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Back | Hugh Spencer | John Bradley | Scott Belch | Jonny Grey | John Arthur | Tribute to Scott Belch | Stuart Renwick

John Arthur

click to see larger image Another "see one, do one, teach one helper". John was a guest on the July 2003 Alps trip, and came along as a helper on the October 03 trip. He was pictured on the main section with Fran, who presented the TV series on Granada "Men & Motors" on the subject of Motorcycle Touring in Western Europe.

John rides a Triumph Trophy 1200, and does many thousands of miles each year in France. He's a great fan of the unknown "D" roads, and a ride out with him will rarely, if ever, see a motorway.

We all appeared on the Men & Motors TV show which kicked off at 6.00pm January 2nd 2004. What a great TV series!!! French Alps looked good.

John A's riding philosophy to be pasted in here. Warning, it's long, and is open for discussion. My (Bill's) comments are added in, but might not be so obvious without the different colours of our original discussion......

John Arthur’s Guidelines on Planning French Motorcycle Trips
(with Bill’s comments in bold italic)

These guidelines have gradually evolved over many years touring, often learning lessons the hard way, and have not been set out on paper before. They are just that, guidelines, and any may be ignored if there are good reasons. However even if the odd one is ignored it is likely that the majority will still apply. The first 6 points are used by me at the planning stage and the rest affect the way the actual trip runs.

1. Avoid major conurbations (Bill - I agree). Normally routes will be arranged to either avoid the necessity for approaching major conurbations or to use a ring road around them. Sometime the “ring road” may be a series of small roads. (John taught Bill a nice little route which avoids Dijon’s ring road)

2. Avoid autoroutes/motorways unless absolutely necessary. The majority of routes will, where possible and sensible, use good quality “D” roads rather than “N” roads (“N” roads are broadly equivalent to UK “A” roads and “D” roads to UK “B” roads but in both cases the French equivalents are normally wider, better surfaced and better aligned. There are of course exceptions….). Use of “D” roads ensures a low traffic density which helps the tail-enders if several bikes are trying to keep up with me. (Bill - Yes, I love this approach also, but it’s harder to manage a group like this, directions are more complex, there’s more chance of groups getting split up, and it’s arguably more tiring for less experienced riders. For practical reasons on my group tours, I tend to use a mixture of half motorway & half N road when getting to our destination. John’s selected D roads impressed me though, and they were much bigger, faster roads than the maps would have you believe)

3. Aim for areas with attractive scenery which usually means hilly parts with twisty roads (yes!). In Northern and Western France hilly bits are fairly scarce (yes - don't believe those who tell you otherwise). However Brittany and Normandy have plenty of other attractions.

4. Stay at comfortable hotels with private parking (Bill - less of a security problem in France compared to UK though?), normally with en-suite facilities and a good restaurant on the premises or close by. If possible I pick hotels in the Logis de France chain (yes, so does Bill) which are individually owned and two or three star standard. I have a number of tried and tested favourites in areas which are attractive for the motorcycling but I also like to include one or two unknowns in the hope of finding a new gem. Sometimes this does not work out but it is rare to find a really bad hotel. (Bill usually agrees with this... I like small, family run hotels – certainly not great big tower block Holiday Inn type places. I don’t care for 4 or 5 star expensive hotels – never have done. Although I must think of my guests, my own, personal expectations are modest – the riding, the atmosphere of the group, the roads and scenery all are far higher up the pecking order of my wants and needs, than the hotel facilities. For better or for worse, my hotel standards may drop a little if there are other benefits – like a warm friendly welcome, and a convenient or attractive location. La Petite Auberge is perhaps a little borderline, by John’s standards, but has other benefits to me. I’m actually a confirmed camper at heart, and prefer to be outdoors whenever I can)

