Passionate about bikes and travel, I love to meet people in France and around the world. One day I discovered the alchemy with which to perfectly combine these three elements – by telling stories. Whether it's writing books, posting on a social network or making videos for YouTube, I'm first and foremost a storyteller.
In such momentous times, when trail riding is the popular trend, when everyone is looking for the best off-road tires with which to tackle the muddiest trails when everyone is posting photos and videos of their best off-road trails on social media... In such momentous times, then, I decided to take you elsewhere, on a different path, a clear, well-marked path, but one which today seems deserted, forgotten even.
In fact, I’m not taking you so much as taking you “back” there, back to a luxurious way of traveling. Do you remember what comfort felt like? Yes, I know – it feels like a thing of the past.
That thing that just 10 years ago, everyone wanted at all costs in a motorcycle. Protection from the wind, no sore backside, arms or legs due to the handlebar and foot pegs not being quite right... And so on and so forth. That thing that led to the creation of incredible motorcycles like the K1600GT or the R1250 RT. Can you imagine the engineers’ faces – after having racked their brains to achieve such precise, high-level specs – now that simplicity and discomfort are (almost) making a comeback?
So, just for a moment, a moment long enough to take a road trip, I wanted to go back to a luxurious way of traveling. After all, not everyone loves mud and dirt roads all the time, on the contrary. So I’ll tell you about comfort, hospitality, the good life, protection and, why not, even music – without getting too carried away, of course. For my road trip, I laid my eyes on the most statuesque and phenomenal motorcycle on the market: the BMW R18 Transcontinental.
427 kilos with a full tank, 203 kilos of payload. 1802 cm3, 16 kgm of torque, a 1,695 mm wheelbase and a TFT screen that’s better than an 8K curved TV! To repeat, that’s a wheelbase that’s 1.69 m long, for a total length of 2.6 m, with leather upholstery and a Marshall sound system. Just think about at all those comforts... This is what you call a motorcycle, right? But what to do with my Transcontinental? Such an inspiring name really got me wondering! The Americas, Antarctica, Oceania, Asia? Not an easy decision in these times.
Then, when looking around, I came across this: “A continent is the largest area of land into which the landmass that emerged from the earth’s crust is subdivided” – my friend, Wikipedia, tells me. And a continent can include nearby islands. Oh yeah? Seriously? So, I looked up the definition of ‘island’ (yes, I like to always dig deeper). “In the common or scientific sense, islands are not part of continents because their territory is not connected to the continental landmass. As such, they are generally considered to simply belong to the continent to which they are closest.” I knew it! I was sure of it. Islands are continents! It’s only for convenience or due to laziness that we don’t consider them as such!
Hence, my unilateral and incontestable decision was to bring you with me on my very personal transcontinental journey. With me, you’ll travel a long way, across water and between different islands... Or rather, different îles.
I looked just about everywhere. Not far from where I work lie the Île Saint-Germain, the Île de Monsieur, the Île de la Jatte, the Île des Impressionnistes, the Île Saint-Louis – all on the Seine, and all accessible by motorcycle. A little further on there is also the Ille-et-Vilaine, pronounced just like île, though it’s not an island.
And so, I escaped. I left Île-de-France behind me and took the A13 motorway. You might think that by now I'd have experienced everything in life, but, actually, my R18 managed to surprise me not just once, but twice. The first time was when the speed started to drop while I was driving along at a leisurely 130 km/h on cruise control... And the adaptive cruise control was triggered due to the vehicle in front. The motorcycle has a “comfort” reactive setting and a more dynamic one, which is highly effective. The second time was when I mistakenly pressed the long-range headlight switch. Everything around me lit up: I thought an A380 plane was landing on me, I’d never seen so much bright light! I’ll admit it, all this modern technology, all at once, had me befuddled.
I kept the cruise control at 130 km/h, i.e. 2,800 rpm. Yes, you read that right. This huge engine has the heart of a marathon runner, it just goes on and on with long and easy strides, it takes its time. Then, night fell – I set the heated handles to “three-dot intensity”, and on I went.
