Lost in France. Maybe I should sell my BMW?


So far it has been good. I had picked up the rubber cow in Munich, and had driven for two days towards Montpellier where a former IRRI colleague was having his 25th wedding anniversary party. When I started in Gröbenzell I found a paper stuck in the cockpit of the bike saying “Do you want to sell your BMW GS? I am interested in buying it. Give me a call, telephone number 01233456789”. So in the meantime it is a classic bike that other people like to have. That fact would contribute to my slight panic attack later on when I had to leave it somewhere unattended.


Picture Above: First night in a family owned hotel in the Elsas.

I was approaching Valence in Southern France and wanted to do another 20 km so that there were only 200 left for the last day drive, a good distance for half day on curvy roads. The day had been hot, but not too hot. I remembered last year, when Mavic and I took the rubber cow to Spain and the right carburettor had gotten stuck full throttle on the autobahn. This time everything went as smooth as a baby bottom.

Then the ignition failed for the fraction of a second, picking up again immediately. I had just entered the highway (not tollway) to do the last 20km fast.

I had just gotten fuel around 200km ago, so it could not be the fuel, but just to be sure I opened the reserve valve and looked for the next fuel station, which was luckily only a few hundred meters away. I steered the bike to the only available pump and shut down the ignition.

Only 10 l fitted into the tank. Quite right, at the slow driving on French country roads it consumes about 5l/100km. So what was this stutter? I found out immediately when I turned the ignition key. The control lamps were quite dim and the response to pushing the starter button was just a clack and then the control lights went dark. Deep discharged battery. Damn. Why? It was working fine so far, in Gröbenzell I had even accidentally left the head lights on for 15 minutes without the engine running and it still started afterwards, so the battery had some capacity. What else could it be? Alternator? Diode plate? Regulator? A shortcut? Loose contact?

A nightmare. I hate electrical problems in cars or motorbikes although I am a certified electrician / electronics expert.

I turned all lights off and tried to kick start the bike. The kick starter I had ordered as an extra when I bought the bike brand new. I know why BMW did not equip the bikes with the kick starter by default – because it is pretty useless. It turned over the crankshaft about one half time per kick. I could not kick start her, which meant not much given the kick starter design.

Then I went inside the shop of the gas station and asked one of the two young sales blokes whether they know a motorcycle repair shop in town. After some very difficult discussion because my lack of French and their poor English, they made several phone calls and suggested to have a friend pick up the bike with a trailer and drive it to a repair shop. This would cost around 120-250 Euro, and there is no BMW dealer in town so it would be questionable whether the dealer could find the problem or get spare parts if needed. And then I had too many bad experiences in the past with other people, sometimes so called experts, screwing up my bikes, so I decided against it.

Panic, I did not want to miss the party on Saturday, so I thought I have very limited options. Hanging around a few days to sort things was definitely not an option.

I asked the two guys whether I could leave the bike in the rest place parking lot over night. They said no. They did help with pointing out a B&B Hotel Valence TGV Romans close by, on the other side of the highway, around a km away, so I would have to walk under the highway in an underpass to get to the hotel. Given the weight of the bike pushing it there was no option. My Navi said there was a hotel around 200 m further down the road on this side, called the Hotel Alpes Provence. I asked them. They confirmed that there was a restaurant, and called, but supposedly they did not have a hotel. Don’t trust Navis, or you might end up in a river.

I texted Mathias whether his road incident insurance is also valid for the BMW, he called back and told me that it is linked to the car insurance and the BMW in insured under my name. A pity, so I will have to pay market prices. I checked the ADAC web site but they don’t have services abroad there, and there help in Florenz when our car key got stolen many years ago, was pretty useless, so that’s not an option either. Mathias suggested to ask Ulli how he had shipped a bike that had had an accident using a regular shipping company. One option. However, a pre-condition would be to bring the bike we I could leave it safely for a few days.

Then I searched the internet for all sorts of motorcycle repair shop word combinations but only found scooter and small bike shops in town. Then I checked out the service station shop, no, they did not have any batteries, but a jumper cable. I took a mental note.

