23 April 2009



The Loire river at Chinon

Nick and Jean have been together for 10 years and have travelled thousands of miles by motorcycle all over France. Their favourite area is the Loire Valley.

Chateau Azay le Rideau

They have graduated to Harley Davidson ownership and joined Sherwood Chapter HOG. They are about to go on the holiday of a lifetime to the European HOG Rally in Portugal in 7 weeks' time - but one of them has no bike.

With only a few weeks to get something sorted in the way of a bike, the insurance assessor did not turn up for a whole week. I was horrified when he announced that my Harley was to be repaired and not written off. I had just paid a small fortune for a brand new bike and it would appear that I was to end up with a repaired crashed bike. I was not very happy but I just so desperately wanted my bike back - or any bike for that matter.

There followed a very fraught time over the next 6 weeks but with only 2 days to spare, I collected the bike and off we set for Portugal.
Waiting to board the ferry with over a hundred Harleys

The journey to Plymouth was wet but otherwise uneventful. We docked at Santander late in the afternoon and had 2 overnight stops planned before we got to Portugal. This involved a journey more or less due south to the coast and then just over the border into Portugal and to Monte Gordo.

On the second day in Spain we stopped for lunch at a motorway services and I noticed some oil leaking from the engine. That evening we were booked into the Parador at Zaffra. What a fabulous hotel. Some friends had recommended that we use the Paradors and we were not disappointed. However, with oil now leaking steadily from the cylinder head, we had the young man behind the desk very puzzled as I walked round the outside of all the beautiful carpets in the hotel reception - I had one very oily right boot and didn't want to ruin them.
Dining in style at the Parador in Zaffra

The next day, with about 100 miles to go, we stopped for lunch somewhere in the Andalucian hills and when I returned to the bike oil was positively pumping out. We set off and within moments I lost the back brakes and all the electrics. That meant one highly illegal bike - no indicators, speedometer, brake lights, lights and so on. Our options were limited but we decided that as the front brake still worked and whilst the engine was still running, we might as well press on and get as far as we could. With Nick riding close behind me for protection and me taking it steady but having no idea what speed I was doing, we struggled down to the coast.

We had been warned to expect police at the border due to some threats of anti-American activity arising from feelings about the Iraq situation. The last thing I needed was some nosey policeman inspecting my bike. We hung around and slid in amongst a group of about 20 Harleys from some other European chapter, in the hope that by mid-afternoon the border police would have seen so many hundreds of Harleys passing through they wouldn't be bothered to look too closely. It worked - the line of bikes slowed and passed through in single file and I heaved a sigh of relief as we made it into Portugal.

On arriving at the Rally site our priority was to find the "Technical Tent". This was a huge marquee, fully equipped as a motorcycle workshop. One of the technicians looked at my bike and agreed to fix it under warranty. It was off the road for the whole of the event and I was disappointed not to be able to take part in any of the riding activities and especially the ride out on the last day. However, I was not going to let that spoil my fun. We were in great company with our friends from Sherwood Chapter and had a wonderful time - more in a future blog, perhaps.
Party night in Monte Gordo, Robin Hood style !

My bike was given a clean bill of health on the last day of the rally - everyone was packing up and heading for home. We decided it would be a good idea to have a run out into the hills just to make sure it was okay before our long ride home. Within minutes I noticed the tell-tale trace of oil from the cylinder head and sure enough, opening the throttle caused oil to pump out. I was absolutely heartbroken. What now ? We went straight back to the technical tent to find it almost dismantled and everyone leaving. Senior tecnician, Ed, a Dutchman, told me there was no way my bike would get me home and he made a phone call. Minutes later a knight in shining armour came to my rescue - Paul Barker,the UK customer relations officer from H-D head office in Oxford turned up on one of the little mopeds the staff had been using to run around the rally site. He offered to take my bike back home to Oxford in his lorry and lend me one of their demo bikes to complete my holiday on. I was so relieved. I chose a 1200 sportster very similar to my previous bike and away we went..

Me and Ed - and my "new" sportster

The only problem was - it was a very basic bike with no rack or anything you could possibly attach any luggage to. As I said before, we no longer travelled light and poor Nick had to somehow get all the bags bungied onto his bike. We looked very comical as a pair, my bike all bare and basic and his piled high with bags. His championship bungieing skills paid off!

I ended up keeping the loan bike for 3 months. My beautiful sportster eventually arrived at Robin Hood and after several attempts to fix the leak and umpteen sets of gaskets, Harley Davidson finally gave up and exchanged it for another brand new and identical bike. Not only that, they also gave me a huge box of goodies including a fabulous leather jacket to compensate me for my trouble. They were wonderful and although I will never know whether the leak was the result of a faulty bike or damage due to the crash, they treated me superbly all the way through. I can't praise them highly enough.


  1. Jean you are so cool! :-) That pic of you on your Harley in front of the château is great.

  2. Thank you very much Susan, I love that pic. Most of the time I look hot and bothered with "helmet hair" - not a good look !!