Day 6 - French Alps

20/06/2016

I left Cagnes-Sur-Mer around 9am. My plan was to stop at the nearest supermarket to get some breakfast and then find motorbike shop in Nice to buy more chain lube as I was running out of mine. After that I was planning to head to Col de Turini and then decide where to go next.

This was the route I did that day:

Cagnes-Sur-Mer – Nice – Col de Turini – Col de la Bonette – Col du Mont-Cenis – Bourg-Saint-Maurice

Bought some juice and a sandwich in the first supermarket I saw and ate it quickly. It was still early but it was really hot already – must have been between 35 and 40 degrees.

When I got to Nice traffic was really bad, especially at the coast. I was moving very slowly and was often stopping at the traffic lights. My bike was overheating badly. Finally left the coast road and took a turn towards the bike shop.

And then some bad smell started coming from my bike… I looked down and there was some fluid all over my bike. I wasn’t sure what was it and pulled over to check it. Started panicking a bit and I wasn’t sure what to do – should I phone my breakdown cover company? I decided to try and ride to the bike shop that I was going to, as it was just around the corner.

I parked my bike in a motorcycle parking spot but there was no bike shop in sight. Left my bike and went to have a look around. Luckily bike shop was not far away.

I walked in, explained what happened and one of the mechanics went to push my bike into the shop. I waited a while for them to finish what they were doing and got my bike onto the ramp. It turned out that this liquid was just a coolant because my bike was overheating. They topped up the coolant, I bought some chain lube and WD40 and set off. I lost about 2 hours because of this but at least I could continue my trip.

It wasn’t easy to get out of Nice. My sat nav was in the tank bag and because sun was right above me, I couldn’t see it at all unless I used my left hand to make a shadow above it. 

I couldn’t ride with one hand above the sat nav all the time though so that made it difficult to find the way. I ended up riding through the same junction few times but eventually I found the way and started heading to Col de Turini.

Col de Turini wasn’t very spectacular, but that was just the start. I wasn’t sure if I chose the best road as there were several different ways to the top. 

I wanted to go to Col de la Bonette next. Sat nav was telling me to use the road down the hill from where I was. There was some road going up the hill though and decided to try it first, hoping to find some nice views and then turn back and head to Col de la Bonette. 

I started riding up, without realising that I didn’t close my tank tag properly… At some point I looked down to check the sat nav and… it wasn’t there! I looked around and couldn’t see it. I thought it probably fell down the hill and is gone or even if it’s still on the street it would be in pieces. In that case I would need to use my phone as a sat nav for the rest of the trip… Quickly turned back and started riding down very slowly. Couldn’t see it anywhere. Got back to the place where I was earlier, stopped and… Only just realised that my sat nav was still there, attached to the USB cable hanging down, luckily my leg stopped it from falling down. That was lucky.

Finally started heading towards Col de la Bonette and views started getting breathtaking. 

Road was even better than my so-far-favourite road back in Scotland. It was nice and twisty, but easy to keep good speed. There was almost no traffic at all.

At some point I got stuck behind some sports car, but I didn’t overtake him because they were going faster than I normally would, as I didn’t know the road. I later regretted that I didn’t get this road on the camera, I think it was because I wanted to keep the battery charged for later and I didn’t expect this road to be that good! 

Car in front of me got stuck behind some slower car and I overtook them both and enjoyed the rest of the ride to Col de la Bonette. Corners started getting a lot sharper, the actual mountain pass started and I was climbing up the hairpin turns with views only getting better. At some point I could see cars parked, road ahead was shut due to snow so I stopped there.

Next I started heading towards Col du Mont-Cenis. Roads were great, almost no traffic at all, perfect weather. A good while later I stopped in some small town to check the map, decide where to stop tonight and book a hotel. I was struggling to find a signal but eventually managed to book a hotel in Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

It was already late in the afternoon and I still had quite a long way to go. I had to get a move on to get to hotel before 10pm. Plus I didn’t really want to ride in the mountains when it’s dark. And, as I found out that evening, it’s better to get off the mountain passes before it even starts getting dark. Sun started going down around 7 or 8pm – I still had about 2 hours of daylight left so why not stay in the mountains until then? 

