Rally de Colombres [2010/12]


I had first heard of the ‘Rally de Colombres’ organised by the Moto Pistón club, during September 2009 when Julian Labuchardiere and other members of a club we belong to, were preparing for the trip. Knowing that they were going to ride the roads of Asturias made me very jealous and determined to take part in 2010. Having to wait a year ensured that I obtained the right bike to take part in the ‘ruta de cinco mil curvas’ (route of 5000 curves) a 300 mile ride through the Picos de Europa. The ride is restricted to bikes built before 1980, therefore I had to prepare myself and my 1978 Ducati Darmah in the weeks preceding the trip.


Eleven of us set off from Portsmouth on the Santander ferry in a bit of a party atmosphere, made all the better by a little rough weather on the trip down. Arrival in Spain and the short ride from the port to the airport to pick up a hire car and then on to Colombres went without incident. The fun started at registration when members of the party ate some of the local pastries (known as ‘corbatas’) that were on offer, these pastries are notorious for absorbing all moisture and could easily be used for any type of fluid spill. So the looks on their faces as they searched for a drink, was a sight to behold. The Corbatas were the start of what turned out to be a 4 day eat-a-thon, including the largest paella I’ve ever seen and a ‘tapas free for all’, possibly the reason for one of my failures, see below.

Although several of the bikes within our group were eligible for the 5000 curves, only myself and my brother Chris on his 1978 Moto Guzzi  T3 California took up the challenge. There are a few things you need to know about the route of 5000 curves, if you like the idea of taking part, other than the age restriction of the bike. These are:


  • It is a very technical route which you should relish.
  • Sat navs are useless, as it is a circular route, the route map gives way point distances to junctions (we were lucky, in previous years those distances were only in Km, requiring a lot of mental arithmetic for Brits), therefore you have no overall idea of the route.
  • There are several hundred other participants.
  • You have to watch out for everything, tractors, cows, horses, sheep, goats (and their contributions to road holding).
  • Most important of all, the other riders don’t necessarily have the required riding skill for the challenge.

I personally revelled in the challenge and the Darmah proved an excellent choice of bike, with lots of torque, excellent handling and temperament for a bike of its age. The skills I have gained since joining SAM gave me the confidence to take on the challenge. My technique of taking the blind bends very wide, (left hand gutter on a right hand bend, remember they drive on the right), raised comments from others, but I could see the tractors, cows, dung, fallen branches, etc. long before they became an issue. It also meant that on nearly all bends I caught up with those in front and had to check my progress. The ride was not without incident; about 60 miles in my brother had a linkage problem. Guzzi’s vibrate and his had vibrated the gear linkage loose leaving him without the ability to change gear. But luckily, as with most old bikes, a little bit of rust retained the vital clevis pin allowing a simple fix with a make shift split pin (a key ring) to get us back in the action after bump starting his bike (the threat of belting the starter motor with a large spanner did not work on this occasion). The delay meant that we had to up our rate to catch up with the group. I should mention that because we had been following a long line of bikes, I had not bothered to read the route instructions and had no idea of where we were at that point. We did catch up with the group and made it to the first check point.


Refuelling, pit stop, a stretch and (for some) a cigarette, meant that we could carry on with the ride, which came to a final halt, for me at least, a few miles down the road when I lost drive in all gears, all five bolts clamping the rear cog to the cush drive had been sheared. No, I had not been getting the old girl to do wheelies, as some had suggested. (Note to self ‘when buying old bike remember to check that vital parts are not made of cheese’.) So, while waiting the 30 minutes or so, at the side of the road for the broom wagon to collect me and stricken Darmah and take us back to the start, I tried to explain to Chris where we were and the shortest route back to the hotel, (he’d had enough by then) but was quietly amused as he held the map upside down. I should explain that the guy had just completed a navigation course, but his excuse that it was for maritime navigation did not go down too well. For the rest of the rally, Chris earned the nickname of Christopher Colombres, after I had explained by phone to the other members of our party, who were sunning themselves at the seaside, (yes in October,) that he was missing and last reported heading for Madrid. To cut a long story short, I did eventually meet up with my brother, and we did find the parts locally to fix the Ducati, which took about 30 minutes. (Note to self, # 2, ‘remember when on rally to take a selection of nuts and bolts, especially 5 High Tensile 30mm M8’s and nyloc nuts and washers’.)


