Classic Motorcycle Touring on the Island of Corsica

There may be no better way to plunge into the wild heart of the island of Corsica than on a classic motorcycle.


| May/June 2012



Neil Thomas Ariel Corsica

Neil Thomas tends to the Ariel during a stop in Calucuccia.

Corsicans, like New Yorkers, Scots and Texans, don’t particularly like being told what to do. Neither does that peculiar motorcyclist who chooses to ride a machine that was made on a long-defunct assembly line. It follows, then, that there is no better way to plunge into the wild heart of Corsica than on a classic motorcycle.

Lying south of France and west of Italy, the island of Corsica was forged in a geological conflict of large rocks that slashed across each other to thrust jagged peaks up through the waves of the Mediterranean. Corsica’s cultural history has also been punctuated by conflict, the island having been claimed by ancient mariners, Romans and Vandals, by city-states like Genoa and Pisa, and by France, which annexed Corsica in 1769, the birth year of its most famous son, Napoleon Bonaparte. Even today, while Corsica has achieved a privileged, nebulous status as a semi-independent French region, it retains a local dialect and an enduring separatist movement whose occasional violent eruptions back up the island’s reputation as the place where vendetta was invented.

The island of Corsica on two wheels

Early on a fresh May morning, I rumble down the ramp of a ship moored in the port city of Bastia on Corsica’s northeast side aboard a 1977 Moto Guzzi 850-T3. I’m here with Classic Bike Esprit, which conducts motorcycle tours in the south of France. Neil and Sarah Thomas, the principals of CBE, run a stable of old motorcycles on which I will be traveling with riders from England, Scotland, Wales and Australia, piloting a 1973 Triumph Tiger, a 1976 Norton Commando, a 1973 Honda CB750-K2 and a 1951 Ariel Square Four. I will be spending the next few days riding new roads on old bikes, and learning a few new things in the process.

Heading north from Bastia, the road comes alive with curves, and I find Neil’s 850-T3 California a fine, roomy choice for settling into this rugged foreign land. Its engine is happy at any speed, and the Guzzi is utterly composed ambling across the deeply fractured roads. The transverse V-twin shivers pleasingly, behaving (as our Australian rider put it) like a lovable old retriever after a swim; it celebrates life by jumping around cheerfully. Then the road opens, and the faithful 850 gallops forward.

While I’m quite familiar with Moto Guzzis (a trusty T has lived in my garage for years), the California’s combination of footboards, linked brakes and higher bars are new to me. The linked brake pedal (which operates one front and the rear disc) grows on me, and after a while the hand-actuated front disc feels a bit weedy if I use it on its own. The T3 is hugely flexible, I discover. You can stretch out and enjoy its long-legged cruising stability, you can accelerate aggressively and then haul down, heel over and adjust your line in the curves, or you can creep slowly through town with your feet perched on the boards.

Classic motorcycle touring in the country

Following the coastline, we stop in Erbalunga to enjoy an open-air breakfast, fresh with the smell of the sea and the jasmine musk of maquis, a local undergrowth. We’ll be creeping counter-clockwise around Corsica’s northern “finger,” passing through many villages and stopping frequently for refreshment. A rhythm begins to emerge in the cadence of the snaking coastline, and jumping off the finger onto the island’s northwestern shoulder, the coast road climbs sharply and the rhythm deepens and quickens.

William Patterson
5/17/2012 4:40:39 PM

Very good write up on this tour, hire this guy again (no, not a relative!). wcp






bike on highway

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