Cannonball Bike Run 2018 part 2 – the week itself

Image of motorbikes parked on the side of a mountain road in the Pyrenees with snow-capped mountains in the distance


Chamonix, the starting point of the 2018 Cannonball Bike Run

Chamonix, the starting point of the 2018 Cannonball Bike Run

I always thought I wasn’t really a knee-down-on-the-road kinda guy, but the Cannonball Bike Run has just made me realise that isn’t it at all… I just don’t live in the right country.

Essentially, I need to move to (or at least spend more time in) the south of France or the Pyrenees. Unless you’ve ridden there (or somewhere similar, like the Alps or Germany’s Black Forest), it’s hard to convey just how different the roads over there are. They’re sublime – curvy, twisty, hairpinny (definitely a word), beautifully surfaced (mostly!) and oh-so-quiet. They’re a million miles away from our UK roads (well, in terms of quality; in actual distance they’re only about 860 miles, which is far more accessible than if they actually were a million miles away) with all the manhole covers, blind bends, high hedges, poor visibility, and crappy surfaces. Not to mention the scenery over there, which is just breath-taking.

For me, there’s something incredibly life-affirming about riding a motorbike around snowy mountains. I don’t know what it is, but genuinely believe it’s something every biker should experience at some point, and the Cannonball Bike Run provides plenty of opportunities to do just that.

This article follows on from the first part I wrote which detailed my two-day journey down to the start of the event and covers the week of the Cannonball itself. If you haven’t read the first part, it’s easily found from the homepage.

Background info: my bike

My bike is a 2006 Fireblade. I’ve had it since 2008 when it had done just 2,000 miles and I’ve since added another 34,000 to it. It’s a brilliant all-rounder; I’ve ridden round Europe on it twice now, commuted on it, used it for weekend blasts, been to stunt school to learn how to wheelie and stoppie, and done loads of trackdays, both in the UK and round Europe, all without it missing a beat. (Except for that time I blew the engine but let’s gloss over that…)

My bike, all packed up and ready to go

My bike, all packed up and ready to go

It’s relatively standard and has a Translogic quickshifter, Gilles rearsets, a Brembo 19RCS master cylinder, F.Fabbri screen, seat cowl, and one ASV lever (it had two but the ASV isn’t compatible with the Brembo RCS so had to go). I plan to remap the ECU and upgrade the suspension in the near future. Oh & I’ve gone down to a 15-tooth front sprocket. But that’s literally it.

The tyres I popped on for this trip were Michelin Power RS which, I was told, had a reasonable chance of lasting me for 3-4,000 miles. I was slightly sceptical about this as tyres rarely last me more than 1,600, but hey ho! As it happens, they did a pretty decent job but the rear was pretty knackered after 2,300 miles and completely fucked 500 miles later when I finally changed it. The front is still going strong at about 3,500 miles which I’m pretty impressed with.

What I wore

I wanted to be protected and comfortable for this trip so I wore Held’s new 2-pc Spire touring suit which is designed to be a more relaxed and comfortable fit than a track suit whilst still offering Held’s high level of protection.

The fit was slightly different on me than expected – I am a 54 in Held 1pc race suits but in the 2pc, this size dug into my stomach so I ended up getting a 56 which is a little long for me in the legs and roomy round the middle but allowed for a fleece to be worn underneath without feeling too snug.

All in all, it’s a great suit and did a fantastic job during the Cannonball. It was comfy from the start, needed no wearing in, held up reasonably well when I rode through massive rain storms, and was flexible when it came to knee-down action in the mountains.

In addition to that, I wore Alpinestars base layers made of some magic material that bacteria can’t survive in so you can wear it every day, get sweaty, and wear it again the next day without feeling too skanky.

I also wore my custom-made Held Phantom II gloves, an Arai RX7V, and Alpinestars Supertech R boots.

What I took

Fuck. What didn’t I take? Ha. I will learn one day to not take a massive chain with me when I go touring. I’ve never needed it – all parking during the Cannonball was secure and it adds too much weight to be worth taking “just in case”. If I ever write that I’ve taken one touring again, please kick me in the balls.

Luggage-wise I took a Kriega R25 backpack and US20 & 10 tailpacks. I was given a tankbag by Scott from SNS Motorcycles who does all my bike servicing (an excellent mechanic if you’re in the south east) which was brilliant as it had an A5 sleeve in the top where I could keep the directions. In there, I kept my camera, visor cleaning fluid & cloth, a clean tshirt and a pair of swimming shorts so that as soon as I arrived at the hotel each day, I could get straight in the pool with a massive bourbon & coke even if our gear hadn’t arrived on the support truck yet. Genius.

As for the rest of my gear, I packed fairly light with a few t-shirts, a pair of jeans, trainers, and I bought cheapy pants & socks which I binned at the end of each day to save carrying around dirty laundry.

