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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

GIRO bikers hit the road

With limited touring experience but a lot of enthusiasm, seven general insurance actuaries and an accountant named Bill set out on a 2500-mile European motorcycle tour. The ride was an adventurous journey to the GIRO conference in Sorrento, Italy.

Setting off on the evening of Friday 19 October, we all hoped to arrive in Sorrento some time the following Tuesday. The planned route south took us through rural France, over the Alps, and then down through Italy.

Our chosen path took us over the Simplon Pass. We very quickly climbed to 2000m where the temperature dropped to just three degrees. At the top we stopped to re-group and take a few pictures of the spectacular scenery. As the helmets came off, everybody beamed with pleasure. Many felt the Simplon Pass would be the highlight of the ride - but the best was yet to come.

The winding roads in the Tuscan hills between Bologna and Florence have to be ridden to be believed, and must have been designed by a motorcyclist, with the objective of maximising the fun for anyone lucky enough to ride them. The journey down to Sorrento was not without its challenges, with a couple of mechanical breakdowns, and four of us managing to run our tanks dry searching for a petrol station in a tumbleweed village in central France. We finally located a station via our sat navs, only to find the garage was now a flower shop and we had wasted two-and-a-half hours trying to find some fuel.

We arrived in Sorrento in four groups and it was a relief when the last group rolled into town. GIRO was over in a flash, and then there was the journey home, which was no less eventful. We set off on Friday 26 October, aiming for the ferry from Dover on late Sunday afternoon. Friday night was to be spent in a hotel on a mountain top, in a small town called Amandola. The weather on the journey there was very unkind. For the last 50km we were riding through a blanket of water on a greasy mountain road in the pitch black, trying to dodge wild boars as they charged out in front of us.

From Amandola, much of the riding was on fast dual carriageways, along and up the east coast of Italy, then across to Bologna and up to Verona. In Verona we cheated and jumped on an overnight train that carried us with our bikes to Dusseldorf. Arriving mid-morning on Sunday, we faced the serious task of getting out of Germany, across Holland, then Belgium, to France, where we caught our ferries home.

It was a great trip which I’m sure we will remember for many years to come, and there is a strong appetite for a similar trip to GIRO in Edinburgh next year, via Wales and Ireland!

The GIRO bikers were: Simon Marks, Liberty International; Gurpreet Johal, Deloitte; Roger Massey, The ARC; Nigel Milner, Novae; Bill Lowe, FSA; Peter England, EMB; Henry Johnson, Lloyd’s; and Davide Guarini, Aspen Re.


To read Chris Short’s review of the GIRO convention, click here.

Henry Johnson’s Sorrento Diary - September 2008

The team and the bikes:

Italian metal
• Bill Lowe – Ferrari – no – Ducati. Don’t ask me which of these red devils is which. Great noise, although didn’t look that comfortable to me...
• Roger Massey – homemade Ducati. Huge red tank bag. Despite their reputation and, in Roger’s bike’s case, great age, neither of these scarlet Italian contraptions broke down, although they were constantly either out of fuel or about to run out. Luggage was not a consideration for the designers so I’ve a sneaking suspicion that underclothes were worn several times.
• Tony Brooke-Taylor – there in spirit. Body and Aprilla stuck in London worrying about AIG.

Japanese speed hooligans
• Simon Marks – Suzuki GSXR600. Black, and black-hearted in its readiness to break down. Hooligan Gixxer ridden by a farming gentleman from Bath. Luckily the farming genes and flexible youthfulness of the pilot allowed him to cover the miles bent double without complaint. Again no luggage.
• Gurpreet Johal – Honda Fireblade. A benchmark fast Japanese bike. Battery as well as fuel tank proved inadequate. I rode it for an hour which consisted of 20 minutes of fear and exhilaration and 40 minutes of fear and exhilaration and cramp. Side bets had suggested the market price of Gurpreet’s bike completing the miles was about as strong as Lehman’s, but unlike the bank, Gurpreet proved the doubters wrong. No luggage but pilot able to call upon resources of the mighty Deloitte and have vast amounts of luggage taken to his palatial Sorrento residence in a lorry.

