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Cannonball Bike Run 2018 (Chapter 1) – Getting there

It’s 2am.

Fucking 2am.

fireblade french alps

My bike in the French Alps

Up until a few, sweet minutes ago, I’d been blissfully asleep having made it to bed at a reasonable time so as to be well rested for the next day’s ride.

That was before.

Before the noise came.

Before the apocalyptic screaming of an excessively loud R1 bouncing off the rev limiter as Tuomo, the crazy Finn (actually, one of the numerous crazy Finns) decided to start doing burnouts.

Before he was joined by Andy from the UK on his insanely loud Triumph 675 & Thomas “The Worm” from Norway on his blue S1000RR and the two of them rode round to the little feet-washing water trough they have in Europe before you reach the swimming pool and started doing burnouts in the water, giant rooster-plumes of water fountaining out behind their bikes to much raucous hilarity.

Before Tuomo dropped his R1 and was eventually poured into his room by Andy, the noise went on for a good 20 minutes.

The memories, however, will last forever…

Welcome to a regular Tuesday night on the Cannonball Bike Run!


The Cannonball Bike Run

Ah,  the Cannonball Bike Run… three words that evoke strong feelings in everyone – a sense of accomplishment, a challenge overcome, a lifetime ambition, or possibly just no idea what it is.

Over the next few articles, SBF will document our experience of the event. Not an easy task – never before has a single biking week offered me so many different experiences in such a short space of time, so stick with me and I’ll try my best to do it justice!

Ok, so what is it?

The Cannonball Bike Run, in its simplest form, is a rally although it’s so much more than that. It’s a collection of bikers from all across the globe coming together to ride across some of the best roads around for a week, crossing a number of countries, completing around 1,500-2,000 miles (not including getting to the start and back from the finish), and making a new group of lifelong friends.

Each morning at breakfast, you’re given your directions for the day (which include details of petrol stations, places to stop for lunch, known speed cameras, and mileage markers to help keep you on track), sometimes running to 8 pages, which you stick in a tank-bag and do your best to follow accurately to your destination. Although accurate following doesn’t always mean you aren’t going to go wrong now and then, as it can be easy to miss a sign or turning and then once you’ve gone slightly wrong, your mileage counter is out.

At the end of each day, you arrive at a nice hotel with a pool and bar and spend the evening socialising with people you either have ridden with or probably will ride with soon over dinner and drinks.

The evenings are as tame or as mental as you want them to be – from retiring at 11pm after a great dinner and a few drinks to get a good sleep (or trying to!) to getting absolutely smashed and doing burnouts in the paddling pool at 3am. It’s your call!

first night's stay

Where I stayed the first night

Is it a race?

Ha. No. It’s not a race. Everyone has the same route to follow and the whole week’s route has been pre-ridden on hand-picked roads so you can choose to ride it how you want – fast, cruise, or a bit of both.

It’s a rally and definitely not a race.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who ride as if it was – it just means you don’t get prizes for “winning” 🙂

Who runs it?

It’s run by Wildside, a Berkshire-based events company managed by Nick Duncan and Steve Mason, and supported by Jeremy who drives the support van containing everyone’s gear for the event. All in all, it’s a very slick operation and our gear was always waiting for us at the hotel by the time we arrived as Jeremy can choose to take a more direct route than the bikes do. The organisation was superb and across the entire event, I didn’t have (nor heard of) a single issue or complication. Top marks!

Is it worth it?

Random grafitti

Random skatepark grafitti

Hahahahahahaha!

Fuck. Yes.

This is an awesome event and should be on everyone’s bucket list if you like touring, riding fast, meeting new people, or all three.

How can I do it?

Entries for the 2019 Cannonball Bike Run are now open although most spaces have already been taken by people who’ve done one before (as we get priority – ha). In fact, most of the people I met on this event had done a surprising number of previous events – a lot of people had done 3 or 4 with even some veterans of 7+ Cannonballs. This is testament to how good these events are as people return year after year – there’s no better endorsement than repeat business and loyal customers! That said, this year, 30% of the riders were Cannonball virgins (including me) and I’m sure most of them will be back again. Case in point – I’m already booked on the next event.

To secure your place, get in touch with the Wildside team using the below details.

