Hey guys - long post alert, but for those not interested in reading it, there's a link at the end to some photos.
So I’m finally getting around to posting up about my Europe trip. A rough plan for the trip was conceived before I had the Tiger 1200, but I won’t lie at being relieved with the prospect of doing it on a far more comfortable bike! Anyway, the core principles were to be on the move pretty much every day, to camp every night, and to be as self-sufficient as possible. In total I was away for 16 days and clocked up 4,000 miles.
For the first couple of days I actually chaperoning a friend who wanted to go to Europe on her bike, but was a little tentative about crossing the pond and being there without the prospect of any support. Because of this, we spent 3 days getting to the Black Forest, which for me wasn’t ideal (as it was boring). If I had travelled on my own I would have reached the Black Forest in 1 day, but never mind. Anyway, I left home at 5am for a rush hour commute to the EuroTunnel. The panniers on the Tiger give it a very wide profile, and whilst I have previously filtered fully loaded, I was hoping for a trouble-free journey down the M1. Thankfully all ran smoothly - and the weather was crisp and clear. I arrived at 11.30am at our agreed rendezvous (a Shell petrol station one junction before the EuroTunnel). I filled up and then pushed my bike to a parking space to wait for my friend. Pushed the bike forwards (and even backwards!) into this parking bay so all I had to do was ride it out. Fully loaded, I was quite impressed. And then… for some reason when I went to put the side stand down, I physically pushed the bike away from me ?! I have no idea what I was thinking! It was a literal shove with both my hands? I’ve never done anything like that before. So naturally my bike fell onto it’s right side. A 90 degree drop, fully loaded, and pushed with quite some force! A couple of bikers were fuelling up having just returned from Europe so I enlisted their help in lifting it. The damage - well nothing which prevented me from continuing my journey thankfully:
Smashed front right indicator so that wasn’t working
A minor scuff on the right hand guard (but this had saved my mirror and brake lever)
I had added some fork protectors and they’d done their job - no damage to the forks, front brake, etc. Just a very minor chip on said fork protector
A little bit of coolant had leaked out, causing the bike temperature to sit just a little higher until I topped it up later in Italy
My poor right pannier had taken the bulk of drop - but saved literally everything else on the bike (including the engine guard). The inside of the pannier compressed from the pressure applied to it from the pannier frame and weight of the bike / luggage pressing on it. The pannier stayed on for the rest of the trip (didn’t want to risk removing it), but I did leave it secured with ratchet straps as a back up.
So that’s it! I need a new pannier and a new indicator, but everything else survived unscathed, which is a relief.
Bike up-righted and friend now in toe, we headed for the EuroTunnel and had plain sailing over to France. It was then a dull jaunt over to the first campsite which was literally just a rest stop for us. The final couple of miles to this campsite were down a forest track. I was tired (having been riding since 5am) and mentally drained trying to navigate and lead my friend smoothly. This is only my third time riding in another country so every sense was heightened. Whilst trying to work out where our next right turn was I had stopped paying attention to the awful road conditions. The physical weight of the Tiger helped as I then spent the next few hundred miles literally storming through a series of rather aggressive potholes! I kicked up so much dust behind me, that when I did eventually see my friend in my mirror, she was so far back! I had a blast - the suspension on the Tiger was just soaking up these potholes. I had a massive grin on my face at the end!
Day two - well nothing really exciting to report on this one. It was just another jaunt over to our second French campsite. Both these campsites were really close to the borders of Belgium and Luxembourg, so we spend our time snaking between these 3 countries. Upon arrival to the campsite I pulled down a road which was actually the exit for the campsite. Full gated security - no way of us getting through. So we had to turn the bikes around. This is where the physical size of the Tiger and my inexperience let me down. This road was narrow and on a very steep hill. My friend (on a tiny BMW 650) was able to shuffle hers round. I was over thinking and starting to panic. Assessing the situation whilst she parked at the top of the road, I thought it was best for me to utilise a patch of grass to help with the turn. So when ready to go, I aimed for this grass to complete a wide turn, rather than being restricted to a narrow road. I completed the turn successfully, but what I didn’t foresee was quite how rutted this grass was going to be! I wish I had it on film - a quarter tonne bike, with luggage and an idiotic woman at the helm basically didn’t make for a dignified scene! Much cursing and much bouncing up and down. In situations like that I usually go for speed and power (because I’m clueless and want to get out the situation as quickly as possible). Well that’s great in principle, but it was like riding over tiny trenches so my back wheel was only able to get traction on raised parts. Much wheel spinning and a scream of relieve when I was back on the road and climbing up the hill!
Day 3 and we diverted to Strasbourg before arriving in the Black Forest. I’m not keen on city riding anyway (I used to get zero joy from my central London bike commutes for work). This is also where the Tiger isn’t in it’s element. It’s massive with full luggage, so I couldn’t filter through the heavy traffic, and I was struggling to locate a parking spot for both bikes - particularly one of my size. Anyway, success eventually and it was a spot literally in the centre! Perfect. A bite to eat in a restaurant clad with retro bike memorabilia, and a wander around, we were then back on the bikes and heading to the Black Forest. Finally, this is where the roads started to get interesting. We had our first introduction into hairpins - the first of MANY on this trip. We stayed at the campsite for 2 nights. On Day 4 we both did our own thing because our riding style is just different. I left early and did about 350km, my friend left later and did 50km. So I was glad to be out on my own, and was enjoying the roads. I actually chose to stay away from the more popular roads (such as the B500) - they felt quite similar to roads we have here in the UK, but the single track back roads were full of hairpins and steep drops - much more exciting. If I had travelled on my own, I would have spent 3 nights in the Black Forest.
