France – Kevin Turner (issue 6)

…then I pulled on my own crash helmet, extended a hand of friendship, hastily retracted it and rode back out onto the Route National 85, a road built by God the day after he invented motorbikes.

I’d picked up the N85 the previous day from just outside Grenoble because I’d heard it was pretty special, which turned out to be quite an understatement. The Route Napoleon, as it’s better known, is without doubt the most mind-blowingly spectacular road I’ve ever ridden.

Taking its name from the path the famous leader followed when returning from exile in 1815, the Route Napoleon stretches about 300 kilometres, northwards from Golfe Juan on the Mediterranean coast…  …and as far as I can tell, doesn’t run straight for more than 100 metres at any point. It’s an extraordinary piece of road, for which the term ‘twisties’ could have been invented. It’s full of every kind of bend, from beautiful sweeping third gear scrapers to unsighted switchbacks that beckon you in like sirens, then tighten savagely, forcing you wide of your apex (and into the path of oncoming traffic).

But it’s not just the road itself that makes the N85 such an essential ride; the scenery – a mixture of lush forests, sheer cliffs and shimmering rivers at the bottom of immense, ragged canyons – is something to behold. Each twist and turn reveals yet another extraordinary vista; it’s so beautiful that you have to force yourself to concentrate on the road, not the view. It would be so easy to let a lingering glance become your last, especially as you get closer to the coast, where the canyons become ever more intimidating. There are few guardrails to speak off, and in many places all that separates you from the bottom of a ravine is a quaint rustic wall.