"There are no end of people I meet who go on about enjoying scootering because it’s full of like-minded people. While I now know that is mostly just people using the same old cliche, I count myself lucky that I actually know what it really ,means.. and I have experienced it for real…. Thank you Fostorians one and all, you are unique and what you do is even more so....."
The Road to Hilvarenbeek 2015
The idea to visit Hilvarenbeek began in Ypres in 2013, when we met up with our good friends the Goodbeer SC and Dutch Lions. Goodbeer Scooter club’s home is Hilvarenbeek near Tilburg and the Dutch Lions hail from close by, so it was suggested we try and organise something together for the year after our Lille trip.
Col, Bob, Robbo, and Jake planned to go by car to Hilvarenbeek in September 2014 to scope out the place, check out the hotel and make some ride-out arrangements with our Dutch friends. This recce didn’t begin well. On the day in question, we all met at Millfields to meet up for the off, and Robbo was late. When he arrived, he looked awful? He had, we were told repeatedly, been bitten by a spider. Now I didn’t think spiders had teeth, but his whole hand was swollen up, so we took him to the local docs to see what they thought. By the time we got there his arm had swollen up and while sat in the car we wondered if the venom could be extracted and used as a kind of Viagra, Robbo was being inspected and given drugs for the trip. Late already for the boat because of this medical emergency, it then transpired that Parker had left his jacket at the Millfields, so we had to go all the way back! How we made the boat I will never know. We planned the trip including the food and fuels stops (the latter everyone ignored on the actual trip but more of that later). We planned the ride-outs and pub activities and sat back and waited for June 2015 to roll around.
Everyone met up at the Hainton and it wasn’t long into the journey to Hull that everything began, in true FOS style, to un-ravel. Only a mile into the trip we had a rear blowout and while Col, Lee and Cravo waited, the rest rode on. Blissfully un-aware the main group had for some reason decided to take to the back roads. Those of us at the back dutifully followed the prescribed route to the Humber Bridge! Good job there were no more breakdowns. Well, not until we got to Hull there weren’t. We hadn’t even made it to the sportsman’s bar before Rob Hugill had some issues requiring full panel-off attention. With the sounds of ‘make sure your scooters are well sorted for the trip, check them thoroughly before you set off’, still ringing in Fergie’s ears, his exhaust fell off and he began to hear a much louder noise. The outbound trip on the boat was basically a montage of 56 ‘ner-do- well’s drinking too much beer and behaving in a silly way; well, all except for Cravo who fell asleep. Best drunk my arse.
Friday morning and we were greeted by warm sunshine in Rotterdam for our trip across the Dutch islands to Hilvarenbeek. Now we could have gone bombing down the motorway and been there in a couple of hours, but so many Fostorians hate that, we rarely ever do it. It’s not the speed so much as the fact they say they are all on holiday and want a sedate ride so they can take in the scenery. So, we always go with the majority consensus. One or two people moan about how long the trips take, but with 56 bikes filling up at a garage, each fuel stop is close to an hour. Then you have the” I don’t need any fuel now” brigade who end up having us stop over and over instead of topping up at pre-planned stops. That adds quite to the time things take. There are also the breakdowns – we can’t leave folk behind on foreign soil, so it does all take some time to accomplish a 125-mile trip.
A mile from docks on the back roads to nowhere, Fergie was once again haunted by Col’s words when he blew a back tyre. Day 2, mile 1 and we have our second puncture of the trip. Next stop 30 miles away at De Tram and breakfast. We got there largely un-scathed, but on arrival Carlos Searby ‘s Vespa was in bits with its panels off and Mike the cameraman Norvock couldn’t start his PX when we came to leave; handing the job over the recently qualified Vespa expert Fitzy!!
Not far from De Tram, we had to make one (the only) left turn on a roundabout in the entire trip. Now in Holland, unlike the UK, if you are turning left on a major roundabout, you must use the left lane when approaching, because the right lane divides off the roundabout and goes straight on. So, what did the FOS do? Well, this is much better on the DVD, but the initial group used the correct lane and managed to turn left. Everyone else stayed in the right lane, got halfway round the roundabout, realised the issue, and then began riding over the kerbs, across the grass, cutting up cars and vans and so on. They we ably aided in this by Parker, who decided to keep his prior knowledge of the route (after the 2014 car trip) to himself! (Buy the DVD; it’s worth it just to see this bit of footage!)
