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Article published in UK Trail Bike Magazine by Rhys Williams

I discovered the ATiC site when following up on suggested modifications for the digital trip master fitted to the AT. The "club" has been running for 5 years with the guiding philosophy of encouraging international cooperation and adventure with Africa Twins. Details of Africa Twin related Accessories, Tour Guides, Hints and Tips, can all be found on the website at www.atic.org, along with postings of forthcoming Meetings. Having decided to make the trip, I sent out a few exploratory emails to various persons unknown in the UK to canvas interest and see if we could muster up a decent posse to represent UK Atic’s, [and yes there is more than two of us!]. After a few days I had managed to generate some interest form a Mr Kitkatozzi, who claimed to be Welsh like myself, but from the surname, I took to be of Italian extraction. Dave later explained his surname was actually Smith and the email address was derived from "Kit" his small cat, "Kat" his bigger cat and "Ozzi" the dog! Dave also said he would have a pillion accompanying him called "Dick". An image was beginning to form out of the electronic ether and the word character sprang to mind!

With the Africa Twin loaded and ready, and some trepidation I set off for Portsmouth to rendezvous with a couple of mysterious characters called Dave and Dick. Apparently the dynamic duo would be easy to spot given Dave and Dick would be travelling on a blue 99MY Africa Twin with shiny new Touratech aluminium luggage, but mainly because Africa Twins’s in the UK are rarer than the proverbial rocking horse shit it should be easy to spot each other at the ferry terminal.We were booked the 07:45 ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, Dave had already arrived by the time I got there and soon introduced me to Dick, who turned out to be a plastic brontosaurus and a full firm 18 inches long!

Dave & Dick [: " Are you staring at my Dick?" { and here’s the punchline….} Dave explained that he could therefore legitimately lay claim to having a 18 inch "Dick"!

Introductions over we boarded the ferry, Dave and I went to the bar and Dick stayed on guard on the car deck. During the crossing Dave and I chatted and generally got to know each other. We discussed the general route and our experiences of motorbikes and Africa Twins It was a rather bizarre situation travelling with someone you only knew via the internet and were going to spend the next week with, still that was only the start of it since 60 other people were scheduled to attend the meeting and I had never met any of them before either!

On arrival in Caen there were ominous looking clouds to the south, heavy and pendulous, and before long we were greeted by the familiar sound of rain bouncing off crash helmet, so we pulled over to don the requisite waterproofs. The first night we spent just south of Lemans in a little village called "la Chartre sur la Loire", and for the bargain price of 4 quid (or 40 Francs, don’t even ask about Euro’s) for 2 tents, 2 bikes, 2 adults and an 18 inch hard plastic Brontosaurus we set up camp on a 3 star site and headed into town for some food and a beer or three. Not much distance covered on Day 1, especially considering Dave is "two tanks (500 mile) a day man", but what they Hell we were on holiday!

The next day we headed south through the rain, hoping for better weather near the Gorge du Tarn. This area features a beautiful river valley with plenty of twisties which would make a refreshing change after several hours hacking down the autoroute. The base for night 2 was a small, one star campsite in St Enimie (a beautiful little village in the bottom of the valley, straddling the Tarn river), which was comparatively expensive, but being the only site in town, I think they applied "market pricing"!

The next day we headed up and out of the valley and on to the meeting near Clermont l’Herault at Lake Sagalou. As we drew nearer to the site we expected a welcome committee, fanfares and dancing girls, so initially were a bit put off by the rather luke warm reception from our fellow ATic’s whom struggled to look up from their beers! [even if it had been a long ride, and the beer was very cold, it was just plain rude !]

Micha Dipper, the man who started it all 5 years ago

Fortunately there was at least a friendly greeting from a German guy Andreas and his girlfriend Tina, so we mounted up & headed off to find a cool shady spot to erect the tents (apparently Dick always gets excited at the prospect of an erection! ). Oh yes by the way the rain had stopped and it was now a rather pleasing 27 degrees, {pleasing because, the forecast for the north coast of Devon where my girlfriend & her sister were spending the week, was heavy rain!}

Soon Thomas (another German) and Christophe (a Frenchman) arrived, followed by two Italians, both called Francesco, so just about everyone cracked a joke about all Italians being called Francesco, and that finally stopped when Beppe and Marco arrived!!

Introductions over, by my watch it was about "beer o’clock" and time for the first group meal which turned out to be a giant paella cooked in a 2 metre diameter frying pan!, very tasty too!

