In 1948 Brian Adams turned 21. For his birthday his father offered him the choice of a slap-up party or a motorcycle. Brian chose the motorcycle – a 500cc Matchless G80. It cost £112. Brian added the option of a pillion seat, which brought the price up to £120. During the war the Ministry of Supply sent Brian to university. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Had the war persisted Brian was destined to be a boffin at Farnborough, but with the outbreak of peace he had two weeks to kill before starting a career in industry. What to do...?
Inspired by The Motorcyclist magazine Brian decided he and the Matchless would head for Europe. Friend Barrie Edwards (a metallurgy graduate) would share the pillion and the expenses. And so on 10 August, 1948 Brian, Barrie and the Matchless G80 rolled ashore in France, complete with homemade panniers, a modified pillion perch (Barrie was 6ft+), a diary and a camera. Welcome to post war Europe from the saddle of a very stout birthday present. Brian, in his own words...
We landed at Dunkerque after a night at sea in an unpleasant atmosphere. We left the docks at 8am and rode to Arras and the Hotel L’Univers. 15/- each for dinner.
We walked around Arras, purchased some peaches and set out. The road was good. We rumbled along at 60mph sucking peaches and admiring the view: sweeping fields of grass and corn, fields with wild poppies and military cemeteries with their thousands of crosses. On reaching Laon we climbed the steep hill to the town and ate our lunch after looking over the cathedral. Reims was reached shortly afterwards and the Matchless was a source of interest to the crowd of tourists in front of the cathedral. This was a peculiar place – beautiful but with an air of commercialism.
Beyond Reims a patch of clay on the main road took the front wheel away and the ‘whole issue’ went down with a hell of a scrape. We sustained a few bruises and two stays were broken on the panniers. We spent the night at the next hotel in Vitry- le-François. ‘Yes we can let you have a room for the night. Passport?’ I’d lost it in the spill. An hour later the Gendarmes in Reims rang through, they had found it.
We left Vitry at 11am. The roads were excellent and we cruised at 60mph in spite of the pouring rain. The rain persisted until Langres was reached. We rode all around the city’s malodorous but picturesque back streets. We booked into the Hotel du Commerce, then later walked around the ancient city walls.
We spent the night of the 13th miles from anywhere in the Hotel Greffier. We woke to a downpour, strapped on the luggage and started a zig-zag descent with sheer drops to the Lyon-Geneva railway. Beyond Thonon we climbed for two hours through the bottom of the rain clouds before coming to the most delightful place you ever saw: a small village of Alpine houses and buildings at the foot of two snow capped peaks around which clouds swirled at amazing speeds.
Last night we stayed in the Chalet Nantegue. Then this morning, as we began to ride there was a strange noise. It was caused by 1000s of grasshoppers on the slopes at the side of the road.
We descended for many miles towards Clues. Outside St Gervais we ate a six course lunch in our shirt sleeves. Mont Blanc could be seen in the distance towering above nearer peaks.
15 & 16 AUGUST
St Michel was a dirty town and so was the hotel we stayed in. However, the food was beautiful (as was the mam’selle who served it. Dinner, wine and bed & breakfast was 15/- each and this was the only hotel where we had to wash in the old type handbowl with jugged water. We rose at 7.30am and I purchased some 1/2in thick wire from a cycle shop to strengthen the broken pannier. We were going to cross the Col du Galibier via Valloire. The Col is famous for the passage of the Tour de France. The road went up the side of an almost precipitous hill and I should think the average gradient was about one in eight for about eight miles. Amazing scenery and a most shocking surface.
Stopping for a rest I examined the machine and discovered one of the pannier bags had gone missing. I left Barrie at the side of the road and retraced my steps, standing on the rests and peering over the sides of the road, looking for the bag which held my best shoes, hair brush, some of Barrie’s shirts and my waterproof leggings. Farther down the road an attractive French girl helped me in what was unfortunately a fruitless search.
I got back to Barrie in the late afternoon. He had enjoyed the most amazing solitude imaginable, while just occasionally a distant bell tinkled and broke the silence as a cow moved.
We descended the Galibier and eventually reached Briançon. The bike had become plastered in grey Alpine mud and dust till only the wings on the ‘Ms’ on the tank could be seen. We too were quite filthy and pleased to find a hot bath.
We set out at 8am and climbed the Galibier pass. Four miles from the summit the surface was so bad Barrie had to dismount and walk. Through the tunnel at the summit we drank our reward ‘pick- me-up’ at what must be the highest road house in Europe.
Today we climb the Col de la Cayolle. It was raining and as we climbed the torrent at the side of the road became very swollen. In some places nimble mountain sheep jumped off the road onto what seemed like sheer drops. That night we stayed at the Hotel de Terminus near Nice.
It was now Wednesday and we had to be in Dunkerque for the Saturday night boat. We set off towards Grasse. We spend the night in La Mure where our bedroom was over the sewer-less public lavatories.
A horrible skull and crossbones marked the descent into Grenoble, frightening enough for me to change down to first
We reached Paris. After lunch we pressed on through yet more rain. We ‘hooked-up’ with a Jaguar and French motorcycle for about 15 miles to pass away time. We rolled into Dunkerque at 19.30.
Landed in Dover and accompanied two other motorcycles as far as London. Reached home at Hednesford at 18.00.