Beta Alp 4.0

A collection of information as it arises. There's not a lot out there!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Custom luggage rack

I've just spotted this whilst looking at bits for BMW XChallenge; a future machine for me?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Day 9: Cambrai to Home

The goal today was to reach home in time to have the Beta washed before tea-time and that was achieved. The 120km of autoroute to the tunnel terminus wasn't too busy and I checked-in without difficulty. Last year I was delayed by border security and I feared the same might happen this time when the Police brought out a sniffer for explosives. Luckily the process was efficient and the queue reduced quickly. Near the boarding area myself and another motorcyclist were waved onto a train about to depart to fill a carriage. That made up for the outbound delay.

Rain had been forecast across England and I could see banks of rain in the distance for many miles. But amazingly I seemed to weave inbetween them and had a dry journey. I remembered my observations from the outbound journey and made petrol stops in Kent and then at the Roman Road Industrial estate off the A14.

Lots of tidying and washing of stuff followed...

540km, nearly all motorway-class roads

Friday, September 06, 2013

Day 8: Limoges to Cambrai

On leaving the hotel I thought that I knew better then Google Directions and retraced my path to the autoroute junction. It then became clear that Google was right in advising a different route as I could only join Southbound and the next exit didn't allow me to return. After a little wasted time however I was making my way northwards, luckily the intersections are very close together.

There was drizzle and spray left from the night before's thunderstorm but I stayed dry in the yellow suit. By the time I left the autoroute the sun was out so I redressed and had a snack; see my planning has improved! The route was unexceptional and after Auxerre rejoined my outbound route. I managed to get lost in Provins. Outbound I'd managed to navigate the circuitous bypass but this time I failed. Until then I'd been following signs rather than Google and here I had the choice of Troyes or Paris. To the east or west respectively when I wanted to be going north. The few signs to Epernay were the solution. Only when I was on the right road did signs to my destination appear.

Everything was aching well before arrival and I had to ride without earplugs for a few hours as my ears had become too painful to tolerate them. Even the Airhawk seat was inadequate to stop me from shuffling every 10 minutes.

In this direction I managed to pass through St Quentin in control but slowly as the signed route was urban and there was a lot of commuter traffic. After that Cambrai was only a short hop and I could recall the hotel's location.

I wonder if this is the longest day that I have ridden? Some of my days to the Stella Alpina were lengthy and how about taking the F650 to Kyle of Lochalsh so many years ago? Indeed, that would have been 730km!

660km, half on autoroute

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Day 7: Ripoll to Limoges

It was past midnight when I went to bed last night and this morning I had to repack/reorganise for travel rather than trail riding. On checking-out there was an unexpected single occupancy supplement but I couldn't complain as I'd rather not share and it was good value for half-board with wine included anyway.

The N260 from Ripoll towards France must be one of the best roads in Europe. I know there are lots of mountain passes but the N260 manages to curve around the mountains for mile after mile with apparently little need to cross the ridge and 'get the job done'. The RN beyond Puigcerda was busy and not in the same league as he first 60km. On reaching the autoroute towards Toulouse my average speed increased despite 3 sets of tolls to contend with; so fiddly on a motorcycle. The urban rind-roads were toll-free, presumably to encourage their use, but this meant that there were booths at each end.

Descending towards Puigcerda
For much of the journey Google Directions were excessive but they were perfect to lead me to the hotel in Limoges. The Ibis-Budget is unusually central and thus potentially harder to find than one at a motorway intersection.

After the obligatory shower, clothes washing and chain-tightening (it must be wearing now as it needs attention every day) I strolled into town and eventually found a pedestrianised street of restaurants with a live jazz band playing. I avoided pizza and found somewhere offering Cous-cous Legumes. The serving of cous-cous, stewed vegetables, chickpeas, sultanas and sauce would have been enough for two. I could only manage around 70% of it but didn't think it  would be wise to have 30% a emporter  for consumption in 16 hours, non-refridgerated, time.

Inside the dome of Limoges station, well worth returning too
As I travelled into France the forecast for today was poor, but instead it has been gloriously sunny with only light winds. For much of the last 3 days I'd have been better off with garments more porous to wind. On the VINCE even my Hood cargo pants were too warm - and they'd been OK in India. It's harder work trail riding a Beta (or indeed pushing a KTM) then it is trundling around on an Enfield!

Too warmly dressed

536km, half on Autoroute

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Days 5 and 6: The VINCE

It's hard to write much detail about these days as they were very intense and long. So much happened it's hard to recall what it was! Even after 12 hours riding there was the evening meal and discussion in the bar and so this log was forgotten.
Team Dental Engineers
The VINCE was very well setup: The book of checkpoints and the marked routes were accurate and on the whole any errors during the event could be ascribed to faulty map reading rather than the ICC's mapping or Austin's guidance.

An example of the plaques that were our goal
We started in the 'easier' sector to acclimatise ourselves to the terrain and each other. Here the map reading was easy as the features were large and the decisions infrequent. Once out of Ripoll I made no errors and that created rather a false impression of invincibility. Thus on the second day, when the terrain was more involved and changed rapidly I made a couple of silly errors that required us to back-track (Note that a GPS logger was carried to record our progress and not a navigation aid).

Getting to here was a little more tricky than it appears

Riding on Day 1

Riding on Day 2

The nature of the trails varied from little better than a footpath through trees to concrete road. There were plenty of rocky hairpins to test confidence and trials-turns and also long gravel roads where ones speed had to moderated to avoid accidents. Although I am a very cautious, even timid, rider my experience on ascents such as Bamford Clough and Bluehills made me realise that in may cases the best option is to keep the throttle open. The Beta coped well with everything except washboard tracks. Even though the chain had showed little sign of slackening during the journey here, the event must have taken its toll as it should have been adjusted before setting off for home.