Cannonball Day 1 – Chamonix to Gap

chamonix meeting point for the start

The meeting point from where we all set off

In the morning, I woke up in my gorgeous alpine chalet, had breakfast, got all my things together and then headed over to the main hotel for the briefing, enjoying the epic road again this time in reverse. As in, riding in the other direction. Obviously I wasn’t reversing the whole way. That would be stupid. And I’d need a GoldWing. However, the main road had roadworks so I was late, arriving 15 minutes into the briefing. Ahem. I grabbed a coffee and a set of directions and before I knew it, it was time to go and everyone was heading to their bikes. Shit, shit, shit.

breakfast briefing session

Breakfast briefing session

By the time I was ready (I have occasionally been known to faff somewhat), most people had already left so I tagged on with a group of three who were just about to leave – Jason (S1000RR), Jaime (MV Dragster RR) and Danny (GSXR750) – and we headed off, leaving a couple on MVs struggling to start one of them (let’s cast no dispersions on the reliability of Italian exotica here, please!). Nothing we could do, so off we went and promptly did three laps of Chamonix getting immediately confused with the directions just to get out of town. Luckily, I knew the road we needed to get to so I ignored the directions and led the way there and soon we were back on track (although now our odometers were about 3 miles out, great start to the day!).

The first section was the road I’d taken to my hotel the night before, the really twisty one across the viaduct. By now I’d ridden it in both directions so had a vague idea where it went (& where the speed camera was) (although that didn’t stop it flashing me as I hammered past it) and I nailed it through the fun twisty bits, stopping a few miles later to wait for the others. Decided it was probably best if I didn’t ride at the front after that as I was struggling to ride at a group-friendly pace which isn’t ideal when leading.

awesome mountain hairpin roads

One of many awesome hairpinny mountain roads in southwest France

The initial roads were amazing, loads of mountain hairpins and passes up and down the Alps south of Chamonix. We had a hoot riding them and stopped for petrol, lunch and a water break around 1pm. The afternoon was more of the same – we were heading towards Turin in northwest Italy and had to ride through an 8km-long tunnel through the mountains to get there. The drop in temperature was huge and I was freezing so distracted myself by riding like a dick. Loads of wheelies and some not-quite-flat-out-but-still-pretty-damn-quick sections helped take my mind off how cold it was. We were joined by Thomas “The Worm” on his S1000RR and rode through the tunnel with him and he somehow managed to get flashed by speed cameras three times in 8km – pretty impressive. No-one else, just him.

After the tunnel, I was in the front and saw the exit we had to take. As I exited, I looked behind to see a group of bikes going straight, having apparently missed the turn. I stopped a few miles down the road and waited for 15 minutes for them to catch up but carried on when they didn’t appear.

I picked up the pace a bit and had an incredible ride to Gap. The roads were phenomenal – more fast sweepers compared to the mountain hairpins of the morning. I’d occasionally hammer past Scott & Laurie riding the F800 two-up and we’d wave and then they’d come pootling past me 10 mins later when I was stopped taking photos. We repeated this cycle a number of times over a couple of hours which was continually amusing.

Collection of pictures courtesy of Steve Mason from the first couple of days

Collection of pictures courtesy of Steve Mason from the first couple of days

Towards the end of the afternoon was a spectacular road – the D3. This was unbelievable – great surface, good visibility and stunning bends. The sort of road I wish I’d have turned around and ridden again. If you’re ever in the area, it’s a must-do. It is one of those roads that seems to have been designed solely with bikes in mind – fast and sweeping bends with amazing scenery. Loved it!

I arrived at the hotel at around 5pm and it was fantastic to pull up into the car park to see a load of bikes and Cannonballers in high spirits. I lubed my chain (all by myself – quite a rare event for me), went and dumped my stuff in my room and changed into trunks. 15 minutes later, I was two double jack & cokes down and in the swimming pool, playing frisbee with a dog. Awesome. (For clarity. the dog was not also in the pool.)

collection of pictures from first night

First night pictures clockwise from top left: Kjell’s MV; the Romance room; dinner; Jaime, Jason & Danny (l-r); Shrimps in his juice; and the menu

That evening, we all had dinner outside in the hotel garden and were presented with a Cannonball gift bag containing various goodies – a commemorative coin, neck buff, square bottles of liqueur and a load of stickers. The menu was hilariously translated into English and included such gastronomic delights as ‘Shrimps in his juice’ (see delectable picture) and “Baked Chicken Farmer”. I can confirm that his juice was pretty fucking rank but the chicken farmer was decent (#CannibalBikeRun).

After dinner, I was told I’d been assigned the wrong room so had to move into the correct one where I found I was sharing the Romance Room (ooh la la). With Robert. We fairly quickly established that neither of us was into docking so there was actually very little romance on the cards. Room swap done, we all got drunk in the bar area and had our first display (of many) of the worm from Thomas, including some handstands which he chucked in for good measure. I got talking to Andy and James, a father and son from oop north somewhere who said I should ride with them tomorrow. Finally went to bed around 1.30/2am and was disturbed at some point by The Worm and James bursting into our room and setting off a foam fire extinguisher. Literally, foam everywhere, all up in my grill & what-not.

