Day 8 – Tuesday 1st of September – Brussels to Barcelona (1,352km)
I had done this journey before, when I lived in Belgium, but by car. It took about twelve hours, and other then being tremendously boring, there was no difficulty to it. On the motorway things are very different on a motorbike, however – no music, you can’t move much, you need to take breaks more often, wind and buffeting are an issue at high speeds (the legal limit is 130km/h on French motorways), etc. On the way up to Normandy I had divided the trip in two days, stopped past Bordeaux to spend the night, and that was the plan on the way back home as well.
I did not even set off particularly early, we got up, had a good breakfast and I left when my friend went to work, at around 9am. I had to deal with heavy commuter traffic riding out of Brussels, and even come congestion caused by a motorbike accident – I forgot to mention it was raining hard.
Once out of Brussels things went smoothly – no more rain, practically no traffic, no wind… So I started covering good distance without problems. The wind deflector I had fitted a few weeks before was doing its job, and for the first time ever I was using earplugs. This is something I have heard from a lot of bikers, but I had never felt the need for it. However, travelling for extended periods of time at high speeds, they make a world of a difference. Wind noise is greatly reduced and so is fatigue.
On the big Stroming The World trip I met a Czech guy in Volgograd with a GSA, Martin, he told me he had been doing 800km a day to get there, trying to get Europe out of the way quickly and save days for the interesting bits. At that time I was doing about 500km a day on my V-Strom, and was shocked at the distances he was covering. Fast forward to 2015 and sitting on the Yamaha I could see that it was very relaxed cruising at 130km/h (real, not indicated), and I was not getting tired. By lunchtime I was approaching Clermont-Ferrand, and I was still feeling fresh. It was at this point that I started considering pushing on to Barcelona on the same day. If I stopped for the night later on, I would already be near the border, and in that case I did not really fancy spending the cost of a hotel night so near home. In addition, the route from there became quite interesting for a motorway. My experience of previous trips through France so far had been mostly on the eastern route – Montpellier, Lyon, Dijon, Nancy, Metz… or the western one – Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes… both of which I had found tremendously boring. This time I had taken the middle route, going from Brussels to Paris on the A2 and A1 and then the A6 and A77 to Clermont-Ferrand. There is a bit between Magny-Cours and Nevers that is not motorway, and after Clermont-Ferrand the A75 travels through mountainous terrain, passing near the Auvergne volcanos and crossing the Cévennes national park. It is a mountain motorway, with corners, steep gradients and great landscape, and best of all, the Millau viaduct, an amazing feat of engineering and a sight to behold. All in all, it was a much more entertaining journey than I anticipated, and cheap too, there are long sections that are toll-free. Oh, and one more sign that the French are super nice towards bikers, motorbikes pay a reduced fare on tolls, almost 50% less in some cases. No wonder this is the favourite route for holidaymakers heading from the capital to Spain.
I got to the border at 8pm, and crossed it in reserve – fuel is cheaper in Spain. The sun set as I was filling up, and by 9:30pm I was already in Barcelona. It had taken 12 hours and 31 minutes, stops included. This made me realise that what Martin had been doing was perfectly feasible on my new bike, and that when the day comes to go back to Russia, Kazakhstan, etc. I can cut through western Europe faster.
Well, it had been a very interesting week, and given the time and the money, I would have spend at least another week exploring the coast of Normandy, there is so much to see there. If anybody is thinking about taking a trip there, do not think twice, do it. Obviously, my advice is to do it by motorbike, as it is the best way to enjoy the roads, and you will save a lot of money on tolls and parking fees, but if you are not a rider, a very good alternative (I cannot believe I am going to say this) is a motorhome. There are lots of specially prepared places where you can park and spend the night for free, saving lots of money in accommodation, which is not cheap up there, you have your own means of transport to get around and visit things, and if you do not have one or do not want to drive one all the way to Normandy, there are lots of campsites that rent them at very reasonable rates. I would definitely not recommend a car, as it has zero advantages over the motorbike – you have to pay to park it everywhere, and while it is just as boring to drive as a motorhome, at least this last one gives you a cheap place to sleep in. Go visit Normandy.
See you on the road.