A bridge too far?
Then, as we were riding across a causeway between two of the islands, they lifted up a road bridge to let a yacht through. At about the same time as he was rolling to a halt for this, Col’s throttle cable snapped. Calls were made to bring the van to the head of the queue so as not to hold up traffic for too long, but by the time the bike was in the van the tailback was quite serious! That fixed we next had an issue in Steenbergen when all the satnav’s (Col’s, Bob’s, Cravo’s, Hoppo’s et al all decided to take us round the town and in circles), so we stopped. Now came the great fuel debate. Despite stopping 20 miles earlier, and with only 15 more miles to go to the next ‘approved’ pit stop, some needed fuel. Why, oh why everyone doesn’t top up at a planned fuel stop is beyond this writer. If you are in a foreign country and have no idea where your next fuel is coming from, even if you only needed a litre, why wouldn’t you top off your tank? Mystery I know, but it happens all the time… maybe they all know something we don’t?
Next stop was the fuel stop two at Hoeven. This was about halfway and chosen deliberately for the older riders as some of us can’t hack this riding all day with no stop’s malarkey. It was more of the same really… Garage 100 yards from the stop, not everyone filled up UNTIL we decide to leave. We really are going to have to get a handle on this petrol business.
Then stuff really began to un-ravel. The only tough bit of the trip came between Hoeven and Tilburg, in Breda and its mass of traffic lights and junctions. (The price you pay for back roads riding unfortunately). It began with the van and back marker Cravo being separated from the main bunch, stopping, deciding we had all gone up the motorway, and despite two satnavs, deciding to spin round and take to the three-lane blacktop. Luckily, Lee came back just before they set off in the other direction and let them know Parker had broken down barely half a mile up the road and to the left! Situation normal for the FOS then.
Of course, nearer to Tilburg they were unknowingly proven right, as a mass of standing traffic halted the FOS at a petrol station not far from Hilvarenbeek. The local plod arrived and advised we really needed to take the motorway to stand any chance, so armed with their ‘intel’ and directions, and help, off we set. Five miles of motorway turned into a dual carriageway close to our destination. Then came the scary part, at least for those in front. We came across several cars and bikes at the roadside with bent, broken, and busted wheels. The reason was a huge piece of the concrete dual carriageway section had risen about six inches in the searing heat, and several people had hit this at speed causing severe damage. Thank God a sensible motorist had parked his car in harm’s way and was frantically waving us all to stop. What could have happened with 56 scooters doing 50 mph does not bear thinking about!
Bob managed somehow to miss the Hilvarenbeek turn-off, but the rest followed Col and made it to the hotel in one piece. I say the rest, but that is not entirely truthful. The St. George’s dragon lammy had been an issue since Hull, and two hours after we had all arrived, showered and been in the bar he was nowhere to be seen. Worried; Col, and Cravo were trying to track him down while everyone else was, to use the scootering vernacular, “on it”. We got hold of him and offered to send the van, but he insisted he was going to make it. He did, finally, at about 9 p.m., more than 4 hours after the rest of us. The reward for him and those who, in true FOS Tours style, had stuck with him was plenty of free beer. The rest of Friday night was interspersed with Cravo Dancing to Status Quo and the usual jiggery- pokery expected from 56 middle-aged scooterists, so I won’t bore you with any of that.
Playing in the sand
Saturday morning arrived and with it the planned ride-out with the Goodbeer SC, Dutch Lions SC and Vespa Club Brabant. We amassed in Hilvarenbeek town square and basically brought the place to a halt. The locals though were outstanding. Polite, took an interest and joined in. The ride-out (planned by Goodbeer SC and Vespa Club Brabant) took us all “off piste” on the sand back roads to Popel in Belgium and back later to “In den Bockenryder”, or for the brit’s… the pub in the woods. Rogie likened the ride to ‘Junior Kick-start’, but it was all in good fun. We met up in the town square in Hilvarenbeek later to cast the ashes of our dear departed friends Mark and Terry (with permission of the Town Mayor). Some rode off with the Dutch Lions and Vespa guys to a Vespa Museum in Tilburg, while the rest of us spent the afternoon trying on the same shirt. I can’t explain really. It is a FOS thing… It was funny though and killed an hour or so…. There is a video on You-tube if you are curious.
