Part 3: The Gang
As a prelude to this 70s adventure, I'd like to introduce you to some of the friends who accompanied me on this motorcycle escapade to Andorra back in September 1974.
It's precious to me, (not just out of friendship but also out of respect for those who remain faithful friends to this day), that in writing this, their names are taken from the 'bottom-drawer' of the past and highlighted here and now on this website. For me, these ordinary people, unknown to the top echelons of today's French motorcycle touring scene, deserve to have their story told.
In this picture taken in July 2014 at the Alambic rally, more than forty years later, my good old friends from Creuse: (from left to right) Jacques Grenier (Aubusson), Serge Marie (Chenerailles), yours truly with my wife, and Michel Degaine (Gueret).
In the early 70's, all these guys lived in villages or very small towns in rural France, in the agricultural region of Creuse. It was here in this little known, but charming region, an area of calm natural beauty, that I met them, and it was all down to my friend Serge Marie. He introduced me to them and I began riding with them, taking part in various rallies and motorcycle events at the time.
The first time I met Serge, it was in my neighborhood of Fontbouillant where the headquarters of our Moto Club 'Kangourous' was located. That may seem an odd name, but we'd chosen it because we were then fans of the Australian private racer Jack Findlay. Jack was far from wealthy and he often found himself competing against well-financed factory riders. In these David and Goliath battles, it seemed to us only right to support the underdog.
Serge had been told by a friend of our club, a guy called Christian Pouchette, that a member of the Moto Club Kiwis, (one of the other 'pirate' clubs of our old town of Montlucon), had put his used BSA B33 mono 500cc up for sale.
This machine repainted in British racing green had very little in common with the original machine similar to the advertised one shown above. It had ended up being customised in a cafe racer style, with racing tank, seat and handlebars, probably by one of its more recent, (and certainly countless) owners.
Customised as it was, apparently with scarce financial resources, its racing aesthetics gave it a good exterior look, even though it was far from being mistaken for a brand new machine. In fact for a motorcycle of this age, already at least two decades old, for us naive enthusiasts who were less than picky, it was not just any old motorcycle; it was a BSA, and we considered this old B33 still a great looking bike.
Serge's first motorcycle was an old 175cc Peugeot and he'd arrived from his local region, Chenerailles to test drive the BSA; eventually buying it on the spot and riding it home. It later turned out that this was rather rash and not at all a good deal. The engine, once dismantled after breaking down, turned out to be in a disastrous state.
The BSA, tired by the weight of years and the damages caused by successive owners, was finally sold, and Serge entered the big league, replacing it with a used Honda CB 750 with only 8000 kms on the clock.
Serge here in action on his 750 Honda CB. Any part of the machine that rubbed on the asphalt was worn down and demonstrated the extreme angles taken by its rider. The passenger footrests had been reduced to the bare minimum over the years. The rider's footrests were only 5-6 cm long and the engine's crankcase guards were of little use when the metal of the crankcase started to wear.
One story I never forgot; strange though it seems, concerns an event that included a long mountain descent. This long descent of more than ten kilometers involved many dangerous turns, one after the other, and all this on a road bounded by threatening ravines and perilous drops. The pillion at the time was so scared that he chewed and swallowed a small piece of fabric from the scarf covering his mouth and nose!
There are many anecdotes concerning Serge, too numerous to relate here in the space I have, but certainly Serge Marie had all the qualities and talent needed to have a great career in speed racing. It was in his blood. His riding during the period I was with him was impressive and foretold much about his potential future role on the racing circuit.
However, fate decreed otherwise and took him in a completely different direction. He finished his career as a senior health executive before enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Nevertheless, he still rides his 1985 Suzuki 1100 GSXEFE and has kept, despite his advanced years, his passion to ride fast.
Yours truly (left) and Serge Marie (right) here at the international rally des Gueux d'Route organised in April 2013 in Sarlat, Dordogne.
Serge's younger brother had unsurprisingly inherited the 'bug' and the love of motorcycles was in his blood too, although we have totally lost touch with each other over time. The last time we met was in the early 80s, during a dinner at his parents' home in Chenerailles where I had stopped to spend the night on my way back from a rally. He now lives in the Lyonnais and is close to retirement, bearing the title of university professor, and of course still riding motorcycles.
Jean-Louis Marie, pictured here in front of a superb Ducati 750 Super Sport during our annual outing to the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans for the 1975 Bol d'Or. Still a student at the time and riding a 250 MZ for economy, we can understand that he dreamed to own this beautiful Italian 'rocket'...
