ability of the Harleys was again well to the fore. The hotel (which they’d used on the way down) was a Campanile at Beaune, where a creditable evening meal was all too soon followed by a pleasant petit dejeuner. Heading north we could see the black clouds gathering, so as the rain set in I headed to the back of the group and dived into a picnic area to don waterproofs. I then had some ‘me-time’ and continued rapidly onto Calais where I managed to get a train 2 hours ahead of schedule. Back in the UK the sun had reappeared so I was home at 4.30pm.

Total distance 1894 miles.

Outward party: Scottie, Smiley Steve, Marj and Andrea from HD, Andy Pownall-Gray, Peter Bourget and myself

Howeward party: Daves Mann and Mollison, Nick Franklin, Jeff, Michael, Phil, Steve Hush, ‘the guy that bought Mollie’s purple Street Glide’ and myself

Honourable mention for other taggers: The Papases, Phil Pyefinch, Richard Corval, the two Tonys and Mick Lewis.

For a selection of photographs of Chelsea & Fulham’s journey to 3rd European Harley Festival, Golfe de St Tropez visit the Gallery page and click on the France ’09 tab.

Michael Howers - C&F Road Captain