It goes without saying that while the actual motorcycle is obviously the main ingredient in the world of motorcycling, it is the people that inhabit it that make it so fascinating and enjoyable. Motorcycles seem to attract a particular breed of person that in many ways seem to keep fostering the ´British Bulldog´ pioneering spirit.
Mind you, those on the outside of the motorcycle community may well suggest that a streak of madness runs through the breed. But, as the saying goes, “If I have to explain, you would not understand!” They do not of course understand why motorcycles attract such devotion and evoke such passion.
But, as you well know, you do meet the nicest people on a motorcycle to steal (and alter) a line from Honda’s adverts of a few years ago. Phil Butler is one such man, somebody you could not dislike if you tried, a man so full of enthusiasm and passion for bikes and the roads of Northern Spain.
Now well known as the proprietor of ‘Bike Astur’ appearing at many bike shows, he like many of his fellow motorcycle holiday proprietors started up the business due to the circumstances he found himself in and that were beyond his control.
As a successful gas fitter he was doing alright, earning enough to pay for his motorcycling and not unhappy with his working day, things were good until redundancy came along. Add to this his partner Jackie then getting the chance to buy a business in Llanes, Northern Spain; he had some tough decisions to make.
Seeing it as an opportunity to change direction, the pair sold up and headed for warmer climes. Now while Jackie had her days mapped out, he had to occupy his time. Phil used his business acumen and realised that he had an opportunity to combine business with pleasure.
Bike Astur was founded six years ago as a motorcycle holiday firm, Phil guiding riders on their own bikes around the stunning Picos Mountains and along the Asturian coastline.
After two years he began to realise that some clients were not getting the best out of their trips, hauling some heavy tourers along narrow country and mountain roads. Likewise the sports bike rider was uncomfortable at the lower speeds needed to stay safe on the tighter gravel strewn roads.
So, enter a fleet of six Royal Enfield’s, complete with electric starts available to hire. Two benefits of this introduction were that now he could offer fly ride holidays, so that people could take advantage of the cheap flights into Santander and also that there was a bike available for those who still chose to ride down and then have a more manageable mount when they got there!
“It definitely seems to be working,” said Phil as he gave me the quick run down on the bikes. “People seem to take to them even when they have ridden down on a sports bike. They are good for a genuine 50 mph cruise which to be honest, is more than enough down here!”
Despite having ridden down on an FJR 1300 Yamaha, via of course the useful and comfortable Brittany ferry into Santander, I found myself quickly agreeing with him.
Sitting in a café for lunch after the first mornings ride, it was clear that the bikes maximum speed was totally irrelevant; it was fast enough to be exciting on the roads we were traversing.
Several days later back on the Yamaha I found that I needed three figures on the speedo to get the same buzz out of a road that I had thoroughly enjoyed at a modest 50mph on the Enfield. Which, of course just proves that, if you pick the right roads you can have some real fun and enjoy a challenge without having to risk your licence!
Phil of course in now almost totally integrated into the local community and the Enfield’s are a familiar sight on the ‘right’ roads. His language fluency also helps, as many of the villages are not geared up to tourism like those on Mediterranean coast.
“The idea of everybody using each others services and business is still very much alive here in Spain and it works very well. I get a lot of locals come out for a ride at weekends”, he said, as we tucked into some local fare.
“Hence I use the same hotel all the time,” he continued.
“I don’t hire bikes out, I run guided tours, but these are tailored to the clients needs. Therefore, I can vary things according to the weather and any particular requests!”
This is not just talk, because over four days Phil could not have been more helpful in taking me to the best places for photographs, or to get an idea on the local history, something he is very knowledgeable about.
Standing admiring the Roman Bridge in Congas de Onis, Phil happily rattled off many facts and figures explaining many of the local customs, adding that all important extra into to the days riding.
On the subject of riding, you can only enthuse about the roads that climb and dip having carved their way through the various rock formations. Normally at the top of every climb there is a view that is as spectacular as any Alpine vista, although during his main season of April to October, is unlikely to be covered in snow.