I played around with the engine settings. Rain mode is almost useless, as it muffles the Big Boxer’s healthy, mesmerizing roar. Roll mode is much better. As for Rock mode, it’s heavy, with an amazing roar and incredible pickup considering the motorcycle’s 420 kilo weight plus the 75 kilos of rider on top of it. I’m just like a child, as soon as you give me a toy I immediately look for a new one. And why not, after all? There’s a small indicator on the dashboard called “Power Reserve”.
This is a little tribute by BMW to the Rolls-Royce brand (in a Rolls, the Power Reserve is the maximum power indicator which replaces the rev counter). The Power Reserve indicates the % of power remaining at time T. What is it for? Nothing. But you can’t help playing around with it with a huge, silly grin on your face. It's there to amuse you. Rain mode. Rock mode. What if I go full throttle? And if I go down a gear? And if I go up a gear? So many philosophical questions (mine, however, have an answer), enough to make me burst with glee. You might think, it doesn’t take much... So what?
I could have gone to the ends of the earth, but let’s bear in mind that I was looking for another continent. Then... I saw a sign saying that I was “near the Île du Cotentin”. “Near” it said.... A funny concept of “near”! I looked for it everywhere. Really, everywhere. Up to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, which was voted France’s favorite village in 2021! I don’t know. Maybe. If they say so. But who, in France, knows about the Cotentin Peninsula? I can tell you: no-one. It’s that bit of land that French students always forget to draw asked to sketch an outline of the map of France in a geography lesson.
But it’s not as if they learn about it as adults either. You don’t end up on the Cotentin Peninsula by chance, you really have to want to go there. It’s a choice, because at the end of the day, there’s nothing there, and then you have to turn around and go back home. So, if you do go there, there's always a reason. In any case, with its picturesque harbor, its Gosselin grocery store and its Vauban Towers, Saint-Vaast really is worth a visit. I turned off the engine at 9 p.m., found a small motel, slept like a dormouse, as we say in Italy (I hate this expression, I imagine dormice bustling about in the attic, not sleeping at all!) and got up early the next day to leave for the island of Tatihou.
Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. On entering Saint-Vaast, just behind the large sign reading “favorite village etc.”, another sign says “Île de Tatihou”. My imagination ran wild. Tatihou, Tahiti... Sounds similar, right? Islands, however, can mean one of two things: vacation or hell. The latter applies to Tatihou. During the plague, Tatihou used to be a quarantine area for crews coming from the North Sea; in World War II it was a camp for German POWs; and then it was a rehabilitation center for troubled teenagers. Since it can only be accessed at low tide, across beds of oysters, any teenager who decided to make a break for it was quickly spotted and brought back. I’m sure you can understand how I couldn’t help feeling the attraction of such a quiet spot. And that's how I finally chose my first island – my first continent – to visit on my BMW R18 Transcontinental.
Unfortunately, however, motor vehicles are not allowed there. What nonsense! Maybe they never tried it. I’d have been happy to be the first. If you can reach it on a wheeled amphibious boat, why not on my R18? But you can’t win them all.
With no island – and no continent – I traveled toward Réville, with its bunker repainted to look like a crocodile facing out to sea, its mouth wide open. And then on to Barfleur, the Gatteville lighthouse, L’Anse du Brick and its small forest reminiscent of Brocéliande, the Rue du Nez and its storm-beaten dam just next to the stunning beach of Nacqueville and its houses exuding Victorian charm, the Goury lighthouse, Port Racine – the smallest port in France – and the dunes of Biville... Listen to me: just don't go there! You might end up liking it and the region could become touristy. It’d be a real shame.
By the sea, sheltered from the wind between two dunes, I scoffed a dozen oysters from Saint-Vaast and took a look at the itinerary. Ok, I’d failed to discover new continents, but I was still full of ideas. It was 8 p.m. already, and Nantes (my next stop) was only 366 kilometers away, a ride of 3 hours and 40 minutes. With my fingertips, I turned the scroll wheel on the dashboard, stopped on Jack White's music, shifted into sixth gear and just enjoyed the moment, feeling well protected despite the awful weather.
