Dark Dog Moto-Tour in France
I came across the Dark (an energy drink) Dog Moto-Tour Rally one evening while wasting time watching you-tube videos. This was everything I could imagine having in a road event. 3200 k. of tiny back roads with 220 other characters over 7 days, 2-3 special stages per day, amazing scenery. That and I'm an unrepentant Francophile. I was hooked. That's it, I'm doing it!
My first step was to start doing some track days to get used to some high speed stuff. I mean let's face it, living in the northern NYC area has limited possibilities especially if you don't want to be spending on towing and lawyers! Everything was going pretty well. By the third track day I was feeling pretty good. There was just one problem. The stock pegs are too low on my Ducati S4. I was dragging them in more and more places. Long story short I lost the rear, the bike high sided and was completely demolished.:huh I had no idea it was possible to do that much damage without hitting anything.
Hmm..... not much time left here to start setting up another bike up in time. I changed tack and started looking around for a fully prepped bike I could rent in France. Found a dealer that had entered a trio of MV Brutales the previous year. We started negotiating. Doing business in France is a curious experience. There's always delays of all sorts, most of which seem to revolve around the quality of life they adhere to. Eh, Vive la Difference, but I'll pass. It was getting too close to D-Day for negotiations to proceed at their pace. Back to plan A. I found another Monster S4 an hour from me for a decent price and guess what? It had rear sets! Nice. So I set about swapping all the goodies off the wreck. The Ohlins forks were bent so off they went to California to be rebuilt. There is quite a lot of preparation that goes into conforming to specs of the event. Everything has to be safety wired, catch tanks for breathers, etc. 100 HP is the max allowed in France which is just about what the S4 puts out at the wheel. Lighting is a big deal. The stock headlamp is pretty bad. I decided to use a Harley LED light. They are made by J.W. Speaker and they also sell a really nice bucket for it. I added some LED fog lamps when it became apparent that the beam pattern was not so good when leaned way over. I mean after all, who's leaning a Harley over that far? Then it was on to making brackets to hold the navigation equipment. I went with an ICO Rallye and a Trail-Tech to take the place of the original gauges and found an MD Roadbook holder on Ebay in germany. DHL from Germany = anxiously slow. The Horrible switch it came with had to go. Where do you buy sheets of aluminum, how thick should they be. Details, details. Is all this stuff gonna fit? How much time is left? Not much! http://goo.gl/ycHkY
Shake down run. Just had to paint the aluminum black so it wouldn't blind me. Check out the roadbook thumb switch...... It all worked like a charm.
Thanks for the intro and quite the story. Bring on some pics too. :lurk
Through all of this crazyness I still had to figure out how to get the bike to France. I had gotten some pretty good quotes by ocean. But they we're always a little sketchy about exact dates and storage if it got there early and port charges and and and, you know what? I can't take a chance. Besides, this prepping is taking way longer than I expected. So it's gonna have wings! But whose? Nothing flies out of NY without a crate. OK, but what do you do with it in Paris? Argh.....! Or, you & your bike can fly out of Montreal uncrated but (there's always a "but"!) it's gotta get there two days before the flight. I hate long interstate highway trips. Especially on a naked S4. Six and a half hours later I was in Montreal. I was lucky enough have a place to stay with the folks who also turned this place into artists and gallery space.
.https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-P...0/_DSF0822.JPG Those are milk crates!
Oh, I almost forgot. At the last minute I found a set of forged wheels. Another project since they had to be adapted to fit. I had always heard that this was the single best handling improvement one could make. The bike now changed direction like a 250 with the lighter wheels. The suspension felt more compliant too. They also tend to be much stronger. This would be put to the test the very first day of the rally when I found myself (helplessly) sliding into and over a roundabout kerb in rain that had a seasoning of diesel thrown in for good measure! Wow - glad no cars (or trucks!) were coming!
On the way to the air freight company in Montreal I thought I would try and visit a major Ducati guru's shop. The Garmin dutifully delivered me to someplace that had never and probably would never see a Ducati. This would turn out to have unfortunate repercussions in Paris. I call it "getting off to a rough start" As a result of the GPS running me around in circles I did not leave myself enough fuel and ran out of gas five minutes after leaving the freight dock in Paris. Et Merde! 'Course it's raining too. OK now what. Hey, I know my GPS will tell me where the nearest gas station is. Oh, it's only 1.2 K. If you want a quick way to get over jet lag, push your motorcycle in the rain for a while........Hmm..... better check the GPS again and see how much further it is.......... wait, now its 4.2K! This thing is gonna give me a heart attack (or something)! One of the really nice things in France is the solidarity bikers have. In no time I got a lift to a gas station and back. I could tell the guy was happy to have me explain that I had just gotten the bike off the plane and I wasn't a total squid.
Hey, it's a travel adventure, right? This pretty much made up for it........ My aunt was kind enough to let me stay here.
