After the initial euphoria of the purchase, I now had to get my new-to-me BMW R1200 GSA from J & S Accessories in Doncaster back to my home in Spain. This would in normal circumstances be achievable in several ways, however, the Covid-19 pandemic, with associated lockdowns & quarantine was an issue. My first thoughts were to transport the bike back using a delivery service, but where was the fun in that. I opted to fly over and ride back, how bad could it be?
A flight was booked and a rail ticket bought to get me from Manchester to Doncaster, then a hotel booked for the night, I would only be in the UK for one. Initially, I was just going to ride straight to Dover and the Eurotunnel but thought better of it as it would be a long day anyway.
In preparation for the journey I visited Nippy Norman's website and purchased a couple of items, firstly a special tool to open the oil filler, just in case there wasn't one in the tool kit, secondly, I bought a USB kit to install in the dash area to power my phone/GPS, the bike didn't have one fitted.
Everything went well, the parts arrived on time and I packed a small rucksack for the journey, travelling light was the aim as I hadn't bothered booking a suitcase. I also decided not to take my helmet on the flight, many friends do, however, the airlines will not confirm this is allowed in advance. My HJC i60 was a few years old anyway and J & S have a huge range so no issue really.
Day 1 1x Plane journey, 2x train journeys, 58km ridden
Setting off on a Thursday morning with my lovely wife driving me down to Alicante airport, it suddenly struck me, I didn't really have a Plan B, that is to say, I only had a one-way flight, one-way train tickets and one night's accommodation booked. My mind wandered back to a 1400km round trip to buy a "Good Condition" Yamaha XTZ 750, which I laughed at as soon as I saw, and reluctantly offered the owner half of the asking price, he refused and we travelled back without a bike. Was this journey to be the same? I'd only seen a few photos after all and what would I do if the bike wasn't right? J & S have been around a long time and have plenty of other bikes in stock if necessary, and I could always buy another plane ticket if it went badly wrong.
After my wife waved me off at the airport, I passed through security with barely a glance despite the fact I was in full biking gear, Alpinestar boots, removed for security, Hood Jeans and my trusty AXO jacket. The time passed quickly, with the help of a coffee, and soon enough we were on the plane bound for Manchester. I had paid a little extra to be sat in seat 1A, so I could get on last and off first to avoid as many people as possible, I'd also reserved breakfast from the Ryanair website, to save me dealing with people in the airport. Unfortunately, Ryanair didn't have any breakfast options left and have since managed to fail in their attempt to refund it despite several phone calls, won't fall for that again. As I didn't fancy Lasagne for breakfast I thought I would wait until I got to Manchester, long, hungry, flight.
Landing in Manchester I was quickly off the flight, through passport control, I had all of my Covid paperwork ready, unlike a half dozen souls rounded up and berated by security. Straight across the airport to the train station, it's about a twenty-minute walk, I asked an official and managed to catch the first train out of the airport, meaning I would get an extra 30 minutes at my change over at Manchester Picadilly, leaving me plenty of time for the now much-needed food.
Upper Crust, do a great line in Cornish Pasties as well as pies and other pastries and is often my first stop, feeling hungry I went for the large pasty and a large coffee while I waited for the next train to Doncaster. So far so good apart from Ryanair cocking up my breakfast of course. The train to Doncaster arrived and I sat in another carriage on my own, very few people were using public transport especially early on a Thursday afternoon.
Next stop Doncaster, I spent the journey listening to music and enjoying the views of the lovely green UK countryside, ours is green in the winter, but often a bit scorched in the summer.
Arriving at Doncaster, I switched on Google maps and walked to J & S, it is only about a 5 or 10-minute walk from the station, where I was met by John who showed me my bike. They had done an awesome job of preparing it, it looked like new. He did go around it with me pointing out the odd, mark and rusty bolts that he had shown me in the photos and made a point of giving me plenty of time, and a cuppa before the paperwork was completed and final payment made. I had wondered how I would pay for the bike, as I didn't want to carry a bundle of cash or visit a UK bank as part of my journey, in the end, and after a call to my bank, I paid with a card, simple.