I made it. After the crushing defeat at Tatihou on the Cotentin Peninsula, I finally managed to travel to another continent on my BMW R18 Transcontinental! At last, I reached land – the Île-d'Yeu
Nothing like the islands of Ré, Oléron, Noirmoutier! There are no bridges here, and, of course, tourists are in short supply, at least at this time of year. The island of Yeu is 23 km2 wide, with a maximum of 5,000 inhabitants. Many of its roads peter out into dirt tracks. It is home to some truly panoramic spots over the Atlantic. The only straight stretch barely allows you to shift to third gear.
There are no major brand gas stations and Super 95 gas costs €2.50. The Insula Oya II, a merchant ship with a certain ‘80s charm, brings everything to the island. When someone arrives on Yeu, it feels as if they’re looking for something: to be alone, take stock of their situation, write a new novel, paint a new picture – or escape from this mad world for a while.
You might say, “And what was an uncouth type like you doing there?” You’re right. I wanted a change of scenery, the feeling of traveling far and wide with my Transcontinental, though it only took an hour and fifteen minutes by cargo ship. “The adventure” starts in Nantes, at 5 a.m. There’s no time for breakfast, and the woman at the front desk didn't even want to give me a pain au chocolat, with the poor excuse that my booking was an Ibis Budget, not an Ibis Style. There really is no end to stinginess.
The weather is gloomy. I hunch my shoulders a little, get my head down and set out toward Fromentine, the port of embarkation. At 7 a.m., I’m told to approach the platform. A large ramp appears on the side of the ship and they beckon me to come on board. The metal ramp is very slippery, so I make sure I have a good grip. I get to a freight elevator.
From a control cabin high above, a guy operates the elevator that takes me down into the hold. The same guy then secures my motorcycle, not taking much care at all. I climb two flights of stairs. No bars, no casinos, only some old benches in worn brown leather. I lean back against my bag and take the opportunity to drop off.
I swear, it feels just like I'm on a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic. The sweet hum of the two large AGO engines, each with 2,000 horsepower, lulls me to sleep. This preternatural yet placid power reminds me of my Transcontinental. Some say that the bike’s too heavy, that it’s actually more of a custom vehicle, that if you can afford such a motorcycle you’re not looking for adventure, but rather a luxury hotel! But do we really still need to divide motorcycles – and indeed, the world – into categories like this?
I urge you to try a power cruiser like the Transcontinental and not just for a few minutes – for an hour, at least. 1,800 cm2 between two cylinders. Two pistons of 107 mm in diameter and a stroke of 100 mm, making for quite a greasy and dirty pair. If this doesn't get you, I don’t know what else to say... Or, actually, I do. This beast weighs 420 kilos. The only time it needs to be handled delicately is when you need to put it on the stand.
Here's a tip: Always turn the handlebar toward the steering lock, to avoid losing your balance. Once the engine’s on, the motorcycle feels weightless. And what about U-turns? Apply a little rear brake (difficult to engage – one of the few flaws of this motorcycle), place two fingers on the clutch and gas, and it’ll do the rest all by itself.
The best review I've read about it? “A few extra kilos and it’d be a car.” The truth is that if you can drive such a large vehicle well, it means you can master all the key basics of riding a motorcycle.
The Insula Oya II sounds its fog horn twice: The île-d'Yeu lies before me. First of all, I gently rouse myself from my torpor. I have a lot of work to do, to video and narrate this adventure, but this beautiful island invites me to take my time. The Amie Câline (a large bakery on the harbor) is open. I'm looking at a giant pain au chocolat when the owner, Benjamin, says, “Lolo, what are you doing here?”
Can you imagine? Here on the island everyone feels so remote they can’t even conceive I might have wanted to visit it. But the opposite is true! We chat for a bit and Benjamin offers me the pain au chocolat. Thank you! We’ll meet again, for sure. This is not a Nostradamus-style prophecy: on an island that’s 9.8 km by 3.9 km wide, you’re sure to meet the same people, on the same day... several times.
I head toward the Pointe du But, the Caillou Blanc, the old castle, the small Port de la Meule. There, on a dirt road (yes, the Transcontinental knows its stuff even off-road), I see the silhouette of a boy engaged in a sort of dance by the sea, at the mercy of the wind, in front of the waves crashing violently against the rocks. I don't immediately understand what’s happening. He reminds me of a crazed orchestra conductor trying to control the elements. That’s not it. He’s holding a brush in his hand – it could very well have been a baton.