Epic view over a lake on the D3

Epic view over a lake on the D3

Day 2 – Gap to Aigues-Mortes (Montpelier)

Ready to set off on day 2 - helmet's hiding how rough I felt

Ready to set off on day 2 – helmet’s hiding how rough I felt

I woke up fucking hanging. Seem to recall lots of text flirting with a Chinese pole-dancer which meant I got to sleep even later than planned. It literally felt like I’d had about 20 mins sleep. Not good. Drank loads of water, some coffee & forced down some eggs at breakfast and then, all too soon, it was time to set off.

1st Cannonball crash of the day (literally before leaving the carpark)

There was some drama first thing with someone brilliantly crashing their KTM onto the 2ft-high rockery, ending up facing the wrong way before getting out of the car park, which resulted in a hole in the engine casing and an oil leak but this was fairly easily fixed and didn’t hold him up too much.

I planned to head out with James and Andy but they weren’t ready – one of them was way more hungover than I was and they had to fiddle around with an exhaust before they could get going. So, I started out riding with the couple on MVs – Åsa and Kjell (who had managed to get them started the day before), Danny again and my roomie, Rob, on his S1000RR. The roads were awesome straight away and I had great fun for the first hour messing around warming up the tyres, pulling some wheelies and stoppies and lapping roundabouts.

Where the fuck did they come from?

After a while, I was out at the front of the group hanging back for them when all of a sudden, four bikes absolutely fucking screamed passed me. I was like, fuck this, I’m going with them, and immediately nailed it. Turns out it was James (R6), Andy (675), Tuomo (R1) and Adrian, a Finnish stunter on an S1000RR with a stunt cage. So I tagged along with them. The pace was a lot quicker than the other groups I’d ridden with so far and we were really going for it round the mountain roads. I’m always a little more cautious if I can’t see where the road goes, especially round tight hairpins, but James, who was leading, is either far better at reading the road than I am, or he can see through rocks, or has more blind faith than me and just chucks it in regardless. This meant I’d occasionally drop back a bit until I was happy with where the road went and then would have to nail it to catch up. I did completely screw up one hairpin – I went into a bit too hot and ended up taking it on the wrong side of the road – luckily the roads were really quiet and nothing was coming but that was a… fun learning curve.

Collection 2 of pictures by Steve Mason

Collection 2 of pictures by Steve Mason

Adrian on the S1000RR was great fun to ride with – very wheelie happy and was doing loads of rolling burnouts. As a group, we had a fair few really high speed thrashes and they were all really awesome riders, very consistent, always keeping the same distance between each other whereas I seemed to yo-yo back and forth a bit. I really enjoyed riding with them and feel I learned a lot. I’m not very used to riding very fast with other people on the road – I’m more used to riding on my own or with a group where the pace is slightly lower.

It was a long and hot day. We had a shit-tonne of mileage to cover and were riding pretty hard the whole way. I had literally no idea where we were the whole time – I just followed the others who were all Cannonball alumni so way more used to riding flat-out and reading directions at the same time. I just let them get on with it & tried to keep up 🙂

Parked up at the top of the gorge

Parked up at the top of the gorge

We stopped for lunch at the world’s most confusing supermarket – the layout made no sense whatsoever and I did about 4 laps just looking for water. Then it was straight back on it with an epic climb through a huge gorge to a lookout point with incredible views where we stopped for photos.

Motorway madness

Later on, we had to jump on a motorway for a while but somehow managed to get on it heading in the wrong direction for half an hour so it was ages before we were able to turn around and get back on track. Spent some time slaloming between the orange roadworks cones along the hard shoulder to amuse ourselves. We’d lost Tuomo and Adrian by now so it was just me, Andy & James and we were done – really hot and tired. James got shunted by some clown in a car when he was stopped at a toll booth (luckily no damage) and, when we finally managed to get off the motorway, I ingeniously managed to pull a wheelie straight past a stationary police car at roadworks leading up to temporary traffic lights. Luckily, they either didn’t see or didn’t care as they didn’t chase me.

The last section of the day was awesome. Andy was leading and the road wound through marshlands for about 20 minutes. It was wide, curvy and with great visibility round the bends so we were basically completely flat-out along here, really going for it. Fun times. Finally got to the hotel in Aigues Mortes, near Montpelier, around 5pm and ended the day as I had the day before, in the pool with an excessively huge bourbon and coke. Awesome.

Is it even a night out if you don’t see Petri’s arse 84 times?

Petri. With his arse out. Again.

Petri. With his arse out. Again.

That night, we piled into minibuses and heading into town for dinner in a big outdoor square. We were treated to numerous flashes of Petri’s arse as he was wearing a kilt and delighted in getting it out. Lots of drinks were had and I retired relatively early for a decent sleep as I wanted to be in a better state the next morning than I’d started today in. However, my peaceful sleep was completely shattered at 2am as a number of very smashed Cannonballers got back from town and started doing burnouts in the carpark.

