Yesterday was a late night with me only crawling into my pit at 01:00, so an early start was never on the cards. Still, consciousness and I became acquainted around 09:00 and by 10:00 I’d packed the bike and was being resurrected by the powers of French coffee and fresh bread, just as it started to rain.
Today was going to be another day of mile-munching motorway monotony, and it’s at times like this that I regret changing my GPS to metric units. I know they pass by quickly, but seeing that the next turn is in 297 kilometres does little to lift the grey demeanour of a boil-in-your-waterproofs kind of morning. My mood eventually lifted in tune with the weather, and by the end of my first tankful the romper suit was ditched just as the temperature topped 25.
Lunch was had – quel surprise – at a motorway services just as the heavens opened again and the Germans arrived. Two guys from Bremen, one on a Deauville and one on a mid-90s Beemer, they were heading to the Alps for a couple of days and struck up conversation when they saw me working a baguette between the petrol pump and my laden bike. “Going round the world then?” one enquired in excellent English and I let the conversation carry on for a bit before relaxing into German. Both were dead impressed with the alleged cleanliness of my bike, then admiration turned to disbelief when they saw it was pushing 60k. I guess bikes wear out quicker in northern German coastal towns.
The three of us were destined for Bourg en Bresse some 120km away, but whereas my two friends only needed to check into the Ibis I still had to find somewhere to fit the two tyres I was getting sick of carrying. The handful of garages I could find on the ‘net hadn’t responded to my Franglais emails (and to be honest I lacked the
confidence language skills to phone) so with time ticking away I was torn between hoofing it down the motorway straight into town, or taking the next exit and skirting some larger villages in search for one of those industrial / commercial carbuncles that seems to crop up on the edges of French civilisation once the mayor has been bunged.
I took the former option and it wasn’t long before I arrived at what I’d taken to be my best chance of success, the Bourg en Bresse chapter of the nationwide Moto Axxe franchise. Although their website listed tyre replacement as one of their services next to a closing time of 18:00 on Saturdays, it was in fact closed. At 15:30. And had been for a while. I had visions of dragging a pillion’s worth of spare tyres around for the next two weeks and back to Blighty as I headed into town with my eyes peeled, and it wasn’t long before I happened across a Honda concessionaire just up the road.
It’s at times like this that you have to thank and perhaps even envy the French. Not only has the obligatory moped ownership of every adolescent citizen made them nationally sympathetic towards motorcyclists, but the accompanying infrastructure ensures that the next generation too is exposed to the merits of two-wheeled freedom despite the best efforts of a government which clearly has its head up its arse.
I surprised myself with my broken French and almost wept with joy when the chap behind the counter told me it would be no problem to fit my tyres, just wheel the bike up to the metal shutters at the side of the building and we’ll get right on it. My euphoria was slightly tempered when they told me they’d have to charge an hours labour at 50 Euros to include taking the wheels off, balancing and re-fitting, but I wasn’t in a position to be choosy and I suspect they knew it. Still, being able to speak with the lad who was carrying out the work (which took over an hour and mashed one of his tools – long story but value for money) was quite good fun, and by the end of the afternoon we had the whole shop team standing round the bike, passing cigarettes and cups of coffee as they discussed the merits of my route. Turns out that there’s a BMW dealership just up the road, but because they charge 93 Euros per hour for labour everybody who buys bikes from there brings them here, which is reassuring in a way. When we were all done I was cautioned to take it easy on the new tyres, and cocking my head at the thunderstorm raging outside the workshop doors I assured them Je suis un expert de glisse par temps du meteo Anglais. Big laughs all round, big boost to my confidence. Still no idea what I said.