Naked in France

The bike, not Chris, thank­fully... Scan­tily-clad KTM proves sur­pris­ingly use­ful in a 1200-mile week­end blast to the switch­backs of the con­ti­nent

Performance Bikes (UK) - - LONG TERMERS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Carl Nude-big­gun

I PRI­ORI­TISE EX­CITE­MENT over prac­ti­cal­ity to a rea­son­able ex­tent. Not so far that I’d tack lights on to a Bri­tish Su­per­sport bike for the jour­ney to Al­sace re­gion of France I’m about to board a ferry for, but look­ing at a ‘Po­lite’ vest-wear­ing, flip front ’n’ beard-tout­ing Tri­umph Tiger owner who’s loaded his bike with so much gear I’m sur­prised it hasn’t caused Dover to slip into the sea, I won­der what joy you can get from a bike so com­pro­mised in the fun stakes.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, and he’s honed the joy of long-dis­tance rid­ing to a fine art, and this twat with a naked bike so bereft of car­ry­ing abil­ity I can’t even fit trousers in is about to learn there’s a rea­son ev­ery other bike in the port has pan­niers and a flip-screen...

But, the KTM is roomy, has cruise con­trol, heated grips and de­cent fuel econ­omy at cruise speed. My neck can with­stand 90mph, and I’m only go­ing for three nights, so I don’t re­ally need to take much gear any­way.

In tow are brother Carl (on his ’05 R1, see p90), and my dad (on an­other, less loaded, twat­tish vest-free Tiger). I’m lead­ing, re­ly­ing on a Garmin Zumo 396 I’m test­ing (see p96) to see us right. I’m also dic­tat­ing the pace: it’s 380 miles from Calais to Gérard­mer...

The draw­back of our route is it’s through north­ern France, where very few roads of in­ter­est are found, so péage is the only log­i­cal route. Cruise con­trol set to 90mph (a real 84mph, the Garmin reck­ons) and all is fine. No flappy tex­tile clob­ber for me – just leathers and a throwover suit stashed away for rain. The cruise sys­tem lets me re­lax my wrists, and a KTM Pow­er­parts gel seat is help­ing, though I still need to stretch numb glutes af­ter 80 miles. But it’s tol­er­a­ble; I make up for the com­fort sac­ri­fice with first-to-fifth wheel­ies out of ev­ery toll booth. It’s why you buy a KTM, right?

Carl’s R1 asks for fuel at 150 miles, and the KTM de­mands a top-up a short while later, though it’s us­ing a sim­i­lar amount, and get­ting a range ad­van­tage from the larger ca­pac­ity. The KTM’s ride-by-wire fu­elling and leggy top gear con­spire to keep con­sump­tion sen­si­ble. It’s fine, if te­dious, on th­ese nec­es­sary Au­toroute slogs.

It gets too much in the end, so we use the prat-nav to dodge the dual car­riage­ways and go through more ru­ral ar­eas. The roads aren’t stun­ning, but it’s more in­ter­est­ing than dron­ing along, and it keeps my at­ten­tion un­til jour­ney’s end. The KTM is no more bother than it was ear­lier – my arse is a bit numb, but not get­ting worse, and noth­ing else is strain­ing.

The next day is spent drink­ing beer, eat­ing hot­dogs and hol­ler­ing at rid­ers in the Down­hill World Cup to sat­isfy my other two-wheeled in­ter­est. The bikes are left be­hind un­til the fol­low­ing day, when the ta­bles turn on the tour­ing brigade, out in force from the UK, France and nearby Ger­many on the moun­tain roads now within our reach. I pick a route around Mun­ster, Soultz­matt and Ven­tron on the twisti­est roads.

The KTM laps it up, mak­ing a small com­fort penalty more than worth it. It’s tall, which com­bined with the sat nav act­ing as rudi­men­tary pace notes, means I can an­tic­i­pate strange roads well. The power, chas­sis and han­dling let me at­tack hard, change lines, and on slow hair­pins the wide bars lend un­matched agility.

It all lends fur­ther cre­dence to my ar­gu­ment that a good naked – and the KTM in par­tic­u­lar – is the ideal 21st cen­tury road bike. In 1198 miles of mixed rid­ing, I never once needed more per­for­mance, prac­ti­cal­ity or com­fort, but had enough of all three to re­ally en­joy it.

‘The power, chas­sis and han­dling let me at­tack hard, while the wide bars lend un­matched agility’

That’s pretty much the whole world of mo­tor­cy­cling summed up in three bikes: New­big­ging Snr’s Tiger, Chris’s KTM and brother Carl’s 2005 R1

Cul­ture alert: the boys stop at Joan of Arc’s child­hood home

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