Rick’s on Napoleon’s trail
Rick’s Harley-Davidson on historic trails: Route Napoleon – Grand Canyon du Verdon – St. Tropez
Rick’s House of Custom in Baden-Baden has for years been a meeting point for all fans of high calibre custom bikes, and extreme custom bikes can be seen here every day, but on this rather drab Friday in September a special group of custom bike riders has gathered here.
Annette and Adrian Kießling of SKS have their own specialized motorcycle transport company, but they prefer travelling on two wheels. Their custom bikes were also built and customized by the “House of Custom”, as were the bikes of the other participants of Rick’s VIP tour from Baden-Baden. Before departure, the bikes are being polished and checked over technically because they have about 1,800 km through the French Alps in front of them – and that in October! The sky and the temperatures are not promising – and before the first stage of the trip, with a warming coffee from Rick’s in-house bar, the first part of the route is being discussed. Before the start we take the obligatory group photo: “Motographer” Horst Rösler lines up the machines in front of the “House of Custom”, and the jackets specially ordered by Rick’s for the trip are quickly exchanged for rain clothing – just to be on the safe side!
Eight fingers push the electric starters, and Rick’s VIP tour is “on the road” towards France along the French motorway, past Strasbourg and in a southern direction. First stop, via an old German military road, is the “Hartmannsweiler Kopf” mountain. A quick look at the cemetery and then we take another group photo! Here, during the First World War, one of the most embittered battles between France and Germany took place – but instead of getting a good view of the Swiss Alps, clouds are threatening on the horizon and we quickly move on…and indeed at Belfort the rain starts, which will accompany today’s motorway ride. Not exactly good weather for custom bikes! Markus of Rick’s team drives the support truck and looks after the technical requirements of the bikes. At the next petrol stop everybody puts on rain clothing, and 450 km after a very wet and frosty motorway ride, we enjoy the French cuisine at our hotel. Luckily on the next day the clouds have disappeared, and from Lagnieu to St. Genix sur Guiers along the Rhone we ride uphill towards the mountains.
The Massive de Chartreuse north of Grenoble is a secret tip for motorcycle tours. Through the steep rock walls of the Guiers Gorge we ride to St. Pierre de Chartreuse. This year the first snow already fell at the beginning of September during European Bike Week in Faak, and the weather forecast for the tour can be seen around the next corner, although for now we enjoy the presently sunny weather and look forward to the eagerly awaited lunch break.
“Motographer” Horst Rösler plans our route, plus a few sightseeing detours, depending on the time of day. While we are waiting for pizza and “Flammkuchen”, the last kilometres are being discussed in the warm sun and the first photo session is waiting for Rick’s new custom bike “Voodo Lounge”: the new offset 300 fat rear end swingarm conversion is being tested on this journey – and in terms of the bike’s banking angle, Rick himself sets new standards!
The lunch break is not only being used for eating as Adrian is also curious about Toni’s “Street Rodder”, but riding with a foot clutch and operating a manual gearshift needs some practice. We move on to Grenoble via small but excellent country roads. The 6 km to Fort St. Eynard are a worthy detour, which offers a unique view onto Grenoble and the surrounding mountains. Grenoble – on Tuesday 7th March 1815 at 21.00 hours Napoleon reached the city on his march to Paris. Here the “Route Napoleon” coming from Golf-Juan ends – but for Rick’s VIP tour the journey now starts in earnest. The view of the town and the mountains is fascinating: the massive powers of the Continental drift can be seen in these rock formations, which rise up from the ground like giants.
And not only tourists are interested in our bikes, a French police patrol also takes a break up here. We check the route again. After the quiet country roads, the traffic in Grenoble comes as a shock.
Along the Isere we leave the city as quickly as possible and continue on to National Road 85 – the official “Route Napoleon”. But the city also has an advantage: petrol stations at every corner.
Bikes are looked after like babies, and Toni’s “Cafe Rodder” gets his “shakedown run” during this journey. The bike is being ridden without paint in its raw state and has a completely new chassis from Rick’s Motorcycles, a rigid frame with foot clutch and manual gearshift, and the boss himself checks the machine at every stop. In Grenoble he discovers a hairline split in the exhaust with a tendency to become bigger! The exhaust is being patched up provisionally with a piece of wire – then back to Napoleon’s trail and Laffrey. The place is a bit dilapidated, but this is a site of world history. A showdown took place here where today a bronze statue stands. Napoleon emerged from his accompanying crowds and faced the approaching troops coming from Grenoble, which after his speech refused to fire. One can interpret world history in many ways, but if on this day only one grenadier would have pulled the trigger, more than 40,000 men would not have produced more descendants. But in this case Bonaparte marched on to Paris and to Waterloo, and a photo in Napoleon’s typical pose here is a must.