After the deal was done I dropped my rucksack in the pannier, it could easily have taken 2, and wandered across to the clothing section to look at helmets. Over the years I have tried a few brands, Shoei, AGV, HJC etc and thought the best option would be to go with something I knew. They had a good selection to choose from and I ended up with an HJC i70, similar to the i60 I already had, but with the addition of an internal sun shield which seems all the rage at the moment. I had tried similar ones on before but they often interfere with my glasses, not so this time.
John then pushed the GSA out of the shop past the rows of lovely bikes and set up a picture for their social media sites. Before I was handed the keys and sent on my way. I only had a relatively short 36-mile journey to my overnight stop at Bridleways Guesthouse near Mansfield. This was chosen specifically to allow me to test the bike a bit and return if I had any issues, there were none.
Leaving J & S, straight into the start of the rush hour traffic I was pleased that I had opted to fit my phone holder and set up my journey beforehand as I had enough to think about with the new bike, its unfamiliar switchgear, tall riding position etc. After only 1km or so I was starting to wonder what I had let myself in for, as I struggled through the stop-start traffic, John had put the seat in the low position for me to give me a better chance at getting used to everything without the added difficulty of balancing on tiptoes.
After a few junctions, the road opened up and it all came back to me, the GS/GSA in all its guises. is a great bike to ride, with superb road manners, excellent fuelling, great brakes and a road presence that keeps cars away especially with the auxiliary lights on. On the journey down to Mansfield, I stopped at McDonald's for something to eat before heading to my accommodation.
I was met at Bridleways by one of the owners and shown to my room, and they let me park the bike next to the front door on a patch of hard ground, great service and a lovely place. I got a bit of a funny look carrying in my 1 small rucksack as luggage but I was only there for one night. As the light started to fade I sat outside by the bike and tried to find the GPS feed cable to plug my newly acquired USB harness to, as I would be needing it for the journey home. Much to my annoyance the easy to find connector was nowhere to be found, despite googling pictures and re-reading the provided instruction. With that, I gave up and went inside to sort out the rest of my stuff for the journey.
Cup of tea made, provided biscuits eaten and TV on, I started by attaching a GoPro mount to the new helmet and removing some of the padding to fit my Comms system, it is only a cheap one I've had for years but it does the job. Once fitted the helmet was re-assembled and I settled down to watch TV and fell asleep.
Day 2 602km
Up relatively early, I was back outside for another 30 minutes trying to find the elusive connector for the USB kit, still no luck. I had a superb breakfast, packed my gear and set off, hoping that I could just follow signs to the motorway then I knew my way to Folkstone for the tunnel and if necessary I could then follow one of the routes I used previously on my KTM trip, saving the phone battery for hotel booking and emergencies.
Setting off with my GoPro 3 setup and ready for action, my intercom on incase of calls, I headed in the general direction of the motorway, thankfully after a few km, I was back on track on roads that I knew well from my time in the UK. I finally started to relax and not think too much about the USB issue, maybe it would be OK after all, at the end of the day it just added to the challenge. I had the tunnel as a fixed point anyway and this time my wife had insisted on buying a Flexi ticket so I wasn't even constrained by time.
Everything went well until I tried my GoPro, I turned it on and started to chat away about my first impressions of the new steed, after about 5 minutes, I heard the bleeps of it shutting down, I waited another minute or two and turned it back on, its set to instantly record, again after another, 5 minutes it went off again. Stopping at the side of the road, I swapped batteries and checked the settings and carried on, at another suitable interesting point I turned it on again, and it went off again, by this point I was so annoyed that I didn't try again. Instead, I turned the music on from my phone and settled into the journey. I didn't even have to stop for fuel as to my surprise the bike was showing over 300 miles of tank range when I picked it up.