 

 

The picture if the Paella

 

 

The next day people formed into small groups to ride out and explore the scenery. Olivier and the other french organisers had already researched four of five routes averaging 4-500kms, which some of us decided were a little too long having just covered 800 km+ to get to the meeting! [Olivier had the idea of organising this particular meeting whilst laid up for 18 months after allowing a footpeg from a DR 350 to bury itself in his shin. His detailed, personal knowledge of the French hospital and medical system was to prove invaluable later in the week!]

There meeting was attended by a great mix of people from Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, England, Wales and Austria with ages ranging from mid twenties to "I may need some help getting my leg over"….{the Africa that is! } There was every sort of accessory ranging from state of the art GPS systems and adjustable suspension to sheepskin seat covers!

Initially much time was spent viewing, admiring, discussing and photographing modifications and specifications. Each knew arrival was vetted for some copy-worthy mod or previously unknown accessory. Now don’t get the impression that this was some sort of sad Africa Twin equivalent of train spotting, mostly the bikes served as conversation starters and the conversations soon moved to sharing travelling and overlanding experiences. Along with the widespread of age, riding abilities ranged from sedate highway touring to adventurous riders with their AT’s decked out in Continental TKC’s 80’s oblivious to the 200Kgs+ weight of the bikes when off roading! Something for everyone then, just find a group which matched your abilities and aspirations and you’re off ! However it is also worth getting a spread of opinion about peoples riding styles if you fancy a ride on the wild side!

One group were "caught out" attempting to ford a "small" river, which they thought they had been across before.

"Going down?", Ingo the Africa Twin aquanutter!

Now obviously if you are going to attempt this sort of antic it is always better to have a responsible adult on scene, especially if he has a tow rope and is of sufficient mass to generate enough traction to tow you back out!

"Hello? Is that Internetional Rescue?"
See the great video!

 Not being particularly interested in determining the wading depth of a migrating Africa Twin (or stripping and rebuilding our engines on a campsite!), for our first ride out we formed up a small posse to explore the Cirque de Navacelles, a sort of French version of the Grand Canyon. Best of all the area was littered with twisties and immaculate black tarmac and little traffic, so is was time to play "who can scrub their T66’s the quickest!"

The bravery award definitely went to Andreas’s girlfriend Tina, because Andreas didn’t seem to be influenced too much by carrying a passenger, unfortunately Tina was feeling the effects of the previous nights over indulgence as Andreas set a fairly blistering pace through the bends. The weather was beautiful and my Africa Twin, complete with Dynojet kit, airbox mods and Remus race exhaust, was music to the ears when giving it full noise up the hills out for each and every bend!

 On the way back we found some "easy off road" as the French call it, which roughly {no pun intended} translates into wide gravel fireroads, and these particular ones ran around the periphery of Lake Sagalou. The ground there is a rather pleasing shade of rustic red, which is de rigueur to make your Africa Twin look like a genuine Paris Dakar contender [we can all dream can’t we!].

Flushed with the success of our first off road trip in the south of France, the next day we set off for something a little more challenging! The French organiser Olivier identified a few more possibilities so off we went …"there may be trouble ahead……."

Hello Mum!

The day started easily as we headed east in search of an abandoned railway line which wound its way around a hillside and through a forest, it sounded perfect. The line was as usual mostly covered in large gravel, which got very interesting when it also covered the floor of a 500 meter long pitch black tunnel (time to try out the new high power lights!) Having successfully negotiated the tunnel we then had to cross 2 railway bridges over some very deep gorges (a little off putting when riding on gravel with minimal guard rails to prevent a closer inspection of the gorge floor!) After the second bridge the going got much easier as we entered a pine forest.

We stopped for a water break and to regroup after the first stage, unfortunately after a few minutes we noticed "one of our dinosaurs was missing!" and with it also the chauffeur Dave! Thomas and I headed back to check out the situation, as we arrived back at the second bridge it had unfortunately proven to be "a bridge too far" for Dave and Dick!. His Africa was on its side and Dave was holding his elbow, which anyone with any basic medical training will know is not a good sign! Thomas checked to see if Dave was OK, and as soon as he got a begrudging YES!, proceeded to start photographing the crash scene, [subtle was not his middle name!].

Dave goes a bridge too far!