During the following day’s ride out the Darmah behaved impeccably, although I was very concerned at the smell of burning clutch plates during a large traffic jam on one of the mountain passes, luckily I don’t think they were my plates. All eleven of us (9 bikes 2 pillions) set out on this ride as there were no restrictions. Our ride came to a halt when it was someone else’s turn to take a ride in the broom wagon, Richard’s bike (Moto Guzzi V50) decided to haemorrhage oil through its crankcase breather. Although we managed to get an extra six litres of the stuff, the nurse (Richard) prescribed total bed rest for the patient. After seeing the little V50 being strapped onto the trailer and hauled back, the rest of us decided to do our own thing and had a little tour of the Asturian coastline before making our way back to Colombres for the afternoon’s Hill Climb and the aforementioned paella.


Saturday night was very wet, and me, wanting to keep the Darmah looking nice had brought along a cover to keep the weather away. Big mistake, because the next day she would only run on one cylinder, which we traced to a sparkplug failure. Trying to find a replacement on a Sunday morning in Spain, when your grasp of the language is not brilliant, is interesting to say the least. Anyway I found one that would fit, the guy at the auto-jumble stand said it was for a two stroke Bultaco. But what the hell, I bought the plug and it worked, I was on my way again to join up with the groups who were waiting patiently at the petrol station where I had left them at when limping away on my 450 single. (Note to self, #3, ‘when taking old bike, bike covers keep rain off but keep moisture in, especially on the HT circuits causing shorts, oh and take a spare set of plugs’.) On the road again, eleven of us on 8 bikes had a very pleasant tour of the area, which included being invited to a village fiesta on passing by the locals and sampling their excellent home brew cider and; numerous photo opportunities at locations of convenience.  On Sunday night the rally ended with a dinner, grand prize giving and very entertaining and enthusiastic local dancing, which resulted in me being the butt of many a joke. Although the rally had ended, due to space availability on the next returning ferry,the majority of our group remained in Spain for a few more days. I, my wife Sarah, Brother and his wife, Liz, went for a flying visit to see some friends in Santiago de Compostela, making use of the hire car, don’t let anyone tell you it is only a 3 hour drive from Colombres.


Our last day in Spain demonstrated how well we could organise the proverbial drinking session in a beer manufacturing facility. Said skills resulted in several attempts to get away, lots of waiting and wondering where the others had got to and frantic phone calls which is exactly what happens when no one wants to take charge. Finally we got away, myself on the Darmah with Sarah as pillion, brother on his California with Liz as pillion and Julian enjoying the freedom of solo riding for a blast up the valley to Potes. On the return to the hotel to collect our things and head off to the ferry port, the consequence of all those dinners conspired against me and blew out my rear inner tube. As fate would have it, we were 200 metres from the hotel which was next door to the Spanish equivalent of ‘Kwik Fit’. An hour later, 5 euros down and spare inner tube in place (yes managed to remember one of those) we were on our way back to the ferry port. The rest of the trip ran without incident, although the ferry did dock late and our team won most of the trivia quizzes.


A very big thank you goes out to the Moto Club Piston for organising the event, how they do it at the price I cannot understand. If you liked what you read and feel like taking part in the future take a look at their web site ( for further details. Discounts are available with Brittany Ferries for participants and the club will organise cheap and cheerful hotels. It is an opportunity to ride some of the best roads in Europe. As for the Darmah, she is still running with the spark plug for the Bultaco, and we are looking forward to completing the ‘Ruta de Cinco mil curvas’ in 2011.

Sponsored by Andy Anderson

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