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

Bike India - - MOTOROLAND -

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.

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