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The Swiss Crazy Run - June 2012
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Click Here for a .pdf file of the article in Motorcycle Sport & Leisure Dec 2013
An e-mail in early November '11, from my Swiss friend - Cem (pronounced "Chem"), who I'd met in Ulaanbattaar last year, brought to my attention an interesting ride that was going to be held in Switzerland in June '12.
The ride was to be 1400kms (870 miles) long, covering 24 Swiss Cols - Alpine passes - and must be completed within 30 hrs. There was going to be a mandatory stop for at least 6 hours in the night that would not be part of the 30hrs. The very interesting bit was that you could only enter if you had a cruiser or a bike not made for this type of trip! I have a Valkyrie, I could enter....so I did!
I entered after checking with Winston, the run organiser, that I was eligible as I could do it on my Honda F6C - more poetically known as a "Honda Valkyrie" in the US of A!
Then I told Robin Carter who happens to be a cousin of mine and who rides a BMW (Bloody Massive Warthog?) R1200RT. Although his bike isn't a cruiser Winston said he could ride.
The maximum number of entrants for the ride was set at 35 and Rob was the 35th. This was all well and good until his older brother - Nick Carter - said that he had a Harley Davidson and should be allowed to enter as it was the only true cruiser amongst us! Winston was e-mailed and because Nick was Robin's brother and my cousin, he was allowed to enter.
Time ticked by, plans were drawn, discarded, drawn again, discarded again and finally an etch-a-sketch plan was formulated to our satisfaction. It went something like this......
1. I would ride from Ivybridge (where I live) to Rob's house, in Bicester, and stay the night. Nick would ride from Chipping Norton and stay the night.
2. We'd leave at 4 to ride to the chunnel (that's 4 a.m. - I never realised there were two 4 o'clocks in a day) and get an early start in France to cover the 550 miles to our nominated campsite in Switzerland.
3. We'd have a day off in Switzerland to admire the cuckoo clock factories and the Toblerone mines
4. We'd do the ride 1400kms, 30hrs, 24 cols - easy peasy.
5. We'd have another day in Switzerland enjoying the tickertape parades in our honour for completing such a monumental task
6. We'd ride home in 1 day!
It looked so good on the etch-a-sketch! What could go wrong?
 
Hah! The weather god/s decided to spice things up....
I set off from Ivybridge dressed to repel a monsoon/typhoon/snow storm and soon felt like I imagine a piece of 'boil in the bag' fish does! OK, so I overdid it a touch. I reached Rob's place of work (he has a car repair garage in New Yatt) and promptly stripped the tank of the Valk and de-oiled the K&N air filter, as the fuel consumption, since I serviced the bike the week before, had dropped to the low 30's!
Then I rode to Chipping Norton to see Nick and admire his 'spartan' approach to travelling. One dry bag sellotaped to the rear seat of his Harley! I must interject my narrative here to say that Nick had had to overcome a knock in his engine that apparently shouldn't have been there. He ended up fitting a spare RevTech engine that he believed was about 1600cc. This cured the knock but he was riding with an untried motor. Ho Hum!
I arrived at Rob's house at 7pm and Nick arrived a bit later and we all settled in for a short nap before rising at 4am to catch a 7am chunnel crossing.
It was dark o'clock on the 13th June and Nick woke the neighbourhood with his HD. We escaped the lynching mob of Bicester and set off on the adventure. I'd checked the French weather forecast and it was set to be wet for the day, so, on the Tuesday night, I'd booked an hotel in Dijon for Wednesday night. This meant we might not have the time to visit the Toblerone mines in Switzerland!
 

L-R, Rob, Nick and Andy (Me).
 
The ride went according to plan. we maintained a healthy 70mph along the French Autoroutes and my bike was doing approximately 45mpg. Rob was complaining that following Nick was giving him ear-ache from the constant exhaust boom from his HD. I followed Nick for a while and found the sound to be quite acceptable but then I use a Davida Jet helmet so the leather lining may have been helping to muffle Nick's non-standard pipe.
We arrived at Dijon and opposite to the hotel was a retaurant where the food was quite good value for money. I had a three cheese salad and my two cousins had a rather large pizza each. I had to ask the Maitre'd what one of the cheeses was and I have added it to my shopping list next time I'm over in France (Bleu de Bresse).
A quick check on the internet (free WiFi in the B&B Hotel) and we found that the weather for the next 24 hours was set to be sunny and warm.
 