The sound of Tuomo’s R1 on its own was ridiculous and was then compounded by Andy’s obscenely loud 675 & The Worm’s S1000RR which they wheeled round to the pool (i.e. nearer my room) & started doing burnouts in the mini foot-wash pool thing they have in Europe before the main pool. The R1 ended up being dropped and broke a mirror which is hardly surprising given the fact that Andy had to half-carry Tuomo to his room which I think signalled the end of the shenanigans.

Day 3 – Montpelier to Platja d’Aro

As you might expect, some people were a little worse for wear in the morning. I set out with James and Andy and, after a quick motorway blast, we soon hit far more fun roads. I love riding in the south of France – it’s a biker’s paradise. The roads we were on were fast with long sweeping corners and we were going for it the whole time. I led for much of the day so had to get used to reading the directions on the move which wasn’t too hard after a while.

We stopped for a quick lunch (I had an omelette, thank you for asking) before heading off again for the afternoon, which was without a doubt one of the best afternoon’s riding on the road I’ve ever had. The three of us were properly on it, flying around these awesome roads. At one point, we were coming down a mountain pass but rather than being really steep, tight and nadgery, the road was really open and flowing – some parts were even a dual carriageway. We were all hanging off, knee-down, and one of us definitely let out a few excited girlish woops. Ahem. Like I said in the intro, I didn’t really think I was a knee-down on the road kinda guy but you just can’t help it on roads like this – the visibility is so good you can see all the way round the bend so there were no surprises and the constant radius made it so tempting to go for it. So go for it we did. It was awesome!

Launching a 675 off a mountain road

As we got onto the home stretch, about 20 miles away from our destination, the landscape changed from big mountains to smaller hills and lots of trees. The roads were still great but not quite as open as they had been earlier. At one point, I was in front and turned into a right-hander which, for the first time all week, became a lot tighter halfway round. Completely taken by surprise (how dare this corner be different), I shut the throttle, slammed it over a bit harder, and got round it thinking, “fuck, that was close!”. After rounding the next bend, I realised I couldn’t see Andy or James in my mirrors and I knew immediately what had happened. I turned around and rode back to find both guys were ok, but I could only see James’ R6… Andy had ridden straight off the road and left his 675 about 15ft down the slope in a load of trees.

675 off-roading

Andy’s 675 goes off-roading

After a few minutes spent laughing and taking photographs, I finally managed to give them a hand and we soon had his bike back up on the road. It was surprisingly unscathed – an indicator was hanging off and there were a couple of minor scratches, but that was it.

Just after we’d got it back onto the road, Nick and Steve came round the same corner (almost on two wheels – they literally just about made it round!) and stopped to see if we were alright. We explained what had happened and that everyone was ok and then suggested a mini photo-shoot I knew the road opened up a little just ahead where I’d turned around. So they drove on, parked up and then we spent 20 minutes dicking around pulling wheelies and stoppies for pictures. Very impressed with Andy who, having just ridden straight off the road and stacked it, was pulling monster wheelies literally 15 minutes later – good lad!

That evening, I continued my tradition of going for a swim and then we all went out for dinner near the beach for an awesome steak. It had been a really long day and everyone was knackered. Even some of the crazy Finns were only drinking water! Like, what the actual fuck is the world coming to?

Day 4 – Platja d’Aro to Andorra

my bike at the seaside

My bike at the seaside

After breakfast (where I smashed about a kilo of bacon and eggs (or at least that weird fatty stringy shit that passes for bacon in Europe)), the first thing I did was check my tyres. The rear was borderline… definitely getting pretty low but not yet dire. I geared up and quickly nipped off down to the beach to take a couple of pictures with the sea in the background (when in Rome and all that).

M3 madness

By the time I’d done that, everyone else had gone so I set off alone and after a while I caught up with The Worm and Jeremy, the American racer on his GSXR750, so decided to tag along with them for a while. At one point, a dude driving an M3 came absolutely fucking booting it past us, probably doing 140+. Naturally we nailed it to follow him for a while and he was really going for it – overtaking everywhere, not backing off at all, the works. I stuck with him for a while but then let him go as he was taking most corners on the wrong side of the road while overtaking other bikes and cars. Jeremy, on the other hand, was well up for a race so just completely nailed it chasing after this dude and had great fun catching him.

Following an AMA racer through the mountains

After a while, it was just the three of us riding together again and Jeremy popped an awesome stand-up wheelie the entire length of a 1km tunnel. Bloody show-off 😉 All in all, it was an amazing morning – the roads were fantastic, there was lots of knee-down action and it was great to follow Jeremy who is a sublime rider, as you’d expect. He led the majority of the morning and although very fast and smooth, he doesn’t take any unnecessary risks so you feel completely confident following him round bends.

Colin, his XR & Annette's MV

Colin, his XR & Annette’s MV

At one point we caught up with another group and started to overtake them. Behind me was a guy on an S1000XR which I hadn’t ridden with before so had no idea who it was. The two of us ended up out in front with a bit of a gap back to the rest of the group and we spent a good half hour flying around these incredible mountain roads. I was going for it and could not shake him at all – he was literally stuck to the back of me like glue. Awesome rider. I found out later it was 8-time Cannonball veteran, Colin, so if you’re reading this, high five for a fun chase!