But as soon as sun started going down temperature dropped very quickly. I didn’t really feel cold, it was just not as warm as it was earlier. There was no sunshine anymore, just the shadow making mountains look a lot more dramatic. Roads were dead. While there was no traffic almost at all earlier on, there were some cars passing every few minutes, but at this point there was not a single car for at least half an hour, maybe more, until I got off the mountain pass. And I had no phone signal, so if I broke down I could be stuck there for a long time.

Not far before Col du Mont-Cenis I noticed burning smell coming from my bike. I slowed down and tried to find out where it’s coming from, but as soon as I slowed down I could no longer smell it. Small while later the smell came back, but again only for a short while. As I was getting close to Col du Mont-Cenis, I decided to try keep going and have a look once I get there. But as soon as I stopped I could no longer smell it so I had no idea where to look. Took few pictures and decided to try and keep going.

Views were amazing, but it was getting late and I wanted to get to hotel as quickly as I could, so got back on the bike and set off again.

5 minutes later I had to stop again… Burning smell came back and I wanted to take more pictures. Took the seat off but I couldn’t see anything obvious, roughly checked the wiring but didn’t see any broken wires, and again, as soon as I stopped the smell went away so I couldn’t get to the source of the problem. Back on the road again.

Short while later there was some small town, so I stopped again to try and have a better look at my bike but still no luck. I set off once again.

Mountain pass started and I was climbing up the hill as the sun was going down. There was no one else around, I couldn’t see a single car for a long time. It seemed dangerous but exciting at the same time.

At some point high up, in the middle of mountains between Col du Mont-Cenis and Bourg-Saint-Maurice I came across the roadworks. There were temporary traffic lights with red light on so I stopped. Waited few minutes and it wasn’t changing. I could see no cars for at least 20 minutes though, so I decided to not wait any longer and go. In the worst case if there was a car coming, it seemed like there was enough enough space for both anyway. It took me few minutes to get through the roadworks and there were no cars coming my way. I saw the highest walls of snow I ever seen so far. There was a bit of snow in Pyrenees earlier in this trip but nowhere near as high.

Once I got down the pass, stopped for one last picture before I got to the hotel:

Hotel was only few minutes away. Luckily there was no more burning smell coming from my bike. I arrived at the hotel. There were few other bikes parked outside, but it was late and I didn’t see anyone around. I checked in and went to my room. I was really hungry though and there was a restaurant downstairs, so I went to ask what time do they stop serving at – it was 10pm already. They said that it’s ok to order, so I ordered an omelette and it was really good.

Once I finished my food I went back to my room, checked the map to see where to go tomorrow, and went to sleep.

Burning smell in my bike didn’t come back for the rest of this trip. Few months later I did another trip (7.000 miles) and it was still fine. Few weeks after my second trip I was at work. My work colleague walked in 10 minutes later and said that I left my indicator on. It wasn’t possible as I switched ignition off and my bike key was on the desk in front of me. I went outside and actually left indicator was on, it wasn’t flashing, was just on all the time. Strange. Turned ignition on, but bike didn’t switch on and indicator wasn’t going off. Tried to disconnect the battery but as soon as I touched battery connections with the screwdriver, smoke started coming off it.

It turned out that there was a bolt sticking out the frame under the seat, and around 30 wires tied together along the frame. This bolt went through some of the wires, causing the short. Got the wires taped back together and moved away from the bolt – issue sorted.


2 Comments

Dan Ginn · June 11, 2018 at 8:42 am

Nice job Roxy. Enjoyed reading about your travels and watching your vid clips. I’m from The States in California if you ever come this way let me know. I’ve travelled extensively around the world and ridden in many places but always short trips and have not had the opportunity to ride in Europe yet. Haven’t had the chance to take any extended moto trips yet so your living the dream. You can find me on FB and the many moto groups on there.

CalgaryCycleCity · June 27, 2018 at 9:11 am

That is an amazing way to travel Roxy. I would love to try it. Kudos to you for traveling that far on your motorcycle.

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