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A weekend training in the Dordogne

As I pulled up next to the trainee, the sun was beating down from high in the cloudless noon-day Dordogne sky. Brian looked hopefully at the bar as he took his helmet off and mopped his brow. “I’ve got a bit of a headache.”

I have to admit I wasn’t surprised. We’d been out for just over three hours and the temperature had climbed from high 20s as we set out to mid to high 30s, and just like the previous day, I could no longer feel the volleys of hot air driven over my legs by the fan that kicked in the moment I stopped.

The outside tables were set for lunch, so we ducked into the bar, which was marginally cooler inside, ordered Orangina and set to talking about how the training had gone on this morning of our second day of the two day course.

Brian had contacted me earlier in the year about a Confidence Builder course, with him flying to England and renting a bike for training. I suggested an alternative option, for me to come to him and thus to take the training course in France in the Dordogne where he lives.

He was very pleased with the idea and we quickly agreed upon a date in late June for the trip.

So my trip began at 4:30am on Friday, with a short ride to the Channel Tunnel. For once I was a bit early and had time for another cuppa and a bacon roll before loading onto the train.

As I sat there, the sun poked up above the Downs behind the terminal, and just as quickly disappeared as a bank of fog rolled in off the Channel.

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Brian leads the way to Brantome on his CX500

The train deposited me in France just on 7am local time and I set off down the autoroute towards Rouen. Almost as soon as we rose out of the coastal plain the fog came down and long before I reached Abbeville it was quite thick and vision became quite difficult, not that it seemed to bother the drivers who were still passing me at 80+, so in the interests of self-preservation I turned off the autoroute and headed inland towards Lyons-le-Foret.

For half an hour or so, the fog remained fairly thick but soon it began to lift and my progress accelerated. As I’d meant to get at least as far as Rouen by autoroute, I now had to press on a bit to keep to schedule. At least the rural roads were fairly free of traffic by then and I was able to keep up a good pace.

The XJ6 Diversion’s engine proved remarkably well suited to this kind of riding, although the low gearing tended to have me looking for 7th on the faster, straighter stretches.

The miles disappeared quickly with me topping up the tank every 100 miles or so, more because my backside was ready for a ten minute break than because the tank was empty – in fact, the final run back to Calais on Monday showed that cruising at 80mph on the motorway the low fuel warning came on at 170 miles, which isn’t a bad range – or mpg, come to that.

On past Chatres and the distinctive cathedral, and the cloud began to lift and break. Over the Loire at Blois and the temperatures began to climb. Into the evening and still I was heading south as the landscape became more hilly and the roads more twisty.

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Hotel de something-or-other, Brantome

Eventually, at around 7pm I rode into the village and found my way to Brian’s place, to be greeted by his wife and fed several pints of tea.

Five hundred miles in just on ten hours – not too bad, considering most of that was done on D roads.

After dinner, Brian and I sat and discussed what he wanted out of the training, and I mapped out what I’d planned for the two days. He was happy with that, and we started by doing some of the pre-ride briefing that night over a final mug of tea.

As darkness finally fell, I was off to bed, and slept like a log.

Next morning, Saturday, we started work fairly early, but after a theory session to set the tone for the mornings work it was nearly 10am before we got on the bikes and the temperature was climbing fast.

We set off towards Riberac then along the D79 toward Brantome. We reversed course at Bourdeilles to give me the opportunity to demonstrate bend positioning technique, then switched direction once again, this time following the tourist route on the north side of the River Dronne all the way into Brantome where we stopped for a break and for lunch.

After a chat with another ex-pat Brit who admired Brian’s classic CX500 and told us he was going to bring over his own CB900F at some point, we headed off along the D939. On reaching Perigueux we tediously followed signs to a supermarket where we pitted for fuel, and then made an equally tedious return journey back to the town cetnre to find a bridge to the south side of the Lisle.

Somewhere here in the traffic I took a wrong turn and rather than a reasonably quiet D road, we ended up following the busy N221 and then down the D710 to La Bugeue where we stopped at a bar and cooled off with a double round of Oranginas, and watched whilst a local wedding party drove round and round the town sounding airhorns.

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The bikes, parked next to the Dronne

Having arrived rather further away from Riberac than I intended, we took the D703 back west, a lovely rural road that twists and turns through woods and open views over the valleys, before following some cross country lanes that picked up the D38 as far as Mussidan.