Colin – 2018 Cannonball hero

Colin deserves another mention actually for being an absolute legend because he’d spent the first two days of his Cannonball helping Annette get her MV back on the road. It had some issue where it would start with jump leads but wouldn’t restart when they were disconnected so, as a French speaker, he went with her to help get it sorted. The local MV dealer was great too – they tried taking a part off a Dragstar they had in the shop to see if would be a straight replacement but wasn’t quite the right part so the two of them headed off to a larger dealership (Scuderia Motors in Toulon) where they managed to get the bike fixed. Colin and Annette caught us up after a couple of days so luckily it didn’t ruin their Cannonball.

Nawww, our very own road-block

Back to the present then… we stopped for lunch in a tiny square with a handful of food options and caught up a bunch of other riders who were all eating in different places. I ordered a salad which took so long to come (again – I need to stop ordering salads thinking they’ll be quick) that everyone had headed off by the time I’d eaten so I spent the next hour or so trying to catch them up.

When I finally did, it was because they’d all been stopped by a road block. Apparently there were some… inconsistencies with some of the number plates in the group and a local had complained about them, so the police had set up a sting to catch them. I came booting down the road towards a sharp left across a bridge and saw a big bunch of Cannonball bikes off to the side of the road with some police cars. My first thought (I can be naïve as fuck sometimes) was that there had been an accident so I pulled over to see if everything was ok only to have Petri run over to me waving his arms screaming “get the fuck out of here you idiot!”. So get the fuck out of there I did.

Collection 3 (mostly) by Steve Mason

Collection 3 (mostly) by Steve Mason

Less than a mile down the road, I saw James and Andy in a petrol station as I rode past and pulled a u-turn to join them. As I did so, a cop jumped out of nowhere and stopped me because I’d crossed a little bit of red paint on the road which was not allowed. He asked for my documents which I gave him and then he said he was fining me €100. I said I wasn’t paying him a penny (or cent – Europe innit) for just riding over red paint and then we had a stand-off for a while as he refused to return my passport. I eventually went through the seven classic textbook stages of busted-by-poice denial – claiming ignorance, indignation, flat-out refusal, attempted reasoning, absolute tantrum, reluctant acceptance, and finally payment. Prick. Turns out the police who’d stopped the other group had radioed ahead and told them to look out for me. Honestly, Spanish cops are a bunch of penises. Just expect to be fined €100 for anything and everything and be grateful that they didn’t actually bust you doing something more serious like 150 or a wheelie.

N260 towards Andorra

The rest of the afternoon was spent on the N260 heading towards Andorra. The N260 is an epic road – it goes the whole way down the spine of the Pyrenees from Pamplona to Barcelona (ish) and has everything you want. I’ve ridden the whole length of it before when I rode around Europe in 2012 and at no point did I want to turn off it and try another road. It’s amazing. However, this time it was hammering down. Massive raindrops the size of elephants (no exaggeration) which continued for about 20 minutes after which it let up slightly but was still wet. I caught a big group of Cannonballers up (the ones who’d finally got away from the police – they’d wanted to see everyone’s documents but someone had left his in the support van which caused some issues).

New rear tyre anyone? Nah, I’ll be fine. Twat

As we reached Andorra, a few people (wisely) stopped to get a near rear. For some bizarre reason, I decided not to thinking I’d find somewhere in a day or so if I really needed one. In hindsight, this was utterly retarded. I did, however, stop at a garage to check my oil level as Blades are reknowned for burning a bit and I needed a full litre (which the guy didn’t charge me for, which was nice).

After that, I carried on to the hotel which was fantastic – really swanky, with a spa and everything. It was cold and drizzly but I still had a swim with a giant rum and then went and got in the spa for a bit. I sneaked in a drink & was having a great time chilling in the giant, pool-like hot tub with my rum until I got busted and waved at frantically for having glass in the pool. I drained it & handed them the glass which they took with some frowns but didn’t kick me out. Win.

CBR collage of nicked photos from the group

CBR collage of nicked photos from the group, clockwise from top left: French girl bites Petri’s arse for loose change (I wonder what else she would have done if we’d all chipped in); Tuomo takes a nap; beach volleyball in Biarritz; someone (no names) gets a CBR sticker on a stripper’s arse; bunch of clowns in Andorra; the victims of the Spanish road-block

Meat heaven (as in food, not cock)

Dinner that evening was incredible. We went to this place about a 10 minute walk away from our hotel where they were basically bbq-ing entire cows and pigs over open coal fires. The food was great and kept on coming unil I literally couldn’t get any more meat in my mouth. (Yes, I know how that sounds.) We all had loads to drink, I bought a few rounds of shots for my table, and my diary (not in a “dear diary” kinda way but where I was making notes on the trip) was stolen by Tom and passed around the tables for people to write in (see pictures at the bottom of the article).