Our bikes parked in the B&B Hotel in Dijon
 
We had a leisurely breakfast and set off for our campsite in Sorens, Switzerland, at 9am. Nick wanted to visit a Harley shop just up the road from the hotel but it didn't open until 09.30hrs so we went to a Dafy Moto shop nearby that was open. Everything seems quite expensive in France at the moment due to the GBP being lower than a few years ago. I bought a pair of shorty gloves which said they were waterproof but above all they were very comfortable. I'd worn out my previous ones on my sidecar trip across Russia and Mongolia last year. Alpinestars have seen fit to stop making the perforated cruiser glove so I am always looking for alternatives.
Pressing on we crossed into Switzerland after a lunch stop at Pontarlier. Fresh baguette, tomato, cheese and a Danish (French surely?) pastry went down extremely well.
The border between Switzerland and it's neighbouring countries seems to be an open and quite lax affair. Nick and Robin went straight through but I stopped and bought a vignette. This is the Swiss road tax that you have to buy if you're using the cat 1 and cat 2 roads. Yep! I don't know what a cat 1 and cat 2 road are either so opted to play safe! This proved to be a wise choice as the fine for riding on either category roads is 70euros PLUS the vignette fee which is currently 40CHF (Swiss Francs, 1.4 to the GBP). The vignette covers you for a year from Jan to December so therefore December 30th would be a bad day to have a week break in Switzerland!
The vignette has to be attached to your bike on a part that it not easily removable. I stuck mine on my windscreen. I waited until Nick and Rob had got their vignettes and we pressed on through 'chocolate box lid' scenery.
A word about roads and fuel in Switzerland. All over Europe the motorways are signposted in blue and the non-motorway roads are signposted in green. They like to be different in Switzerland, motorways are sp'd in green and non-motorway routes are in blue. Therefore, as you enter Switzerland you are immediately on a motorway (some of it single carriageway) and would therefore be leaving yourself open to a fine of approximately £78!
Fuel....there are a lot of fuel pumps littered about and in some really strange places. They have a card machine near them where you put your card in, enter your PIN number and tell it which pump you will be using, then you can fill up. If you don't want to use a card, this is where the Swiss make money. you can use Swiss Francs or, on some machines, Euros. The downside is that they don't give change. if you only have a Swiss 50F note and your bike won't take 28 litres you will lose money! Put in a 10CHF note (at the time of writing this it was 1.4CHF to the GBP, and 1.8CHF per litre of 95oct) which will buy you 5.5lts or, if you're with a friend, both fill up at the same time. the pumps only take paper money! Clear as mud then!
 

I still couldn't lose the BMW in the photo! Notice the anti-snooring 30ft gap between Rob's tent and ours!
 

OK, there's the BMW
 

The view from the campsite was lovely
 
We reached our campsite near Sorens at 3pm and set about putting our tents up. Nick was sharing with me whilst Rob had a tent to himself. This proved advantageous as Rob is an instant snorer. I asked him where he was putting his tent up and chose to put ours up some 30ft away!
 

Swiss Crazy Run HQ with a few bikes parked on the closed road.
 

Philip's XV1900 with an extra fuel tank instead of a passenger seat.
 

The Fireman's machine
 
At 6pm we attended a pre-ride briefing at Estavayer-le-Gibloux and enjoyed a hearty dinner bar-b-que. The food was superb and it gave the three 'Rost Bif's' (we're called by what we eat apparantly) the chance to chat with our fellow riders. Some of them spoke excellent English and my schoolboy French sufficed to enjoy the company. Then it was the briefing...Ooops! We were all riding as one group and following a set route which wasn't the GPS route. Quelle horreur! I made my excuses and headed back to the campsite where I spent the next 2 hours inputting the good roadbook we'd been given into my satnav. I stuck with my Garmin Quest for this occasion and I'm very glad I did. it gave me the opportunity to write the route on my netbook and transfer it to the unit. Nick and Rob got back before I'd finished so I was last to bed!
Friday - 15th June 2012. 5.15am. Up and at 'em. We got to the Start at Estavayer-le-Gibloux for 5.50 and we all rolled out at 06.11hrs.
 

Pre-"Sparrow Fart". The Right-hand side of the car park which was designated as the starting point. Philip's bike is on the far right.
 
