Postcard from Mons, France

Rob's a big fan of European roads.
Words and photos: Editor 'Arris
Words and photos: Editor ‘Arris

After a tough winter revamping CMG and hitting the show circuit again, I thought I deserved a little bit of a holiday.


So, I booked myself a flight to Europe to see some old university friends; Giorgio, who lives in Milan, Italy, and Jim who lives in Australia but happened to be in France so his French wife could visit her mum.

This meant I could also test a couple of Italian bikes while on vacation. A trip from Milan to Mons in France was the perfect opportunity to do so, in a good old-fashioned road trip.

Bike number one was a Moto Guzzi 1400 California. It’s not usually my preferred style of bike, but I just loved the motor of the Norge we tested a while back. Besides, the 1400 is a new bike and so warrants a testing.

The flight to Milan included three stops and many hours, but the only way I could see Jim before he and his family left for Oz again was to get the bike the following day and head for Mons. Things started to go a little awry right off the bat when the bike was late showing up at the Milan offices and I finally hit the road after 1 p.m. Worse still, my new Garmin GPS unit was proving to be infeasibly difficult to use and would not find the correct Mons. Only when I downloaded the route from Google Maps did it finally work. Or so I thought.

Once the bike arrived, so did the rain, Ready for the ride outside Piaggio HQ in Milan. Photo: Daniele Toressan
Once the bike arrived, so did the rain, Ready for the ride outside Piaggio HQ in Milan. Photo: Daniele Toressan

I headed through Milan’s narrow streets on what can only be described as a rather long, heavy and unfamiliar bike. Thankfully the California comes with three power options, one of which is rain which takes off a chunk of power delivery and proved rather handy on wet cobbled streets criss-crossed with tram tracks.

'Arris was full of praise for the European drivers, until he came across this ...
‘Arris was full of praise for the European drivers, until he came across this …

I was starting to ponder how well Europeans drive. There’s no hanging around, and it flows fast, but there remarkably few dangerous points as everything seems to be intricately aware of who and what is around them. Then I passed a car on it’s roof.

How do you get a car to flip on a busy, slow-moving city street? Scrub that last paragraph.

I thought everything was going swimmingly when I stopped to get gas only to realize that my GPS had sent me out of Milan on the wrong way.

Reworking it showed a route that looked about right, but ended up taking me into the city centre. Once there, it promptly stopped working, leaving me to spend the next two hours riding the wrong way down one-way streets and along pedestrian-only avenues. At least there were no cops.

I finally gave up on the GPS and just followed any sign to an autostrada. Even if it took me in the wrong direction,  it would be fast and it would take me away from Milan, from where I could ponder my options.

Rob's a big fan of European roads.
Rob’s a big fan of European roads.

Strangely, of all the autostrada’s I could have picked, I got the right one; trouble was it was now 4 p.m. and I had at least another four hours ahead of me. The dinner guest would be late.

Although the autostrada is a toll road (you get a ticket at your entry point and a bill at your exit) it’s simply amazing.

Having a new Guzzi is great, but Rob ran into trouble when a blown fuse meant the bike wouldn't start.
Having a new Guzzi is great, but Rob ran into trouble when a blown fuse meant the bike wouldn’t start.

As I neared the Mediterranean coast, the terrain started to get mountainous and instead of turning all twisty and hilly, the road simply punched through the mountain and flies over a bridge on the other side. Tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, and everyone’s going 120-plus in a very orderly fashion. Brilliant!

The same brilliance continued into France, only now it was a more North American system with cash toll booths that were all too frequent, breaking up the pace and forcing me to find Euros and hold up the line of cars building behind me. Eventually I ran out of Euro coins and tried my visa which wass promptly rejected, forcing me to press the help button.

Up popped a Frenchman with a Monty-Pythonesque outrageous French accent (though I was happy that he was at least understandable), but he wouldn’t accept that my card was being rejected, trying several times until he finally asked for a Euro note and gave me the change I needed to carry on. Ah, the French.

It was starting to get dark and I pulled into a service station for fuel, a coffee and to text Jim to tell him I was only 30 minutes from Mons, I thought he was joking when he told me I was actually still at least three hours away. After a bit of back and forth, I realized that I had the wrong Mons in my GPS. At least I was going in the right direction.

Reprogramming the thing showed me I should arrive after midnight – still doable. I headed back out to the bike but now it wouldn’t start. The California has an alarm that disables the ignition. You have to push a button on the key fob at which point it makes a short squeal signifying that you can start the bike. And, it wasn’t squealing.

Roadside fare in France.
Roadside fare in France.

Without familiarity or a manual, I tried the obvious things before texting my Guzzi contact. We tried everything, but after a couple of hours I was ready to book a hotel and let the local Guzzi dealer pick up the bike tomorrow when I tried swapping all the fuses out (even though they all visually checked out) and … squeal!

Successful arrival! 'Arris's godson checks out the Italian iron.
Successful arrival! ‘Arris’s godson checks out the Italian iron.

Back to Plan A, but it was now 11 p.m.

As I passed the bright lights of Monte Carlo to my left, I upped the Guzzi’s speed to 150, keeping an eye out for any police, oblivious to the click , click, click of the speed cameras overhead.

Without a GPS that could zero me in on Jim’s exact position, I had to wait for him to come and guide me from the neighbouring town of Alés at 3 a.m.

Still, despite a 13-plus hour journey that should have been half that, we caught up on the last 10 years over his mother-in-law’s scotch – blended, but plenty good enough for the occasion.

Bed didn’t happen until 5 a.m. and I slept the sleep of the dead to be awoken late morning by Jim’s two sons who were rather eager to see their godfather, who until now had been just an image and voice on Skype.

The Hewitts.
The Hewitts.

Sadly the visit was to be short and sweet as they had to leave two days later and I jumped back on my California with a more leisurely planned trip to Milan via the Alps and a hotel mid-point. Just the ticket for an overworked editor. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll save that for next week’s postcard.


  1. I never go anywhere without a map! I never trust this “new” technology. Find the biggest town closest to your goal and follow the signs or road no´s. I wonder about the bike, what did he think of it??

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