Real (Bavarian) motorbikes
• Henry Johnson – BMW R1200RT. Suitable for a corpulent Lloyd’s actuary who packs too much luggage and prefers comfort to speed or style. Luckily.
• Nigel Milner – BMW R1100S, old one of course that Nigel of course maintains himself. Headlight stolen from the Eddystone lighthouse, capable of blinding you via a mirror at 200 metres.
• Davide Guarini – BMW R series, like Nigel’s I think. Hard to see as it flashed away round the hairpin bends
• Peter England – BMW R1200GS. Lovely. Peter knows what he’s doing whether it is assessing the place of parameter error in a capital model or buying a motorbike or indeed buying a motorbike jacket. Bolt upright but zoomed along. Lots of luggage including a laptop PC without which the pilot would really be lost. All of these were designed to be ridden for miles and miles and miles and mine, anyway, seemed a bit unimpressed that we only did 2,500.

Friday 19 September
Set off at 5pm (late, setting an early marker) from Stepney to meet Nigel at the MacDonalds on the A13 near the Blackwall Tunnel. The traffic was heavy – Friday night – so we decided to go via the M25 but it was a lovely evening and I was punching the air as we tilted down the A13 past the windmills at Dagenham. The rest of the party had set off earlier. We caught the ferry okay and set off in the dark for Cambrai, and thus began another theme: riding with Nigel in the dark and arriving later than everyone else. Nigel’s headlight has been uprated and if you are in front of him it’s like a demonic orb dazzling you and every oncoming car. When we reached the hotel, we found a slightly perplexed host who said the rest of the party – Simon, Peter, Bill, Gurpreet and Roger – had gone into town for beers. Tony Brooke-Taylor had had to skip the whole trip because AIG had gone up the spout. Shared a twin room with Nigel. Not sure whether I snored.
175 miles

Saturday 20 September
Rode a long way without excessive use of motorways, despite lots of delays. Started the day with a long session on the sat navs and maps, then off through France. Quite nice roads, but as usual the towns were deserted and when all of the sports bikes simultaneously ran out of petrol in some tumbleweed junction, we had to go and buy jerrycans and petrol to get everyone to a proper garage. (à Super-U, Henri a dit: “Je veux acheter une grande bouteille pour l’essence...”. La femme d’acceuil: “Ah! C’est un jerrycan. Non, nous n’avons pas de jerrycan.”). When we got to the proper garage there was nobody there so we had to try using credit cards. No luck. A sign (and locals) said there would be staff at 2.45pm or some such time, so we waited and drank quite nice coffee from a machine and chatted with some Belgian Harley dudes with big hair on top and ageing chicks on the back who were on their way to a big Harley convention at Lake Garda. And then the staff appeared from somewhere and there was a big queue which we more or less jumped and we were on our way again. Long day with frequent stops. Arrived quite late at Montreux on Lake Geneva, where we stayed in a chateau (“It’s a national monument so we can’t lock the gates or the doors”) which had a hall with a log fire – this was Roger’s bedroom. Beers, taxi, meal at Museum restaurant, taxi, beers. Got own room.
435 miles

Sunday 21 September
Met up with Davide Guarini in Brig (Switzerland?) and rode over the Simplon pass into Italy. Fantastic. Memorial at the top to the Brig Brigade. Is there one to the Batley Battalion in Yorkshire? The route offered a ferry crossing and some winding roads but time was getting short so most of the party took a more direct route. However Nigel and I went for the ferry option, across Lake Como, which was good fun. Got to Parma late though and the rest of the group were already in the restaurant. After the meal Simon and Nigel took a ‘short cut’ over a wall and found themselves in some sort of military compound. Sadly they were released without being tortured at all. Davide went for a walk on his own. Shared a twin room with Nigel. Not sure whether I snored.
310 miles

Monday 22 September
Met Davide’s friend Max. The two of them rode off through the lovely Tuscan hairpins at Italian speed while we followed at a nervous Anglo Saxon wobble. Gurpreet broke down in Firenze (battery failed) but nobody realised until it was too late. I was on my own in Siena just as dark and rain began to fall when I found out and although I offered to ride back I must confess I was a bit relieved when Gurpreet said he’d get the bike fixed and catch us up. I think he stayed in the sort of splendour appropriate to a Deloitte partner. I did meet up with Nigel in Siena and we rode the last 30 or so miles of hairpins in the dark to Viterbo, where everyone else already was. Went down to the pizza restaurant and had a couple of beers. Own room as the others didn’t know Gurpreet had no-showed.
310 miles of amazing roads.

