The way out west

The Tour Poitou-Charentes Motos Anciennes sees a fine collection of old machines take to the rural roads of western France.

Words and photographs: MIKE DAVIS

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For those who want more than a day in the company of like-minded riders, similar motorcycles and the perfect way to experience south-west France, the biennial Tour Poitou-Charentes for vintage motorcycles provides the answer.

This year, its 71 entries spanned a period of 35 years – from 1930 to 1965 – and all but one were of European manufacture.

The tour covered over 600km in four days and with a wealth of travelling mechanical experience and equipment, allowing eight en route breakdowns to be repaired, not a single entrant failed to complete the distance.

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Early on the first morning motorcycles gathered steadily in the shade of the 12th century royal abbey at Celles-sur-Belle. Soon the lengthy convoy rolled though the abbey gates and headed south-west.

After a stop at Rochefort and a ferry crossing at the mouth of the Gironde, all assembled at Vensac, in the Médoc wine producing region, where the first night was spent.

Next morning the tour stayed close to the banks of the Gironde until another ferry took it back across the river to Blaye. From here the company struck out east until it reached Villebois-Lavalette, the second night’s stop, where they enjoyed a splendid dinner at the 19th century Château de la Mercerie.

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On the third day the group headed north, detouring into the Périgord region and then taking country roads parallel to but away from the N10, before reaching Couhé.

Daniel Lannoy takes to the road on his 1954 650cc Ariel Huntmaster.

The final day’s stage was short, despite a brief halt at Exoudun, heading west back to Celles-sur-Belle in time for lunch.

One of the oldest participants – machine, not man – was Eric Hardouin’s 350cc 1932 Dollar R2. He explained: “One of the advantages of being a member of the Amicale Dollar, is that I was able to find this bike.

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I hadn’t owned a Dollar previously – before I’d had 1950s machines – but a friend had one and allowed me to ride it. I was smitten. I tracked this one down to St Etienne and bought it in 2013. I’ve improved it a little and I’ve enjoyed over 6000 trouble free kilometres on it.”

This was Eric’s first tour. “I approached it with some trepidation, knowing I couldn’t carry many spare parts and hoping that I’d prepared the Dollar adequately for the Tour’s 600km. But I worried needlessly.

“The organisation was faultless and I had no problems. It was a fantastic experience. Scenic roads, beautiful villages, convivial company and excellent food. I hope to participate again in two years.”

Steve Lallemant is a veteran of the tour, but 2019 was a first time for his 750cc 1938 René Gillet G2 combination.

The morning dew adorns Steve Lallemant’s 1938 750cc René Gillet G2 combination.

“The reason is that, I suppose, I’m spoilt for choice. I’ve been collecting vintage motorcycles for 10 years and I now have 20. The René Gillet is ideal for long distance touring, which influenced my decision to use it on the tour this time.

“Five years ago I saw a small ad offering it for sale in Lyon,” Steve explained. “Its condition was poor but the price was right. So I bought it. Since then I’ve undertaken a total restoration.”

Jean-Guy Pigeon from the Dordogne had switched the machine he was using. “I had registered my 1000cc BSA G13 but it suffered a fractured cylinder head so I switched to my 1956 500cc Ariel.

“I bought it in Holland in 2012. It had been superficially restored but the engine was running poorly, so I rebuilt it. Knowing my machine is mechanically reliable enabled me to enjoy the tour from start to finish.”

Didier Beldent intended to use his 750cc 1951 CEMEC L7 for the Tour but finally decided on his much rarer 500cc 1936 OHV Peugeot 515 GTS. “I bought the Peugeot in Florac, in Southern France, 11 years ago,” Didier related.

Dominique Rousteau’s 1934 350cc Gillet Herstal HG 20 stands alongside her husband Alain’s 1931 500cc HG 24.

“It was dismantled during the war, to avoid requisition, and not reassembled until much later. It remained in the same family until I bought it.

“It’s a superb ride – powerful, immense torque and very rare. It’s the model which took the 24 hour record at Montlhéry in 1934, covering 3000km at an average speed of 118kph, a record which stood for 40 years. It’s a privilege to be able to ride it.”

This year’s event was the fifth tour. “I had the idea,” said organiser Bernard Guerineau, “when the biennial Tour de France Motos Anciennes came through nearby Melle 11 years ago.

“That covers some 4500km in just over three weeks. My idea was a shorter tour, in duration and distance, in the alternating years. Since then it’s grown in popularity and size, despite which the number of entries is capped in the interest of safety and enjoyment.”

That popularity was evident from the fact that entries closed long before the event, thanks in no small part to Bernard’s meticulous and participant-focussed organisation of it.

“The tour attracts riders not just from France but across Europe,” he continued. “However, not yet from the UK. Perhaps that will change in 2021?”

View more images of this event and read more News and Features in the February 2020 issue of The Classic Motorcycle – on sale now!

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