5. Travel onwards most days. This means packing and unpacking each day (OK with hard luggage – but a bit of a pain with throw-overs or just bags tied on bike) but allows the maximum variety of roads and scenery. It also means travelling whatever the weather (weather doesn’t bother me) (but see 8 below). Sometimes two nights will be spent in one place but this would be unusual. (Bill's response - Hmmmm….. for me personally, I’d have a tent on the back of my bike, and just travel as my mood took me. Stopping off where I fancy, staying on a bit longer if I wanted to, and scarcely pre-booking anything. I’m also very bad at getting up early and packing up every morning! With a group though, pre-booking is absolutely necessary, and using a different hotel every night incurs far more admin and planning. Hotels are far more amenable to several night’s booking – and if I put a group in for just one night it can rule out them taking any week-long bookings from other customers during that week. Staying for several days can sometimes attract price discounts, and even a free room for the tour leader! There’s also a big problem of not knowing how many guests you are going to finish up with. Becky and Robin are happy to block me in for the whole hotel for my tour dates. They know I’ll do my best to fill the place, but if I don’t, they are happy to sell on surplus rooms to passing trade. It would be hard to get his level of trust from hotels I’ve not yet used, especially if I’m only going to offer a one-night booking, with unknown numbers and might not even come back again.

I’ve also introduced the term Motorcycle Holidays rather than Tours on my website and advertising, to reinforce the fact that I normally find a base to unpack and relax at. Again, it’s personal, but I like to do other things apart from biking on my trips – a bit of walking, skiing, cycling or a dip in the pool whilst on “holiday”).

6. It is difficult to give an average daily mileage but the lowest would normally be around 220 – 250, which can still be quite demanding in hilly terrain, and the highest (usually where roads allow higher average speeds) 280 – 350. A “normal” trip of 9 days (8 nights in France) usually works out at almost exactly 2,000 miles door to door. (Bill - A lot of tour companies say they won’t subject guests to more than 250 miles in a day. Which is actually plenty for a lot of riders. In order to get through Northern France fairly quickly, my Alps tour can involve a 450 mile day – this can be hard, but I do pre-warn my guests, and clearly state that it’s not that easy! Strangely enough though, it has been noticed that guests can sometimes find up to 850 miles in 2 days, followed by several days of rest, can be less tiring, than 250 miles every day throughout a tour).

7. Usually aim to be on the road by 9.00 am (Bill - Yes, but it kills me! It doesn’t help when you’ve up to 15 room bills and drinks bills to sort out and pay for) with a full, or nearly full, tank. Stops for petrol, coffee etc as required. However short stops can be a real thief of time (I have timed a petrol stop for 6 bikes as taking 30 minutes! – Bill - yeah – try 10 bikes or more – you can nearly double that!) so I expect quite a lot of self discipline here. If you want to check and adjust your chain do it the night before! I try and discourage large group riding, but it just seems to be a fact, that tour guests, particularly less-experienced ones, want to follow me. I aim to limit tours to a Max of 20 bikes (only 6-8 on short UK breaks), with myself and another guide who’s ridden the route before. Therefore a worst case scenario of 10 bikes in each convoy – usually however, we tend to travel as groups of 4-6 riders, which works reasonably well. Individuals with confidence or experience are given directions and encouraged to go on ahead – taking another one or two guests with them if they want to.

8. Be prepared to modify the planned route if the weather forecast looks bad. I prefer to ride second class roads in fine weather rather than first class roads in the pouring rain! I will produce A4 route cards before the trip for all riders to follow and I will try to produce updated ones at overnight stops if we have to change our plans. Bringing a map of the area is a sensible precaution though. Changing plans isn’t done as easily on a pre-arranged group tour. Guests more or less stick with the plan, certainly on the outward and return journeys. There is a lot of flexibility however when we’re at our “base”. Guests can join our guided rides, or go it alone. As we have an Alpine base for up to 8 days, there is the opportunity for guests to detour off (unguided) somewhere different for a day or two if they wish – often to Italy, the Med, or the Verdon Gorge for example.

9. Riding speeds to suit the capabilities of the roads and other riders and bikes but always within safe limits. I try to arrive at our overnight stop by about 5.00 pm. Bill - Yes but, no-one’s ever going to agree on what is the best / safest / most enjoyable riding speed. I try to split people into sub-groups of similar preference and ability, and ask them not to be tempted to ride beyond their own personal limits. I try and get an indication of guests’ preferred riding style before the tour – but this is only a guide, and isn’t always accurate.

Disparity in riding ability or preferred style, is always going to be a challenge for the tour leader. It's a bit of a bugbear. Always a challenge.
Went Live : Mon 3rd October 2005
Author : Bill & John
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