Email: wildside@adren-a-line.com 

Phone: +44 (0) 118 947 5200

packed & ready

All packed up & ready to go

 


Travelling to the Cannonball Bike Run – day 1

The way my CBR2018 started was, typically for me, in a rush because I was running late. I’d had a million things to do the day before I set off so ended up starting to pack at 11pm when I was meant to be leaving the house at 7am for a ferry. As it was, I left around 7.20 and hoofed it to Dover from my home in Surrey. I was slightly concerned about being done for speeding given my… enthusiastic… riding before I’d even got on the damn ferry but as it was, I got to Dover without any dramas.

a good strap-on

My bike strapped down on the ferry

Missed ferry

The one thing I hadn’t done, however, was check how early I needed to get there for my ferry. I arrived 20 mins before departure and was too late to get on it. Lesson learned. They gave me a choice of two subsequent departures and I just chose the sooner one rather than consulting a map. In hindsight, this was a mistake as the one I went on sailed into Dunkirk, not Calais. Turns out that made the ferry crossing twice as long and also deposited me miles up the coast in the wrong direction. Another lesson learned. Something else I’ve learned is that I don’t think or plan very much and subsequently learn a lot of other things through causing myself pain or inconvenience… and sometimes need to make the same mistake a few times until it really sinks in.

Bombing through northeast France

As soon as you land in France, you lose an hour due to the time zone (during BST, anyway). By the time I got off the ferry, it was around 1.30pm so I decided to get some distance tucked away on day 1 so as to make day 2 easier and more fun. I hopped on the A25 to Lille and then picked up the A1 and A26 towards Reims. I had a few quick blasts to eat up some mileage and at one point I must have been going pretty quick as the wind pressure bent my mirror all the way in so I stopped at the next services to fix that and fill up. Luckily, I’d remembered the standard toolkit I take on trackdays (which consists of an allen key and duck tape (it used to include a teaspoon as well which I was using to hot-wire my bike when my alarm went funny but I had it ripped out so now don’t carry a spoon everywhere)) so was able to adjust and tighten the mirror all by myself (#motogpmechanicskills).

church in Champagne region

Random church in the Champagne region

Finding somewhere to stay

I came off the motorway/dual carriageways when I reached Châlons-en-Champagne and took some more fun roads (and some which were mostly gravel) to Vitry le François. By then it was around 6pm so I googled hotels in the area, found Auberge de la Plaine which was about 20km away near Brienne le Château. I called to check they had vacancies then headed there.

It was in the middle of nowhere, on a long, long straight road which provided some great wheelie fun, and I surprised at how full it was when I got there. Turns out it’s a very highly respected restaurant as well as a hotel so I checked in, struggled up three flights of narrow stairs with all my bags (note to self – don’t take a bloody massive chain next time I go touring), showered, changed, and headed down. The lady in charge kindly allowed me to park by bike in a barn which they lock at night, so I put my bike away then headed across for dinner.

great dinner - steak, wine and champagne

Dinner – a great steak with some champagne and red wine

Even though the sun was setting, it was really warm so I chose to sit outside. This came much to the surprise of the restaurant staff as they obviously thought it was a bit chilly but laughed when I said I’m from England so it felt warm to me. I had a great meal – started with a glass of champagne (you know… when in Rome and all that!) then a fantastic steak with half a bottle of red wine followed by a café au lait. After that, I popped out to take a few pictures then went to bed in my comfy attic room.

Day 2

fast flowing roads

Northern France is full of fast, flowing roads like this

Up at 8, showered, dressed, grabbed a coffee for breakfast, packed up and headed straight out. It looked on a map that I wasn’t too far from Chamonix so made the decision to take fun twisty roads rather than any more mind-numbing motorways. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken one or two as I’d barely got anywhere by lunchtime. But anyhoo…

I headed towards Dijon on some awesome roads. Fast, flowing, A-roads which all looked gravelly in the centre of the lane but none were. Really disconcerting – the surfaces were good but had been heavily repaired in different colours so looked like a patchwork quilt.

Hayabusa fun

Around midday I overtook a couple two-up on a Hayabusa. They then came past me 10 mins later when I had slowed to check signs so I then followed them for a bit. They were now up for a play and were flying – really going for it, taking bends at well over 100, so it was really fun to tag along with them for a bit. After a while I had to pull over to check my satnav but then caught them up again a while later. I wanted to carry on faster than they were going so used a crest in the road to launch the front up at around 80 in 3rd which I carried down the slope, past them, and left them behind. Everyone loves a good wheelie, right?

dijon town centre

In the centre of Dijon

The salad that never was

I reached Dijon around 2pm; I’d thought I’d get there way earlier but you cover so much less ground when taking twisty roads compared to motorways (funnily enough!). I rode into the centre thinking I’d get a quick lunch and found a restaurant which looked nice. I ordered a salad, charged my phone for a bit, drank lots of water & ate some of the complimentary bread they brought me. After 40 minutes (40. fucking. minutes), I got tired of waiting for a salad (I mean, I’m no chef but I’m sure it doesn’t take that long to shred some lettuce and chuck some chicken in it) so walked out and carried on.

