(Update 2016, photos enhanced and afterword added)
After wanting to ride the Europe alps for a very long time I decided to go with tour and just completed the Edelweiss Ultimate Alps tour. It was nice fun and a relaxed way to ride in Europe which was a main priority for me having travelled about there in car and train and had many many difficulties. I initially had concerns that the tour daily mileage would not be enough however most days we were riding until dusk due to some slow riders so the length was chosen well for a group. With company at hand it was easy to enjoy some late evenings and long lunches in the interesting stops so the slow pace fitted well. A van takes your luggage and it really is a luxury ride.
I chose a Honda CB600F for the tour and it turned out to be a good choice as the bigger bikes were a handful in all the switchback corners where mine was much easier and being slow pace very rare you could use any power so bigger bikes were just wasted. The CB was very easy to ride with not too much weight and that Honda type of neutral handling. The front end lacked feedback however it was equipped with Metzeler Z6 tyres same as I use at home so this installed some familiarity to the bike for me. On the times I broke off on my own or stayed back to make a quicker run up a hill the engine proved to be very willing and if I was to do it again I would go for even less power in a 600 twin.
There were two tour guides from Edelweiss, Ramon and Christoff who shared the roles of tour lead rider and support van driver. I don’t like to ride in a group much however these guys were easy to ride with and if I placed myself at or near the front of the group I found the pace to mostly be acceptable with the odd bit of slow going. Each night we had a big group dinner with local wines or beer and with the exception of one couple everyone was quite social and easy going which made for a very enjoyable time.
Swiss alpine roads. See the lake in the distance at top of switchbacks – below is at that lake, a detour I took with two great blokes from New Jersey, some of the photos here are courtesy of Brian the rider in the photo below.
The 600 I had above and how the Swiss mountain passes cling to the side of the mountains.
And yes so to those roads, well there were some great mountain passes to ride and beautiful scenery along the way. My photos do not capture either accurately however I hope they give a small taste of what was on offer but the roads themselves were not always what I would call good motorcycle roads per se but the views make up for it. In comparison to riding by myself at home I did not take every opportunity to stop and take photos, you simply would never get anywhere with views like above but also I needed to keep with the group to a certain degree. (Update - in hindsight that was perhaps the only thing I did not like so much. Riding with a group I did find myself not able to stop as I would have if riding solo – the trade off of course is you have people to share things with and meals and coffee breaks are easy with a guide but sometimes a challenge solo)
The route you can see on the edelweiss web page (update – no longer same route) but starting north of Munich we blasted down the autobahn with Christoff who was the quicker rider of the two guides. Then through some of the German alps and on to Liechtenstein. Then into the Swiss alps and to Italian lakes. Then over Italian alps before back to Germany.
One of the better climbs and the road ahead going down the other side.
Meals are all pretty much first class with the tour, very enjoyable and nothing like my usual burger and fries.
Below crossing one of the lakes in northern Italy after lunch.
We stopped at this pub for a special omelets they make.
We did ride the famous Stelvio even though it was not on the agenda. All the group wanted to go there despite guide Ramon saying the route he had planned for us was much better riding and Stelvio may disappoint but being it is so famous we voted to go that way and well Ramon was right haha. I have no decent photos as the cloud obscured the view at the top to a camera but with the naked eye we could make out parts of the road zig zagging away below in moments where the cloud slightly cleared. The riding however was just a chore I have to say with those uturn corners look great but a pain to ride and then cars will chop the corner forcing you to stop at steep often difficult angle so best to just stop well before and let them go and lets not mention buses. But I guess we can all say we have been there. I think the next photo was at the bottom and I got other people to take my photo at the top but then they never sent the photos to me.
Coffee on lake Como at a little spot tucked away the guide knew of. That sort of thing and knowing the best places for lunch and where to park the bikes all made the tour run smooth. I have travelled a lot but always find Europe so difficult. Even having been there solo a few times it just remains a place that frustrates as much as it interests me so I enjoyed it on this trip more than any other time by having someone to make things run smooth.
Some great nights out too, below a beautiful evening in Bolzano.
