My preparation for the trip was limited to getting the phone number for the hotel and the time for the meet at Lakeside Services. Packing was straightforward with toothbrush and toiletries, a pair of shoes and as many clothes as the very limited space in a tail pack allowed.
At the meeting point friends and colleagues were mostly of a similar vein; we were relying on our leader to keep us on the right road. Tel’s Tours had been born and I believe operate to this day some 20 years later.
The ride to the ferry port was uneventful (as long as you had your Dartford Crossing money in your glove) and a group of 27 motorcycles all overtaking on the M20 did look impressive.
I was lucky to be in the first group loaded onto the ferry and remembering the grip available on the biggest wet drain cover in the world I was very steady manoeuvring a Gixxer into the bike rack just inside the door.
One of my fellow travellers was not quite so restrained and having been instructed to the other end of the ferry proceeded to demonstrate what 110hp through a tiny contact patch on a wet metal surface could mean – the revving engine attracted my attention just before the pirouetting Kawasaki slid behind me, it appeared the pannier had managed little more grip that the tyre as it sailed along behind me, followed by its rider who was also making good progress in the direction of his parking space.
A few scratches and injured pride would be offset by a nice breakfast and we had our first ‘Rider of the Day Award’ - a scheme designed to remind us that we are all human.
The following week flew by. Excellent rides, good food, a celebratory glass of lemonade in the evenings and more rider awards; but none involving accidents. The vivid memory was my lack of preparation – my bike ran well but was due a service, the chain was OK but needed a bit of adjustment, my lack of ability to speak the language combined with no clue where I was going meant I relied on ‘Tel’ who seemed to know everything.
The trip was made by the company and the ‘banter’ enjoyed by like-minded individuals enjoying each other’s company.
Contrast this with my last tour. The Gixxer gone, my GS had enough space in the luggage for almost my whole wardrobe, puncture repair outfit, foot pump, extra riding kit and probably the kitchen sink but I stopped short of packing that.
I managed to fill up every nook and cranny with ‘essentials’ that I had suffered without on my sports bike – who can survive without trainers and smart shoes.
I had planned the route on a map which was properly marked up and this had been copied faithfully into my new friend Tom Tom’s memory. In fact if you looked around the group we all had sat –nav which we switched on to get us to the meeting point (Lakeside Services); it took us to the ferry port, we lined up and got on the ferry.
The amount of luggage on the line of 26 bikes was almost enough to sink the ferry. We got to the ferry port in Calais, the noise of 25 Tom Toms telling you to drive on the right was deafening. We then set off for the hotel – all following Terry (he didn’t need Tom Tom).
The planning for the trip had been enjoyable and the packing extensive but the success of the trip again relied upon the human interaction, when someone had cause to win an award it reminded us all that we are just a simple mistake away from either a presentation in the bar or a trip to casualty.
Motorcycles are fun and the company of a good group of friends helps perpetuate that, the banter may just help keep you safe.
By Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart head of driving and riding standards