Six trails riders jump in a minibus and set off on a dirt jump roadtrip round France with little or no planning and somehow manage to pull it off…
DIRT ISSUE 131 – JANUARY 2013
Words by Gareth Howell. Photos by Gareth Howell
Summer this year was a bit of a washout for the UK trails community. After a winter’s worth of hard graft the constant rain didn’t do wonders for morale. The weekend would come and rather than enjoying the fruits of your labour you’d either have the spade back in hand or be sat there in the ubiquitous trails shack watching the water drip of off the tarps. Pretty depressing when by all rights you should be out there shredding the lips, landings and berms you worked your balls (or ovaries) off to create. Now normally a roadtrip is an essential part of a summer’s riding. Spending a bit of time on the road hitting up new spots, catching up with seldom seen riding buddies, camping and generally being dicks has become a bit of a tradition amongst the trails set. However when it looks more fitting to take scuba gear than your bike it’s time to think a little further afield than the normal UK jaunt.
One of the many good things about having a decent set of trails is that other people who have trails will travel to ride yours, and generally invite you to do the same in return. This can be very useful when planning a roadtrip. As luck would have it, this spring’s visitors to the trail spots around Surrey included a couple of locals from the well known spot in the south of France called Penyier. Every year these trails host a comp called ‘Kill the Line’, it’s a Vans sponsored event and is known for being a bit more chilled out than your average dirt comp, having more in common with a local trails jam, aside from the pro riders and large amounts of money involved of course. Anyway, long and short of it is that the boys suggested we head down their way for the weekend of the comp this year, both to check that out and to ride some of the local trails. Obviously this seemed like a great idea and it was duly agreed that we’d go.
Fast forward a few months, whilst it was generally still agreed that we were going, no one had really made any move towards sorting out how this was actually going to happen. As the date drew nearer I decided things needed sorting before it became too late, so after having a chat over a BBQ down at Wisley (infamous southern trails) and doing a bit of maths, it was decided that we’d be best off hiring a minibus, both because it worked out slightly cheaper than taking loads of cars, and would do away with the inevitable problems that convoying–it incurs. We came to a deal whereby I was going to sort the bus, and Jimmy (Pratt) would book us a Eurotunnel slot. At this point we had about two weeks until the comp weekend, so we were already cutting it a little fine. I spent a day off ringing round various hire companies hassling them for the best price possible, which in the end turned out to be surprisingly cheap. Obviously I didn’t tell them that the plan was to rip the back two rows of seats out and fill it with bikes, tents and generally grubby shit for a week on the road.
Obviously Jimmy forgot to book Eurotunnel until I reminded him a few days before we were due to leave, so we ended up on a 2am crossing, meaning a full days work, go get the van, pull the seats out, load everyone up, drive to Dover, then carry on into France. At this point we still only had a vague idea on the crew for the trip, the French lads had been riding with Jimmy and Chris Hinkenickel for the most part, so obviously they were in, Tom Banfield (aka Builder) one of the old school Woburn builders, was keen, as was Jonny Faulkner from Brockham trails. Luke Cullis has been on many of a roadtrip and is always a good laugh to have along, plus had already booked the time off work, so he was in. This left a free seat in the bus, so after a few phone calls I managed to convince Phil Auckland it was a good idea to extend his student overdraft so he could afford to come along. Also Matt from ISON, promised to refund his expenses when the article came to light, which is why ISON is in capital letters, which surely must be worth a couple of extra quid?
Anyway, the day came round and I picked up the minibus after work, got it home and started trying to remove the seats, the theory being that if I managed to get the seats out quick there’d be time for a few hours shuteye before driving all night. Turns out that the seats in a Transit–based minibus are held in with a T40 torx bolt, like your disc rotor bolts, only bigger. I guess so that people like me are unlikely to have the tools to bugger about with them, which unfortunately was the case. Happily Jonny is very much into his cars and managed to procure the required bit, unhappily, the seats had obviously not been removed in a very long time and we quickly snapped it. After about four hours, a lot of phone calls, some very helpful friends of friends (who I’d love to give a mention but I’ve forgotten their names) and three or so T40 bits we finally had the necessary seats removed. By this point everyone had shown up and it was decided that we may as well head off, so after stocking up on budget energy drinks in the local Spar we hit the road.
I’d assumed the minibus would be limited to 60mph, happily, it wasn’t, so we made it to Dover way ahead of schedule, so we had a bit of time sitting at the terminal to plan a route. When I say plan a route, it was more a case of just drawing a line down a map of France. Luckily it’s a pretty straightforward drive down to Penyier if you stick on the major roads. Once we were off the train and in France it was just a case of getting on the right road and trying not to fall asleep at the wheel, which is quite hard when everyone else has nodded off and all there is to look at are the white lines on the road flashing in and out of the headlights, and just the occasional toll both to liven things up. Myself, Jimmy and Builder took turns at the wheel, swapping when whoever was driving decided it was getting a little sketchy. Things were fairly uneventful until we hit Lyon, where it was decided we’d stop, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. Parking a large minibus in a busy French city wasn’t quite as easy as we’d hoped and I think it’s fair to say that everyone was a little stressed out by the time we managed to park up and find a café.>>