Having secured enough pictures of a horizontal AfricaTwin we set about picking up the bike! Unfortunately Dave was still swearing a lot and holding his elbow. Moments later Andreas and Tina turned up. Good News: Andreas is a nurse with the German army, Bad News: he suspected Dave had a broken collarbone! (or clavicle if your orthopaedically minded)

We decided to return to the main road, making several trips to shuttle the injured rider and his bike back to the main road. Once back on tarmac, we called up Olivier (thank goodness for mobile phones) and gave him our GPS coordinates (thank goodness for GPS!) Dave then decided he was fit enough to ride and made a spirited effort to extract himself to the nearest bar! Olivier arrived and whisked Dave off for X-ray to confirm he did indeed have a broken collarbone but fortunately no injuries to Dick (the dinosaur that is) Game Over Yeah!

Dave set about contacting his travel insurance company to arrange repatriation for self and Dinosaur and we settled in for a few beers. The accident left me contemplating whether to meander back up through France on my own or spend an extra day in the south upgrading my tan whilst degrading my tyres. In the end I made the executive decision to stay another day and so set off in search of more "easy off road" but with the number of our group whittled down to 3!

 

Photo: So where’s this easy off road then?

 

We headed west through the small village of Villeneuvette at the start of the Cirque de Moureze which featured some staggering rock formations, but we were too busy enjoying the sheer pleasure of riding along uncrowded roads in bright sunlight and clear blue skies. Continuing on down the D908 through Bedarieux, at Lamalou les Bains we headed up into the mountains of Espinouse in search of some green lanes and stumbled across at a really out of the way spot near Cenomes.

The owner, fellow motorbike enthusiast with several trailies, DR 350’s etc had a small terrier like dog that he claimed had travelled over 20,000 kms on the motorbike with him! He then got out a little crash helmet he had made for the dog, which included a flyscreen, and posed for photo’s with the pooch!

Dog Photo (choice of 2) Easy Rider ?

Fed and watered and with a little bit of guidance from our host we set off through the woods and fireroads for some fantastic scenery and challenging riding! Fortunately no breakages this time and we all returned safely for more beer and another huge feast at the campsite communal meal

The next day I packed up, wished fond farewells, plugged in the walkman and headed north up the autoroute for 480 miles, making the obligatory pitstops at supermarkets in Le mans and Caen, to stow away 10 bottles of wine and 6 litre bottles of Belgian beer. [My technical trip for these occasions: dirty socks make great wine bottle protectors! ]

In summary whilst the concept of spending a week with people you have only previously communicated with over the Internet may sound nerdy or bizarre, I had a fantastic time in some great company and discovered parts of France I had previously written off or missed. So if you have got an Africa Twin and access to the internet why not be the envy of all your Firegrate riding mates and look up the ATIC website!

Rhys Williams © 2000




Participants

At least 55 visitors joined this meeting (some more as daily guests):

  1. Olivier Loynet
  2. Christophe Bouju
  3. Lionel Miniconi
  4. Michael Dipper
  5. Wolfram Birk
  6. Thomas Müller
  7. Jörg Jünger
  8. Marco Spötzel (c/o
  9. Beppe Burlando
  10. Ermanno Cavina (c/o
  11. Chris Groesswang
  12. Riccardo Eli
  13. Adi Burkert
  14. Tjerk Iest
  15. Hans van Gelder
  16. Jens Homberg
  17. Ilka Homberg (c/o
  18. Frank Wenzel
  19. Torsten Metzner
  20. Gian Luca Giangualano & Loredana
  21. Guido Marangoni & Daniela (c/o
  22. Udo Koelling
  23. Holger Haenisch
  24. Stefan Schneider
  25. Marco Kost & Eva Drewnitzki
  26. Georg Jussel & girlfriend
  27. Andreas Lienhardt & Bettina
  28. Thomas Happ
  29. Stephan Gries
  30. Ulli Albrecht
  31. Frank Ewert (c/o
  32. Jürgen Reimann & Claudi
  33. Werner Rosenthal
  34. Katharina Lehmkuehler
  35. Guido Raunick (c/o
  36. Falk Schmal
  37. Rainer Esser
  38. Tim Behrens
  39. Axel Willimzig & Zebra
  40. Francesco Mancuso
  41. Ingo Doering & Mausi
  42. Rhys Williams
  43. Andrea Grua & girlfriend
  44. Alberto Grua
  45. Fabio Muratori & girlfriend
  46. Francesco Gentile
  47. Ralph Mason

 
 
 
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