Monday, 9 February 2009

Roland Pike Autobiography - Chapter 29

A continental tour on A10 combination

As a result of our trip to Monthlery in May of 1953 to test the various models, I was keen to spend a holiday in France to show my wife the city of Paris and the other places I had seen and was also very keen to visit Carcassone the famous walled city in the Pyrenees.

We left our small daughter with her grandparents who lived near Folkstone and took the ferry from Dover to Boulogne using our BSA A10 sidecar outfit as transportation. We reached Paris after a rough crossing of the channel in time to garage the combination and go for a sight seeing walk. We took in the Eiffel tower and the ornamental gardens then had a typical French meal in a nearby restaurant. We stayed the night at the Hotel Vermont where Charlie Salt and I had stayed whilst at Monthlery. Next day we left Paris for Orleans and the Loire valley seeing many of the lovely Chateaux, we particularly enjoyed the Chateaux at Blois which served as the inspiration for Biltmore House near Ashville, North Carolina. We finished up that day in a little market town and stayed in a small country inn. Ruth and I had hardly a dozen words of French between us but fortunately some other English tourists arrived and spoke fluently. The inn was quite comfortable and we enjoyed an excellent dinner with wine in the evening. I remember reeling away from the table and going for a walk round the town and discovered a rope walk along a stretch of grass beside a wall with windlasses at each end, it appeared to be still in use.

Next day we drove across the Landes, flat and sandy and thick with pine forests, there was evidence of various forest fires which does afflict that area. The road was narrow straight and flat and rather bumpy, as we approached Bordeaux we passed miles and miles of vineyards and many of the villages we passed bore the names of famous red wines. Going through the city I noticed we were being followed by two policemen on what appeared to be BMWs but in fact were Gnome et Rhones built under licence from BMW They followed us right through the town, perhaps waiting for me to exceed the speed limit or some traffic infraction, but they did not sto top us thankfully. The next town of any size was Biarritz, a famous gambling centre in Edwardian days, the road runs close to the sea all the way from there to the Spanish border.

We decided to stop near there at a little town called Jean de Luc, tile hotel appeared to be full up, it is a resort town but the proprietress who spoke excellent English said she could put us up in the annexe. This turned at to be a cottage owned by an employee and nothing seemed to work in it. Plumbing was a very smelly affair. We ate in the hotel proper and excellent food it was. The waitress detailed to attend to us spoke no English but we managed to order a meal and of course wine and as it turned out although we were not sure what we were eating at times it was all delicious. Next morning after a restless night we were glad to make an early start, we had come to the conclusion French breakfasts were a waste of time as it consisted of just croissants & coffee. We had already got into the habit of combining breakfast and lunch and buying food from local shops, which was much more filling and satisfactory. At one stop for petrol the old lady attendant asked if we would like a glass of wine, it was very hot driving, we agreed and she poured us almost a tumbler apiece of a sweet white wine that she had in a large chilled bottle, it was delicious and more thirst quenching that we thought it would be. We could not cross into Spain on this trip as we did not have the necessary visas. The road came right up alongside the border in places, there were no customs posts at all these border points and there were signs requesting you to report to the nearest Custom post within 24 hours.
That night we got as far as Oloro and stayed in one of the nicer hotels of the trip. The owner had travelled all over the world, there was a grand display of trophies in the main hallway. The daughter spoke excellent English and they looked after us very well. On the way that day we had passed through a town called Mauleon whose main industry was making string soled shoes called espadrilles. I remembered my father had brought us some when he came back from a trip in 1921, you could not wear the darn things out. We had an amusing highlight going along on the outfit, as it being rather a hot day I had discarded some of the heavy outer motor cycling clothes, Ruth was reclining behind the sidecar windscreen, when three French damsels on bicycles started waving to me, but as they drew abreast they spotted my wife and they were covered with confusion when they spotted her. Next day we went to Lourdes, where faith healing miracles are said to occur but it was kind of honky-tonk with all manner of picture postcard stands catering to the tourists.

