FINISHING THE RACE WASN’T THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
You never know what might ignite your mind. A small story, tucked away towards the back of a magazine, for instance
I RECENTLY GOT A
reminder of the way that reading — about motorbikes, I’m not talking Shakespeare or Tolstoy here — can change your life. A fellow bike journalist, working on a feature, called to ask me for my favourite piece of motorcycling travel writing. I immediately remember reading, back in 1978 in the UK version of the Bike magazine, a story about the Bol Hour endurance race was held at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France.
“Bury me here. Wake me up next year,” the story began, quoting a friend of the writer in drunken delirium in the small hours of the morning, “on his knees in the white dust. Nearby a litre bottle of Kronenbourg gently gurgled out its contents as it slipped from his grasp.”
The next paragraph was the most descriptive, atmospheric, adrenaline-producing thing that this motorbike-mad teenager had ever read.
“In the distance fours wailed, twins grumbled and a two-stroke screamed as they were forced through the gears for the thousandth time. The smell of highly spiced sausages spluttering over charcoal braziers mingled with a whiff of hot oil and charred brake pads, sharply contrasting the natural fragrance of a Provençal night. It was four o’clock in the morning at Circuit Paul Ricard and he was quite literally in paradise. We all were.”
After reading those two paragraphs (which I can still recite almost word for word more than 30 years later) I was hooked on
‘In the distance fours wailed, twins grumbled and a two-stroke screamed as they were forced through the gears for the thousandth time. The smell of highly spiced sausages spluttering over charcoal braziers mingled with a whiff of hot oil and charred brake pads, sharply contrasting the natural fragrance of a Provençal night’
this impossibly exotic, crazy and quintessentially French race. The story’s third paragraph sealed it. “I defy any biker who can see, smell, hear and feel not to be reduced to sheer paralytic ecstasy by it.” third paragraph I knew I’d make it to the Bol d’Or one day. And the fact that the writer, Zed Zawada, had ridden the length of France from England to the Bol — twoup on a bevel-drive Ducati 900SS, after constructing his own brackets the ultimate Italian super-sports bike of the day — only made the story more impressive.
It took several years, but I did make it to the Bol d’Or, which was as mind-blowing as the author had described it. That’s not really surprising, given that this day-long festival of motorcycling madness — of which the race itself was only part of the attraction — took place at a picturesque circuit surrounded by twisty roads, only a few kilometres from sandy, sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches.
After landing a job as a motorcycle journalist I rode the 1,500 kilometres or so from England to the south of France for the Bol numerous times on a wide variety of bikes, from purpose-built sports-tourers such as Honda’s VFR750F to theoretically impractical machines such as Yamaha’s unfaired RD350. I enjoyed the ride — or at least most of the ride — on all of them. In fact, that trip on the racy twostroke twin LC, girlfriend on the back and a pair of throw-over
the best of the lot. Having taken up racing, I eventually competed at the Bol, too, though not until 1986, eight years after that evocative story had put the dream in my head. I raced in four Bols and didn’t
GSX-R750 broke down in the Honda RC30 out of the fourth in the middle of the night.
Those failures didn’t disappoint me as much as I would have expected. It possibly sounds soppy, but I think the excitement of taking part in this fabulous event, and sometimes doing quite well until it all went wrong, really did mean that important thing.
Sadly, Circuit Paul Ricard is now a rather sterile and normally shortened test track, occasionally used for bike launches, including that of MV Agusta’s F3 last year. The Bol d’Or long ago moved circuit but just about as far from a sunny beach as it’s possible to get in France. So the modern Bol is not the same thing at all. I feel very lucky to have been around at the right time for an event that was great fun and changed my life — I’ve still got friends I met through endurance racing, which also did my career as a bike journalist no harm.
My Bol d’Or adventure very much began when I read that fairly short story, tucked away near the back of a motorcycle magazine. Keep turning these pages, then. After all, you never know when inspiration might strike.