Down the A1, I went without a care in the world listening to some old rock tracks, the weather wasn't great but it wasn't raining. Eventually, we crossed the Thames at Dartford, took the same wrong turn as my last trip onto the M2 instead of the M20, it was OK though as I knew the way this time.
Heading around the roundabout onto the A229, the bike coughed, then picked up, I quickly shot a glance at the fuel gauge and had over 250 miles of range left, can't be fuel I thought although, it hadn't used much. As I headed down Bluebell Hill, it coughed again, this time permanently, after the initial panic and thoughts of trying to get transport back to the dealer, some 195 miles away, I remembered there was a fuel station a little further ahead, I used it last time. I pulled in the clutch and hoped for the best. After what seemed like an eternity the slip road for the fuel station came into view and I rolled to a stop at a pump, I couldn't believe my luck.
I gave the bike a quick once over, shook it a little and heard no sloshing of fuel, I then filled the tank and checked the gauge, it worked as the range increased but was obviously inaccurate, maybe the dreaded BMW fuel strip problem rearing its head. This time I set the trip so I would at least know when I was getting near and fill up in advance of a disaster. Setting off again I headed to Maidstone services as I did previously to buy provisions for the tunnel and use the facilities, it was time for a proper break.
The services, as on my previous journey, were busier than I would prefer, but people were at least sticking mostly to the rules this time. I bought a sandwich, drink, crisps and a chocolate bar and headed out to sit on the curb next to the bike. As I sat there and relaxed once again after my near disaster I chuckled to myself about how lucky I had been and how I was enjoying the big BMW.
Glancing over at the bike I spotted a cable tie under the beak that was grey instead of the usual black and a white connector that didn't seem to belong, after further investigation, it turned out the previous owner had used the GPS connector for something, something with a white connector, and had just cut the wires rather than remove them, they where also cable tied in the wrong place. No wonder I couldn't find them, after a couple of minutes I had the USB unit mounted and working, it was a good job that I had sat on the floor to have my drink.
Heading back out of the services I had a huge smile on my face, my phone was charging, I had GPS directions into my headset and I'd put my GoPro away, Eurotunnel was next.
It's not far from the services to the tunnel, on arrival there were quite a few cars waiting in line, but there is a special queue for those with Flexi tickets, and I was straight through. At this point I was a little concerned as I had a new passport, it had arrived about two weeks before the journey and been used to fly into the UK the day before, after a bit of double-checking it went through without hitch.
I was then directed away from the terminal building and towards a Flexi Fare building with FREE food and drink, when I say free the ticket is considerably more expensive. Due to the Covid measures, things were a little different to normal, my first time anyway, but I was given a bag and told to help myself from the sandwich fridge, drinks fridge and Starbucks machine, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I was then told that I could go on any of the trains, so I had a relax, and waited a while before setting off again. I took my Starbucks cup outside to finish off and took a picture, for our social accounts. It got a few interesting comments in some BMW Facebook groups that I am a member of.
Once at the train, I waited outside with another biker, we always get to board last, he was on his way to Frankfurt to do 6 months of work and looked like he had most of his possessions on his Kawasaki. He proudly told me that he had bought it only the week before, for the journey, I then told him that I had only owned mine for around 24hrs and was riding it all the way to Costa Blanca, I think he thought I was mad. We chatted a little on the train and I started to think about accommodation for my first night in France.
This time I wanted to try something different, I didn't want to travel the same routes I had done previously or stay in the same places so I looked at Booking.com and picked a small B & B in a little village around 200km from the terminal at Calais. Domaine de Regnonval, in Blicort, turned out to be an excellent place to stay
The journey from the Eurotunnel terminal to Blicort, was straightforward enough as it followed part of my previous route in France, I even passed the hotel I used last time and remembered to stop at a rather interesting sight that I have whizzed past before and never taken a picture of.