After dinner, we ended up in a karaoke bar where most songs ever written were systematically destroyed by a bunch of incredibly drunk bikers and I was encouraged to try snus (?) which is some tobacco thing you stick in your gums in some weird Norwegian friendship initiation ceremony by the Worm. He told me just to leave it there, so I did. 10 minutes later I was buzzing my tits off and giggling at everything. 10 minutes after that I had a headache and wanted to vomit, and was told it was my fault for leaving it in for too long. So thanks for that.

Day 5 – Andorra to… somewhere else in the Pyrenees

Standard morning routine – shower, breakfast, pack up the bike & today I headed out with Jeremy and my new official friend, the Worm. The morning was relatively slow – lots of traffic and it was absolutely freezing for the first time on the trip as we were in the shadow of the mountains but it warmed up a little as we crossed over into France and the mountains weren’t so oppressive.

Andorra collection, clockwise from left: the stream by our hotel; the meat being cooked at dinner; a chef I met through the medium of a tunnel into the kitchen; and drunken karaoke butchery

Andorra collection, clockwise from left: the stream by our hotel; the meat being cooked at dinner; a chef I met through the medium of a tunnel into the kitchen; and drunken karaoke butchery

Being shown how it’s done by the adventure bike ninjas

Some of the roads were pretty sketchy – we were climbing a really narrow and gravelly hairpinny (still definitely a word!) road, creeping round not wanting to slide on the gravel when Alan and Lou on their KTM Adventure & BMW GS came absolutely flying past us. It was like we were standing still. Bloody dual purpose tyres and active suspension wankers 🙂 It took a while to catch them up again once the road surface improved but they were getting a serious wiggle on and hustling those huge bikes around like absolute ninjas. Very impressive!

We stopped for lunch in a tiny town square thing with one café and, having learned from previous bad experiences, I order the quiche as I could see it ready to go on the counter so I thought this would be a safe choice. Alas, no. I didn’t get it despite asking the serving woman (who looked like a miniture version of Nanny from Count Duckula) three times and pointing out that people who’d arrived 10 minutes after me had been served quiche before I did.

I think I just need to realise I have a face that people absolutely hate so I should just stop trying to order food abroad and starve to death. Thanks, Europe. Pricks. Funnily enough I did actually see her come wandering out with a plate of quiche and looking around vacantly just as I gave up and put my helmet on so maybe she had finally got her shit together and realised that someone had in fact been waiting 45 minutes for her to cut a slice of it off & bring it out, but by then it was too late. She had her chance. She missed it. Suck it, bitch.

The Pyrenees… majestic

The afternoon was absolutely epic – riding with all the quick sportsbike boys along some phenomenal roads. Really fast, wide open sweepers. pretty much kneedown at 100+ through awesome scenery. It was one of those days where I kept wanting to stop for pictures but was having too much fun to stop and lose the group, so I didn’t take a single picture all afternoon. It can’t be all work, work, work, work, work, despite what Rhianna says.

Alan & Lou, just chilling like the badass mofos they are

Alan & Lou, just chilling like the badass mofos they are

Once again, we got to the hotel completely knackered. It’ll come as no great surprise to you to read that I got changed into trucks and got in the pool with a maHOOsive jack and coke and got into trouble again for taking glass into the spa. Realised I’d left my charger behind in the previous night’s hotel but managed to borrow one from reception which was lovely of them. Although I kind of forgot to give it back to them so they probably won’t make that mistake again (I’m really sorry!).

There was a huge thunderstorm that night which kept me up pretty late, especially when combined with the cacophony of my snoring roommate. Seriously considering paying the single supplement next time but then there’s always a chance you’ll end up bunking with a hot Latvian nymphomaniac with low standards, loose morals, blue hair and three tits so it’s worth the risk, right?

Day 6 – final day of Cannonball

I woke up pretty late today as I’d been up late the night before. Like, I was the last person to wander in for breakfast and at least half the other ballers had already left. Ooopsie. i was still packing my shit up when I heard the last bike leave and it was a good 20 minutes later before I was finally ready to go.

Oh no, ambulancia por favor

The morning roads were brilliant – huge views, big mountain sweepers, lots of wet patches though. After about 45 minutes riding, I was coming down a mountain road in the shady side (so parts of the roads were still cold) and caught up to a group parked up with an ambulance so I stopped to see if everyone was ok. It turns out that Kjell on the MV Agusta had slid off on a left-hander and got his bike wedged under the armco barrier. Unfortunately he was pretty hurt as he’d slid with the bike and been injured when the bike impacted with the armco. Obviously that’s horrendous but at the same time, if the barrier hadn’t been there, it could have been a whole lot worse. Thankfully, he’s since made a full recovery and has been shopping for an S1000RR to replace the MV but it was an unfortunate end to his Cannonball.

Various scenic shots from the last couple of days

Various scenic shots from the last couple of days

Today, as yesterday had been, was a pretty short day. The big mileage days were behind us and the last couple of days were only around 100 miles or so to ensure a relatively early finish in time for a big night out. That said, the roads on the last day were a mix of absolutely amazing and sketchy as fuck. Gravelly, horses and goats everywhere, lots of poo on the apex on bends. So it made for fairly slow going in places, expecially after I first came round a bend at around 90 to find the road completely swarming with goats. Luckily I managed not to hit any of them but it was definitely a close call so I was a little more careful from then on.