Like many of his contemporaries, he has an effortless easy riding style, helped of course by intimate knowledge of the roads he is leading you down. Thanks of course to that that, he is able to vary the route at will and keep things flowing in a relaxed easy going manner.
However, when asked to ride a series of bends for photos, he also showed that he can up the anti when required, something he later showed on his GS BMW that he keeps for the modern tours.
“There is no point though in going too quick though as you miss the stunning views and some of the local architecture. Besides it is supposed to be a holiday for the clients and we want them to go home in one piece!” he concluded as we sat and watched a group of vultures circulating above our heads. A gentle reminder that nature has always had its own ambulance chasers!
Motorcycles are well received as you might expect in a country steeped in motor sport, a certain Mr Alonso of course coming from the area that Phil frequents. It did not seem to matter how rural the roads got, there was always a cheery wave from the driver coming the other way or person working a in a field.
Whether that was just to do with the make of bikes, I know not, but I really do not think that had any real bearing on things as the same thing happened on the Yamaha.
I did eventually have to return the Enfield, after electing to stay on one for my entire trip with Phil despite him suggesting that we took the more modern bikes out to get a flavour of his overall operation.
There was no need in my humble opinion as he was adequately demonstrating why he is now enjoying many repeat bookings from people who just want to ride and chill out in great motorcycle surroundings.
It must be said that even Phil cannot control the weather and one morning we spent a pleasant half hour chatting in a bus shelter, before taking pictures of bikes on a beach devoid of sunbathers and sun! But, the diversity is all part of the package and I am sure in the main summer months there is little cloud dodging to be done.
One thing that is consistent to each tour that he runs is the last night’s meal in a local restaurant. The chef just does something different every time and I can safely say that even the fussiest eater will come out absolutely full to the gunnels having enjoyed every mouthful.
The same can also be said of the entire holiday which you will have had in company with Phil (and occasionally Jackie) for however long you chose to go for.
In case you are wondering why I have not mentioned each town, village, road or pass we covered, it is because there is no set menu of routes. Phil will plan these according to your wants needs and desires and then give you a Michelin Map to help you remember where you have been, or maybe want to go in the future.
If you really want to know where he goes just look at the area of Asturias and the area to the right of Santander and the Picos Mountains. You will traverse many of the roads in this area at sometime during your stay!
In terms of road riding Bike Astur is almost a total holiday planning service. Use your own bike, ride down, (they are 50miles from Santander) use the ferry, hire a classic, or if you are short of time fly down and back and ride an Enfield (you are guaranteed to enjoy it) the choice is yours.
But, Phil is not resting on his laurels and has recently introduced Bring Your Own Classic Tours (BYO Classic).
In other words, just like his modern guided events, you can do the same with your own classic bike safe in the knowledge that even after a good fettling at home, it breaks down you will still be able to get home again!
Bike-Astur now has a fully equipped workshop, which will be at your disposal at no extra cost should you need to make running repairs to your own pride & joy.
Their secure workshop is well lit, spacious, has a hydraulic ramp, a workbench with a vice, pillar drill, bench grinder, compressor, impact wrench, various power tools and a comprehensive range of hand tools.
However, if this is not enough to solve the problem and your bike cannot be fixed, they will transport your bike back to the ferry port at the end of your tour, which means you do not have to wait weeks to get your bike home before starting to repair it.
Take your bike to Plymouth by trailer or in a van, leave your transport at the ferry port and ride your bike aboard the ferry. In Spain, Phil will meet you at the ferry port and lead you to your hotel, not that it is that hard to find your way, but it helps especially if you have not ridden abroad before.
With this introduction you now have the option of using your own modern or classic, or riding one of the Enfield’s on superb roads guided by Phil. Having experienced the superb service before, I think that this will new innovation will increase the demand and in a few years time I will be definitely be doing a repeat visit to see how he is getting on.