The plane is outside the Hôtel - Bar - Restaurant de l'Aérodrome de la Baie de Somme, on the D1001.
I'm not sure of the model of the plane but it is at the side of the road near an airfield. From there it was onto smaller roads and finally into the village of Blicort, arriving at what is an old farm in the village. It wasn't immediately obvious where to go but I found the parking sign, it pointed to a gravel slope at the side of the main building, at this point, I was a little tired after my two days of travelling and riding a bike I wasn't really used to and now I had to tackle a gravel slope with who-knows-what at the top. In the end, I went for it, thinking back a few years to my last BMW and a couple of trail rides I did, I gunned it up the slope which levelled out into a car park.
After a few minutes I found the owner, confirmed my booking and was shown to a cosy room overlooking the courtyard, it was lovely. The owner then insisted I went to fetch my bike and park it in the courtyard as it was much nearer my room. This time as well as the now downhill gravel, I also had to contend with getting the bike through a large wooden gate and into a position to avoid the other guests, I was thankful once it was parked for the night. Remembering to put my electronics on charge, I ate the remnants of my food from Maidstone services and the tunnel and fell to sleep.
Day 3 621km
Saturday started well with a walk around the village before returning for a lovely breakfast, prepared by the owner, crusty bread, croissant, orange and coffee, not my usual start to the day, but "when in Rome" as they say. My gear was packed up quickly and after saying farewell to my host and other guests I headed back to the bike, removed the locks, loaded the pannier and then looked at my options, I could open the gate ride around the courtyard and leave in a flourish or reverse steadily out the way I came in, in a controlled manner. I chose the latter, not stylish but I made it out in one piece.
Once on the road, I set the satnav to a village near Limoges, avoiding tolls and highways, orr so I thought, and set off without a care in the world, I didn't have to be back home until Sunday evening and I could push it to Monday if I fell behind.
Whizzing along French back roads, watching for hidden speed cameras, I began to really appreciate the GSA for what it is, a superb tourer, comfortable, great handling, fast enough, I was feeling rather pleased with myself until that is I spotted a sign for an airport, Charles de Gaulle, no less, and then Disney signs. Somehow I had managed to head in the wrong direction and was heading around the eastern side of Paris, on a Saturday, in what appeared to be rush hour.
After filtering for a bit, getting stuck in roadworks, passing under the runways at Charles de Gaulle (rather cool actually) I made a decision to stop for an early lunch at a McDonalds just south of Paris. I'd about had enough for the day already and it was only 12.15. After a large lunch I regrouped, shouted at the sat nav and tweaked its settings a bit then tried again. This time, finally, I was making progress on cross country National roads, much more interesting than motorways. Inevitably I ended up on a bit of motorway but did a reasonable job of avoiding most of it.
Stopping for fuel around 5 pm, I thought it about time to book a hotel for the night, out with the phone and Booking.com again, there were a number of options nearby and on my route ahead, however, one, in particular, caught my eye, it was a little way off my course in a small village again, but the advert said Half-Board, it wasn't badly priced and I thought, how bad can it be, and booked it.
The road to Hotel Le Commerce, Auriat, was narrow and twisty which was nice but, took longer than I thought, when arriving in the village at the point given on the website, there was no hotel, just a few houses. After speaking very poor French to a lovely helpful couple I was directed a couple of hundred metres further on and round a kink in the road. After a friendly greeting from the couple who owned the place I was shown to my room, it was a little worn, but perfectly functional and clean.
Heading downstairs after a quick wash and change, I was wondering what would be included in the evening meal and looking forward to the surprise. Unfortunately there appeared to be a discrepancy between the Booking.com listing and reality, there was no evening meal included in the room rate. After a few minutes of failing to communicate the owner offered to cook me a burger and omelette but at an additional charge, I reluctantly accepted as there were no other options in the village and I didn't fancy going out to find anything. I went outside sat on the terrace with a beer and made the best of it.
