Quite a few people expressed interest in going, but in the end just two of us, Nick on a 950 Super Enduro and Gordon (me) on a 990 Adventure, made the journey. The plan was to cross the channel through the tunnel, then ride down through France and across the Swiss border to the village of Bure [Boor] on the western edge of Switzerland, where the Swiss KTM Club had borrowed the Swiss Army’s tank training ground. There are very few opportunities to ride off road in Switzerland, so this was something not to be missed.
On Thursday evening, 1 July, I rode from Cambridgeshire down to Nick’s house near Ashford, and just twenty minutes from Channel Tunnel Shuttle terminal at Cheriton, Kent. For once the M25 was flowing freely, despite an accident on the Dartford bridge, and I got there in around two hours.
Next morning we made an early start to catch the 07.50 shuttle. I’ve never been on the shuttle before, although I have used the Eurostar passenger trains through the tunnel, so I was looking forward to the experience. Heading towards the M20 there was a tail-back of traffic with very little movement. As we drew closer (filtering is tricky on the 990 with its panniers fitted because of the width) we could see lots of blue flashing lights, Police officers directing traffic, and an accident at the top of one of the slip-roads closing the roundabout. Hmm…
The only thing we could do was to head up the Motorway to the next junction, turn around and ride back, although by this time we were getting a bit tight for time. Fortunately the terminal is linked directly from the Motorway, and we rolled up to the check-in kiosk and were issued with our boarding passes – but the 07.50 had closed so we’d have to wait for the next one.
Riding through the maze of terminal roads, through security, British and French passport control, we arrived at the boarding queues with a handful of other bikes and lots of cars. Boarding is controlled automatically with traffic lights and barriers for each of the lanes, and before too long the barrier for our queue lifted, the light went green, so we were on the 07.50 after all – result!
If you haven’t been on the shuttle, then it’s best described as basic. The idea is that you sit in your car for the half-hour crossing, but obviously that doesn’t work on a bike. Bikes are loaded in to the double-deck carriages, in single file, and at a slight angle to the carriage. They are not secured in any way but the journey is fairly smooth and the bikes just rocked gently whilst we perched on the handrail that runs the length of the carriage. There are no facilities onboard other than a toilet, not even seats or a coffee machine, so it’s not exactly relaxing but it is quick.
Arriving in France there are no formalities to complete so you roll straight off the train and on to the Autoroute. There’s a petrol station at the exit of the terminal, and with hindsight I ought to have topped up. Nick had a full tank, and I’d filled up before leaving home, but I’d already done 100 miles with a 170 mile range…
It was a recurring event, having to leave the Autoroute to find petrol. At least it was a Friday so the village filling stations were open for business, but this did mean more tolls as we left and re-entered the Autoroute. Nick’s Super Enduro has a range of about 100 miles, so we had to make fairly regular stops.
The temperature was steadily climbing and by mid afternoon it was, according to a sign outside a pharmacy, 37°C. At each stop we bought a cold drink and tried to find some shade, but it was getting increasingly unpleasant, and I was thinking how nice it would have been to have the air conditioning of the Land Rover if I’d towed the bike down – but it wouldn’t have been the same.
Autoroutes are fast, but very dull. The speed limit is 130kph (85mph), so we made good progress. Leaving the Autoroute we took to normal single carriageway roads, which were reasonably busy.
It was on this road that the early start, the heat and general tiredness nearly got the better of me. Pulling out to overtake a couple of lorries on a long straight stretch, I failed to spot the black car emerging from the heat haze in a slight dip in the road. Thankfully the big KTM has good brakes, and I was able to tuck myself back in between the lorries, but it was a much closer call than I’d have liked.
We crossed the border in to Switzerland on a minor road, and then tried to find the meeting point. If there’s one thing that the Swiss like it’s road signs, and every route we took seemed to have a “no vehicles” sign blocking our way. Eventually we found a road that lead in the right direction, with no prohibition signs – and we ended up in someone’s garden… Apparently it happens quite a lot, but thankfully the lady of the house spoke English and was able to point us in the right direction.
Of course it turns out that our first attempt was pretty much spot-on, and if we’d ignored the sign, which is to stop unauthorised traffic driving on the training ground, we would have been at the meeting point in a matter of minutes!
We added our bikes to those already parked; a good selection of 620, 640, 950 and 990 Adventures, a couple of 950 Super Enduros and some interlopers in the shape of BMW GSs, a Cagiva Elephant and a Honda Africa Twin.
