Randonnée de l'Amitié 1980

From Rixensart (Belgium) to Clermont-Ferrand (France)

Just one week after the legendary Chamois summer rally in Val d'Isere in July 1970, a motorbike rally was organized in the picturesque Auvergne region, named the Vercingetorix rally. This region is renowned for its breathtaking vistas of dormant volcanoes and its historical connection to the courageous Vercingetorix, the Gallic king and leader of the Arverne tribe. Vercingetorix famously attempted to unite the Gauls in a revolt against Julius Caesar and his Roman legions in 52 BC, though ultimately met with failure.

Vercingetorix 1970 - Prize-giving ceremony at the summit of Puy de Dôme

The event was eagerly awaited by the elite rally riders of the day, as it was the very first to be organised by the Clermont-Ferrand Dragons MC, founded two years earlier in 1968 by charismatic leader Christian 'Kiki' Blanchot.

Vercingetorix 1970 - Participants and their machines, on the Place du 1er Mai

Among them were Jean and Suzy Delain, representing the MC des Ardennes Brabanconnes de Rixensart on a Kawasaki 250; accompanied by their compatriot Guy Sichat on a Jawa 350 representing the Motor Union du Pays Noir de Charleroi; and their French friend Michel Poujart, a member of the MC Bondevillais, on a Honda 125.

These four rallyists arrived in Clermont-Fd on the morning of Wednesday 15 July, four days before the rally was due to start in earnest, and became lost in the town. Luckily, a member of the Dragons MC, who happened to be passing by, led them to the club's headquarters, which was then the bar 'Le Joker'. A merry band of Dragons were there and Kiki, the president, welcomed them to his fiefdom by offering them his aperitif round.

The merrymakers Kiki Blanchot (left) and Jean Delain (right) having a laugh...

This first meeting between Kiki and Jean was to seal the beginning of a solid friendship between the two men that would last for 17 years, until Kiki's tragic death in September 1977. Ironically, he was killed in a motorbike accident on his way back from the Wavre rally, an invitational meeting in Belgium organised by Jean Delain.

Myself (left) and Philippe Escuillie aka 'l'An 2' (right) at the Wavre rally, organised by Jean Delain, by invitation, in September 1977. It was the next day, on the way back from that meeting, that Kiki left us forever…

To avoid camping expenses, Philippe Herbin, who served as the vice-president of the Dragons MC at the time, graciously offered accommodation in his apartment to the four rally enthusiasts who had arrived ahead of the main motorcycling group. This generous gesture was made while they awaited the weekend event, during which tent pitching at the base of Puy de Dome would be covered by the registration fees.

Vice-president Philippe Herbin (left) and president Kiki Blanchot (right) of the Dragons MC moderating the debates at the first meeting of the pirate movement organised in February 1972 at Saint-Ours in the Auvergne

Dedicated to motorcycling despite a severe handicap

Through this report, I'd like to pay due tribute to our Belgian friend Jean Delain, another outstanding figure in the world of motorcycling. Although he is no longer active, the weight of his years having, like so many others, prevented him from practising his passion, it remains intact in his heart. These days, at an age when he is in the home stretch of his life, he is confined to the comfort of a retirement home.

A trio of renowned rallyists: Jean Delain (left) and his wife Suzy (right), and in the centre our bearded Serge Vollard aka 'Rasputin'

But what a fabulous motorcycling journey he has built, with the strength of his mind. Just imagine! Here is a man who when he was a child lost both his legs, amputated after falling under a tram. To be able to continue to function equipped with removable prostheses, he first had to relearn how to walk.

This handicap was really never going to restrain a fighter of his caliber. When he fell in love with motorcycling, he gave it his all in various disciplines such as touring and sidecar competitions, both in trials but also in speed. He was the sidecar passenger for many seasons of racing champion Michel Dormal.

Two Belgian motorbike touring aces in conversation: Jean Delain (left) and Dany Puiatti (right)

His love of motorbikes and meeting those sharing the same passion led him to dedicate himself body and soul to taking part in the establishment and organization of renowned Belgian motorcycling events such as La Ronde. FMB or even Lamborelle.