The group set off at quite a pace considering it was made up from 16 HD's, 1 Yam XV1900, 1 BMW R1200RT and my Valkyrie. I'll never under-estimate the speed of a Harley on mountain roads again! We stopped at Thun for a second fuel stop (I'll never over-estimate a Harley's tank range again either) and Nick had started to suffer from an allergy akin to hayfever. Philip (XV1900) offered to take him to the Apotheke (Chemist/Pharmacy/Apothecary) whilst everyone else got fuel. The Valk holds about 5 UK gallons so I was topping up every 180 miles or so. Some of the Harleys only seemed to do 100kms (62miles) before needing fuel. We set off for the 1st waypoint at Steffisburg (50 miles from the start) not far away and at the top of a small col where the HD riders are used to meeting. Suzuki where having an road show there but at 8 in the morning they were still setting up. Nick and Phil had dropped behind whilst Nick was stuffing his face full of anti-histamines. I'd waited for them and when the three of us caught the main group up I decided to go on as I'm not a fan of riding in groups bigger than 4. Philip (Parein) decided to accompany me and so the two of us set off for the next waypoint, now a rendezvous, at Werthenstein-Unterdorf, a 78 mile section. We were overtaken by 3 Harleys initially, Cyrille, Francois and Joel. Cyrille was a friend of Winston (the organiser - keep up) and was scouting the route and reporting back. Philip, my cohort in our two man team, had an extra fuel tank on his XV1900 and could do 400miles between fill ups. The tank was custom made for him and went in place of the rear seat. This allowed Philip to do amazing distances and he was a member of the Iron Butt Association. We got to the next rendezvous and the three amigos were there already. This was not always the case as sometimes we overtook them and arrived whilst they had had to refuel...or perhaps they got lost?
 

The Glaubenberg Pass - looking South
 

Philip Parein
 

The Glaubenberg Pass - looking West
 

The gang coming into Werthenstein-Unterdorf (I think)
 
At Werthenstein-Unterdorf, Philip and I decided to press on. It was now 11.10hrs and the weather was still gloriously hot and sunny. It was cool at the top of the passes but hot in the valleys. A good mix. My Davida leather facemask, a godsend on the journey through France, was put away for the day.
During this 60 mile section we climbed to over 6000 feet and the views were absolutely stunning. There was still a lot of snow lying about and we were told that two of the passes had only opened to traffic the week before. Had it been raining the ride would have been called off as the hairpin bends we needed to negotiate would have been lethally unsafe. We arrived at the top of the Klausenpasse at 13.21hrs and went to the Hotel Klausen-Passhohe where philip had a Goulash soup and I had a fairly insipid Apfelstrudel.
 

We'd just come up that.
 

L-R, Joel, Francois, Cyrille and Philip
 
 

The 'Apfelstrudel' hotel
 
The group got there and we set off to the next meeting point at Wolfgangpass. This would take me straight past my friend's appartment in Sargans. By this time Winston realised that dragging through every town and village would not get the job done in time so we were told to take the motorways (autoroutes). Therefore I went sailing past my friend's appartment at 53mph on the autoroute in the middle of confusing roadworks and it was about 2pm so they were at work! At the Wolfgangpass we had longer to wait so I had a salami sandwich and Philip had a cheese sandwich in the hotel. Then Philip had 40 winks whilst I wandered around and had a look at the locale. This Col was in a 'saddle' between two mountains so there wasn't much to see. Joel and gang had turned up just before us and were standing under a 'Martini' umbrella as it was quite hot by now (34degs C).
 

The hotel where I had a salami sandwich
 

The gang/peloton arrived at Davos-Wolfgang
 
 
The others arrived and I went to see if Nick and Rob were getting on alright. Nick was being told by another rider that his bike was leaking oil as they had been catching it behind him. It wasn't Nick's bike, which was totally oil-tight, but a 'glide that was in front of Nick. Oil was oozing out of the push-rod tubes. Not fatal but messy nonetheless.
 

T'was cold at the top of the Fluelapass....
 

..but not cold enough to put my lovely Davida face mask back on. My Davida Jet helmet is absolutely the "dog's" on this bike.
 

Near the Ofenpass
 
I woke Philip and we set off for the 4th rendezvous at the top of the Umbrail. Nothing much to report on this route. The roads were very quiet, the weather was beautiful and we arrived at the top of the Umbrail Pass, after crossing the Fluelapass and the Ofenpass, at 17.23 and waited....and waited......and waited. Finally we heard from Cyrille that there had been an accident with the following group (peloton). Winston had locked his front wheel and dropped the bike on it's side. luckily he was nearly stopped so it only bent a footplate, which was replaced that night. This meant that the peloton would not catch us up for quite a while so we pressed on to where we would be having a rest this night.
 

