Having disembarked, I pulled into a lay by where the SAM group had been briefed to re-assemble. Keith & Maureen Gilbert (BMW 1200 GS) and Ray & Shirley Spreadbury (BMW 1150 GS) formed the riders into two groups which they each led. Another group of more experienced continental tourers including Carl and Sara Hale (KTM 990 Adventure) and Chris and Susan Smith (Triumph Tiger 1050) travelled separately. Having been allocated to Keith’s group, he called me over. “No disrespect, but you are probably the least experienced rider in my group. Most of today’s ride is on the Autoroute. I would like you to ride behind me at the front of the pack. Stick closely behind whilst keeping an eye on the rider behind you. If you notice they are dropping back, slow down to keep them in your sights. I will then know to slow down. The riders behind you will be doing the same. I will be relying on your headlight and can’t keep an eye on absolutely everyone in the group”. Setting off behind Keith and Maureen, any reservations or concerns I had about riding in France quickly dissipated. For starters, there is a lot less traffic on the French roads, and the standard of driving is generally higher than the UK. Whilst there are exceptions, French drivers do tend to pull in once they have overtaken on Autoroutes. Contrast that with lane hoggers you regularly see on the A12. If you hold up drivers keen to overtake, they will let you know in no uncertain terms by riding close to your tail light. It pays to avoid these situations and get out of the way as soon as it is safe to do so to let them past. On the Autoroute, speed limits are 130kmh and 110kmh and unlike the UK, exits are marked with ever decreasing speed limits. Also, at the larger service stations, you’ll usually find a sponge and soapy water right by the pump to wipe the bugs off the windscreen as well as your visor! This came in very handy that day when squadrons of yellow flies regularly dive-bombed our bikes. It was also an opportunity to sample local drink and sandwiches / rolls, not too different to what we get over here. Debit/credit card payments worked in English whilst speaking to the staff in French! Following Keith and Maureen (BMW GS1200) on my Suzuki Vstrom 650, we took the A16 Autoroute South West from Calais through Boulogne, then onto Abbeville. Just after Abbeville, we stopped at the toll barrier to collect tickets then continued another 40 miles or so to the toll payment barrier. Keith and Maureen had already gone through and were waiting in a lay by around 100 yards to the right hand side after the barrier. I put the ticket into the machine then my Visa card. Bugger, it wasn’t accepted! I first wondered whether it was my toll ticket. As more riders arrived behind me, we each tried our cards The SAM Observer September 2009
The September 2009 edition of "The SAM Observer"