This weekend is the annual Enduro at Le Touquet: when a genteel French seaside resort turns into a motorbike party centred on a beach race. And though temperatures are icy, I’m very tempted to take a ferry or a Eurotunnel train and pop over for the weekend.
Partly because the Le Touquet Enduro – the Enduropale, as they call it now – was my first ever trip abroad riding a motorcycle. I had been a pillion before, but the first time I loaded up my own motorbike with luggage, layered on thermals and winter gloves, and ventured onto French roads as a rider, was one February with snow still on the motorway verges.
Sounds perverse, but it’s not a bad choice for first foreign foray.
First, it’s not far away. Even taking it slow and careful, it’s an hour or two from Boulogne, mainly on broad, empty highways. That’s a gentle introduction to riding on the “wrong” side of the road. Which is easier on a motorbike anyway.
Second, arriving in Le Touquet on a motorbike is an instant introduction to the biggest party you’ve ever been too. In France, everyone loves a “pilote” (rider) and the town has already filled up with tens of thousands of fellow motorcyclists who are ready to welcome you to their midst. And because you’re staying for the weekend, you can party without worrying about sobering up in the morning to ride home.
Third, the race itself is wonderful to watch. Over a thousand motorcycles race for hours along a course that takes in a flat (and flat-out) run along the beach, a winding course among hilly sand dunes, and a specially-constructed course of bumps and jumps that has some bikes flying and others foundering.
Riders – many of whom are keen amateurs, or locals up for a laugh, get so covered in sand that they wear comedy additions to their helmets (Mohicans and animal ears are popular). Many bikes don’t make it to the end of the race, but that’s all part of the fun.
So I know it’d make a great weekend away. What’s more, I’m much better equipped than I was that first year. Then, I was on my first motorbike, a rugged little 400cc beast with no protection against the wind. Now, as well as all the thermal and windproof gear a woman can buy, I have an 800cc touring machine with heated grips and an aerodynamic fairing that makes motorway speeds as comfortable as town riding. I can easily fit a weekend’s worth of clothes into the tank bag and still have room to stick the France Road Atlas in the see-through top pocket.
In fact, the only thing that puts me off going this year is wondering whether it’s too late to book accommodation. Because, though thousands of hardy souls will be camping this weekend, my idea of motorcycle touring is to pull up in the car park of a good hotel. That way I can enjoy the comforts of good bedlinen and a power shower, eat a breakfast somebody else has cooked before I get back on the bike for the ride home.
So, if you’re in Le Touquet and you see a woman on a silver Honda VFR, wearing lots of warm clothes, give me a wave. And if you don’t, get some pictures to show me what I missed!