In what is becoming an almost annual pilgrimage for me, I went to the HOG (Harley Owners Group) Festival in St Tropez again this year. This year it coincided with the 30th anniversary of HOG in Europe.
Ten of us set out from Tunbridge Wells and headed on a chilly UK morning for Dover, where a ferry was waiting for us. Our group consisted of a diverse of people on a range of bikes;
- Andy, a private investigator, was on a H-D XR1200. He needs to get a new bike and there are rumours he might. After the burnouts some did on his bike, he at least needs a new tyre.
- Another Andy, a commercial manager and an artist, was on his H-D Dyna Wide Glide. He forgot to pack a lot of things. He reminded us of Boycie, from Only Fools and Horses!
- Axel, a German investment banker, was riding his new H-D 110th anniversary Road King. He takes lots of pictures, so is known as Foto-Fuhrer. He likes base-jumping without a parachute.
- Charlie, my son and bicycle shop owner, was on my H-D Road King called the Leading Ladies. He was about twenty years younger than the next oldest, and definitely cooler than us old gits.
- Ian, an architect, was on a Triumph. I could tell he was itching to open the bike up and leave us in his wake. He should have.
- Ian, a semi-retired property developer, was on a H-D Street Glide. Always the first on his bike, it is clear patience was never one of Ian’s virtues.
- Jon, a sales director, was on a Ducati Monster, but we forgave him. He gets lost sometimes and forgot we were meant to be heading south, not north.
- Paul, a website designer, was on his H-D Blackline. Paul took more gadgets than clothes. He cannot dance, but thinks he can.
- Preben, a machine technical from Denmark, was on his custom Sportster. He needs to get a bigger fuel tank. He is in love with Suzi Quatro.
- I was on my custom bike, Amelia, the one with the long forks. My arms and arse ached a lot.
Not exactly a hardcore biker gang, so we called ourselves “The Sons of Democracy”, with Ian even going to the extent of getting tour t-shirts printed. The Hells Angels we met thought the t-shirts were amusing.
Our route south to the sun took us to six different countries: France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Austria, Italy and finally back into France. The route we took and the roads we used gave us a lot of variety. Each of us lead on a particular day with as many different ways of planning the route as there were planners. Methods ranged from sat navs / GPS’s to writing down names of towns on a beermat and duct-taping that to the tank.
Day one was about getting off the ferry and getting some serious miles done, led by Ian the property developer, in the less exciting areas of northern France and Belgium. It was cold and we rode mainly on motorways, eventually turning off when we realised we were getting further away from our destination for the night (in northern Germany).
Day two was led by Axel through his homeland of Germany. Mainly on quieter roads now, we saw some of the Black Forest and that big river we crossed must have been the Rhine. Towards the end of the day, we started to love the views of the mountains and the twisty roads. The owner of the remote hotel we had booked went from zero to hero in 10 minutes after we discovered the bedrooms all shared one toilet and one bath, plus he said the hotel restaurant was closed. I think he realised we were about to leave when miraculously, he declared the restaurant open, and to be fair, he produced a great meal and was a terrific host.
I led on day three into Austria and onto Italy, over the Alps. We enjoyed some cracking roads surrounded in part by snow. We passed the entrance to Stelvio Pass but carried on riding as I knew the road was still blocked by snow. At the end of a long days riding we rode down the west side of Lake Garda and onto a great and cheaply priced hotel. It was a shame we chose to ride through Austria on what must have been National Tunnel Cleaning Day, as the road surface of a few were filthy dirty and wet from the cleaning operations. Our bikes, especially my custom chopper were very dirty at the end of the day.
Day four was riding through some dull roads in northern Italy and Jon seemed to take the wrong road a couple of times, causing much merriment in the group. The afternoon saw us riding a superb road, the SS45 south of Bobbio to Genoa. The temperature had begun to rise significantly the further south we road and by the time we had reach the Mediterranean, we were shedding layers of clothes. The evening saw too much drink being consumed and a late night meeting with the (friendly) local police, when Axel descending a steep cliff rather too quickly.
Heads were sore for the start of riding on day five, resulting in us leaving later than planned. With Charlie leading, we cracked on, and saw more and more Harley-Davidsons as we near our destination, St Tropez. Bikes were cleaned and an evening out saw another meeting with more local police. Apparently, they don’t like people walking over the top of the steel bridge arch beams. It was only about thirty feet up, so our group were not sure what the problem was! Ian looked sheepish as a policemen asked him (in a very condescending tone) “How old are you?”. “Too old” was the reply!
Day 6 we spend at the rally and in the picturesque town of St Tropez, drinking coffee at the front of the port, with our bikes parked right in front of us. “It doesn’t get much better than this” was heard more than once. The non-Harley riders in the group took advantage of H-D’s demonstration ride scheme and rode H-D’s for the first time. That evening we went to see Suzi Quatro play on the beach along with a few thousand bikers clad in the same black leather as Suzi. It was then that we noticed Pauls appalling lack of dancing skills, but he was enjoying himself.
Too early, but in order for some of our group to get back to work, we needed to leave St Tropez on day 7 and we rode some way back north into France.
Day 8 saw us ride a long way through France to near Limoges, or at least most of us did. Jon had to get back quickly, so arranged to get his bike shipped back by truck while he flew. Paul had trouble with the bearings in the rear wheel of his bike and we had to leave him behind after making sure he would be collected by his recovery service. It was hard to leave Paul behind, but there was nothing else we could do to help him. We stayed the night at Harry’s Route 66 Hotel and bar.
Day 9 was the last day of the trip and we had quite a journey. Near Rouen, the motorway we were due to take was closed and we had trouble finding the next best alternative. We then headed cross country to find another good road, but the diversion we took was very slow. We missed the ferry we had booked, tried to get a train in the tunnel under the channel, but the trains were full until well into the night. We did manage to get on a later ferry and arrived home knackered.
Charlie and I rode a total of 2,674 miles.
It was an excellent trip, with many great roads ridden, friendships forged and memories made. Roll on next year!
I cannot claim credit for an of the pictures below, which were all taken by the others on the trip. The excellent video was made by Paul, a talented videographer.....