Des­ti­na­tion Biar­ritz

1000 miles on a just-fin­ished cus­tom is a chal­lenge. New boy Ben Lind­ley climbs aboard Bike’s Yamaha Yard Built XSR700 for its maiden voy­age. So that’s Rother­ham to Biar­ritz…

BIKE (UK) - - PROJECT YAMAHA XSR700 - By Ben Lind­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy Yamaha and Ben Lind­ley

IT'S JUNE AND I’m on the doorstep of cus­tom bike builder Down & Out’s Rother­ham HQ. To­day is a big day for them, Bike mag­a­zine and Yamaha be­cause to­day is the day Down & Out bosses Carl and Shaun un­veil our lat­est cus­tom project. To­day is also the day we fire it up and ride this shop-fresh cus­tom bike 1000 miles to Biar­ritz in the south of France… Wind back the clock two months: Bike re­ceive a call from Yamaha. As part of their cus­tom Yard Built project eight coun­tries across Europe are build­ing a bike each and de­but­ing them at the now leg­endary Wheels and Waves fes­ti­val, Biar­ritz. Yamaha want Bike to join with fast ris­ing stars of the UK cus­tom bike scene Down & Out to rep­re­sent the United King­dom. To­day is the cul­mi­na­tion of that project and the res­o­lu­tion of its ups, and downs (see Bike, June, July and Aug). Right from the draw­ing board this bike has been built to ride. Dis­tances. We also have a strong sus­pi­cion that most of the Wheels and Waves Yard Builts will ar­rive in the south of France lov­ingly strapped into the backs of vans. No­body ac­tu­ally rides their cus­tom bikes, do they? And so it is with a mix­ture of trep­i­da­tion and ex­cite­ment that I watch as the doors to Down & Out’s HQ swing open for the big re­veal… Leav­ing Down & Out’s Rother­ham base it’s im­me­di­ately clear the char­ac­ter of the stock XSR has sur­vived its trans­for­ma­tion, best summed up as ur­ban, util­i­tar­ian ad­ven­ture. To my sur­prise the stiffer than stock Öh­lins rear shock pro­vides bet­ter road hold­ing and sits less with hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s far from the mus­cle-

clench­ingly ex­pe­ri­ence I was ex­pect­ing. Be­cause less of the bike’s power is lost in the sus­pen­sion move­ment it’s even eas­ier to lift the front end than it is with the un­mo­lested fac­tory ver­sion. Give it the slight­est whiff of a crest and the front rises with an al­most dig­i­tal im­me­di­acy. And that’s in sec­ond gear, too. We’ve got the whole day to make it to the Portsmouth-le Havre ferry and north­ern Eng­land’s mid­day mo­tor­ways quickly give way to the M25’s crush­ing rush hour. The wide LSL han­dle­bars and firm sus­pen­sion means fu­ri­ous fil­ter­ing is read­ily avail­able. Shaun and Carl are ei­ther side of me rid­ing an XSR900 and an XV950. The plan is to swap bikes through­out the trip so we can all get a feel for how things have changed and de­vel­oped. Com­mut­ing chaos fi­nally gives way to the calm of the beau­ti­ful South Downs Na­tional Park. This is proper rid­ing thanks to roads that twist and leap be­tween hills that bunch up to­wards the coast. We pull up to The Kings Arms, which cud­dles into a kink on the A286 just south of Fern­hurst. The XSR daz­zles in the late af­ter­noon sun and we stand back and take a breath for the first to­day. What be­gan as a quick pit stop turns into a visit to the In­dian res­tau­rant next door. It’s called Banyan. Try their £7 Sword­fish Tikka. Our un­ex­pected Tikka re­fuel has put us be­hind sched­ule and it’s now a race to the ferry, tak­ing in one of the long­est left han­ders in the coun­try. The sun’s dy­ing on us. The views are pretty and this

road south of Cock­ing would be a corker, if it were day­light. We scythe past silent fields and slip through sleepy vil­lages. I’m now on the XV950 and watch­ing the XSR700 in front of me. It looks damn good in the gloam­ing: flat and wide bars, knob­blies, Trans­former-style head­light. It all looks good on the move. Night, ferry ter­mi­nal, queues, straps, bar, cabin. And what a stuffy cabin. We three squeeze in and set­tle down for the night. Six hours later we are dock­side in Le Havre and up for the big push to the glam­our of Biar­ritz. I need to shove my re­quired-by-law high­vis some­where, so I turn to the hard pan­niers. Carl ca­ble tied them shut, wor­ried they might vi­brate open on the move. Stuff that, these things are here to be used. The high-vis jacket fits neatly in­side. We bar­rel off to­wards Hon­fleur and then west along the coast on the D513. This is a good in­tro­duc­tion to the weird road rules and high hedgerows of Nor­mandy – make sure you get to grips with the pri­or­ity from the right rule if you’re ever rid­ing here. The road flicks and slides along the hillocky coast­line, grand chateaus reg­u­larly punc­tu­at­ing the spec­ta­cle that is the French coast and ru­ral in­te­rior. Stony-faced scep­tics back at the Bike of­fice had warned that ev­ery cus­tom rides worse than the orig­i­nal ma­chine, but our XSR is a blast in the bends. Those knob­bly Con­ti­nen­tal TKC 80s in stan­dard 180 and 120 sizes had been a par­tic­u­lar bone of con­tention. In prac­tice and cranked over the tread does shift and in an un­set­tling way, but the truth is you soon get used to it. The grip is most def­i­nitely there for fast road rid­ing. But what do the Down & Out boys think of the bike? Carl swaps the XV950 cruiser for the cus­tom XSR and im­me­di­ately pulls a de­cent enough wheelie. He’s en­joy­ing him­self and ad­mits, ‘I’m re­ally sur­prised. I rode it round our park­ing lot and thought the en­gine was gut­less.’ Shaun chimes in. ‘I think the 700’s a bet­ter-look­ing bike than the 900. I also pre­fer the power on