Day six was a rest or ride day in the Dolomites. It started out raining however that cleared to give a beautiful afternoon ride in the Dolomites which was the most spectacular ride of the tour. For me the roads and scenery around the Dolomites were by far the best of the whole tour and if I was to return I would choose to base myself in the area and ride all the roads there for a week. I wish I had more photos of the dolomites, another person promised me dearly she would share her photos which often had me in them as she was pillion on the bike mostly behind me but for reasons I do not know she did not. (another bloke on the tour having done other tours said nobody ever seems to share their photos. Oh well I did even if it was not reciprocated)
After a week of fine and mild weather on the passes (warm in the towns and valleys) the cold weather kicked in the last days of the trip (it was already September). I was then glad to have bought all the winter gear with me as the passes became suddenly very cold in the minus temperatures with snow. I feel so lucky that I got to not only have fine weather to ride every day but also got to experience two aspects of the alpine passes. Last day I had planned to ride a famous high alpine road in Austria by myself on the way back to base however it was snowed in so that let me enjoy a last day leisurely ride back via some lovely scenic roads in Bavaria instead to wrap it up back in Munich where the famous October fest had commenced.
I really cannot think of too much bad to say about the tour. Of course the cost is far much more than DIY however somewhat offset by 4 star hotels and all the high quality dinners included but the main thing I was paying for was a smooth and fun experience in Europe which I got and which in the past I found impossible to experience. So on balance it was perhaps a reasonable price and I had paid for the tour in advance at a favorable exchange rate which also helped. I also enjoyed the off bike time with friendly guides to show you about town and their favourite place for a drink and the local rules all of which by myself I find sometimes daunting. The other thing is I really had not toured by motorcycle overseas solo and this was a great way to get started in that. Perhaps the only negative thing for me is riding in a group the pace can bog down at times. Your limited to the slowest rider of course and guides need to wait and see everyone has passed a slow vehicle so you do a lot of regrouping. That and when not riding by myself I never stop as much for photos not wanting to spoil the riding rhythm so to speak.
I will hopefully get some photos from the other tour riders to add to this post in time. (update nope no one else on the tour shared their photos) As for riding the alps of Europe it was a very enjoyable time in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Switzerland was very pretty and as mentioned above the Dolomites were the stand out of the tour for me even though I have just a couple photos from there as I actually dropped my camera that day rendering it useless and so took nothing after that nor the final day riding.
Reflections 2016 – wow time fly's, already 6 years ago. Well this was my first big overseas ride and this set in motion future travel and the solo tours I have done since in other countries. I have tried to return to Europe but beside a small ride in Ireland never made it. It is already a much more expensive place with these tours costing more and now a poor exchange rate, the above tour in this years price would be hard for me to justify. But that is not the real thing stopping me. For me riding in the alps is spectacular but not the best for me. Let me clarify.
Being anywhere on a bike with other like minded riders is always going to be a laugh and yes it is jaw dropping scenic. However the actual riding is as already mentioned a lot switchbacks and even off season a lot of traffic compared to places I like to ride. Euro bikers seem to thrive on switch back corners but I cannot for the life of me understand why. But maybe it is just me, I like to feel a bike leaned over through a long curve and my perfect road is a series of sweepers where I never touch the brakes simply lean from one side to the over. Basically the opposite of switchback roads hence why I have not felt a strong desire to ride them again. The riding I was going to do on the Versys I had in Ireland was a bit of everywhere else with a focus on Ireland the the UK then Spain and the Adriatic with just a few days allocated to the alps. I have since sold that bike and recouped my money. Basically I decided that prices in UK were too much with $4 a litre petrol and $20 sandwiches being 4 times what prices in Tokyo are.
The other aspect of Europe I find challenging is hard to summarise. It is just that I am so used to Asia where things seem to go smooth for me. People understand I am a tourist and do not expect me to know their language, gestures and nodding get me by and often multi language menus are offered and certainly no one turns up their nose or is rude unlike some places in Europe where people seem to hate tourists who are not fluent in languages which are minor ones in volume compared to Asia. Everyone pushes in front of each other at shops and nobody can form an orderly queue. Need to be very careful about petty crime and secure your bike well during day and park in a hotel garage at night too all of which makes Asia seem so refined, relaxed and easy to enjoy by comparison. But that is just me. Maybe I shall return to do a tour of the alps and Adriatic coast one day with someone like Edelweiss. Later in life when I feel I can splurge the money to travel in that luxury sort of riding again where someone else makes it run smooth.