Road to Rome

LifeBikers embark on a 3-day ride from London, UK to Rome in Italy to raise funds for Child Life-Line Charity. This article previously appeared on

Route mapBike Ride 2013 had been in planning for quite some time. Several reviews of the route, number of stops, where to ‘camp’ and what to pack. The day started with a lot of excitement with the arrival of Essay from Amsterdam at Stansted airport. We drove straight to Black Bear Harley-Davidson in Newmarket to collect rented Heritage which will be ridden by Tola who finally arrived at our departure point in Enfield at 21:30.

And we’re off…

We finally set off from Enfield, Middlesex at 22:00, about 2 hours behind schedule. It was plain cruising on the M25 heading eastbound, until we hit roadworks on the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) bridge. Unfortunately we missed an exit turn off the M25 and had to go the long way round before finally arriving at Folkestone at 1:00am where we spent the night. Folkestone is a port town on the English Channel in Kent, south-east England. It’s also the location of the terminus for Euro Shuttle for the undersea crossing of the English Channel to France.

The hotel manager was initially reluctant to let us in because they had closed to the public since 22:00 (my first experience of hotel closing for the night!). He eventually relented on appeal and let us in.

Next day, we were up by 6:00am to head towards the Euro Shuttle terminal. It started raining shortly after we left so we had to ride in the rain all the way. Boarding was smooth, so was crossing the English Channel, which took just about 30 minutes.

Shortly after disembarking at Calais, France, we had a quick pit stop to refuel before hitting the motorway heading towards Dijon where we had an overnight stay.

The ride was smooth with some rolling hills and nice countryside scenery. There wasn’t any lane hugging by car drivers on the motorway (drivers are more civil to bikers in France) and the weather was great.

We had a second fuel stop at Mont de Nizy before stopping for lunch at Sommersous. We finally arrived at Dijon about 7pm, had a French cuisine al fresco dinner, before dragging our weary feet to bed.

13 June 2013

2013 ride 03We woke up late the next morning due to fatigue and had to set off 2 hrs behind schedule. Apart from fuel stops, we rode all the way to Rome which was quite a stretch. It ended up being longer than anticipated, partly due to a couple of wrong turns which added an hour or two to the journey. Well, as the saying goes, a road trip is incomplete without a wrong turn or two.

Crossing from France to Italy was through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, a road carved right through the mountain. Mont Blanc (White Mountain) is the highest mountain in the Alps and probably the highest peak in Europe. Its peak is covered in snow all year round, hence the name. Construction of the 11.6 km tunnel started in 1957 and was completed in 1965. It looked so well maintained that one could be forgiven to think it was newly built. It is actually the deepest operational tunnel in the world.

We had a quick pit stop shortly after exiting the tunnel. As we approached Pollein, a town in the Aosta Valley region of north-western Italy, the wind picked up drastically and for a while it felt like riding through a hurricane. The visor on Tola’s helmet eventually gave up forcing us to pull over to the road side so he could fix it. The rest of the journey was simply cruising on a motorway linked by tunnel after tunnel due to the mountainous terrain. There’s usually a very sharp drop in temperature as we went into each tunnel so each one was approached apprehensively. The scenery was breathtaking and the series of houses perched on the mountain sides were awesome. We finally arrived in Rome at 2:30am with elation, but aching all over gingerly, and made our way to the hotel.

road to rome 2

14 June 2013

We took our time getting out of bed in the morning. After breakfast, we had a tour around Rome by visiting the Colosseum, Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica. The roads were quite unfriendly to bikes because they were mostly cobbled stones which made the ride very bumpy indeed. The people were very friendly and we even had help from someone who went out of their way in assisting us to get luggage straps for Tola’s bike. However, Italian drivers are exactly as we were warned. Driving was atrocious with cars cutting us up at every opportunity. There was a significant amount of scooter riders who appear from nowhere in droves like ants. Lane hugging and lane straddling was the norm which made riding within the city quite nerve-wracking.

15 June 2013

We departed Rome at noon and arrived at Pisa at 5:30pm. After checking into our hotel for the night, we took a walk to see the famous Leaning Tower. It is actually the bell tower for the Cathedral at Pisa built in the 12th century by Diotisalvi. Construction of the tower occurred in three stages across 199 years but it began to sink when it reached the second floor in 1178 due to the weak foundation on unstable soil. Unfortunately we arrived too late to take a walking tour inside the tower. We later had traditional Italian pasta for dinner along the banks of river Armo which runs through the city.

16 June 2013

We left Pisa at 8.00am after a quick breakfast, then headed back towards Dijon, France where we had our next stopover. There were the usual pit stops for fuel as we cruised along while admiring the beautiful landscape after leaving city.

2013 ride 02We had an unscheduled stop to stretch our legs after feeling woozy from increasing fatigue of the ride. Unfortunately, Abiola couldn’t restart his bike as the alarm/immobiliser couldn't be disarmed leaving us to assume the fob battery was flat. Thankfully, the French highway emergency turned up out of the blues after observing our difficulty on their CCTV camera and was kind enough to call recovery service to assist us. The recovery lorry turned up with a replacement battery but the bike still won’t start. After much discussion, most lost in translation (French to English to French, and wishing I paid more attention to French lessons in school), the recovery guy called his boss to let him know he couldn't fix the bike. His boss suggested it could be mobile phone mast interfering with the remote immobiliser for the bike, so the bike was put on the back of the lorry and moved to their garage 7 km away. On arrival, we gave it one more go and it promptly started! Unfortunately all these added 3 hours to our trip.

We had a quick bite at the local McDonalds before continuing on our journey with one last fuel stop on the way before finally arriving back at Dijon at 10:30pm.

17 June 2013

We were back on the road by 8.00am the next morning, headed towards Calais for our crossing back to UK. Aside from the usual fuel stops, there wasn't much incidence though we had to ride through significant rain as we approached Calais.

The 30 minute crossing on Euro Shuttle went in a flash and we were back in the UK by 3.30pm. Shortly after pulling on to the M20 motorway, we were faced with very strong winds which eventually blew off the GoPro camera on Abiola’s bike used in recording the trip. What a disaster! There went the video recording of most of the ride which hadn’t been downloaded yet. However, we forged on regardless finally reaching our take-off point in Enfield by 6.00pm.

What a ride! It was a fantastic experience and the most intriguing of the Bike Rides so far, which raised a total of N1,000,000 (One Million Naira) for Child Life-Line towards the fantastic work they do with street children.