The food was OK but a little pricey at €18 including the beer, but "beggars can't be choosers" afterwards I arranged an early start with the owner as I had a long journey ahead and they were quite happy too oblige. At 7.30 am I headed downstairs carrying all of my belongings with me, so as not to disturb the other guests by going back up after breakfast. It turned out, you probably guessed already, there would be no need to go back upstairs after breakfast anyway as there was no breakfast included either. I made an attempt to explain to the owner who refused to look at my confirmation or to show me his paperwork, I then left feeling rather fed up and ripped off and wondering if the other guests had fallen for the same mistake.
Day 4 986km
On the plus side, the BMW started without a hint of a cough or splutter, despite the early hour. As we set off into the early morning light I appreciated the large screen keeping the cold weather from me and the heated grips warming my hands, I was missing my breakfast, however.
Back through twisty country roads and then a bit more cross country, through sleepy Sunday morning villages, my spirits were lifted with each passing mile and the occasional waft of fresh baking. On the outskirts of a pretty village, there was a very modern-looking patisserie in amongst DIY, garden centre and motor spares outlets, I had intended stopping in one of the sleepy villages for breakfast, but the queue for this place, gave a hint to the quality, or price or maybe both, so I stopped to indulge.
It was superb, with a huge range of pastries on offer and piping hot coffee to wash it down with and all for the price of €4.10. At this point, I decided to raise a complaint with Booking.com for my overnight stay, not my usual style but I felt aggrieved. Over the course of a few hours, the situation was resolved, the hotel changed their advert and refunded the price of the food. All in all a good result.
The next stop would be a bridge I spotted on a previous trip. Usually as I whizzed past, I would say next time I'll take a picture, this time I did. It's a bit old and battered over a small canal/waterway, but still worth a picture. As it was still relatively early I crossed the bridge and then rode the bike down onto the footpath, there wasn't a soul in sight until my camera and phone came out. At this point a group of irate cyclists came along the path and insisted I move the bike to allow them to pass, I did, even though there was plenty of room to pass. I set up again and some walkers came to see what I was doing, rather than offering assistance to take a shot with me they told me I couldn't be there and then a heated discussion ensued between them all, one apparently could see what I was trying to achieve and that I wasn't doing any harm and the others arguing the opposite. I quickly snapped some pictures, started the bike and headed back the way I had come.
By lunchtime, well a late lunchtime I was heading out of Toulouse, having managed to get caught up in the motorway system once again, Google maps has a nasty habit of finding a faster route and giving you the option of sticking to your current one by pressing a button on the screen, this is very difficult and illegal in most cases without coming to a stop, not possible at all on the motorway. Oh well, it was familiar anyway.
I stopped at the same McDonalds for lunch that I had dinner in on my KTM trip earlier in the year, I wouldn't be booking a hotel for the night though as I really wanted to get home. On I went into the afternoon following the same route as before, through the Pyrennes, even stopping to take pictures of the reservoir and valley I had previously seen.
The journey carried on without incident as I got more and more used to the big BMW, I even stopped to adjust the rear suspension a little to enjoy the mountain and subsequent valley roads a little more. Eventually, the roads turned back to the motorway as I headed into the dark and along the AP7 towards home on the Costa Blanca. The often criticised lights of the BMW were great especially with the addition of the auxiliary lights and I could see perfectly well.
Rounding a corner in the road, the sky suddenly seemed darker, as if there was a fog or mist, the smell gave it away though, there was a fire. As it turns out there were actually three different fires that had been lit deliberately next to the motorway. The AP7 fires (Click the link for video, not mine) had spread a little and there were embers being blown across the road towards me, I shut the vents in my helmet and carried on, not wanting to stop, I should have switched on my GoPro.
Arriving home was wonderful as always after a trip, there was a hot cup of tea waiting and an offer of food, but I put the bike away and headed for bed, it had been a long day.
There will be more articles about the BMW, look out for them on the website, including the importation.