Brush in the air, spinning around, he’s looking for inspiration, for the next delicate brushstroke that will enrich the painting he’s working on and that’s standing in front of him on an easel. I don’t say a word, I don’t want to interrupt this moment. Although the center is very residential, the Île-d'Yeu really retains a magical feel. It’s full of beaches, paths and deserted cliffs. I select a song by Mumford & Sons (Holland Road – and no, nothing to do with French president Hollande!) on my Transcontinental’s Marshall system and start singing – out of tune, by myself, like a lunatic. This island has something infectious about it, and unlike Covid, this is a positive thing.
As an aside, are you looking for ways to save some time? I’ve found one: A nice bout of food poisoning. Don't worry, it’s all good. Serving food that expired two years ago can happen to anyone. Still, I’ve lost all my trust and haven’t eaten a thing for the last three days.
I leave the island. I head to Rochefort for the night, only to realize that it’d be better to go immediately to Noirmoutier, as the tide times and lighting would be good for filming, and I go back to Nantes to get my camera. “So what?”, I hear you say. This was actually a useful trip for me, as I had the chance to test the comfort of my Transcontinental. The Transcontinental doesn’t mind at all: It’s already covered 2,000 kilometers (a normal person would have gone for just under 1,000) and welcomes me with its remarkable seat, well-cushioned suspension and a really regal riding position. One downside of this type of motorcycle is that rain tends to accumulate on the windshield, which can be annoying when you're riding at night. Nothing to be done about it, except keeping some faith and trust... And I’ve already lost my trust.
Where was I with my islands? Oh yes. I found the Île Madame. A small rock jutting out of the water, a few miles from the island of Oléron, about 900 meters long by 400 meters wide. You reach it via the small village of Port des Barques, but, above all, via a sandy, pebbly trail known as the Passe aux Bœufs – at low tide of course, or it wouldn’t be an island. I decided to try my luck with the Transcontinental. At first, I struggled a little, trying not to get stuck in a slightly deeper sandy area, then I went on, travelling the short kilometer to Madame.
I made it, the terrain was stable. You might say, “But why did you go to this island, on a precarious path, on a 400-kilo motorcycle?” Well, with a trail motorcycle, I’d have been sorely tempted to go a bit faster, but then again, this is a highly protected site and vehicles are barely tolerated as it is. The island is very pretty, it inspires peace and quiet. There’s a fort, a campsite, an aquaculture farm and, above all, no people whatsoever.
Historical research shows that our ancestors didn’t share our notions about island vacations or tourism. In fact, in the past, islands were either defense outposts or sites of incarceration. As such, on the Île Madame there’s a fort that used to be part of the Port of Rochefort’s defense system used to protect its military arsenal. Yet, Madame is also – and above all – the site of a huge cross made out of pebbles, which marks the place where, in 1794, the priests who opposed the new Constitution of the Clergy were buried. Moreover, Madame was also a “vacation” destination for some Parisian Communards, who no doubt enjoyed the chance to breathe the invigorating air and dig a 20-meter deep well to find some drinking water.
It really is a beautiful island. I considered letting the tide rise and trap me so I could stay a little longer, but I have to admit that all those stories left me feeling a little nervous, so I left and headed towards the Île de Noirmoutier. After Tatihou, Yeu and Madame, I recognize that this destination is a little more mainstream. After all, with their bridges, Oléron, Ré and Noirmoutier have inevitably suffered from the onslaught of tourism and holiday homes – not really my thing, but there you go.
However, I have a few things to do in Noirmoutier. There’s its famous Passage du Gois. I was here ten years ago, the day before I crashed my motorcycle at the harbor. I’d taken an incredible picture of the tide rising impetuously, as I rode out of reach of the water at the very last moment. Fate decreed that my photo was never to be published. Yet, I like the place and I wanted to capture it on film again.
The Gois might seem like an attraction for tourists looking for some thrills, but “normal” people consider it a natural wonder too, coerced and subjugated by human hands.