the you 700.can re­al­lyThe nine have just some feels fun too on.’ harsh and fast for me. This is a bike S20-shod Fur­ther big­ger south brother.and the 700’s There’s keepinga stun­nerup wellof a with­road in its the Bridge­stone Nor­mandie-maineChêne­douit and Lig­nières-orgères.Re­gional Na­ture It’s Park bumpy– the D51 and be­tweens­in­gle track in places, but its small scale suits our XSR bet­ter than it does the 900 triple. We stop for a steak tartare at Le Lido in the pretty town of Bag­noles-de-l’orne. Its town cen­tre sur­rounds a well-man­i­cured lake which shim­mers in the af­ter­noon sun. Back on the bikes and the steak tartare has put us be­hind sched­ule so we hit the A28 and A10 and munch up some miles. We overnight in Cognac, but not be­fore a taxi ride to the Gar­den Ice Café for late night food. Its kitchen stays open un­til 1am. Be wary of the strong but de­li­cious Af­fligem Bel­gian blonde they have on tap: it’s just shy of seven per cent and that can hurt the morn­ing af­ter. To­day’s is Wheels and Waves day and we have to be there, on dis­play with the other Yard Builts by 3pm. We’re making quick work of the A63, but the knob­blies let down the XSR700 above 100mph. The bars wob­ble slightly at that speed, prob­a­bly made worse by a com­bi­na­tion of ge­om­e­try and speed tak­ing weight off the front tyre. There’s no cross­wind – the tree­tops flash­ing past are all still. I try out some cack-handed di­rec­tion changes, noth­ing un­to­ward hap­pens. Fi­nally Biar­ritz ap­pears on the sign­posts and Rother­ham, all of a sud­den, feels like it’s a long way away – cul­tur­ally and ge­o­graph­i­cally. Soon we are lost in a maze of peg-scrap­ing round­abouts. The fes­ti­val it­self is a sprawl­ing street of tents south of the town cen­tre. It’s a blaze of colour­ful hel­mets, ratty

‘Most of the other Yard Builts ar­rive in vans and are sham­mied for the show. Not ours’

two-stroke­sandthis mad what in­ner sounds belch­ing sanc­tum,like smoke, com­pe­ti­tion­while crowds hun­dredDJS. cheer­ingS­elect more bike­sat spill the are into wall al­lowedtheof death, into sur­round­ing­can’t help but streets.be im­pressed. Whether or not you walk the cus­tom line, you We’ve got a grey band for the XSR that al­lows us to ride straight in. As we pre­dicted most of the other Yard Builts ar­rive in vans and are metic­u­lously sham­mied for the show. Not ours. It stands out in a field of well-buffed sumps, the dust and dirt a proud il­lus­tra­tion of 1000 miles trav­elled. And, now we are here, what do Carl and Shaun think about the XSR? Does it re­ally mea­sure up to the ur­ban util­i­tar­ian ad­ven­ture billing? Carl thinks so: ‘I wouldn’t change a thing,’ he says. ‘I like rid­ing it the way it is.’ Shaun is more crit­i­cal. ‘I’m six foot some­thing and the mir­ror po­si­tion is hor­ren­dous. My knees hit them ev­ery time I turn the bars. But when the bag­gage comes off I ac­tu­ally pre­fer the seat­ing po­si­tion on the 700 to the 900.’ I’d change a few things, too. The un­der­slung mir­rors are dif­fi­cult to lo­cate in a hurry as they partly hide un­der my arms. Life­savers are manda­tory, even on mo­tor­ways. Re­plac­ing the flat mir­rors with slightly con­vex items would im­prove things sig­nif­i­cantly. For con­stant use the mi­croswitch switchgear proves frus­trat­ing. I’d be look­ing for a more us­able so­lu­tion for my next big ad­ven­ture. Sur­pris­ingly, I de­cide I would keep the knob­blies given the choice. The feel isn’t too com­pro­mised for every­thing but ex­treme lean and 100mph cruis­ing. Even Randy Mamola likes them. ‘Those tyres look awe­some,’ he says as he strolls by. You’ve got to be happy with that.

It’s this a-way…

Carl and Shaun of Down & Out. They built the bike Not your typ­i­cal cus­tom, but then it was built to be rid­den. A long way

Top: wait­ing for the ferry Mid­dle: road­trips are made of this Right: ev­ery good cus­tom needs a toast rack ‘Give it the slight­est whiff of a crest and the front rises with an al­most dig­i­tal im­me­di­acy. And that’s in sec­ond gear, too’

Top right: cakes! Above: o cial Akrapovic pipes nice and quiet on the long ride down Le : French law states hi-viz must be ac­ces­si­ble from the rid­ing seat. Here at Bike we are noth­ing if not law abid­ing ‘The road flicks and slides along the hillocky coast­line, grand chateaus reg­u­larly punc­tu­at­ing the spec­ta­cle’

Ar­riv­ing in Biar­ritz. Built in Rother­ham but made on the roads of France

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