By this point Brian was feeling the heat as well as the unaccustomed mileage, and I was regretting my wrong turn, as we still had a good 45 minutes riding in front of us. We eventually arrived back at 6pm, a good hour after my intended arrival time.

With Sunday forecast to be just as hot, we made a slightly earlier start and this time I headed off in the other direction at around 9am, to a group of minor roads just to the west of Saint-Aulaye that I’d chose via Googlemaps before I set off.

We made a short stop in Saint-Aulaye to do a bit of slow control practice before it got too hot, and to demonstrate good emergency stop technique, then spent the next couple of hours working on better counter-steering technique to tie in with the positioning theories of the previous day which we’d worked on on easier, more open roads.

Like a lot of riders with previous time in the saddle, this was probably the bit that Brian found most difficult. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the technique – he’d described it perfectly.

It was just that he didn’t do it, and when the bends tightened a bit unexpectedly or he needed a quick reversal of direction in an S bend, instinct took over and he tried to steer by leaning, which as he himself realised, didn’t actually get the bike changing direction with any fluidity, let alone rapidity!

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Alleyway, Brantome

And the roads, through the tiny villages of Puymangou, Parcoul and Barbanegre boasted a selection of tight, awkward bends as well as one hairpin!

Several demos, discussions and practice sessions later, we pulled up at the bar in the mid-day heat and sat cooling down until the headache had subsided.

A final hour or so out on the road doing some final loops of the circuit and the break proved its worth with Brian finally getting the hang of positive steering inputs; suddenly the CX500 was changing direction rapidly, if not entirely smoothly!

We arrived back at Brian’s place at just after 3pm, and I took a short nap. By the time I woke up, England were already 1-0 behind and things rapidly got worse. An hour or so later, and we were consoled by one of Brian’s neighbours who was rather more polite about England’s performance than that of “Les Blues”.

Another meal in the open air, watching and listening to the swifts endlessly wheeling through the darkening sky, a final discussion and I took myself off to bed, ready for the ride back on Monday.

After breakfast, I was off and running about 9:20. I took a bit of a chance in heading directly north and not going through Riberac to fill up, but I wanted to get some distance down the road before I stopped again, relying on the last couple of “blobs” on the fuel gauge to take me a reasonable distance. In the event, the last but one blob faded out almost immediately, and I filled up just 25 miles into the trip.

I took a slightly different route back, with a chunk of the N10 despatched to get some miles done on reasonably fast dual carriageway. In the event, I tired of that by Angouleme and turned off, cross country to eventually cross the Loire at Amboise.

The day had still been warm but distinctly cooler and north of the Loire it was clear I was heading into black cloud.

At one point, a lightning strike arced down directly in front of me, so I changed direction slightly to try to avoid the rain that was undoubtedly ahead and succeeded reasonably well. For 30 or 40 miles, I rode on a mix of wet and dry roads, but mostly without rain actually falling. The temperature plummeted and I zipped up the vents in the Aerostich and contemplated getting out the windstopper top.

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Brian sorts his lines out

But with one final flurry of huge droplets of rain, the storm was behind me, and within a few miles the sun was out and the temperature climbing again. I re-opened the vents.

My attempt to pick up the A28 autoroute north of Rouen somehow went wrong, and I negotiated the city in the slow-moving early evening rush hour before finally escaping onto the free-flowing arterial roads and onto the A28, and then the A16 peage that took me all the way back to the terminal where I arrived just before 7pm, around nine and a half hours after setting out.

As I was around three hours early, I was somewhat surprised to be handed a “next available crossing” at 7:20 which meant I went straight through to the holding area, had just enough time there to send a text home to say I was early before being called down to the train. Even more amazingly, I was then sent straight on into the front carriage, so was virtually first off. Total time from arrival at Sangatte to driving up the M20 was under 60mins! And that’s how the Channel Tunnel should work. Hopefully this new order means an end to the interminable queuing that’s become the norm there recently.

With the time zone hour in my favour, I was home at about 7:15, 11 hours after setting off. Total mileage for the trip approximately 1,400. At a rough guess, fuel consumption averaged around 55mpg, which isn’t too shabby!

Can’t say the same for the longevity of the Dunlop Roadsmarts – though most of the 1300 mile trip was done on “normal roads” with a good proportion of twisties, the rear is squared off. I think it’ll be done by 5000 miles.

Many thanks to Brian and Cathy for their hospitality.

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