Grenier, nicknamed 'La Grenaille' at the time, hailed from Aubusson, a very small town, known throughout the world for its tapestry and carpets since the 14th century.
Jacques, the endearing biker from Creuse, could be seen riding, when it wasn't broken that is, a rare and splendid Velocette Thruxton Veeline.
Grenier and his pillion posing in front of his Velocette at the camp ground of the Charade circuit in Auvergne. This was a circuit we loved to attend as spectators for the French GP (1972 and 1974) and the FIM Formula 750 World Championship (1973), and of course to take part in the rallies organised on these occasions.
He too, still rides motorcycles to this day and did me the honour of participating in July 2014 in the invitation rally in the Bourbonnais I organised for my old motorcycle friends.
The late Michel Petit, a school teacher with a passion for motorcycle touring and speed racing originally lived around La Souterraine and used to ride a twin cylinder 450 Honda CB. He was tragically killed some time after we participated together in the 1975 Bol d'Or, while riding his machine in Normandy.
Jean-Louis Marie (left) and the late Michel Petit (bearded on his right) at the 1975 Bol d'Or
This guy working at the time in Gueret as a lathe-mill operator was another cool biker from the Creuse bunch whose company we all appreciated.
He too loved speed riding his big 450 Ducati Mark single cylinder. The regional and national roads of the Creuse area at that time offered a multitude of tight turns and curves; a paradise for the passionate and sporty biker.
Our friend Vareillaud sadly met a tragic end in the early 80's in Savoie.
More friends from our bunch...
To complete the line-up of this unforgettable group from Creuse, I must mention Jean-Jacques and Annie Duret, a great couple, and of whom I have a particularly vivid memory. We went to a rally in 1974 at Grisy-les-Platres, in the Val-d'Oise, having all arrived late at night, after several stops due to the Durets' brand new twin-cylinder Triumph defective oil warning light which was already starting to play tricks on them, probably due to a bad contact.
Jean-Jacques, who subsequently emigrated to the Paris area for his work was the man behind the first family sidecar gathering (RSCF) organised in 1979 in Gouzon, Creuse.
Yours truly (on the left) and Martine Duret (on the right) during one of the few sidecar family meetings (RSCF) I attended with my MZ 250 combo. I have no memory of the place of the meeting nor of its date, but I recall with some certainty that it took place at the beginning of the 80's.
Over the years, Jean-Jacques Duret has carved out a well-deserved reputation in the French sidecar scene by unselfishly giving of his time working to establish the RSCF movement in France, which actively promotes sidecar gatherings intended mainly for families with children.
Martine Duret pictured here at another rally
Finally, the list of touring motorcyclists from this Creuse 'gang' of the early 70s would not be complete without mentioning Michel Mazuel, Georges Cherbouquet, Alain Brunet, and Eugene 'Gegene' Chiroux.
The 'gang' from Chenerailles and Aubusson at the Charade circuit. (left to right): Michel Mazuel, Jean-Louis Marie, Rodolphe, Serge Marie and Jacques Grenier
...and those of the Moto Club Creusois
To finish this chapter in celebration and remembrance of my motorcycle comrades of yesterday from the Creuse region, near Bourbonnais where I was born, I should of course add all those of the Moto Club Creusois of Gueret.
Previous articles I've written here have already mentioned some of the members of this great club from the past. At the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s this regional club represented all that was best in motorcycle touring.
Not all of them have been mentioned though, and I must not forget them. The list must include brothers Michel and Alain Degaine, Daniel Champeime, Dominique Grefatt, Michel Mauve, Daniel Soldat, and of course the late Albert Cavert, the official Honda dealer in 1965 who had been associated with the brand in France since 1962.
(left): Albert Cavert (and his wife Jeannine), both members of the Moto Club Creusois, back from the Madone des Centaures rally in 1964, riding a 300cc Honda Super Sport CB77. The CB 450 only arrived in 1966. (right): Daniel Champeime, also a member of MC Creusois, shown here in 1969 on his CB 450
It was in fact the Moto Club Creusois de Gueret who in 1970 organised the first rally in Creuse, grandly named for the occasion '1er Rassemblement International des Moulins'.
Rassemblement International des Moulins 1970 - View of the participants at the prize-giving ceremony
Who of the gang wants to go to Andorra?
Even before the French motorcycle press announcement of the 4th meeting of the Andorra rally citing the dates of September 28 and 29, 1974, I was impatient to take to the road, eagerly anticipating the long ride that would take us to the other side of the Pyrenees.
As for the member of the gang who would accompany me on this adventure? Well let's find out....
- Jean-Francois Helias
(Continue with Part 4: Andorra Rally 1974)