Jean Delain must be credited with helping to organize these two events, the Ronde FMB and Lamborelle

His motorcycling merit was recognized by his peers since he was inducted in France into the CCM (Confrerie des Chevaliers Motocyclistes, founded in 1971 by Michel Perdrix, Kiki Blanchot and Jean-Marie Debonneville) then bringing together the elite of the greatest French and foreign rallyists. Also in his own country by the Belgian Motorcyclist Federation, in which he served for many years as a delegate of the Tourism Commission.

A unique event organised by the FMB

At the end of April 1980, it was precisely on the initiative of Jean Delain that the motorcycle tourism commission of the FMB – in collaboration with the Moto Club d'Auvergne in France – organized a unique event which was never repeated.

The departure of this event, entitled 'Randonnee de l'Amitie', left from Rixensart in Belgian Brabant to reach the French city of Clermont-Ferrand; i.e. a route covering a distance of approximately 750 kilometres between the two cities, passing through mandatory check-in points.

Once arrived at the destination in the Auvergne capital, those who wished could take part in an additional circuit of around 130 kilometres, offering the opportunity to discover the majestic Massif Central region via numerous picturesque roads passing through the puy de Sancy and the Croix St Robert.

At the start, 1 Frenchman and 259 Belgians

This event counted for the Belgian championship of the 'Challenge des Grands Randonneurs'. Out of 260 participants who found themselves behind the handlebars of their machine to take the start, 259 were of Belgian nationality; the one and only foreigner, from France, being none other than your humble narrator, today reporting to you what this event was like at the end of April 1980.

During the two years 1974 and 1975, I fell in love with Belgium so much that I went there on average once or twice a month, very often in the company of my faithful friend and accomplice Michel Dégaine, to take part in the better known Walloon and Flemish motorcycle gatherings of the time.

Michel Degaine of the MC Creusois de Gueret, pictured here in 1974 riding his Honda CB 750 combo and GEP sidecar. Built in Valence from 1971, the GEP was the first French polyester basket. A real success at the time, this basket with a hull reminiscent of the single-seaters of the time enabled the brand to lay claim for a while to the position of leading European manufacturer

Michel and I went to the four corners of this country, without looking at the expenses or the kilometres, discovering thanks to all these rallies of the time cities and countries as diverse as Anderlecht, Aywaille, Brugge, Brussels, Chimay, Francorchamps, Jemappes, Keignaert, Mettet, Oostende, Namur, Nivelles, Saint-Servais, Villers-le-Bouillet, Zolder, and many others whose names I have forgotten. We even made two incursions into Luxembourg territory by participating in 1975 meetings at Brouch and Dudelange.

But as is often the case with many things, when you do too much in such a short period of time, you end up tiring of it; and we then felt the need to head towards new horizons and rallies in other countries that we had neglected.

Like Spain, for example, where we'd never had the chance to go. Before the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, motorbike gatherings were almost non-existent. When we heard that the country's first sidecar rally was going to take place in Arenys del Munt, in early April 1981, a bunch of Route Gueux jumped at the chance to discover the country.

(from left to right): Myself (sunglasses and cap), Patrick and Karine Servanton, Patrick 'Lynx' Bonin (checked shirt), behind him Jean-Marc 'Genese' Roquet, Pascal 'Bocu' Bouculat, and Joel ‘Comete’ Gery. The photo must have been taken by Dedette Blanchot or Gerard Guibert, both of whom are missing from the photo

When I heard at the beginning of 1980 about this FMB organization on the initiative of Jean Delain, I did not hesitate for long. I had to return to Belgium once again. Two reasons pushed me to respond positively to his call.

As a former member of the CCM (I had resigned), I felt more or less obliged to testify to Jean that, despite the fact that I was no longer part of it, my esteem and my respect for him had changed in no way.

On the spiritual side, even if it was unspoken, for me the fact that Jean had chosen Clermont-Ferrand for the finish of this motorcycling 'run' testified to the strong links he had with the Auvergne stronghold of his friend Kiki Blanchot, and that this organization was implicitly a tribute that he wished to pay to him. Dedette and I, as life members of Dragons MC, were honour bound to accept Jean's invitation.

