V(iva)Rod Espana

1820 miles on the V-Rod taking in rural France and the Harley-Davidson birthday bash in Barcelona

Hello. Bonjour. Hola, to my leetle tour through France and onto the Barcelona leg of the Harley-Davidson Open Road Tour. A trip through the pleasures of rural France before joining Harley's 100th birthday bash.

And for this trip, I shall be using my long-term V-Rod. What else? The V-Rod is a pose machine, destined for the urban theatre rather than grand tours of Europe but with a few mods (sissy bar, my old Ventura bag/backrest and a few well-positioned straps) we were ready for action while new chrome switch gear ensured the Rod would be the belle of the ball.

With photographer Tennent astride a BMW and laden with camera gear, we headed to Le Havre on the open road to adventure. I had envisaged the ride to Barcelona as being one of my greatest adventures, meeting lots of like-minded Harley riders and making friends wherever I went mainly because, like them, I was sat astride a Hog. Not so. A middle-aged guy on a Road King leant across as we waited at Le Havre and asked what I thought of the

V-Rod. Fantastic, came my reply. His look suggested he'd just caught me in bed with his wife. There I was with 20 other Harleys and no one wanted to know my half-breed of a bike.

Drive through any English town and the admiring glances the V-Rod gets makes the £14k price tag almost bearable. However, in France I soon found no one gives you a second look. Then again, northern France is one of those places that appears devoid of people. There are houses, villages and the like, but very few people. On the plus side, this makes for superb almost-empty roads. And in seven days I didn't see a single policeman or speed camera!

The ancient city of Châteaudun appears in the distance above the Dormouse. For a breather, stop at Le Commerce in the main square. Good priced food and drink and a delicious Salade Italienne for seven euros!

Our next stop, Chambord on the banks of the Loire is a stark contrast. Full of regal excess and built on a grandiose scale the surrounding countryside is that of royal parkland with forests, brooks and game a-plenty. From here the D764 near Loches winds its way with rural charm past Montpoupon, once a landmark of strategic importance but now no more than an interesting shell.

But at the end of the day, life got really good. After 360 miles in baking sunshine we were still sweating buckets as we rolled into our hotel car park. And then I noticed our hotel was in fact a castle. Too stunned for words I checked in before heading for the pool and a  chilled brew. Looking up at the 15th century turrets, the beer in my hand and the cool water lapping my sides, I thought I must be in heaven. I was afraid to blink in case I woke up back in Margate on a C90.

Thursday morning saw a cruise to Lussac. A perfect way to shake the cobwebs out with fast sweeping bends the Rod chewed up and spat out with ease. South again on the N147 and shade of the tree-lined D675, we were off to the one place that we had been advised to drop into by a number of people - Oradour-sur-Glane. About 15 minutes NW of Limoges, it's a remarkable historic site and free to enter. On 10 June 1944 a group of SS soldiers marched in and decimated this peaceful town, killing 642 for what is still a mystery reason. The most moving and disturbing place I have ever visited.

Continue the V-Rod trip across Europe

How & Where

How to get there

Where to stay

Sliding off the A20, we came to some of the best biking roads that France has to offer. The N140 and D673 worm their way to one of France's most famous wonders. The hazy heat rises off the tarmac and tyres stick like glue. Cresting to the top of the D673 you finally see it. Hugging the sheer limestone cliff that rises 490 feet above the Alzou Canyon, sits the medieval town of Rocamadour. With some of the most spectacular views across the canyon, Rocamadour dates back to the times of Henry Plantagenet, one-time King of England, said to have been miraculously cured at the town.

You want castles? Well, France has more than its share. Big ones, small ones, palatial houses, royal country retreats, Crusade havens, they are scattered through the glorious countryside in abundance (castle-fixated weirdos can find out more below, in Shippey's handy at-a-glance guide. Ed).

Having only flown over the Pyrenees before, I was determined to take the scenic route on a bike. There is a quicker route, but that wouldn't be akin to the rest of the trip now would it?

The scenery was spectacular. I had been given a taster climbing the D612 to Montagne Noire where we stopped by a serene mountain lake for coffee and a chat with a German truck-driver. Our route went from Quillan in the foothills all the way up through the Gorge of St Georges with the road cut into the cliff and the Aude tumbling past on our left.

The most strenuous ascent to our highest point in the trip left us dumbfounded. There we were hacking through real scary twisties, a thousand foot-plus drop to our right, mist coming in thick and fast reducing visibility to about 30 metres, the road getting wetter and wetter. Pegs were being ground out, the heels of my boots almost totally eroded. We were trying our hardest on two of the worst bikes for this type of road. A supermotard would have been perfect. Looking at the speedo we were doing 30mph, when all of a sudden I saw lights in my mirrors. I remembered a couple of bikers getting waterproofed-up about five miles back, just as the really twisty uphill climb began. I kept them at bay for a few more minutes before finally being able to move across and make some room, only to be waved and smiled at as a Road King and chopped softail accelerated past into the distance. Now that's what I call disheartening!

At the top, the heavens opened. From here the long descent to Bourg-Madame and the Spanish border was ridden as if on ice skates. The Pyrenees are a beautiful set of mountains providing the natural boundary between France and Spain, and in the dry would have been a joy. However, the downpours we endured finally gave way to sunshine as we rode the new motorway/tunnel system that led down to the N152 and onto Barcelona.

'Hola amigos, and welcome to Barcelona' said the information leaflet in the hotel room. It was late Friday night; we were gagging for an ice-cold beer, a shower and some grub. The cool air of the lengthy Pyrenees crossing was instantly replaced with the sticky humidity of the Catalan capital as Hogs roared past outside (still not giving my baby a second glance, I noted glumly). After a quick freshen-up we headed for the marina.

Parking up, looking very much like two batty-boys on tour, we were surrounded by Harley's of every denomination.

The Open Road Tour itself was interesting if nothing else. A huge expanse of the Olympic village had been set-aside, and as we parked up in the circle the next morning the air was buzzing with anticipation.

Unfortunately this was not reciprocated inside. It was like entering into the jaws of a strange cult. Everywhere we looked people were dressed in almost identical garb - jeans and leather waistcoats, or denim chapter jackets proudly declaring from whence they came. Because of the size of the Olympic village it was if we had rolled into Harley town. Willie G mentioned later that he saw Harley-Davidson as a brand that he would like the whole world to be a part of. Well I think it already is.

We sought refuge from the scorching heat in the Open Road Tour Exhibition that detailed the history of the company from humble beginnings in 1903 to the global giant it is in 2003. Models ranging from the original to the V-Rod via Elvis Presley's and Jon Bon Jovi's rides were on display. Everything Harley-Davidson was to be found here.

Craig Jones was in full effect three times a day in the stunt arena. I've seen him before and he never fails to impress. What this man can do on a 1700 Dyna, a V-Rod, X1 and Firebolt is unreal. Powerslides, tail stand wheelies, stoppies lasting forever. And a lot of these with his little helper on board. Very impressive.

Cruising the streets was the best way to catch up with most riders and to check out the lovely Spanish Señoritas, which was how we spent most of the evening.