The camping area was a short walk away down a flight of steps, so we unloaded our kit, found a promising bit of space, and set about pitching our tents. It was really, really warm, and we were both sweltering. The insects had plenty of energy though, including a large horsefly that took a fancy to my back.
That done, we headed to the open-sided building that was serving as a clubhouse for the weekend, bought some drinks and found Marc, who’d put the original invite on the forum. He had brought his air conditioned caravan with him, and very kindly offered the two spare bunks in it to Nick and me.
Everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming, and most were amazed that we’d ridden so far (580 Km) in one day – and to be honest, I didn’t quite believe it either! We chatted about the journey, trips we’d been on, plans for future trips, compared bikes and all the usual things that bikers talk about when they meet. Some people were interested in our plastic number plates, because Swiss and German plates are metal and plastic ones aren’t allowed, and the yellow UK plates were an easy giveaway as to which were the British bikes.
Dinner was duly served, spaghetti bolognaise, and we were all given a briefing on the rules and timetable for the weekend, with a translation from our new friends who realised our German was just about non-existent!
The evening’s entertainment was a video / slide-show of a recent trip to Poland, which looked to have been great fun and quite challenging owing to the amount of rain and flooding they’d had to contend with. Luckily pictures speak a thousand words!
Next morning we woke up to an equally hot day. After breakfast, a typical continental affair with cheese, cold meat, bread, jam, fruit juice and coffee, we took to the track. There were two sessions on Saturday, 09.00 to 12.00, and 14.00 to 17.00.
The idea was that a guide would lead the way for your first lap to get an idea of where the course went, then you could do as many laps as you wanted (although it was recommended that you didn’t ride alone). Marc, Nick and I set off, and with the dry weather the course was very dusty – so much so that I had to hang back to see where I was going, and duly lost the other two. At least the course was well marked, so it wasn’t hard to follow, and I eventually caught up with them at the finish.
The course was a mixture of wide, fast tracks, narrow wooded sections, tight turns, loose slopes and other features, and was about five and a half miles in length. Despite the heat, there were a number of puddles around the course, and one in particular looked small and innocent enough on the inside of a curve after a flat-topped hump, but was deep and very muddy – hence the state of my bike!
Lunch time came, and we returned to the clubhouse for a tasty meal of ham (think gammon steak), potatoes gratin and salad. The heat had taken the edge off my appetite, but it was certainly needed after the morning’s exertions.
With plenty of lunchtime left, people found shady spots to rest. I got the Therma-rest out of my tent, and had a lie-down on a grassy embankment in the shade of the clubhouse and went to sleep…
Woken by the sound of revving engines, it was time for part two.
After its Moroccan trip, my bike was in need of a service and it duly went off to the dealer. For some reason, certain 990 Adventures suffer from a surging throttle, which makes delicate throttle adjustments very difficult. Unfortunately, despite my bike having been surge-free for the previous couple of years after some attention from the dealer, the Swiss course revealed that my surging problem had returned. This made the slower parts of the course very difficult, and at one point an inopportune surge saw me leave the course instead of taking the right-hand bend – fortunately without harm to me or the bike. Even on the faster sections, rolling off the throttle and rolling on again smoothly was impossible, and it lead to a nodding-donkey effect on the rider.
Mid-afternoon I decided to call it a day. Arrangements had been made to use the showers at the army base’s gym, so in groups of ten or so we piled in to the back of one of the organiser’s pick-up truck and were driven the few kilometres to the barracks. En route we passed the place we’d originally arrived at, and had turned away from having found the no vehicles sign – we’ll know for next time.
The shower was very welcome, but with the heat and humidity, we just about needed another one before we were even back at the camp site.
Dinner that night was roast chicken with potatoes gratin, washed down by Swiss beer and was delicious. The evening’s entertainment was another slide-show of a trip from the south of Africa to the north, along with the trials and tribulations encountered such as crashing your Cagiva and breaking your bike’s instruments, headlights, fairing and GPS receiver right at the beginning of the trip. The ingenuity of how they fixed it all was impressive – or at least it seemed that way from the photos.
Those of us sitting outside were treated to an impressive lightning display, complete with purple storm clouds, and we were hoping that the storm would pass over and help to clear the air as well as keep down the dust. It missed us completely.
Sunday was a morning-only session, and after that we would be riding to Interlaken via the scenic route.
To be continued…