GLME Bike Camp at Pomerance, August 2004

Text and photos © and by squaddie John: squaddieJH@milism.net

Tuscany road

I’ve been away at the GLME summer bike camp in Tuscany, NW Italy and returned last night. Back in the UK the car drivers are less attentive, less skilled and some openly hostile to motorbikes; in contrast to France, where it’s clear there’s a lot of sympathy for bikers and Italy even more so. It seems there’s a biker inside every Italian even if it’s only from memories of a Piaggio scooter ridden whilst courting or even at school. So they move over or give way in traffic queues and look round when you pass if you’re riding anything moderately sporty. Even my CBR 600, now more than six years old and still going fine with nearly 35000 miles on the clock.

Note that a GLME bike camp is primarily about european motorbikers riding motorbikes! I actually managed the whole ten days without using my waterproofs and not getting my fingers frozen. Close run thing on the way out from here to Dover when it was only lucky timing that prevented a soaking. Once landed at Calais, it was hot sunshine whilst I loaded with provisions for the overnight sleeper train journey down to Nice.

CBR600 on train

Not the cheap option: but compared with hammering 1200km down the autoroutes it was a case of load the bike on the wagon, stop worrying about tyres or mechanical failure, take have a meal at the restaurant and chat up the other obvious biker – who turned out to be also from GBMCC and going to the same camp. Relax overnight and wake up at for the 6am stop Avignon, followed by watching the sun rise over the Mt. Ventoux and the Luberon mountains of Provence. 7:30am halt in Marseille and the spectacular ride along the calanques of the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur.

Happily for me, P from Marseille was able to meet me at Nice and we enjoyed the petit déjeuner in the station restaurant as the vehicles from Calais were unloaded and the heat mounted. 11am or so were on our way to rendezvous at the first service area in Italy with a couple also from AMA, who had ridden from near Avignon. Then onwards it was four bikes riding as a close group to AMA rules and stopping 150km or so, ie every hour. Normally I wouldn’t get enthusiastic about a motorway ride but the autostrada Via Aurelia Nice to Genoa is different: alternating viaducts and tunnels as the Alps come down to the Mediterranean.

We took a break from the autostrada for a careful ride over the twisty Passo del Bracco: the Box Hill equivalent for the bikers from Genoa. A foretaste of the roads for the rest of the week, then back to hammering down the autostrada to Toscana. We filled up when as we finally left the motorway system and found that neither French nor English credit cards worked at 24/24 petrol stations; for the rest of the week we used attended pumps.

Pomeranceaperogame

The Italian club hosts CoMoG had booked a large, economically comfortable, hotel to accommodate 140 bikers. We were warmly greeted, including a booklet that described the tours they proposed with some nice cartoons and maps, the camp T-shirt and an engraved bike prop stand for the gravel. In the evening cool we soon began to meet again many friends from previous camps and otherwise. After dinner there was an entertaining game!

During the following week I went on six organised tours. They were all biking of a sort you can’t do and enjoy in the UK, partly because the Tuscan roads are much much clearer and mostly better made, even through the twisty forest hills, but also thanks to the Mediterranean weather.

Monteriggionithe fast runMonteriggioni

The runs were categorised as slow, medium and fast, which helped to ensure the compatible right people signed up for the right sort of run. Group dynamics are tricky at the best of times and the same applies to bikers on the go. Nonetheless, runs on these GLME camps have come on a very long way: there’s no need for a queenly procession of bikes through the countryside from café to café, indeed the fast run was quite the opposite.

And many different bikes, bikers, bike kit and toys: some old, some new and in the differing fashions appropriate to typical riding in the north and south. This was the first time I’d seen bike-mounted GPS route finding systems, probably expensive but the owners seemed happy with them.

One Italian political group had posted around the village a tract denouncing the GLME camp because of the gay participants. Note no problem with bikers or speed on the roads. This had been reported in the press and by Tuesday the majority political group had replied in strong support, again reported in the national press. The mayor of Pomerance came along to the group meal on Thursday evening and accepted one of the engraved bike stands as a gift

Wednesday was a day off for the organisers and we all made our own way around. There was a hint of a visit to Elbe but as that required an early start, it never happened. Many of us went to Firenze (Florence) and enjoyed stomping sweatily around the tourist sites, creating more unusual photo opportunities!

squaddie John at Piazza Michaelangeli, Firenzesquaddie John at the Duomo, Firenzesquaddie John in Firenze

My riding skills had warmed up sufficiently by Thursday for me to have the confidence to sign up for the fast run. Yes it was fast but competent. Perhaps it’s anachronistic to ride fast through such great countryside but that’s the sport and by the end of the day my riding skills had improved further, though I was still the slowest of that group.

Friday was a revisit to the naturist beach for more sunbathing and press-ups etc on the waterline with the waves breaking under and over me. Back at the hotel for the apero and then the farewell meal outdoors: the weather obliged with a fine clear evening for short speeches and thanks to the hotel staff.

GLME 2004 group photolast night at Pomerancelast night at Pomerance

My best day’s riding was the fast run on Thursday and the most memorable place was the quiet Cistercian abbey ruin at San Galgano that we visited on Tuesday’s run. I’d never have found that otherwise and even in the strong midday sunshine it was a beautiful calm place, though with a tragic history.

squaddie John at San Galagno

Warm thanks to CoMoG and buon viaggio/bonne route (safe riding) to many others on Saturday morning followed by loading up. We left as the same group of four, which bridged between the solidarity of the camp and the sad return to the northern world of work.

leaving Pomeranceautostrada near Genoa

A last blast on the Tuscany hill roads and then the reality of the congested holiday traffic on the autostrada around Pisa. Not so bad around Genoa and through the last tunnels to the other side of the Alps in Nice the heat was beginning to moderate. The couple left on the Route Napoleon in France and – slightly tired – P and I took a break in the shade under an umbrella pine tree on the autoroute near Mt. Sainte Baume in Provence. For a day’s riding on motorways that was spectacular, including the curves in and around the tunnels above Genoa.

Bike locked up in P’s garage in Marseille and whilst he made a scratch meal I watched the sunset over the Mediterranean - and a guy working out on a balcony of another block of apartments!

Marseille sunset

I rode north from Marseille on Sunday morning, replete with a petit déjeuner from a local boulangerie. As usual, the cloud mounted but nothing serious though 750km later at Marne la Vallée east to Paris there was a rain shower after I arrived at M’s. A nice salad together and then joined by some friends and he took a henna tattoo.

Last day, last morning tyre check, last French petrol fill up, last motorway toll stop and then the boat at Calais. Usual long queue for the nod from the Dover officials and then back to the realities of English motorbiking.

(The views expressed are my personal opinions, which are not necessarily those of the clubs mentioned)

Back to my personal page http://www.sqjh.me.uk/