I had a few days before the rally started to chill, work on my french and tool around Paris.https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-b...202012-373.jpg
What did it cost you to air freight the bike to Paris?
So the bike flew along with me on AirTransat. 2K plus your own ticket. The nice thing about the flight from Montreal is it's only 6 hours. Nice new planes.........packed full = no sleep. Ladies seated behind me sounded like they we're playing a Chechnian version of full contact Pinocle. What's the Db rating on these ear plugs anyway?
I was lucky to have a great place to stay in Paris that also allowed me to not worry about the bike being stolen. This was something I was really paranoid about especially given the amount of work I had put into it. For luggage I had a roll away that also had back pack straps. I had shipped it via UPS from NY to Montreal. Canada nailed me for $35 in customs! But now I had to ride a hour or two with it to the start town of Val de Reuil in Normandy right near Rouen.
I have to say riding in Paris was a revelation. Drivers seemed to go out of their way to make room for you to slide by them even in the tightest traffic. Quite a contrast to Montreal where I almost got pushed off the road.The streets are crawling with two wheelers. Riders acknowledge cars for their courtesies by sticking out a leg once by. Parking's a cinch! They have mega scooters with canopies and windshield wipers. But the thing I love most are the french babes with the high heels and a cigarette ready for a hole shot when the light turns green. The whole badass Ducati in Paris thing did start to get old after a while. There are red lights everywhere, sometimes in the strangest places and synchronization I think is only by coincidence. My left forearm was getting a work out. (aww life's tough, huh?) Some days I actually preferred renting the Velib bicycles. But finding one without massive mechanical problems could be a "chalange" as Peter Sellers would say!
<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/58414722?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="337" width="600"></iframe> Now, after watching that video I'm sure you must be wondering why I'm only wearing one rain glove? Because they sent me two right side gloves! Details, details.........
Well we're almost ready for the "main event" the Moto-Tour.
The time has finally come for the main event. Enough tourist time. Hit the road for Val de Reuil. Registration, check paperwork etc., tech inspection = pass, dyno test, France law is 100HP max. = pass. Bike goes into Park Ferme. All new riders get an orientation session. I have to understand it (french) before I can remember it! Many people very happy to see old friends from past editions. Some have ridden all 10! They say the best way to ride your first DDMT is to have a mentor to show you the ropes. Aw 'cmon how hard can it be........I used to ride enduro's that have much trickier time keeping, not to mention physical challenges. I was about to find out ................
Everyone gets a case of "DarkDog" ,tee shirt, and a thumb drive!
Still so clean!
Dyno test time.........
There's two ways to enter this event. I chose the "Solo" formula. As the name implies, you're on your own as opposed to having a significant other follow you around France with a camper van. They provide meals, mechanical support, cart your belongings and you get to hear what snoring sounds like in french! You sleep in the giant collapsible barracks that gets moved to the next night's paddock village.
What time is it? 4:00 ! Note the socks vainly attempting to dry!
You get meals and showers and tech support provided by a Motorcycle tech school from Montpellier . They follow us around across France. Yeah, I got to know them pretty well.
All in all, truly great ambiance. There's every kind of two and three wheel contraption you can imagine. When's the last time you saw a rotary engine Suzuki? Start of "Chemin de la Guerre" (war path), does everyone know what a yellow & orange striped flag means? No? You'll find out real soon!
Like this guy's scalp......... I'm told John McGuiness of IOM fame rode this few years ago. He apparently was a little concerned about all the trees. They looked at him in astonishment "But, you ride at 300 kmh thru town" !
It's time to get this party started!.......4:30 early start. We're going to a race track that's right next to CDG airport where we have a special stage. Then it's back here for a special stage that takes place right on the village streets. Ok, I'm game. Let's go!
Hi, I'm from France, so I hear every year about the DDMT and the extraordinary Denis Bouan !
This rally is extremely hard, dangerous, but also reveals the riders helpfulness.
I hope you've enjoyed the experience !
thats crazy good!
Awesome.. the video in Paris is so cool... I wish drivers here were as moto friendly as they are in France...
What a great event! Thanks for taking us along :lurk
Garde à l'esprit que Fred est un "unrepentant Francophile".
Je t'assure que nous ne sommes pas tous si "friendly" :D
isn't it, Fred ? :evil
Keep going, you're point of view is quite refreshing and entertaining :wink:
Alors l'esprit de Fred est pareille à mon esprit francophile. :D
Plus, you gotta love the French motorcycling culture.. I highly admired the campaign of civil disobedience against that silly hi-viz armband forcing the govt. to back down..
Bring on more Black Dog Rally!! Loved the looong video!! I hope you came out unscathed!
p.s. interesting cornering "technique"... what's with the hanging leg?? :lol3
The defining element of this edition would have to be the weather. :dogIt rained for at least 5 of the 7 days.