Signs can add to confusion!

Overall we worked well as a team and achieved a credible final result. It is notable though that the top two teams were a league ahead of everyone else in the points. Austin seemed a little surprised by our relative success, I think due to problems with 'Odd couples' previously. The teams had widely different levels of preparation and skill.  The second placed team were riding R12GS and claimed little trail-riding experience but their paperwork was very well prepared.

After a slightly shaky start I did well with the evening meals at the hotel with special orders prepared for me. I'd no read the details thoroughly enough to realise we had half-board or I'd have contacted the hotel beforehand. Well done to them anyway.

The event has reinvigorated my interest in motorcycle touring and trail events and I'll be tempted to sign-up as soon as the 2014 VINCE is advertised.

Our preparation of focussed, laminated maps worked well, but I would enhance performance in future by:
  1. Ensuring that the trail-specific maps have a scale bar - as each had a different printed magnification distance was hard to judge.
  2. Attempt to measure each leg as accurately as possible in advance as it was hard to judge whilst riding. Of course zig-zag tracks are often poorly represented on maps but even an estimate would be helpful.
  3. Setup an A4 map board but ensure that the (an extra?) odometer is visible to check distance covered - see above.
  4. On some sections the altimeter worked well but I hadn't set up spot heights in advance. Trying to do it at midnight after a day on the trail wasn't ideal.
  5. Look at point scores in relation to potential difficulty and distance and decide which route is most efficient. This is perhaps too competitive - after all our plans did focus on Austins's 'great trails' and the score was fine.
  6. Make packed-lunches the day before. Although there are some cafes many villages had nothing, or those present were closed, perhaps due to being late season. The experienced teams had this under control but we were too tired to bother and then regretted it the next day. Nonetheless we did have a good char to other teams at a very entrepreneurial bar in Ribes.

About 200km, probably 150km on the trails.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Day 4: Millau to Ripoll

The first section of the A75 was a feast of curves during its descent towards the Mediterranean coast. Unfortunately the join onto the A9 was busy with many lorries and holiday traffic. Nonetheless the 2 motorways enabled me to cover 200km quickly.

Around Perpignan the sea visible from the road and the land became typically Mediterranean and on occasion the air smelt of pine and rosemary. After the toll booth I headed inland and into the foothills of what would become the Spanish Pyrenees. I made a stupid navigational error and spent 14km (there and back) going up the wrong valley.

Looking back into France

At the correct coll at the head of the correct valley I was disappointed to find the cafe closed, why on such a lovely afternoon? Having said that, there wasn't a lot of passing trade.

Spanish fauna tries the bifocal sunglasses
The descent was delayed by roadworks, a blockage due to blasting I think, but soon enough I reached Ripoll. I'd been surprised not to meet any trailbikes on this final leg of the journey but at the hotel a few were parked up. Many more would arrive over the next few hours.

I'd time for a shower, swim, food and another shower before the event briefing. I'm not sure that I'll repeat the swim as the water was cold and very heavily chlorinated. Not a pleasant combination. Austin's briefing can be summarised into two key elements:

  1. It's not my fault if you kill yourself
  2. Be nice to the locals
Both aspects are very reasonable.

SG had done some further route preparation and so we had a plan for tomorrow. I just hope that the routes can be found on the ground.

442km, starting on the A75 but then on good roads across the mountains

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Day 3: Nevers to Millau

The roads today were of good quality and so I made good time to Millau. I also made a point of stopping hourly after the first 2 hours and ate some of yesterday's provisions. I think this routine made the ride less tiring although it wasn't entirely successful as the weather was improving as I went south making me hotter and hotter as my destination got closer.

The A75 is a fantastic motorway, picturesque, with direction changes and hills and valleys to give an ever changing view. It's also toll-free apart from the Millau viaduct, Much of the route is at over 1000m altitude so I imagine that it could be a testing drive in the winter.

View from an 'Aire de repos'
I paid the €4.40 toll to cross the viaduct and to reach the visitor centre. The centre has some exhibitions on the area, not so much on the bridge, and a viewing area for the viaduct. Personally I thought there were more dramatic views a kilometre or so earlier; what dies Norman Foster know anyway? The viaduct is magnificent both in function and appearance. The structure is delicate for its size, although from the figure on Wikipedia it's still very heavy. Presumably if it were more 'robust' it would be too heavy to support itself.

From the official viewpoint
After crossing I turned off the autoroute and descended into the Tarn Gorge so that I could travel beneath the spans. There is a network of roads in the valley centred on Millau and all are narrow and winding. The town is a warren too. I rode around for nearly an hour trying to find the hotel! I'd entered a different way from my directions and went in what seemed the right direction. I spotted a newsagent and decided to ask for directions to help me on my way. He looked at the map and pointed to a mast on a ridge and sent me in that direction, which was completely wrong. Once I'd established that for myself I returned to the shop, and set off again; the hotel was less than 500m away in the direction I'd been going! How annoying!

After all this messing about I'd got hot and bothered and managed to drop the bike whilst doing a U-turn having just ridden past the hotel gate. It has to happen once on every trip I suppose. Oddly enough earlier in the day I'd been thinking that a 'proper' faired touring bike would have merits, but not when it's laying in the road.

The hotel is lovely and the proprietor very helpful, even to the extent of a cold beer on arrival and provision of a garage. She felt the pool might be too cold at 24 degrees but I decided to chance it and managed a dozen short lengths.

Vegetable tagine for dinner in town. So far so good.

462km very nearly all good going