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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

The Load

By Ren Withnell

Having now learned that the gf is to accompany me on a 3 week trip into Europe this completely changes the whole preparation thing. Loading a bike with camping kit, clothes, cooking equipment and tools for one is fiddly, but manageable. For two it's a blooming nightmare.

The gf and I have completed several UK camping trips for up to a week. We've never been camping for 3 weeks. We've never been camping together for 3 weeks. We've never been together constantly for 3 weeks. We've never made a concerted effort to be "self catering" regarding food. Although I have my concerns about how well we'll get along as people, by far my biggest fear is whether or not we'll get everything on the bike!

On previous excursions we've fallen out somewhat regarding what the gf can and cannot bring. From my point of view she needs a few pairs of knickers, a couple of t-shirts, some pants and a jumper. She of course needs an outfit for walks, an outfit for dining out, an outfit for visiting museums and a ball gown just in case we're invited to dinner at the ambassador's mansion.

I exaggerate, a lot, but sometimes this is what it feels like. I on the other hand will have some undies, a couple of t-shirts, some pants and a jumper. Oh, and a coat in case it rains. Maybe some spare pants if the others get dirty. Possibly a thicker jumper too if it gets cold. I like to take my shoes as walking around in bike boots isn't nice. I think you're starting to understand what I'm getting at.

There's 3 costs while travelling. Fuel, campsites and food. Food can be the biggest cost if you are to dine out every night in Europe. Meals in the UK can be had from as little as £6, typically £10 per person if you are careful. Add to that maybe £3-4 each for a breakfast and another £3-4 for a lunch and the total could be £40 for the both of us each day. Our plan is to make as much as we can. Modern shops cater for families with fridge freezers and large cupboards not bikers wishing to buy food for the day and no place for storage. If I can keep space in the top box we don't need to throw away the "excess" of family size packs.

So clothes, cooking gear, space for food...then there's tools and tents and sleeping bags and airbeds. Don't forget the toiletries, towels, cameras, batteries, chargers, phones, maps, notepad, torches, waterproofs, spares and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Previously we've battled and struggled with throwover saddlebags, a tank bag, the top box and a massive pile on top of the top box. Unstable and probably unsafe. I yearn for a better solution. I start by making a tool tube using soil pipe. It's not pretty but it is functional. Apart from one long spanner for the rear axle I can now store the tools which creates more space for the other items.

black tube mounted onto rear of fazer 600 fzs
The tool tube. Mounted on a metal bar that's been there for ages. The bar keeps the saddle bags away from the wheel. the tube is made from soil pipe and bodged ends.

Whilst visiting an adventure biker's bike shop I spotted an old ex-army Armstrong with panniers...either side of the motor. That's the best place for weight in terms of stability and an idea began to form in my tiny little brain. A four cylinder inline 4 such as my Fazer does not lend itself to mounting equipment either side of the wide motor, but I shall not be deterred. After days of pondering, a lot of bodging and some swearing I came up with a solution. It's not a pretty solution but it does work, 70mph tests confirm this. I now have additional storage. I also am now the butt of derision from my friends and the bike is a source of curious looks.

fazer 600 with front bags in bright yellow either side of the engine
The side bags. Not pretty but effective. The weight distribution is better, more central.

With all this new storage and the initial testing complete the gf and I need to make a test run. The Thundersprint in Anglesey provides this opportunity, a 2 night trip, not too far away, camping. I make sure the gf understands that this is a test run and to bring everything she'd like to bring to Europe with is. Apart from the saddle bags still being far too heavy the run down with the new "front side bags", FSB's, is a success. What is not a success is re-packing for the return journey. The gf is an amazing packer, able to squeeze 40 litres of "stuff" into 20 litres of saddlebag. However under pressure from a tired, cold, grumpy and bored boyfriend, me, she struggles to re-achieve this in the allotted time and has to put stuff elsewhere.

I lose the plot entirely. I have a tantrum and the return journey is done under a cloud of rain both physical and emotional. After a few days of sulking we resume communications and between us we realise the problem is not merely the volume of what we need but the weight too. Compromises are made, new solutions are found and items are moved around or redistributed. I'm still not entirely happy with all the gear we are taking but I do now accept that we have both cut as much as we possibly can without risking being under dressed or under supplied.

fazer all loaded up with saddle bags side bags, tank bag and tent 
The poor poor bike on the day of departure. This...is...the...full...load...

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.
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