Cheeky Pyrenees stoppie

Cheeky Pyrenees stoppie

At one point there was an incredible road which climbed a mountain pass. It was well-surfaced, visibility was decent, and it was a good 10 minutes climb with hairpin after hairpin and lots of fast bends and kinks in between. When I reached the summit, I saw a few bikes pulled over into a layby for pictures so went to join them, pulling a cheeky stoppie as I did, and got some awesome pictures. Turned out to be my romantic (non-docking) roomie Rob and Danny and they’d heard me riding the whole way up the pass so waited until I got there and we all set out together to avoid even more horses and goats.

Lunch was a quick pizza and then off on my own for the final stretch to Biarritz. The last 40km were great – wide open country roads with fast sweepers, lots of fun. I had vague hopes of catching the fast group but they had a headstart on me and, well, they don’t hang around so I had no chance.

I reached the hotel around 3pm after needing petrol & getting a bit lost in town so having to rely on my sat-nav for the last few miles. I was absolutely sweating my tits off as Biarritz is on the coast and not at high altitude like most of the previous few days had been. It was sweltering and we all changed and headed off to the beach party. This basically involved us all sneakily drinking like teenagers (as alcohol isn’t allowed on the beach) and playing volleyball, frisbee, and, for some of the group, joining in the massive gay pride march which went past. I braved the sea for a 400m swim out to a big rock thing before I got too drunk to stand up and then we headed back to the hotel to change and go out for dinner.

Biarritz collection, clockwise from left: view from hotel; crowd at awards ceremony (x2); Finns being Finnish; Biarritz Gay Pride march

Biarritz collection, clockwise from left: view from hotel; crowd at awards ceremony (x2); Finns being Finnish; Biarritz Gay Pride march

Before dinner though we all met in a conference room downstairs for a debrief from Nick and a mini awards ceremony. I can’t remember who won what as I was pretty hammered & hadn’t brought my notepad but I do remember a lot of cheering from everyone from Finland. So maybe they won stuff. Or more likely they just like to get involved in everything and make lots of noise 🙂

Dinner was a bit of a blur – I think everyone else was already pretty drunk too. After dinner we posed for pictures on the band stand in the town square then went out to get drunker. I had to pop back to the hotel to charge my phone for half an hour then caught up with the group a little later. Well, most of the group… I think a few had slunk off in search of slightly more… shall we say, fruity entertainment and ended up hitch-hiking back from somewhere across the Spanish border at 4am but I can’t possibly say any more than that because what happens on Cannonball, stays on Cannonball (except for everything I’ve already said, of course).

We ended up in some random bar where Petri, resplendent in his kilt again, somehow managed to get some girl who’d come over wanting like €5 or something to get into a club to get down on her knees and bite and kiss his naked arse… standard Cannonball evening really! I’d planned not to get too much drunker (than the pretty drunk I already was) but then found myself buying rounds of shots for everyone and nailing about 8 sambucas so that didn’t go too well.

Group picture in Biarritz

Final night group picture in Biarritz

Post-Cannonball and the trip home

The morning was the hungover and shaky start to the day I was expecting. Bumped into most people during breakfast and said our goodbyes and then it was time to pack up and roll out. My aim over the next couple of days was to head north through Bordeaux and get to one of the ports around Caen and get a ferry back to Portsmouth, then ride the hour home. I’d booked the ferry for Monday evening, giving me more than enough time to ride the vertical length of France with a stop-over halfway up. However, it was now Sunday and my rear tyre was… shagged. It was very bald but wasn’t quite through to the wire carcass yet and, as I had no chance of changing it in Biarritz that morning, I headed out and hoped for the best (which is often my attitude and which is also often what fucks my life up 🙂 ).

The day was relatively uneventful – I wanted to keep my speeds down a little and also avoid bigger roads and cities thinking I’d avoid detection as I didn’t want the state of my tyre spotted. Consequently, I found myself riding through really small villages in the middle of the countryside and, as luck would have it, I happened upon what must have been the only two gendarmes in about 80 miles in this tiny farming village. They heard me coming and stopped me to check my documents. We chatted for a bit and I showed them my paperwork and all was good until one saw my rear tyre and told me that it was completely ruined. I had no excuse – I just said I knew it was low but needed to get to Poitiers (the next big town, about 50km away) to get it changed. They could have impounded my bike there and then but I suspect it was coming to the end of their shift and they wanted to go home as eventually they just rolled their eyes and told me to go. So go I did, very grateful to have got away with it.

Incredible food in Poitiers

I reached Poitiers an hour later and found a hotel on the high street with a garage. I parked up, checked in, showered, and went for a walk outside the hotel to find food. The high street was pedestrianised and immediately outside my hotel were a load street cafés and I chose one directly opposite my hotel. This is what I love about France – it was just a random restaurant, nothing special, and I ordered the ribeye steak with chips, bearnaise sauce and a bottle of malbec. Total cost was like €30 and I shit you not, it was one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. It might not have been the absolute best steak I’ve ever had (I’ve had a lot of amazing steak round the world) but it was right up there, and it was definitely the best bearnaise sauce and the best chips I’ve ever had. Just incredible.