The top of the Umbrail joins the Southern descent from the Stelvio. The top of the Styelvio can just be seen above the building with the blue shutters.
This is the International Border between Switzerland and Italy and not a Customs Officer to be seen!
 

I went to the bike and got my BIG camera out. It's a Fuji HS20 and has the most amazing lens on it. This is a photo taken from the top of the Umbrail of the top of the Stelvio.
 

Francois on his H-D Springer at the top of the Umbrail
 

This sign doesn't agree with my satnav by 12ft!
 

"Nothing to declare here Officer". All shut up!
 
The Umbrail Pass is where the road from Switzerland enters Italy half way down the road from the top of the, world famous, Stelvio pass. At 8200ft high it was quite bitter when out of the sun so I was glad to get going again. Philip was leading and we had Joel with us for this section. Joel is a really nice guy who speaks good English and he won't stretch the law. If the speed limit is 50mph he will not do 51mph. Cyrille and Francois didn't have the same regard for the long arm of the law so Joel stayed with us. As we ascended the Col di Foscagno (we're in Italy now so the spelling has changed) I realised that we were looking for the overnight stop which I had marked on my roadbook. There it was...in a picnic area on the right as we ascended the Col. Too bad Philip and Joel didn't see it! I managed to overtake them at the top of the Col and told Philip we'd gone past it. We backtracked through the very poorly surfaced avalanche tunnels to the rest stop where Cyrille and Francois already had a fire going on one of the stone-built bar-b-ques.
It was 19.30'ish and at nearly 7000ft it was going to be a cold night!
 

L-R, Bar-B-Que, Cyrille and Francois
 
Winston and gang turned up about an hour later and a Bar-B-Que was initiated. Sausages (with real meat - so unusual for an Englishman) and buns with quite a lot of beer and soft drinks were passed around. Then it was time to snuggle down. We'd borrowed a lorry tarpaulin from the 'remorque' (breakdown 4x4 with trailer) that had been following us. This enabled me to set up a 'Basha' of sorts and Nick had borrowed an emergency 'one-use' blanket, to use with his sleeping bag, whilst I had my SnugPak sleeping bag so I was OK. Rob decided to get chummy with a picnic bench further up the hillside so all was well. I slept for about 2 hours - I'd got used to 'power sleeping' on the long (and I mean 'long') cycle rides I used to do so I got up at 02.30 hrs as Nick was wriggling about and the 'space' blanket he had surrounded himself with sounded like a turkey trying to escape from the oven on Christmas Day! Several riders were up so a fire was got going and we all spent the next hour trying to find enough dead wood to feed it.
 

02.30 and the fire is alight!
 

If you've got a fire then you must need a Fireman. Go on, guess who owned the lurid red H-D?
 

Here's one I made earlier. A basha made out of a large lorry tarp, 3 sticks and some old rope. The over-ready turkey is Nick!
 