Then it was off into town for more beer, more music and so on. Horwell delighted the crowds with his Saville, James Esquire impressions, and later, on the way back to the hotel, some of us met the local plod in a bar across the road. Police car outside, they were busy imbibing the local lemonade. Top blokes. We sat outside with them watching as ‘wonky’, now pissed, was trying to get back to the hotel. He was hampered a bit by his leg, but nothing hampered him more this night than the ‘ale’. Right in front of us he fell into a bush and began to fight with it. The police? Pissing themselves they were… At bedtime, Parker, Nellie and Waggy decided to go to Tilburg to spend their hard earned… No accounting for folk really. I realised I was sharing a room with Wonky and just hoped he had a) made it and b) hadn’t been sick everywhere if he did! When I finally got to the room, he was sprawled unceremoniously across both beds, snoring. I pushed him of my bed and fell asleep.
Worse for wear?
Sunday dawned sunny and bright. It was the only thing that was. After a mammoth effort by Pat and Duane, Duane’s series two gearbox had been rebuilt thanks to bits from a local and oil transferred in by motorcycle the previous day and he was at least, ready for the off. Parker was a bit the worse for wear and struggling to keep his Italian stallion upright. Col, Bob, and Robbo set off and had barely made the first junction when they lost everyone for what seemed like ages. The road back to Rotterdam was an all-motorway affair. Why? Because it was Sunday, and the roads were quiet. Because many people had asked us to, and because it was just somehow easier to deal with; not that we once broke 50 mph. Fuel stop on the way back saw us working on Eddie Gibb’s Vespa and in a complete turnaround from Ypres 2013 when we spent hours trying to get his exhaust off his Vespa to change a wheel. This time it had come loose and needed putting back! That’s scooters for you.
Col Williams missed the turn off for Brielle where we planned to spend a lazy afternoon before boarding the boat, and instead ended up at the docks before the rest of us. At Brielle, despite all the back-patting, we were men down. Col and Bob were working the phones and trying to sort out where everyone was. St. George once more deciding to end his ‘crusade’ at the very back, making Cravo late for his beer appointment at the bar at Rotterdam port. Horwell managed to find some stuff to smoke in Brielle which made his three-mile journey to the docks far more interesting than that of the rest of us. Having arrived at Rotterdam docks you’d think it was all over. Not a bit of it. Sat in the bar, in the sun, we were approached by the rozzers, who suggested, having surveyed the scene, that we should push our bikes to customs, or face being breathalysed if we rode them! Annoying though this may have been for those who’d had a few; at least they gave us an option, so the half mile push-your-scoot gymkhana began. Most of us were knackered by the time we got to the customs point, but Robbo won. Of course, it didn’t end there. Now the port rozzers had wind of the job and like their counterparts, decided we should push the bikes onto the boat or face breathalysers.
The slippery slope
Now while that may sound easy, the ramp onto the boat is a 1 in 3 hill. Most of us pushed the things the bottom of the ramp, kicked them off and rode up. Meanwhile, Fitzy’s argument with the customs and cops probably didn’t help those who followed behind him because The final few had no such luxury as the cops had twigged and/or had become upset at being ‘called out’ and sent a man to stop them. There then followed a situation where able-bodied and stone cold sober scooterists began running down the ramp to ride up bikes of those who were less than sure if they might pass a breathalyser! You really couldn’t make this up!
In the end we all made it and in true FOS style hit the bar at the first opportunity. Monday morning back in blighty and Parker insisted on camera that this was, and I quote, “The last FOS Tours, we aren’t doing any more”. So, see you in Belgium in 2016 then.
I would like to say this trip was the best. It never ceases to amaze me that in all my scootering I never have so much fun as I do when I go anywhere with the FOS. There are no end of people I meet who go on about enjoying scootering because it’s full of like-minded people. While I now know that is mostly just people using the same old cliche, I count myself lucky that I actually know what it really means, and I have experienced it for real.