Poitiers collection including my awesome meal and dessert, bike on recovery truck, leafy road and the reason I needed a recovery truck in the first place

Poitiers collection including my awesome meal and dessert, bike on recovery truck, leafy road and the reason I needed a recovery truck in the first place

In the morning, I went to get the bike and ride to a bike shop about a mile away and found that, although it had bravely hung on until we reached Poitiers the day before, my rear tyre had given up overnight and completely deflated so I couldn’t ride it anywhere. This essentially stranded me for a day as a lot of France is closed on Mondays so I had to wait until the following morning to get a recovery truck to take me to the bike shop for a new tyre.

I tried to have dinner at the same place that evening but it was fully booked so I went two doors down and had another absolutely amazing meal. It was so good that I ordered the crème brulée on their recommendation. I normally hate crème brulée but had the sense it would be done really well there and I was right – it was awesome.

Pictures from the return ferry journey

Pictures from the return ferry journey

The following morning, my bike was loaded onto a recovery truck and driven to the nearest bike shop. We got there at 11.50am and they closed for lunch from 12-2 so I sat in the sun in my leathers for 2 hours with nothing to do until they opened again. Once open, they had my rear changed in half an hour and I was on the way again by 2.40pm.

Decisions, decisions

I stopped for some food around 5pm and to consider my options. I was now faced with the dilemma of what to do as I’d already had to take extra days’ holiday due to the delay and overspent with extra hotel costs, so I had the choice of sticking with the original plan of putting in a couple of hours’ riding, finding somewhere to stay for the night and then heading to Caen for a ferry in the morning, or absolutely fucking hammering it the whole of the remaining 400km to Calais and getting one of the last ferries that night. I opted for the latter option and jumped on a motorway where, over the next 4 hours, I averaged a pretty ridiculously high speed and rode through five massive thunderstorms, each lasting about 20 minutes. Not the most fun bit of riding on the trip as I was cold, wet, aching and sore but it did the job and I managed to get a ferry around 10pm.

On the return journey, I was a model citizen this time and didn’t commit grand larceny with any food. There was all sorts of complicated motorway closures and diversions once I got off at Dover and I ended up being diverted in the wrong direction and getting lost and all sorts. It took me ages to get home – I think I finally got off the bike around 3am, completely exhausted and freezing cold. I collapsed into bed, messaged work to say I’d be in the next day but a bit later, and fell asleep immediately.

The end. Ok not quite…


So, the Cannonball Bike Run… how in the hell do you sum up such an event? It’s not easy to put into words but I’ll give it a go. It’s an incredible collection of awesome people getting together for a very intense and challenging ride over the course of a week. The experience forges strong bonds and I know I have made a number of friends for life, even though I may only see some of them at future Cannonball events. Yes, there were a few minor spills and accidents but you have to consider this contextually – when you have 40 people riding more miles in a week than the average biker rides in a year, at a pretty high pace, on completely unfamiliar roads, it would be statistically ridiculous to expect there not to be a few incidents.

But there is also something else, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it hard to define – that’s the magic of the Cannonball, the part which keeps people returning year after year, flying in from the other side of the world and spending fortunes to get there and hiring bikes to take part. There’s a camararderie across the whole event which is completely unlike just going for a ride with your mates. Everyone on the event was fantastic – no bad eggs at all (which is unusual for so large a group, and even more unusual for me to think that as I’m a weird little fucker who doesn’t always get on with everyone) and it was an incredible event to take part in.

Having done so, I’m not just someone who’s taken part in a Cannonball Bike Run – I’m a fucking Cannonballer, bitches!

Now that’s what’s up. Peace out.

Thanks to:

  • the entire Cannonball team (Nick, Steve, Jeremy and John plus anyone back home in the office who we didn’t see on the trip) for organising everything & making it all run smoothly
  • Steve again for letting me use loads of the pictures he took
  • Åse Uleberg for letting me use her amazing cover photo
  • my roommate Rob for being awesome (although he was a naughty little fucker who kept settling our bar bill which sometimes was almost entirely mine)
  • everyone I rode with at some point across the whole event and everyone whose photos I’ve nicked and included in here
  • everyone who added a message to my notepad when Tom passed it around the restaurant (I still need a translator for the French message!)
  • actually, fuck it, thanks to everyone I met on the event – it was fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the 2019 Cannonball!

Oh & PS: I do not usually steal food or phone chargers. Or anything else, for that matter.

Author: Marc Edgson

Some of the messages left to me in my notepad... nawwww

Some of the messages left to me in my notepad… nawwww

Alan's message

Alan’s message

Lou's message

Lou’s message

Not sure whose these were but the one on the left is my favourite

Not sure whose these were but the one on the left is my favourite

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