Europe Motorcycle Tour
Motorbike Adventure Europe
For as long as I can remember, my father always advised, ‘take life by the horns and experience every there is, no matter how difficult it may seem'. For the rewards in life come from stepping outside one's comfort zone. I suppose this adage explains how I ended up in Edinburgh, 16,917 km from home after riding around 10,000 km through Europe from as far south as Crete taking in Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, England, and Wales. The journey completed in a magnificent Triumph Adventurer motorcycle.
The journey started many years ago in my 20’s when I dreamed of riding a motorcycle through Europe and teaching myself photography; something I had a great interest in as a child but like many a life’s journeys, it was put to the side while I pursued other things.
So sitting in a corporate office in Melbourne, something started to stir late in my thirties after my father suddenly passed away and I thought if I don’t do this it will never happen. It would become one of those ‘gunna, wanna, coulda, shoulda’ that you often hear people going on about.
So, within a matter of days, I tended my resignation and told my friends that I was off to fulfil my life’s dream. It is interesting how people react to that type of reckless abandon. But hey, I was single, without children and had an opportunity to do what I had always wanted. But where was I going and how was I going to get a motorcycle.
Growing up in Melbourne I had many Greek friends and having been there once before, I thought it would the place to start; for no other reason except I liked the place, had been there, and it was in fact the only place I had been to in Europe.
Australians are renowned for a ‘can do’ attitude where nothing seems impossible and while this may be true, there is a huge difference between impossible and challenging. Consequently, I assumed I could just turn up in Greece and purchase a bike as I could in Australia. I now admit this prospect was a bit ambitious and if it had not been for the help of Triumph Tours of Greece I would probably still be in Athens dealing with Greek bureaucracy. My desire to hit the road got to the stage that I would have taken a clapped out Vespa with 2 flat tyres.
... packing my business suit was probably not necessary ...
So, with the help of Deb from the tour business, with whom I will be eternally grateful, I was able to purchase a British-plated Triumph Adventurer with only 1,200 miles on the clock. It was a bike I had never heard of but produced by a company that was familiar to me for making cars many years ago and most importantly, famous for producing one of the great classic motorcycles, the ‘Bonneville’.
The first bike I rode as a teenager had one cylinder and since then I have had a variety of two and four-cylinder bikes. I had never even known about a three-cylinder engine. But from the first couple of minutes on the bike, I realised how deprived my upbringing had been and I knew that the tour of Europe was going to be an Adventure (sorry for the pun... couldn't resist).
My only plan at this stage was that I had to be in Amsterdam in three months as my brother was being transferred there for work, and then Inverness (Scotland) three weeks after that. These were the only certainties I had and minor things like route and accommodation would be determined day by day.
So, with bike purchased it was time to start the adventure. I have a saying... ' it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it'. So when I left Australia I packed everything, 35kg when I checked in at the airport, and will this may be fine for a regular holiday it is not the best for a motorcycle tour, especially when you add motorbike things like tools, spares, locks etc. Needless to say, packing my business suit was probably not necessary.
The 3 months in Greece saw me touring Southern Greece, the Peloponnese and several Islands and despite it being the 3rd time I have been there it still inspires me as much as it did the first time. The scenery is every bit as beautiful as the postcards and books but the riding conditions are certainly different and awareness is a must. Much of the aggregate in the bitumen is marble (and not blue metal) and consequently wears down to a very smooth and potentially slippery surface (when dusty or wet). So the is an adjustment to be made with riding styles but once you are aware that you do not have the traction that is offered on other bitumen types it an absolute pleasure. (One advantage to all this is if you come off… as I saw… you simply slide and it is not like falling off onto a cheese grate). The second challenge is the other drivers. To say that they are cavalier is an understatement. They are fast and thoughtless and will pass you on either side (even using the hard shoulder) and if there is a two-lane road they will make it 3. But once you are aware that while riding in Greece you need to be aware that anyone within 50 metres of you going in any direction will potentially do anything…. You are ok.
I caught the overnight ferry from Patras to Brindisi in Italy and upon loading up my bike I realised that someone had taken my daypack which had been attached to my main pack.
What was in it? Just all my maps, route book, travel literature and language books. Great, I am about to land in Italy (for my first time) with absolutely no idea where I am heading except north. Once adjusted to that frightening vulnerability (it is after all this which makes travel so exciting) I just road north until I could find a place to replenish my travel resources. Not such an easy thing to do in Southern Italy. I am now a firm believer in providence. So I rode up to the east coast thru Brindisi, Bari, around Gargano (a must), up to Ancona, west to Perugia, and then North West to Aosta and the Alps. The roads in Italy were like something from a road construction trade show… absolutely fabulous and much of it was as smooth as GP track. As expected, the drivers were fast and showy but they would display a certain system/etiquette to driving that was not evident in Greece. Once I had adjusted to this I found it one of the best countries in Europe (that I visited) to drive. One amazing thing in Italy was the number of tunnels. Instead of the roads following the lie of the land with inclines and declines, the road construction was via tunnels and viaducts which made touring quick and efficient although not overly challenging. I have now been on the road for nearly 15 weeks and I am still pinching myself several times a day that I am actually riding a bike through Europe and that excitement never wanes. It is now heightened by me realising a childhood dream of seeing Mont Blanc and the Alps. This is surreal… this is my dream… I am approaching Valle d Aoste and I get my first glimpse of The Alps and it is one of the most awesome sights in the world.