As you can see for yourself, the badge for the Vercingetorix rally 1970 (left) by the Dragons MC and that for the Rixensart-Clermont Fd 1980 run (right) initiated by Jean Delain, bear similarities that show his intention to pay tribute to his late friend Kiki

The one and only difference with the other 259 Belgian motorcyclists is that I was going to complete the same route as them but in the opposite direction.

1760 km on a solo MZ TS250

For this long ride of a total of 1760 kilometres, I decided to remove the basket of my MZ TS250 sidecar and do it solo with behind me 'Dedette' Blanchot, Kiki's widow and my partner of the time, riding pillion.

The late Bernadette 'Dedette' Blanchot, a grande dame of French motorbike touring scene, pictured here at the Bouce rally in 1971. She never rode a motorbike, but riding pillion was part of every rally and adventure on 2 and 3 wheels, amassing several hundred thousand kilometres in the saddle

The start of this run being on a Wednesday, we left on Monday; heading first towards the south-eastern suburbs of Paris.

There, in Joinville le Pont, we stopped to spend the night at the home of my good friend the late Philippe Comte aka 'Bouboule', a passionate rallyist, member of the Lutetia MC, a colourful character with the banter of a ‘titi parisien’ with whom I had the privilege of experiencing extraordinary and unforgettable adventures and moments of life. Bouboule has sadly left us due to a stupid heroin overdose — but not before having lived like a king.

Lutetia MC members in 1973 on their way to the Bouc Treffen in Massay (from left to right): the late 'Bouboule'; behind him the wife of Jean Jugeau, the club president; 'Louis XIV’; the bearded Jean Bréjeaut aka 'Jeannot'; and Antoine Bovis (helmet on).

Philippe then lived in the same building as another of my very good, long-time friends, Gilles Gaudechoux, from the Cercle Motocycliste Raboliots de Romorantin, still active today and a contributor to this website.

Gilles Gaudechoux, another die-hard rallyist, pictured here circa 1971, on his Yamaha 350 YR5

So we spent the evening together discussing this and that, remaking the world in words, and of course evoking common memories that we had experienced together during unforgettable rallies.

Such as the grandiose Amsterograounztreffen, which Bouboule and Gilles had organized with their accomplices Gérard Billiotte (aka 'Bill') and Antonio Beltramelli (aka 'British') during the winter of 1976, at the diabolical inn of Neuville/Vanne, frequented by surreal characters with nicknames 'Claudius', 'Skrab's', or 'Jack's Le Fourbe'...

Amsterograounztreffen 1976 - The one and only souvenir photo of this rally in the Aube that I have; and which shows yours truly and his trusty Commando 850 in winter mode, equipped with a warm and cosy leather apron. I remember it was really cold that weekend as the frost on the saddle and the frozen ground confirm

The next day, Tuesday, all we had to do was travel the remaining 280 km to the Delain couple's home. The distance was quickly swallowed up by the Northern highway and in the middle of the afternoon we finally arrived at our hosts.

After a good cup of tea served by Suzy, the hostess, Jean took me with him to help him put up all the FMB signage indicating to the participants the path to follow to get easily to where the start of the Belgian-French run was going to take place, on Wednesday 30 April 1980.

After duly completing our route sheets, we were given the itinerary to follow, including three compulsory checkpoints where we had to get our cards stamped.

By 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a small group of 6 participants had already registered and were ready to set off, including the well-known rallyist Pierre Brel, leader of RAMCA Anderlecht.

Pierre Brel, the older brother of the famous singer Jacques Brel

Pierre Brel had a passion for motorbikes and adventure. In the early '50s, he undertook a raid from Brussels to the Congo on a Harley-Davidson, before taking up regularity rallyes as a Puch rider. He discovered international motorbike rallies and gave them his all, leading the RAMCA Anderlecht, then the MC Equipe, and inspiring many Belgian rallyists to share his passion for motorbike travel.

Continued in Part 2 ...

- Jean-Francois Helias

Start of quotation Super d' avoir des nouvelles de Jean Delain un mec super End of quotation

- Jacques l' Anar

No translation needed!

Start of quotation Hi! pépère Fanfan,

Véry nice pépère Fanfan... End of quotation

- L'Greatfull Did