As long as you employ a little common sense and cross it at the right time, you won’t have any problems. Still, there’s no shortage of images showing vehicles being swept away by the tide. Indeed, the Gois is 4.125 kilometers long and one must be careful, as it becomes covered by water very quickly, with a depth ranging from 1.30 to 4 meters. Today's tide was one of the lowest; yesterday no-one could get across. I went there, I watched, I waited. For a long time. At one point I even lost hope. When suddenly... I saw headlights out in the middle of the water. It looked like a mirage, a hallucination.
A vehicle seemed to be floating In the middle of the Gois; it looked as if it was cutting through the water. Impossible, the tide was too high! And yet, the vehicle kept coming toward us. On this side of the Gois, we were all speechless. What should we expect? Batman in his Batmobile? Indiana Jones? The sea monster from Atlantis? Nothing like that – rather, a chubby Parisian in a Range Rover had decided to cross right at that moment. I can imagine, inside the car, the wife screaming that it was too dangerous while her husband replied that it’d be silly to wait 15 minutes and cross the bridge together with all those other morons, and that the oysters they bought at Rungis were getting warm in the trunk, besides, “What else did we buy this 4x4 for, honey?” Obviously, I’ve just made this up, but if I’d zoomed in using my camera I’m sure I would have seen the man’s smug smile and the woman’s nails digging into the fine leather handbag resting on her knees.
The car emerged out of the water under the stunned gaze of the locals who often travel that stretch road, and who had waited a good 15 minutes longer before venturing out on it. A tight, yet sufficient, time slot. I activated the drone, programming it to follow me and the Transcontinental. At 6.50 p.m., the sun was setting. It was a magnificent sight, exactly as I had imagined it. In my playlist, I found The Waterboys and their song I Wish I Was a Fisherman. In silence, gently and to the rhythm of this kind of Celtic ballad (the sea always inspires me to make such choices), I crossed the Gois, in a serene, Zen mood, 10 years after that unfortunate accident, together with my Transcontinental. It was just beautiful, so very beautiful!
This incredible road trip inevitably took me to Corsica, a place where (especially in these times), people shouldn’t be asking too many questions along the lines of “So, is Corsica an independent island or linked to the European continent?” “Is it a continent in its own right or not?” Personally, I’m inclined to say no.
When the Mega Express II ferry docked on the island, I sped off on my Transcontinental toward familiar haunts. Yep, my familiar haunts! The places I know, the places that make me feel at a little at home, even when I’m traveling. I went to Porticcio, which is just past the “silver beach”. I turned left, toward the old Coti-Chiavari penitentiary. It’s a very popular road with Corsican drivers, as it’s often used as a special stage for rallies.
It starts off under huge eucalyptus trees, whose branches unfold like umbrellas over the road – it’s like being in northern Portugal. The road worsens abruptly and climbs up to an intersection, and the Transcontinental stalls. Best not to be too confident, then. Yet, after a number of maneuvers (braking, cornering, accelerating to settle the suspension then accelerating again), the Transcontinental successfully makes it over the road, dodging some goats. What surprises me is how little effort it takes to turn the handlebar right and left.
Then I headed south, toward Propriano, Sainte-Lucie-de-Tallano, Levie, Zonza and, of course, the Col de Bavella mountain pass. The road up the mountain is beautiful, and it becomes even more so on the other side, where the livestock roam. The weather is horrible, but the atmosphere is extremely evocative: It’s drizzling and I ride through some tufts of clouds. There were a few streams of water crossing the road, as well as pine cones that had tumbled dangerously into the middle center of the route, making the ride more challenging. Passing the many waterfalls (Purcaraccia) and pools (Pulischellu), my Transcontinental and I let ourselves gently glide along the east coast, but not without first having caught a glimpse of the Aiguilles de Bavella, between two clouds – it looked as if they were winking at us, asking us to come back.
It’s gorgeous, but taking pictures is not easy, and the weather forecast doesn't seem to be on my side. The upside is that in Corsica, there’s always a solution. In the north, the conditions seem better. The north, the north... Now that I think about it, it's ridiculous – I've never been to the north. Why? Who knows. Maybe some kind of instinct, because in France, when you go south of Paris, you can’t be bothered to go back up north, and the same goes for Corsica. Maybe it was that I knew the south to be so beautiful that I didn't want to be disappointed by the north. Maybe it was just stupidity or mere mental laziness – though I love exploring, I’m not immune.