We were glad to get away from there and climbed and climbed up the valley Catercaux where the famous waterfalls are, we finally came out in the clouds, it was misty and we were unable to take any pictures so fell back on buying postcards from a vender. There were wonderful fields full of wild flowers. The head of the valley was at about 7000 feet but unfortunately it did not go any further and we had to retrace our route down again. Next on our itinerary was the ??? of Foix with an old castle to which we had to pay admission, they charged us twice the amount that was quoted in a one year old guide book! We left there the next morning and travelled through a small town called Montreal where I photographed a man driving some huge oxen. From there we went on to Carcassone, this was the high spot of our tour, after parking the outfit outside the main gate we spent several hours walking around the battlements and exploring the ancient city it has been beautifully restored to its ancient style with narrow streets with shops and a hotel and church, the whole place is on a hill and from the battlements one has a fine view of the countryside and the old town down in the valley. Reluctantly we left the old city and crossed the last ridges of the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan. At one little resort near the Spanish border we parked the bike and looked over the rocky cliff edge and for my pleasure was a girl who was brown all over, I guess she thought it was safe to sun bathe in the nude thinking she could not be seen.

We retraced our way towards the east aiming to go along the coast and up the Rhone valley and got as far as the old Roman town of Montpelier. After dinner we went for a walk round the town which seemed to be a rather nice place with decent shops in fact quite a pleasant city. Next day we passed through another Roman town, Nimes. Here there is the remains of an amphitheatre similar to the one in Rome, slightly smaller. On leaving the town we passed an aqueduct built in Roman times, it was over 100 feet high in places and in remarkably good condition. Rather than go into the Carn??? we drove across the salt flats where they were scraping up, salt from evaporating sea water. We then turned inland and took a short cut to Avignon of bridge fame where we joined N5 a main road and rather boring until we came to Montellimar which exuded a delightful smell of nougat its main industry, there were shops along the road selling it in various flavours. Wanting to avoid going through Lyons with its heavy traffic we took a detour and came out north of the city and on to ??A10ns for the night to stay at a hotel aptly named Hotel du Commerce, it seemed to have trucks and trains passing by all night. Next day we passed Vermenton famous for its potteries and fine chinaware stopping in a new hotel in Joigny. From here it was not far to Paris which we passed quickly through in the afternoon, the traffic as usual was moving fast and we had to drive quite hard to keep up, we took the road north through Beauvais, here on the weather deteriorated and we had our first rain of the trip, we stayed at a typical tourist hotel with much coming and going. The next day was a very soggy ride to Boulogne and Calais where we caught the afternoon ferry to Dover. It was still light when we disembarked at Dover being summer time but at quite a late hour. The Customs officer was quite intrigued as we had so little to declare, he must have thought we were smuggling as he made a thorough search of all our baggage and the bike, but our main was soiled clothing.

We collected our daughter next day and returned to ???. I had totalled 2300 miles in the ten days, the outfit was still running well except for a slight bearing rumble and a tendency to transfer oil from the chain case to the engine. We had had to stop several times on the trip to refill the chain case. It was easy to tell when the oil was low in the chain case as the whole machine felt rough. I am sure if I had not kept filling the case the chain would have overheated and broken. I reported this to Mr Hopwood who suggested stripping the engine and trying to find out the reason for the transfer of oil, as he had had complaints of this nature from the US.

The bearing rumble turned out to be the timing side main bearing white metal flaking away. This was a common problem. This time it inspired me to investigate the whole bearing problem, trying out needle bearings, bushes and improved white metal bearings. After re-assembly we set the outfit up with manometers connected to the rocker box and the chain case filler cap and the timing case. These water manometers were quite simply two glass tubes connected at the bottom by a rubber hose and partially filled with water, one tube was left open to the atmosphere at the Back to top whilst the other end was hooked up to the chain case or crankcase etc. The difference in pressure pushes the water up on one side and down the other. The height of one side above or below the other pressure in inches of water, for bigger pressure differences mercury would be used instead of water, flue to the mechanical breather valve the pressure in the crankcase at touring speed is about 4"- 7gi of water below, atmosphere, the crankshaft seal was the single lip variety designed to keep oil from passing OUT of the crankcase. So of course it did nothing to prevent chain case oil being pushed into the engine by atmospheric pressure, a change to a double lipped seal cured the problem.

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