On the well enlarged N 85 the kilometres pass quickly, and on the way to Gap we even find a motorcycle shop…with a welding tool! The guys from Chrys Moto in Susville welcome us in their workshop – they normally like Streetfighters and sport bikes – but an exhaust repair is no problem for them either. Rick cleans the wheels and operates the welding tool personally. The boss also shows us photos of his bike at the Bol d’Or visit two weeks ago…what a great party!
With a freshly welded exhaust, Toni rolls back onto the Route Napoleon. During the next two days we ride in high mountains and over fairly bad roads, and the exhaust repair has spoilt our tour timing a bit. Along the road many monuments remind us of Napoleon’s march: just before Gap the group reunites again and loosens the limbs for the last riding stage of the day. Toni is careful with the exhaust and arrives last. From Gap to today’s target Barcelonette it’s about 80 kilometres, and with darkness setting in, the rain also starts again halfway, and all are glad to see the lights of the hotel!
Sunday morning. Today we ride into the high mountains. Rick has a sceptical look at the welding seam. Will it hold? The screws are being tightened again. At 10.00 a.m. we are ready to depart, and the V-Twins make the asphalt tremble once again. The ascend to the Col de la Cayolle is one of the most beautiful routes of the French Maritime Alps and geographically already part of the Provence. The roads are good and the steep rock walls of the Gorges du Bachelard resound from the thunder of the engines. Over 26 km of mountain passes are a delight in the saddle – but how much snow will there be at 2,326 metres? And Rick’s VIP tour group gets another surprise: it is the day when the sheep are being taken down from the mountains, and over 5,000 sheep not only block the road, but also leave the road covered for 15 km with their dirt, which front and rear tires spit onto bikes and riders, but as the saying goes: shit happens!
Past raging torrents and sleepy villages we ride uphill towards the sun…the higher the road goes up, the wilder the landscape gets. The majority of the participants have had their engines tuned by
V-Twin motor guru Günther Sohn, who is also taking part in the tour with his brand new 2008 Electra Glide, so nobody has any problems at 2,000 m altitude. At the top of the pass there is hardly any snow, and we make another photo stop. Then the route winds downhill in daring bends, and with every meter in a southern direction the temperatures begin to rise again. In October there are only a few tourists in this area, and every side road and every pass surprise us with new and spectacular views. The 300 wide tire conversion by Rick’s proves itself again during daily use: 124 hp are pushed onto the road by the rubber, and when Rick opens up the throttle, there’s no holding him back.
The sheep’s poo has left its traces on our custom bikes…which is not very nice!
Outside of the season not all restaurants are open any longer, so it’s back into the saddle and back on the road. In Guillaumes at last we find a restaurant – and enough space for another group photo.
The route through the valley of the Var offers spectacular views, and the Gorge de Daluis excites us with a tour through wild looking red slate rock formations. Toni is in top form again and shows us what can be done with a manual gearshift. Striptease by Guenther Sohn? In the valley the temperatures have reached more than 20 degrees and the rain clothing can now be put back into the support car.
The old bridge over the Var offers spectacular views, but it’s possible to find a different kind of adventure here too, although the bungee jumping team has packed up for the day. Tunnels, abysses, rocks – it is a breathtaking route for which one should really allow more time. With full power we ride downhill to National Road 202. On the way to Castellane is Lac de Castillon: here the river Verdon is dammed before it crashes into the famous gorges, where a massive dam keeps the water back. We have a last break before we continue on the winding roads, and once again the day ends sooner than expected.
The “Cafe Rodder” is also demanding attention again – a new throttle cable is needed – but luckily Rick has the necessary spare part with him. Another problem is that almost all gas stations close at 18.00 hrs. Will the petrol be enough for today’s ride?
In Castellane we again cross Napoleon’s route, but there is no time for history lessons, because also there the gas stations are closed – so we risk the ride to our target for the day, La Palud sur Verdon.
The sun is going down on the horizon when the bikes arrive at La Palud, and there’s only little time to have a quick look into the abyss of the famous Grand Canyon du Verdon.
Monday morning and day 4 of the VIP tour, and for early risers the Grand Canyon du Verdon offers yet again a breathtaking spectacle: the canyon in fog! Of the many thousands of tourists who visit the Grand Canyon du Verdon during the year, not many are so lucky to see the canyon in the early morning fog…which is a photographer’s dream. After breakfast the motorcycles are being cleaned from the dirt of the previous day, and luckily the Hotel Panoramic has a high-pressure cleaner. Today it’s time for photo shooting – and a tour along the Grand Canyon du Verdon, for which everybody wants to have a clean bike, and it’s also a good opportunity to check all the screws on the “Cafe Rodder” are tight. The sun has already risen when the “Motographer” gives the signal to start the ride, and the rest of Rick’s VIP tour will now also be able to look into the abyss of the canyon. From La Palud there is a circular route directly to the gorge, and 600 m high rock walls command respect from the Harley riders…a wrong step, a loose rock, and it’s downhill!