lake geneva and alps

Looking down on Lake Geneva with the Alps in the background

The road to Geneva & my personal guide

I headed for Geneva and planned to drop down into Chamonix from there. The road from Dijon to Geneva was absolutely mad… amazing bends, mountain hairpins, steep climbs, tight and nadgery sections, the lot. A dude on an S1000RR stuck with me for a while through the fast sweepy sections before the hairpins started and we were both really going for it. Then we went separate ways and it became a lot more technical as it went up and over the baby mountains, kind of like warm-up mountains before reaching the proper ones. After the initial few mountain passes, it was really weird to approach the Alps as the terrain didn’t continue to gradually increase in elevation – I was riding along, it was a bit hilly, nothing major, and then all of a sudden there was a mahoosive fuck-off mountain range just sticking straight up out of the planet. Mental.

Eventually I reached Geneva and headed for the centre thinking to find signs to Chamonix as they’re quite close. I passed a guy on a really old BMW R75. He was wearing a Bell helmet with a mirrored bubble helmet, and, frankly, looked cool as fuck. He came past me a while later as I was slowing to check signs and shouted across to ask where I was heading. I shouted back Chamonix & he said to follow him as he was heading that way. So I had a personal guide through Geneva, around the lake, and out towards Chamonix. As we hit the motorway, he said he was pulling off at the first junction and I just had to go straight & I’d see signs in a few miles. What a lad. He waved when he pulled off, I waved back and pulled a fat wheelie in thanks. (Because everyone appreciates a good wheelie, right?! …right?)

road through mountain

Random road-through-the-mountain action

I followed the toll road for a while and on the approach to Chamonix, it becomes a dual carriageway where the halves separate and take different paths across a pretty high viaduct which results in some epic, fast, high up sweeping bends on stilts right on the edge of the Alps. So cool! Loved that bit.

Chamonix at last

Finally reached the hotel where the Cannonball briefing was taking place in the morning. I wasn’t staying there – I’d gone to book it when I received an email saying where the Monday morning briefing was taking place but everyone else beat me to it and there was no space left when I got round to it. I’d booked somewhere about half an hour back the way I’d come but my phone battery had died again so I had no chance of finding it as I didn’t know what it was called. However, I’d remembered how to get to the one everyone else was at, so went there for some phone juice.

at chamonix

Finally reached Chamonix!

As I arrived, all the Cannonballers were just about to go out to town. Taxis were on the way so I got back on the bike and followed an American couple who was also riding there. We arrived at the Moo bar first and were about to order when we realised we were in the wrong part and had to go next door. The barman insisted I did a free shot with him, so I nailed that and went next door. I was absolutely starving having not eaten all day (apart from a slice of bread in Dijon) so ordered the burger and chips and made short work of that when it arrived.

I spent some time chatting with Laurie and Scott, who’d flown in from New York to Nice and hired an F800 just to do the Cannonball on. Amazing. Also met Tom from Lithuania who was riding an S1000RR and chatted to him before spending a good 10 minutes trying to change my visor to a clear one. It’s the new Arai RX7V… I could change the old ones in about 8 seconds flat but the new ones are a little more fiddly and I hadn’t done it before. With some help from Scott (& YouTube, mostly!) we got there in the end.

Off to bed

chalet hotel

My swanky chalet hotel

After that, it was a quick blast to my hotel along some really twisty hairpin roads and one absolutely epic one – basically a mountainous dual carriageway with awesome, fast, wide hairpin bends. When I got to my chalet hotel which I’d booked on Booking.com, they had me down for the same date a month later for some reason, even though my confirmation email had the right date on it. Luckily (as it was 10pm on a Sunday night), they had space so upgraded me to a deluxe room which was super cute.

I showered, tried on the complimentary dressing gown thing and was about to go downstairs when I suspected it was a bit short for me. I looked in the mirror and, sure enough, my junk was clearly visible. I put some clothes on instead, bitching about the ridiculously short dressing gown, and went downstairs where the night manager made me a great coffee and brought me some mini meringues which I enjoyed in the communal lounge. I didn’t last long – I was knackered and it had been a long day so I went upstairs to bed where I realised I’d tried on the lady’s dressing gown and the other one was a much more respectable, junk-covering length!

So, off to sleep to get some rest before the Cannonball started in the morning!

To be continued…


Thanks to:

  • Nick, Steve & Jeremy from The Cannonball Bike Run and Wildside teams
  • Steve (again) for the picture of me pulling a stoppie in the Pyrenees
  • & of course, all the other nutters I met on the event!
alpine sunset

Blade with Alpine sunset

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