2017, new year, new road trip time, slightly shorter this year taking in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and, sadly, France as it couldn't be easily avoided, with a lap of the Alps as the main goal.
The plan is a blast down the motorways to get as far south as fast as possible and then switch to tiny one-track roads for a five day meander through the mountains.
New trip, new vehicle
After a couple of long trips by car, 2017's trip has a whole new approach. I wanted to ride either a scooter or a motorbike for decades now so after 20+ years of talking about it, in summer 2016 I started the process of getting my bike license. If you've not experienced that, it is a rather long and convoluted process involving something called a CBT which is basically a one day course confirming you can go in a straight line and not fall off, following that is a theory test, and then for the full unrestricted licence another couple of sets of lessons (in which I did actually fall off, oops) and tests.
My first bike. No so much suitable for a trip around the Alps as delivering pizza.
I naturally was of the opinion that as a chap of a certain age I am clearly God's gift to the open road and wanted to do all of the tests and lessons in one go. The CBT was no problem but Lawrence the very patient instructor at Westside Riders did gently suggest that I may find it useful to ride around on a 125cc scooter for a while to get used to being on the road on two wheels first before diving into the main lessons and tests. Despite being convinced I was a natural I acquiesced and bought a small scooter only to discover one tiny wee issue, this being a complete inability to turn right out of a junction. Any junction. This it turns out is a slight inconvenience as it is generally very hard to get to a variety of interesting destinations via the means of the left turn only.
Eventually I mastered the concept of turning right without wobbling around like I was about to just collapse in a drunken heap, passed the theory test and in December 2016 did the two sets of lessons and tests for the full bike licence which I am pleased to say I passed. Without any money in grubby envelopes changing hands. Maybe.
This means a full licence to ride anything but there are some restrictions of my own making, the most important of these being that these days I absolutely prefer comfort over speed, so sitting on some tiny pocket rocket wedged into a single testicle-crushing position is not going to work at all. Even the 45 minutes or so of the motorbike test meant being wedged into a single position for so long it was like a Guantanamo Bay torture technique with agonising cramp in my leg. And I also have an appreciation for things such as heated grips and a heated seat to keep one's saggy arse nice and toasty. I am also way too lazy to be changing gear in a car so there was not a chance of me wanting something with gears when it comes to a bike as well. But it needs to have enough poke to do decent journeys.
By the way, if you've not ridden a motorbike before, I shall describe how the damn things work with gears. You pootle along and need to reduce speed to a slow pace in traffic so you squeeze the right lever (brake), then stand gently on the right foot pedal, (back brake), slowly release the right twisty throttle thing, while still squeezing the right lever, then while doing that and treading on the right pedal and twisting the throttle you also slowly squeeze the left lever (clutch) and flick the left foot lever down to drop down some gears. But not too many or you'll hit neutral which is in there somewhere, but neutral is not at the bottom of the range as that would be too obvious. And somewhere in that you are supposed to check your mirrors, indicate, and watch out for the inevitable Peugeot driven by a blind and deaf dwarf who hasn't looked in a mirror since passing his driving test 40 years ago. Whoever designed the controls is a complete mentalist. It's a right pain in the arse! Automatic is the only way to go.
This process, and deciding on a scooter for comfort and boring things like storage, leads to pretty much just three. A Honda Silverwing, a Suzuki Burgman 650, or a BMW. The BMW is clearly out as I learned how to use indicators in a car and it is clear that no BMW car or bike in history has ever been fitted with indicators so I would be a bit lost without them. The Silver Wing has pretensions to the Gold Wing's smaller sibling but is a bit 'meh', so the Suzuki Burgman 650 it is. And I love it. Superbly comfortable when riding and you can move about to different positions as you go, adjustable backrest, heated grips, heated seat, electrically adjustable windscreen to move it up when it gets a bit breezy, or down out of the way when you want to be open. Perfect.
So this is the mighty steed for the 2017 journey, a Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter in stealth grey so I am not visible on radar as this will clearly be a supremely useful feature on the M25.
Roll on 28th June - departure date.