ITALY

AND SON FATHER Paul By Rupert to bond finer way There’s no than tak­ing off­spring with your cra­dle of Rossi a trip to the m in Mugello fa­nati­cis Con­tin­ued over

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rgh. I never want to sit on a mo­tor­cy­cle again. My arse aches. My back hurts. My eyes feel like two gritty raisins. I’ve done 1200 miles in three days, hack­ing across Europe to watch the Mugello Mo­togp. And I don’t re­gret a se­cond of it.

More to the point, nor does my 23-year-old son Fred­die. I’m a griz­zled vet­eran of at least 30 con­ti­nen­tal trips, but to Fred it’s all new: the lan­guage bar­ri­ers, the grind­ing mo­tor­way miles, the crazy moun­tain roads, the sheer phys­i­cal en­durance. This time last year he hadn’t even passed his test. Now he’s not only done 2500 miles there and back safely; he wants to do it again.

For me as a bik­ing dad, it’s pass­ing on a tra­di­tion that I in­her­ited as a 20-yearold, when Bike mag­a­zine’s re­ports of en­durance races at Le Mans, Paul Ri­card and Mon­tjuich Park in­spired me to head across the chan­nel with a Z250, a few quid and a tooth­brush. Al­though maybe that’s not quite right. This trip to Italy was my son’s idea.

My wife (Fiona): “What’s this about you and Fred­die go­ing to Mugello?” Me: “Are we? He hasn’t told me.” Fiona: “Can I come too?” Fred­die: “No!” Why Mugello? Be­cause it was a long way. Be­cause we wanted to see Valentino Rossi, in the fi­nal flow­er­ing of his stu­pen­dous tal­ent, pit­ting him­self against the ti­tanic skills of Mar­quez, Lorenzo, Dovi and Ian­none. To wit­ness that, at the GOAT’S home track – we had to go.

With the help of RIDE mag­a­zine’s Si­mon Weir, whose knowl­edge of

UEuro­pean roads ap­pears to be lim­it­less, we hatched a three-and-a-half day route with the bare min­i­mum of mo­tor­ways. That plan dis­in­te­grated when our Tomtom sat-nav re­fused to be pro­grammed with Si­mon’s Google map routes, so we bodged it, find­ing our way via key towns and vil­lages, backed up by old-school Miche­lin maps.

Voy­age of dis­cov­ery

It didn’t take Fred­die long to dis­cover the magic of trav­el­ling on a mo­tor­cy­cle. We ar­rived in Ver­dun at the end of day one, ex­hausted but happy. When we couldn’t find the cheap ho­tel Si­mon had rec­om­mended, a lo­cal rider on a GS came over and showed us the way. That’s what bikes do that cars can’t.

Half­way through the next day we got to Switzer­land, and the de­serted roads turned from ar­row-straight across un­du­lat­ing fields and woods to hair­pins ev­ery 200 yards, set off by snow-capped peaks. Fred­die, who’d looked it all up on Streetview be­fore leav­ing, could hardly be­lieve it was real. The Swiss coun­try­side looks like an An­chor but­ter ad­vert – wild­flower mead­ows, cows with bells round their necks and Alps ev­ery­where. We stopped in the vil­lage of In­ter­laken, stay­ing at the friendly Ho­tel Post und Hof which, later in the year, is a bik­ing hotspot. Day three should have been a joy­ful romp over the Susten Pass to Italy, but we for­got to read the signs that said the pass was still blocked by win­ter snow. What the hell – it was still a stu­pen­dous 20 miles, and it’s not ev­ery day you get to ride up to a glacier.

We tried the Grim­sel Pass (blocked) and the Gösch­enen Pass (al­legedly open, but not re­ally). That left the au­toroute, com­plete with five-mile queue for the 10-mile Got­thard Road Tun­nel. With no Swiss mo­tor­way carnets (£40 each, or a £500 fine if you’re caught with­out one) we were brick­ing it. So, it seemed, was ev­ery­one else. Un­like France’s 90mph Citroens and Peu­geots, Switzer­land of­fers the bizarre spec­ta­cle of posh Porsches and Audis never ex­ceed­ing 60mph. “It’s like ev­ery­one’s got speed cam­eras in their heads,” said Fred­die af­ter we’d fi­nally slipped through the cus­toms post near Mi­lan un­de­tected. The Swiss po­lice, Si­mon had warned us, are fiends from hell.

Strange place, re­ally. In the UK we take our hideous lit­ter, ur­ban sprawl and trashed coun­try­side for granted. The Swiss city of Basel (to take one ex­am­ple) was like some vi­sion of the fu­ture, with amaz­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, wide streets fringed with wild­flower verges, and trams, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans hap­pily co-ex­ist­ing with mod­est traf­fic. But it just made us sus­pect they must be sweep­ing all their un­de­sir­ables un­der some huge rug some­where.

You can, if you’re de­ter­mined enough, get from In­ter­laken to Mugello in a day. So we did. It was pretty grim, es­pe­cially when Swiss or­der changed abruptly at the bor­der to Ital­ian chaos. Ital­ians, as ev­ery­one knows, are crazy driv­ers, but that’s a mere de­tail com­pared hav­ing to ne­go­ti­ate 30 miles of their road­works at night. But we made it, and over the fol­low­ing three days the race – or rather the 91,000 crazed Ital­ian fans who came to watch it – blew our minds. The first 30 sec­onds are like land­ing on the planet Ta­tooine in Star Wars. The de­li­cious tang of roast­ing meat. The bass thump of a sound sys­tem. Bikes ev­ery­where, parked and buzzing about. Air horns blar­ing at each other across the val­ley like seag­ulls. A guy on a penny farthing with a 46 flag on a pole. Beered-up, yel­low-shirted nut­ters three-up on scoot­ers pledg­ing undy­ing al­le­giance to Valentino Rossi.

We plot­ted the most moun­tain­ous route we could de­vise through northwest Italy and south­ern France for our re­turn leg. Lit­tle did we know it was go­ing to be the most per­fect 400 miles we could dream of, with ev­ery­thing from 15mph hair­pins to 90mph sweep­ers. We weren’t alone: hun­dreds of other rid­ers – nearly all of them rid­ing var­i­ous forms of BMW GS – were out to savour the hot tar­mac and stag­ger­ing scenery.

Look­ing back, half our plans went wrong, and it cost a for­tune. But the sheer joy when it went even slightly right made up for it. The whole trip was so won­der­ful and life-af­firm­ing that re­al­ity for both of us took weeks to re­assert it­self. Ev­ery father and son should have a go.

4 days £1140 7 days £1975 10 days

•Visit www.mag­ic­mo­tor

ex­pe­ri­ence.com

MCN’S Rupert Paul and son Fred­die get stuck into the Mugello GP mad­ness Father and son share the spec­tac­u­lar Alpine scenery to­gether on two wheels

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