So, despite having already covered 280 km, the Transcontinental and I embarked on an epic climb. You might say, there are only 220 km between the south and north of Corsica, a 4 hour ride. That’s true if you cross the east coast – but that’s no fun. If you travel via the west coast, it takes more than twice as long. I make a small detour via Solenzara, Porticcio, back to Ajaccio, and then a second small detour to the Gulf of Lava to eat a madeleine de Proust, and spend the night in Cargese. Tomorrow I’ll continue on my journey.
I lodged at the Saint Jean hotel, on the side of the road. It's nothing special, but it offers a warm welcome and the breakfast was excellent – the fig jam was truly delicious, the bread light and fluffy. After this sumptuous banquet, I got up and headed to my room. I was happy to jump back into the saddle of the R18 Transcontinental. I packed my bags, stuffing everything in my suitcase, and went back to the front desk, where the receptionist greeted me in a surprising manner: “You’re very nice! You’re always smiling, from dawn to dusk... Keep at it!”.
I accepted the compliment wholeheartedly and delighted in it the whole day long. You see, I knew it: happiness belongs to the wise. Today, I'm going to discover Corsica, or rather, the north of Corsica. Yes, up to now I’d never been higher than Porto. I took the road to Évisa, climbing toward the Col de Vergio, passing through Vico, Reno and Cristinacce. We’re very, very far from the picture-perfect “seaside” Corsica. It’s a very winding road, the oaks are bare, the landscape is almost spectral, yet beautiful – I’d even call it sumptuously spectral. Cows and wild pigs are everywhere, literally plundering the woods on the roadside. There seem to be quite a lot of wild boar, too, while the goats... if you're lucky, when they come up the road they’re going the same way as you.
The enormous number of droppings warns you in advance of their presence, and if they’re going the other way, well... It’s a bit more complicated. The climb up to the Col de Vergio is superb. The Col, which reaches 1,477 meters in height, is dominated by a pink granite monolith, the statue of Christ the King. I would have liked to put a shawl or a wool blanket on it, as the weather was very cold: the roadside was still covered in fresh snow. The Transconti (I decided to shorten its name, just as Corsicans do) and I went wild.
Frankly, I was amazed at how easy the R18 is to ride. With a little practice, I also managed not to scrape the foot pegs on the road. Obviously, to do this I had to use my upper body as a counterweight, with a movement that looked a bit ridiculous, but proved to be highly effective. I got a bit too confident, however, and when I had to straighten myself up in order to brake, slow down and resume the trajectory, the edges of the pegs started touching the ground again. Still, the kind of pace you can achieve is truly incredible.
Between Castirla and Corscia, I plunge right down into the incredible gorges of Niolo, with their reddish hues. Then I head toward San Fiorenzo, and take the road that follows Cap Corse to the west. This road is simply incredible. It overlooks a steep coastline battered by the waves, interspersed with small peaceful havens, such as the beach of Negru, the marina of Cannelle or the picturesque fishing port of Centuri. It’s rare to find villages like these, perched on the hilltops, with a slower pace of life. The road passes by some impressive family tombs and as I look at them, I can almost hear the Paghjella, one of the most famous Corsican polyphonic chants. I swear, I’ve fallen in love with the absolute, wild beauty of this side of Corsica. But I'm sure that, since I haven't had time to cross the Cap Corse’s backcountry, I haven't seen anything yet.
Gently, effortlessly, I reach Cap Corse with my Transconti. Land’s end. In front of us is the island of Giraglia and its lighthouse. Though it’s a mere two kilometers away, it’s impossible to get there with the Transconti, but the journey was fine as it is – 4,005 km in 80 hours and 47 minutes, equipped with the famous ultra-warm and waterproof Dainese Antartica kit. Four islands – or five continents – crossed with the Transcontinental. Now, I just need to ride the 800 km back to Paris, in three seven-hour stretches, without overdoing it. Heck, this is probably the first road trip where I haven't come back shattered, despite taking videos and photographs, riding for hours and writing almost every night. I do hope you’ll like it.