10th November 2012
I wake early after a good night’s sleep. I have breakfast and load the bike – it’s a dull day and the roads are still damp and there’s a mist of rain in the air. I've booked a room in Pau Lescsar, in the French Pyrenees, this evening and it's going to be a 6+ hour ride...
The lovely Claire and Letty wave me goodbye and I set off.
In order to get onto the motorway I have to double back through an industrial estate. Without warning the bike slows – it has started firing on only one cylinder. I keep the engine running and turn into a roadway in the industrial area. I find I can keep the engine running on one cylinder, so long as I keep the revs above 2500. I set the throttle lock to this setting and put the bike on it’s side stand...
I feel each of the headers in turn with my (gloved) hands and the right header is considerably cooler – indicating that this is where the trouble is. I take off my gloves, pull my tool kit out and undo the two bolts holding on the right hand side-panel. I turn away to pick up my camera, turn back, noticing a sudden smell of petrol and, with a dull whoosh
, a large fire develops in front of me. I later found that I took a picture – probably a reflex action.
I quickly turn off the kill switch to stop fuel supply, but it’s obvious this fire is going to be catastrophic. I tear the tank bag off (later noticing that I burn the fingers on my right hand and the thumb of my left doing so) and throw it to the pavement. I then rescue the GPS and empty each pannier in turn – throwing the bags far up the pavement, heedless of any damage.
I then step back some way from the bike. The 30-litre fuel tank is full and the fire has now really taken hold, with thick, oily black smoke curling upwards into the sky.
I take my ‘phone out and call 112, but the operator cannot speak English - it wouldn't make much difference if she did, as I have no idea what the name of this road is.
There can’t be many more lonely experiences than standing in a deserted foreign industrial estate early on a Saturday morning, watching your bike burn.
Eventually a local stops and I give him my phone and he rings the fire brigade. They arrive in fifteen minutes or so, along with the police. They quickly put the fire out, but there’s nothing left by this time, the bike has burned out and all it ever was is now ash and twisted metal.
One of the firemen, Carlos, speaks a little English and he and his colleagues dress the burns on my fingers – I have lost the skin off the fingertips on my middle and ring fingers and have blisters on the index finger and on my right thumb.
The administration starts and I produce my licence and passport and – through Carlos – explain that I’m on my way back to the UK after just over a week. I explain how the fire started (as much as I know, anyway) and the police tell me they are not going to make a report. I ask for some form of official reference to quote and the fire chief gives me his name and station contact details – I’m almost certainly going to need this for an insurance claim.
Got to have a team picture, haven't you?
At length, Carlos gives me a lift back to my hotel – where Claire is shocked to hear what has happened and gives me the key card to my room and asks if there is anything else I need. I thank her and shake my head – I have to start making some calls to the UK…