My intention was to ride from Aoste across to Switzerland but as I was heading up to St Bernard I was confronted with ‘Road Closed’ sign (in Italian obviously). The prospect of turning around and having to go thru the tunnel was not a pleasant one as it involved a 9km tunnel ride which is as boring as watching paint dry. Do I ignore the sign and give it a go or do the sensible thing? I am from the other side of the world and was not about to take the tunnel. Around the sign, I go and up over the pass and it was absolutely magnificent. Others who have done a similar (irresponsible) thing may relate to the feeling. At first, it is exhilarating and you keep in mind to be extra careful as there must be a reason for the road being closed and then you realise that the danger is two-fold. If something did go wrong, no one knows I am here and then it becomes really eerie. The scenery was unbelievable and it soon became apparent why the road was closed… despite being summer, there was still nearly six foot of snow on the side of the road and several snow slides that had to be negotiated. But it was truly worth it…. To experience riding over the Alps and the relief when I had made across to Switzerland and pass the corresponding ‘Road Closed’ sign.
Switzerland was beautiful (and a lot like a Toblerone advertisement) but the next stop awaits, Chamonix, and to enjoy the magnificence of Mont Blanc. I have never been so moved by such spectacular sight as the 14,500 ft Mount and the accompanying Aguille du Midi. I felt it was an ideal to rest up for a few days.. enjoying some fine French cuisine and quaffing some of France’s finest red (Chateauneuf de Pape) in the shadows of one of the worlds most spectacular mountains. Riding the Triumph through the valley in the cold and wet was a real treat.
My original plan was to see Mont Blanc and that was about all I wished to see in France and intended to ride straight up to The Netherlands via Luxembourg and Belgium. I was so impressed with my 7 days in France that it is one of those times in life when you know your preconceived notions of a country were so wrong. From the time I arrived in France, I vowed that I would return and really investigate this country with a more open mind. This became a reality when I returned the following year for a 10-week tour.
Riding in France is unique and does take some adjustment. The drives are selfish and inconsiderate but one you modify your riding style it does become enjoyable. One thing that is always unnerving is the way the French drivers will approach from behind and sit a few feet off your tail before changing lanes to pass. Another idiosyncrasy is their displeasure at being passed as if it is a personal insult to them. Many will see you approach from behind and accelerate so you cannot pass then. Then once you have manoeuvred around them and realise that you are now going 40MPH faster than what you were previously doing they will slow back to their original speed and disappear from view as if they had stopped. Despite this, it was a wonderful experience.
As I know I will be returning to France again, my ride north was more of a reconnaissance mission and so I decided to take in some of the best a slickest toll roads in Europe and make a bee-line to Amsterdam where my brother lives. I crossed the Belgium border and noticed a petrol station and even though I was still half full I thought I would fill up. The queue was about 200 metres and so I thought there would be another one down the road. Fifty miles down the road I was totally out of petrol and realised why that petrol station was so popular. I was fortunate that a Dutch campervan helped me with some petrol and was back on my way.
Riding in The Netherlands was great as the roads and the drivers were very ‘user-friendly’ but it is a very flat and very windy country. By the display of the friendliness of the Dutch is that on the day I was lost around Zeeland and within about 5 minutes stopped by the roadside trying to work out how to get aver to Rotterdam, I person stopped to help and even gave me an escort for 40 miles to make sure I was ok. This type of hospitality was reminiscent of what I know to be a very integral part of my country. I could have stayed longer in the Netherlands but it was now mid-June and I have 4 weeks to go exploring a bit of England before pushing further north to Scotland and to get as far north as Wick before it gets too cold and wet. So aboard a ferry at Ijmuiden and set sail for Newcastle.
The United Kingdom:
Disembarking in Newcastle was a great experience as it was from here that my Grandparents left the UK and emigrated to Australia and despite being mid-summer it was cold and wet but faded into insignificance by my excitement at being in England for the first time. The first two weeks in the UK saw me ride down to Bristol, up through Wales, north to Glasgow, back down the West Coast via the Lakes District and back to Bristol via Manchester and Birmingham. After a weeks rest in Bristol I hit the road again and headed across to Scarborough, Whitby, up to Edinburgh, Stirling, Fort William, along Loch Ness, Inverness, and Wick (my most northern destination). The UK is such a wonderful place to ride a bike despite being very cold and wet for this antipodean. It was now time to get to Edinburgh to rest the body, replenish and give the bike a well-deserved rest as it performed magnificently and did not miss a beat for the 10,000 odd miles covered so far.
After 6 months on the road relying on a combination of camping and cheap B&B’s, I was looking forward to the normality of some work and a nice cosy apartment in Haymarket (Edinburgh).
I am sitting at my window as a watch the days getting shorter and it is now hitting me how far I have travelled and the achievement of riding from Crete to Scotland. The bike did not miss a beat and is a testament to the quality of the motorcycle. And it amazing that when I was originally trying to purchase a bike it would not have been in my top 10 of choices, in fact, I had never considered even buying a Triumph.
After such a journey and many hours on this trusty steed, it is amazing the connection a person can have for a machine... I suppose that is the passion of motorcycle riding.