So I decided it was time to give up on the two guys, I thanked them for their help and parked the bike temporarily at the gas station. Then I walked the 200 m to the Whatever Alpes Provence. It was in fact a truck strop restaurant and what was supposed to be a hotel was some sort of residence. Three older and pretty overweight people were sitting outside having smokes and drinks. Several Algerian looking younger guys were hanging around there too, I had the feeling it was a social housing type of residence. The three older people, two guys and one woman, were very helpful with advise on the hotels, the lady made a call for me so that I could reserve a room without having to walk there. I asked them whether I could park the bike in front of their house and they showed me a place where I could leave it out of the way of the trucks, but suggested I should chain it. I thanked them and said I would check into the hotel and then push over he bike afterwards. They asked quite astonished whether I would walk to the hotel.

Then I went back to the bike and took the helmets and the tank backpack from it to take them with me to the hotel. The walk to the hotel took around 20 minutes. I had to climb down a steep slope to save around half a kilometre walking distance, but it was OK. But the walk confirmed, there was no way I could push the bike to the hotel alone.

I checked in. 65 Euro for one night. A typical travellers hotel at the side of a highway, but in my situation quite comforting to have a nice place to sleep. One problem taken care of. Now the bike needed to be secured.

So I walked back to the gas station. In the meantime the shop was closed and all the parking places empty, only my BMW there, I guess the guys were right to advise me not to leave the bike there. Somebody could have just loaded it on a truck without anybody noticing.

I pushed the bike to the residence and parked it where the guys had shown me. Then I went to the truck stop restaurant and ordered a hamburger and a Granini juice. No beer, I still had a lot of work in front of me. Time to think through options. Mobility would be good to sort things out. Good idea. I checked SIXT and they had indeed an office at the TGV train station, around 2.5 km away. During the dinner I observed the bike, all the residents and the truckers. Nobody seemed to be interested in it. So I finally abandoned the crazy idea to try to push the bike to the hotel anyway, maybe after detaching the luggage boxes and carrying them separately. I would have died of a heart attack in the process.

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Picture above: The Rubber Cow parked temporarily at the truck stop / restaurant / residence.

After dinner I went back to the bike, removed saddle, tank and checked all the electrics located under the tank. No visual damage, all connectors connected. The 3 pole connector to the regulator came off very easily, so I thought maybe a bad contact there could have been the cause, but then the battery control light should have been on. And I did not remember seeing that. So tank back on, saddle too and the last valuables, the backpack with the IRRI laptop and the GoPro and other electronics removed from the luggage bags. Everything locked up properly and then I did my last walk to the hotel for the day.  There I invested my last coins in a cold drink from the vendor machine and then ordered the smallest SIXT car, a FIAT 500, for two days starting tomorrow.


SIXT opens at 8:00. So breakfast at 7:00. Afterwards I ask the young lady at the reception to order me a taxi. She tries two numbers and then tells me that I should have ordered yesterday because taxis are always very busy. She gives me 5 numbers and suggests I should try later. There goes my plan. I try UBER, no car in range. GRAB – not available in this country. After several unsuccessful calls I give up and start walking the 2.5 km at 8:00. Around 30 min walk first along the highway, then through fields and then between some modern office buildings.

The car is a white Fiat 500 with manual gearbox. I drive back to the hotel and get the helmet, and then to the gasoline station where the bike broke down yesterday and buy the jumpstart cable i saw yesterday. It is a heavy duty version that costs me 39 Euro. Some few hundred meter drive to the residential building where the bike is parked. It is still there, big relief. I park the Fiat in an open area- all the trucks are gone now, and push the bike to the car. A bit of fiddling with the cable and the contacts, and the BMW is running again. The charge indicator light is off, so that’s a good sign. I remove the cable, the engine continues running, so the alternator and the rectifier and regulator seem to be OK. The engine runs at very low speed and stutters a bit. Turn the engine off and then the ignition on again, dead flat- no power at all. So the battery does not charge. But once jump started I should be able to move the bike as long as I don’t kill the engine.