Just before 04.00hrs we set off. I'd warned all those near me to be careful of the road surface in the avalanche tunnels as it was more "off" than "on" road.
An aside here about the bike. In 2013 I'm going around the World in the Northern hemisphere on my XT600E. It only has a 190 watt alternator and to cut down the power usage I'd bought an HiD unit (from here) which cuts the headlight from 55/60w to 35w. This would save me power when using my heated waistcoat - Siberia is cold in May, click the Mongolia link above! I decided to fit it to the Valkyrie before we left the UK so I could test it's power consumption and it's viability as a bike headlight. It is really good, so good that the poor guy in front of me at 4am was riding in his own shadow and "Yes", it was 35w! my light was so bright that his light looked like a solitary candle. I ended up leading our little group so everyone behind could see where they were going. We stopped on the descent of the Foscagno at a little filling station but Philip and I didn't need fuel so we, along with Joel, Francois and Cyrille, we pressed on. When we got to the next rendezvous at Samedan at 05.00hrs, the coffee shop at the Railway Station was not going to open until 6am! We turned around to set off for the next rendezvous but as we approached the roadabout, the peloton turned up. At this point I lost sight of Philip. I followed Joel and gang but I didn't realise that Philip had done a 360 on the roundabout and gone to see Winston. At the next stop at Savognin, I had a cup of coffee in the hotel before the four of us pressed on. The weather was set to be good and at 6am I was still chilly. Poor Joel was frozen with little feeling in his hands and face. From the overnight stop we had gone over the Foscagno, Eira, Livigno, Bernina and Albula passes. No wonder we were a bit chilly! Between the Livigno and Bernina passes we crossed back into Switzerland. There was nobody at the Customs control and this seems to be the norm. Even though Switzerland is not part of the EEC it seems to have very relaxed border control.
The four of us pressed on towards St Moritz and crossed over the Julierpass and Malojapass before crossing back into Italy and riding the Splugen Pass - which is where you re-enter Switzerland!. Stopping for fuel in Splugen we then carried on to ride the Passo del San Bernardino which saw us rise to 6800ft before descending to Bellinzona. We'd been told by Winston that we should ignore the map in the roadbook and take the Autoroutes wherever we could as we were running out of time. This put me at a slight disadvantage as I was following my Garmin on which I had set the route to religiously follow the roadbook. Luckily, or not so, I had Joel to follow for this section but he made a mistake and before long we'd shot past Bellinzona on the way to Milan! I managed to overtake Joel and we soon turned around and got back on the right route. We met Cyrille and Francois at a filling station at Olivone and it was 11.00hrs.
Up the Lucomagno pass and a regroup for a photo of the whole gang.
 

The top of the Lucomagno/Lukmanier Pass
 

The black bike is Cyrille's, Joel's is hidden behind and Francois's is in front of mine.
 
 
Nick had decided to visit the Gents so didn't get in the photo! I met up with Philip and we set of with our usual three (Cyrille, Francois and Joel) going over the Oberalppass 6714ft, the Passo del San Gottardo 6914ft and regrouped at the top of the Nufenenpass 8144ft.
 

The Nufenenpass had only just been cleared of snow the previous week or so. look at the depth...there's a motorcaravan parked next to the snow wall!
 

That used to be me on a bike doing silly rides up long, long hills/mountains. Now I use an engine as I like my scenery a bit more blurry!
 

The view from the top of the Nufenen
 
This was a bit too chilly and we'd now come across the reason why so many Swiss motorcyclists don't ride in their own Country in the summer. An invasion of motorcycles. Most of them German and because it was the best weekend of the year so far and all the passes were open they'd invaded Switzerland. There were bikes everywhere. It made me feel a tad uncomfortable as I'd got used to my companions riding styles and now had a random bunch of bikers to contend with, some of whom shouldn't have been allowed on a bicycle let alone one with an engine! at 14.20hrs we set off for the Grimselpass, a paltry 7120ft and the last but one rendezvous at Brienz. Hah, we didn't even slow down as we passed Brienz. We were on the Autoroute and we carried on to the last pass which was the Jaunpass - 5000ft. We arrived and met up with the usual three and had a drink in the hotel forecourt. The peloton arrived a few minutes after us so at 17.00hrs we done the 24 passes within the allotted time. Job's a good 'un!
A group photo was taken - which we were all in including the remorque driver and aide - and we set off for a group ride back to Estavayer-le-Gibloux.
Arriving back at the start at 7pm we had a Bar-B-Que and beer festival before setting off back to the campsite. The campsite manager had not been on site since we'd been there so I had got Philip to ring him and explain that we wouldn't be there until Saturday night. When I got back there was nobody around so when Nick and Rob returned we put the cash for the three nights in an envelope with a scribbled note saying what we had paid for and left it at that.
The following morning at 8am we set off. Nick and Robin were off to see our Great Uncle mickie's grave at Montauban-de-Picardie - see HERE - whilst I was riding East to see my friends Cem and Roelene at Sargans. We should meet again at the Chunnel the following day (Monday 18th June 2012).
So how many of you think that happened....hands up......Oh, none of you. In that case you were correct. Robin had decided to take a detour. Leaving Switzerland via Basel he then turned South to Dijon and went back the way we'd come???? They managed to catch an earlier chunnel crossing so I arrived in Calais to a text message saying they were at home! If I'd have known that earlier I wouldn't have rushed so much on the journey from Sargans to Calais. At one point my bike was doing 33mpg and the most I got that day was 38! During the Swiss Crazy Run I'd managed to get 63mpg on one stage as we were only riding at between 40 and 50mph.
A great adventure and one that I wouldn't mind repeating next year providing it's held after I've been around the World