Ages ago I used to ride New England enduro's, so I was no stranger to sliding around. But this was something else altogether. The roads were so slippery, I just couldn't believe it!
Even the Carole racetrack which had dried by the time I got there on the first day felt like it had a coating of foie gras on it!
In the back of my mind I was very aware of how easy it would be to go flying off the road and end up with a major logistical headache. It wasn't like I could just lick my wounds and be home in a couple of hours. I needed to ride with a little extra cushion of sanity. OK, so you're thinking "there's a smart fella". But you'd be wrong! Truth is I can't resist riding at a spirited clip and the roads basically never stop turning. At a certain point I realized, wow, my arms are actually tired just from pulling and pushing on the bars for hours at a time. It was 150% concentration all the time. Eventually I came to understand that I really didn't have (ANY!) experience riding a 450 pound projectile on such tiny roads. Many of the roads were nothing more than 600 year old goat paths that had been paved. OK, I have my favorite tiny roads at home but it's different 'cause I know them. The racetrack experience is great but again it's the same thing; you learn it before you let loose.
There was a section of road that literally never stopped turning - no straights - for no topographical reason that I could discern, for maybe half an hour. I couldn't believe it. I kept wondering, how does a road like this come to be? Was the whole crew drunk when they built it? Was it the result of a war that decided whose land would have to be used?
This is almost a super highway for us!
The second day was a tough one. Early start, dense fog, rain, mud, cow poop and a serving of wet leaves. I'm following a guy who seems to have his navigational skills in order ( I don't) we are making pretty good time. As we head into a goat path through a farmers yard he grabs a little to much front brake and goes down right in front of me. Bike is laying on it's side spinning like a top, he's all arms and legs flailing around.........aahhhhhh.....ouf.......just missed him............now it's my turn, gotta work on staying up......... I stop and go back and help him pick up his bike. He's OK but the left handlebar is not useable in it's new configuration! So we start heaving away at trying to straighten it - no dice, won't budge. The farmer comes running out to see what happened only to find these strangers engaged in humping a muddy motorcycle. We stop to say hello and I ask him if he might have a piece of pipe laying around we could use to get some more leverage? Sure enough, he comes running back out with exactly the right thing! My new friend is beaming, he's so happy and off we go.
The curious thing I realized once the rally was over is that I don't have very many clear memories of each days layout. I think it was a case of not seeing the forest for looking at the trees (you're trying not to crash into!).
At some point we got separated and now I'm in some really slippery twisties with wet leaves and a little mud thrown in for good measure. I'm riding with a bunch of guys and we're going really slow. To slow...... hup, here we go, I'll just pass this guy around the outside to be safe and .......aaaaaahhhhh .........there goes the front..........over the bars I go as the bike drops down into a french drain. I got a clear understanding of where the term "French Drain" comes from. Most roads are lined with them. The roads may be slick but it's rare to encounter standing puddles of water.
Damn.... we haul the bike out and an hour later basically the same thing happens again! At this point it finally starts to sink in, I need to change my approach if I want to make it to the finish. I now understood why all these riders we're always cornering with an inside leg skimming the ground supermotard style, though I can't imagine what good that is at say, 60mph. That and going into the turn S-L-O-W. Thing is, I have a feeling it's not such a good idea to use this technique if you don't have folding foot pegs. It took me till the 5th day before I could relax with the bike sliding around under me.
Navigation; some riders seem to have sixth sense with this. I preferred to concentrate on the road as much as possible and try and hook up with someone with the aforementioned talents. It still payed to watch the road book, sometimes you'd realize, "hey wait a minute, this guy hasn't realized he's completely lost" and now you are too 'cause you didn't note the mileage.
I'm on a particularly desolate stretch and I see a temporary sign sitting on the road indicating a skidding car. A few minutes later I'm thinking, "putain, they aren't exaggerating. I really am sliding all over the place". A short time later it occurs to me, "hang on, somethings wrong. This road can't be THAT slick".
https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-U...0/_DSF0913.JPG The middle of Nowhere!
The back tire has a cut. Game over. Come en' get me. So eventually the sweep truck shows up and we start down the road. The truck is going to use exactly the same route as the rally. This is gonna take some time. Eventually we arrive here. It's a checkpoint! One of the many examples of Chateau de la Loire.
There's another rider whose KTM has quit because of all the moisture. As it turns out this is a big issue for many riders. In Oliver's case the water got in the gauges and shorted out the computer.
A dirt road is brings us to this checkpoint.
Well now of course the weather is clearing up after all the hard work and drama. I'm getting to see the rest of the day from the sweep truck. And what an eye-full. I'm upset! We finally get to the finish village. Everyone is pretty well knackered. Check out the pup tents. Pretty hard core way to go!
Getting my new new back tire
Here's a map of a special stage I missed riding that day, nice one!
Damn... where are all those rally helpers when you need them.
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