So, yesterday night I got back from a small tour of Northern France, culminating in the May Day Run to Hastings on Monday. Figured I'd share a bit about the trip, and maybe a few thoughts about the XSR..
So I rode with two friends; Mike on a Tracer 900 and Tom on a Tiger 1050. We took the ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo, rode through the Suisse-Normande, up through the newly-created département Hauts de France, took the ferry from Calais to Dover, then rode to Hastings, west over Beachy Head, and back to Hampshire along the good old A272..
How was the XSR? Well, mechanically it was good enough to make up for my own failings; the motor's torque helped me out of the many, many corners I'd misjudged, lost too much speed and come out of at far too low revs; the brakes helped me out when I'd made the opposite error; the balance and nimble nature helped me out when I needed to perform hillside U-turns and manoeuvre around uneven campsites and slippery ferry vehicle decks. On a fair few of the peculiar curves of the Suisse-Normande, too, it even somehow managed to be swifter than the far more powerful, more expensive, and (if I'm honest) probably more capably-helmed bikes I was riding with!
Practicality-wise, however, it was definitely the wrong bike for the job. This was thrown into sharp relief by the capabilities of the other two bikes in this regard. The Tiger was held back slightly by its less-than-perfectly-padded saddle and bicycle-proportions front wheel, which made it harder to ride (especially in the wet) but apart from that it had fuel range, luggage capacity, wind protection, performance - and the Tracer was, of course, almost the Platonic Ideal of a touring bike. The XSR had fuel stops that were so close together it was almost embarrassing, about half the luggage-capacity of the other two, even including the pillion space (goodness only knows how uncomfortable that budgerigar-perch would have been, two-up!) and tie-down points so few and so poorly placed that it took me about twenty minutes (and about three fathoms of accessory cord) to lash everything down, every time we set off.
Still it was only the first time I've taken my XSR touring; I'm sure I can mitigate some of these issues in future, now that I know what they are. (And one might argue that comparing it's touring capabilities to the likes of a Tracer 900 is perhaps a little unfair, in any case..!)
As for the tour itself? I'm normally not a fan of Northern France - the industrialisation of once-idyllic rustic landscapes and the miles of dead-straight Roman roads, but this trip was certainly not like that at all! Where has this side of Northern France been? The first day, in the Suisse-Normande, was incredibly picturesque, and had some really fantastic roads. Traffic was light, courteous and very motorcycle-aware (literally the only instances of poor or selfish driving we ever encountered were by cars, mostly 4x4s, on British plates..), the weather was perfect, we found a superb galetterie for a lunch stop; it all just came together perfectly! I'll remember that day's ride for a long, long time. That evening, though, we rode about fifty miles past the campsite; the rain radar on the Météo-France smartphone app indicated that if we did so, we'd have a dry morning the following day. the extra fifty miles made the day feel much, much longer, our progress slowed and our concentration was starting to go; I'm not sure it was worth it, but ride past we did, and found another campsite around dusk. We all rigged our tents, for the first time, using the bikes' headlamps.
The second day we rode on smaller D-roads (the meteorologically-induced detour having taken us away from our planned route..) and traffic was practically nonexistent. We saw maybe thirty or forty cars, all day. The roads were slower, however, and with a great deal of speed-limit-changes that broke up the flow and rather kept us out of the zone. There were some good sections nevertheless, though, and country was still on the picturesque side, albeit with fewer crumbling châteaux and more crumbling farmhouses. At least twice we passed groups of small children playing in the street that mimed operating twist-action of a throttle when they saw us; they waved and cheered as we obligingly blipped ours as we passed. Definitely not Londoners, then. Changing our plans once again to avoid the rain, that night we stayed in a youth hostel above a pub in Dover that was every bit as crumbly as any Norman château. The place seemed to be held up solely by the sheer thickness of the marijuana smoke generated by the pub's lock-in.
On Monday we got to Hastings for the finish of the May Day Run, which was described by Tom as "absolute carnage" (I guess he's never seen it in a dry, sunny year, when it does rather make this year's run look like an IAM training course..) That being said, I do particularly recall the sight of two police officers standing by the promenade, in arms-folded attitudes of authority, watching knackered fluoro nineties sports machines and brand-new Italian hyperbikes alike, spin up their back tyres, bounce off their rev-limiters, and wheelie their way along the seafront.
The rain came down heavily on the ride back to Hampshire, and the roads filled with cars; could have diverted onto the motorway, of course, but I stayed on the A272 - doggedly deciding, even as the rain soaked through my waterprooof jacket, to stick to my planned route right down to the very last turn of the crankshaft - and was rewarded by the Motorcycle Gods with an unexpected burst of sunshine and an essentially traffic-free final twenty miles, making for a deeply satisfying end to the tour.