Since the idle was not stable and the engine could die any time, with the jumper cable disconnected no means to re-start it, i looked for a small wooden stick and stuck that between throttle rubber and lightswitch housing to raise the idle and then jumpstarted the bike again, removed the cable an put it in the car, killed the car engine and locked it up and then drove the bike to the hotel to have it securely parked on the hotel park grounds.  The helmet locked to the bike, and off i was walking the 1.5 km back to pick up the car.

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Picture above: My rental car for the day on the hotel car park

In the morning I had asked the young lady at the reception whether she knows a store that sells motorcycle parts, not really expecting that she would know. She referred to a commercial area 15 km away, gave a name of a store and a super market. The shop would be open from 10:00 to 12:30 and then re-open at 14:090 after lunch. So I drove there, hoping to find a store that would have any sort of motorcycle battery that could serve as a temporary solution. I checked the Super market, a bicycle shop and drove around the whole area, but could not find a motorbike shop.

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I decided to check searching for moto, motorbike, BMW, and lots of similar words. One motorbike shop was indeed in there around 35 km away. I reached there via the tollway around 11:00. It was a motor-cross shop serving all brands and the owner found the BMW battery in a catalouge. He did not have it on Stock but said he would order one which would be available tomorrow “same time”. I was relieved, at least i would have a battery, but it would mean that i would miss one day and probably be late for the wedding anniversary party. He did not want a downpayment.

On the way back to the hotel, i saw a Harley Davidson shop on the side of the highway. I exited at the next possibility and made my way back to the shop. There was a bar inside with a lot of big guys in typical Rocker gear sitting at it. I asked the guy behind the bar: “You might not have this, but I have a BMW R80GS for which i need a battery. Any 12V battery thet fits in the space will actually do.”  He said he could not help me, but I should try the ….. shop, around 15 km away. It was the same shop name the receptionist had mentioned in the morning. The guy drew me a simple map and helped me to find the shop on

I reached the shop at 12:25. They were just winding down the shutters, closing for lunch. Damn.

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Picture above: Sight seeing in Velencia

I decided to have a look at the old town and buy some food for lunch. So I drove on the hill with the old part of town, parked the car, bought some drinking yoghurt, walked a bit around town and took some pictures off the historical market. Then drove back to be at MAXXESS at 14:00, in fact I reached there at 13:45, enough time for a drink.

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Picture above: Maxxess, the shop that finally saved me

The shop did have a battery, not exactly for the BMW but with similar capacity. Maintenance free and a bit smaller than the current battery, so i also got some cable ties to secure the battery since the original rubber fasteners will be too long. A battery charger went also into the shopping bag.

Back at the hotel I had to fill the battery with acid and then let it rest for 2 hours. I did that in the cover of the motorbike since repairing a vehicle on the parking lot is most likely not allowed. I then switched the batteries and let the new one settle wile carrying the old battery hidden in a daypack on my room to charge it there, also probably highly illegal.

Time for some rest, while periodically checking the charger.  It was for long time in deep discharge recovery mode and then spent very little time in charge mode before switching to maintenance charge. Sign of a strongly reduced battery.

After two hours I went down and turned the ignition on. All lights went on. A quick press on the starter button and the engine came to life as usual.

Ok. work done in one day instead of two. I could return the rental car already this evening. But wait, now i have all these extra things to bring. My side bags and the tank bag are full and i did not bring an extra waterproof bag. I could put the extra things in my daypack and then carry it on my back, but i did not really favor that because of my sporadic age related lower back pain. So i decided to drive back to MAXXESS while I still had the car and buy an additional bag.

So another 34 km on the meter of the car, another shopping and trip back to the hotel, before returning the car. Another 2.5 km walk in the evening to the hotel. I did not bother to try Uber or a taxi.

Back in the hotel i packed everything that i did not needed for the night. Ready to go the next morning.


Picture above: The track on my handphone at the end of the day


The travel continues.

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