Tuesday 23 September
We managed to get separated almost immediately. I was with Simon and he was going very slowly. I asked why and he said his bike was (still) making funny noises. The previous day he’d noticed bad vibes emanating from the front wheel but all the “experts” had had a ride and said it was just brakes. We consulted Google and the sat navs and found that there was a Suzuki dealer about 30 miles off in Rome, so we limped there. The pros said they thought it was wheel bearings and would have a look, so we left them to fix it and rode into Rome 2-up. Quite a laugh. When we got back it turned out that most of the time we’d been gone had been siesta and they hadn’t actually started and he needed a new chain and sprockets too. I went on ahead and popped into Naples (crazy), arriving at the meal with Graham Fulcher of Watson’s about two hours late. Great meal though, in bike gear in posh restaurant and loads of grinning actuaries. Finally checked in to Hilton in Sorrento at 1am. Simon had beaten me there quite easily.
270 miles

Wednesday 24 – Friday 26 September
GIRO Conference. Very serious. Own room. Did get out for an early morning ride with Peter to Positano and back (57 miles). Great ride – the coastline is like Cornwall’s and the road was based on an original sketch by Dr Seuss. Scooters 2-up kept overtaking us on the hairpin bends. When we got to Positano, Peter suddenly thought he was supposed to be presenting a workshop, but it turned out it was in the afternoon.

Friday 26 September
GIRO sessions in the morning. Nigel skipped these and popped along the coast, where he got stuck and had to build his own little road out (without Dr Seuss’s help). Then he dropped the bike off its stand. All OK in the end bar a few scratches. The rest of the party went directly to Amandola, but Nigel and I went via Vesuvius. Well worth the visit, but made us late. Still felt obliged to take the twisty way, and for the last 40 miles or so no option – hairpins, rain, herds of cows, arrived 1am. The rest had made it nicely despite finding a wild hog (not a Harley, a real one) in the road and had had a civilised evening, apart from Simon whose own battery, not to be outdone by a Honda’s, had packed in. Simon stayed on his own in Chieto about 50 miles short. Shared a twin room with Nigel. Not sure whether I snored.
311 miles

Saturday 27 September
Had to be in Verona for the train at 7pm, no messing. Up early and off. Simon had managed to get the bike fixed prestissimo and we met up, amazingly, on the motorway. I had a ride on Gurpreet’s Fireblade – Hell’s fire! Got to Verona in good time and Gurpreet and I checked in the bikes and took a cab into town for a beer next to the Arena. Lovely.
280 miles

Back to the station in a bit of a rush to find hundreds of German Hogmen returning from the Garda rally or coven or whatever they’d been getting up to. Gurpreet had a whole cabin for five to himself (paid for and secure) so Peter and Simon joined him. I thought I had the same by luck alone, but after a session in the restaurant car popped back to find an elderly German couple in there. Back to the restaurant car for more beers. Back to my cabin to find a second, German couple had joined us. Five-up through the dark middle-European night, feeling increasingly queasy and eventually having to ask the top-bunk Germans to unlock the door so I could run like a pathetic little Britisher to be sick in the bogs. Boy was I glad to get off in Dusseldorf!

Sunday 28 September
On the bikes by 11.30am and heading as fast as possible to Calais for the various ferries. Mine was 6.30pm so less of a hurry and I fell behind. Lovely day, boring motorways. Could only tell which country you were in from the speed limits, which rumour had it you had to obey as the Benelux countries are said to be camera-mad. Got to Calais about 4.30pm to find several of the group waiting. They’d asked about earlier ferries (for me – theirs was from Boulogne) and there was one at 5pm, so I nipped to the front of the queue and managed to get on just in time. Ferry was fast (30mph according to the sat nav) and soon reached the White Cliffs of Dover. M20 horrible and back to London about 7pm.
330 miles

Overall a really good trip and now I’m looking forward to having another!


To read Chris Short’s review of the GIRO convention, click