During the French summer holidays there are many rock climbers in the walls, and sometimes one can see base jumpers performing adventurous acrobatics…their landing spot is in the gorge on a two-foot wide path!
Every participant gets a photo session in front of the grandiose scenery, but the centre of attention is of course Rick with his brand new “Voodo Lounge”. After the shooting it’s back into the saddle because the Verdon adventure has only just started. Along the Canyon the boys let the tires smoke a bit as the road snakes along the river Verdon until it flows into the artificially dammed lake La St. Croix. Moustiers Sainte Marie is really a tourist spot like Rothenburg ob der Tauber or Rüdesheim – but with motorcycles one always finds a parking space, and in October there aren’t that many tourists around anyway. The spring at the mountain makes the place a real oasis, and for lunch there are many restaurants in every price category, and the water is of course free! The little alleyways invite for a stroll, and who wants to climb up to the chapel in summer is well advised to carry enough water. In addition to the old facades there is also some modern art around. The Lac St. Croix is a paradise for water sports, and behind the mountain slopes the lavender fields of the Provence start. The exit of the gorge is no less spectacular than the previous 50 km.
Back in La Palud sur Verdon we have a lot to discuss, and for some of the riders there is another tour ahead. At Point Sublime there is an access into the canyon, and if you bring a torch, you can walk along the about 1 km access tunnel into the canyon. Hard to believe but true, initially the gorges of the Verdon were to be walled as a reservoir. The tunnel is one of the generator’s drill holes and allows access to some extreme climbing tours.
The sun has already gone down behind the mountains when Rick and Toni return to La Palud.
This evening we say goodbye to the Grand Canyon du Verdon and all agree: one day here is not enough!
On this trip “Motographer” Horst Rösler celebrates his 47th birthday and we discuss the plans for the next day, when we will ride again for several hundreds of kilometres to St. Tropez, Toulon and Cassis. After dinner, the bar “De La Place” is a must for every Verdon fan as here the best photos of base jumpers and climbers can be found – plus the bar’s landlord climbs as well whenever he finds the time. And if you don’t try the ham of the house, you only have yourself to blame!
Tuesday 2nd October, and the canyon is in fog again. Patrick
A last round through the narrow alleyways of La Palud and then we’re back on the road again, but the discussions we had yesterday are forgotten when the throttles open up. The 8 participants of the VIP tour disappear into the canyon and only notice 80 km later in Grasse that their tour leader is missing. Luckily we have mobile phones, although the canyon has no reception, but since we have to do something, we send an SMS where to meet up again.
We carry on to St. Tropez, which is about 100 km from the Canyon. The Golf of St. Tropez…Anette and Adrian Kießling know the area from many HOG Rallys they went to with their trucks. The meeting point is easy to find, and after a while all participants meet up again.
On the Cote d’Azur it’s the usual traffic chaos, which means careful planning, especially when driving into St. Tropez, the playground of the rich and the beautiful. Exclusive Harleys are here part of the daily scene, as are the expensive yachts. Via the harbour promenade we ride over to the old lighthouse for a photo shoot and the best opportunity for a group photo. Here you can spend all day and watch the yachts come and go. How nice would it be to now have a break in one of the street cafes…
Every participant pushes their bike in front of this unique backdrop, but time is short, and we have no time for a stop at one of the street cafes or the art market as we have another 200 km left to ride for the day. That’s why we choose National Road 98 through the inner part of the country, which has less traffic and leads us directly into Toulon. Toni’s “Cafe Rodder” and Rick on the “Voodoo Lounge” take turns to lead the way. We don’t see much of the French port of Toulon and the tunnels lead us quickly below the traffic chaos onto the motorway to Marseilles, so the last kilometres to Cassis pass quickly. Cassis is a typical seaside resort on the Cote d’Azur. Anette has booked the hotel Cassitel at the port in the shadow of the old fort. The day’s journey has been done, but the day’s job not yet because after checking in, the bikes have to be packed up in Marseilles…in its famous traffic chaos in the third largest city in France…but luckily the rush hour traffic has already finished. At sundown we ride onto the Haribo factory premises where Adrian has already provided the racks for the custom bikes for Rick’s VIP tour. After a long day on the road we have some work now to do as well! Every tour eventually comes to an end, but the “Motographer” has found something else to keep us happy…we are at Haribo after all, and they not only make children happy!