Day 5 and we were aiming for a German campsite near the Austrian border. It had been bucketing it down from 9pm the night before so our tents etc. were saturated. This made for a slow ride as I spent most of the time worrying about my friend who feels the cold, doesn’t have adequate bike clothing for rain, has no weather protection on her bike, and feels the cold. In comparison, I don’t feel the cold, have a Rukka suit which kept me bone dry (they are amazing) and was well protected behind my screen and fairing. I felt we had to keep stopping so that she could warm up, etc. About 20km from the campsite, her clutch failed, but luckily it was an easy fix at the roadside. It was at this point we agreed to split from day 6 onwards. I wanted to stay in Austria for longer and she wanted to aim for the warmth and sun of Italy. It was always our intention to ride our own ride, but the night before the EuroTunnel she lost her wallet, so I was having to buy her petrol and food, etc., meaning she was unfortunately tied to me. We withdrew a stack of cash from my account so that we could split.
So day 6, and I was so happy to be able to ride how I wanted / for how long I wanted / and where I wanted without worrying about anyone else. So to Austria I went! I stayed for a couple of days at a campsite near Italy, so I was overlooked by the beautiful Dolomites. I loved Austria, and wish I could have spent more time there. I had a list of roads I wanted to ride, but physically didn’t have the time. However the standout ones were the Felbertauern Tunnel (I love a good tunnel) and of course, Grossglockner. The day I rode Grossglockner the weather was less than ideal. The toll person was in shock when I pulled up - warning me not to ride it as it was horrid up there. But I went ahead and ended up riding it twice (because I needed to get back to the campsite at the end of the day!). I get what he was saying…. I saw only a handful of bikes in total. The first time I rode it the temperature at the top was around 2 degrees and there was black ice. My back wheel was squirming around for traction on the hairpins, but thankfully I didn’t have an issue with the front wheel, otherwise I think I may have regretted my decision rapidly! For the ride back it was a little warmer at the top (3.5 degrees…!) and the torrential rain I’d been in all day had since made it to the summit, but was still just falling as rain. The black ice had gone on my return leg too (thankfully!). Overall visibility was terrible. I was able to see the glacier, but the higher I climbed, the worse it became. For those that know the road, you’ll be aware there is a ‘bikers point’. Checking out the map after I paid the toll I thought, perfect - I’ll head there. Well the fog was so intense that It was literally only when I pulled onto the access road, that I could see it was fully cobbled. I was doing this in the morning where I’d been encountering black ice, the fog was just crazy, from what I could see of the access road, it was incredibly narrow and my sat nav showed a tonne of hairpins! FFS… I was on it now, no choice other than to get to the bikers point to turn around. Because it was generally quiet, and bikers were in the minority, I was encountering cars on this road (I assumed they weren’t allowed). Really not ideal. I shat myself the entire way up because I was worried the cobbles would be slippery. Anyway, made it - but it was pointless because I couldn’t admire the views! Never mind, at least going downhill was easier…
Days 8 and 9 were spent in Italy. I rode countless mountain passes in the Dolomites, but don’t have a list of the ones taken. They were great though, but I’ll admit to noticing a difference in local driving quality (when compared with Germany and Austria!). The Italian’s are a little mental and car drivers won’t hesitate to overtake another car whilst on a bend. Sometimes road conditions weren’t as great either, and I noticed that their hairpinned main roads were normally narrower than the hairpin roads in Germany and Austria. So overall I kept my wits about me the entire time I was in Italy. I was getting Italian bikers pulling up next to me in my lane and riding with me whilst they were checking me out. They’d do it for a while, give a thumbs up, and then carry on riding like lunatics. I couldn’t work out whether it was them seeing a UK biker, a biker on their own, a big 1200 (it’s all mopeds there), a woman biker, or that fact I was in full bike gear when it was hot?! No idea why I was attracting such attention from every other Italian geared bike…. It was making me chuckle anyway.
It was at the Italy campsite that I’d agreed to meet up with my friend again so that I could top up her funds and so we could share our adventures to date. On day 9 (I think) I took a break from mountains and hairpins for a more leisurely ride around Lake Garda. I have visited Lake Garda when I was younger and loved how clear it was. So it was great to re-visit, and great to just stop and enjoy a nice coffee and ice cream by the lake. On this day I also pulled into a Triumph garage I was riding past. They were so kind and took the initiative to check the bike over. Everything was fine other than the coolant (from my drop, which I knew about). So whilst they were checking everything over (free of charge) I wandered around admiring a little slice of British motoring they had - classic Mini’s (I used to own one) and some old school Jags hidden out the back of their workshop.
On the last day in Italy I headed to Stelvio Pass as I made my way to Switzerland. I knew the road had a tonne of hairpins, but I’ll be honest with you - I hate hairpins. I know the theory of how to get a bike round a hairpin, but I’ll often then overthink it and mess them up. However, I don’t like my own irrational fears to get in the way of why I ride. So I aimed for Stelvio with a clear idea of what to expect. Mind you, the first few hairpins really caught me off guard. The main thing I struggled with was the serious lack of visibility - I had not idea whether there was a vehicle coming down. So I was going into these hairpins blind, with a fully loaded bike that is overwhelming if I needed to physically stop it on a camber. I think it was that playing on my mind and making me feel tense. Anyway, once I cleared a few of the more tree-lined hairpins, the scenery opened up and I began to enjoy myself more. Don’t get me wrong, I was still taking some of the hairpins in a way which would make experienced riders wince, but I was enjoying myself, recognising my mistakes, and grinning like an idiot when I completely smashed one. I felt liberated by the time I made it to the top. I sat and watched bikers and high-end cars for an hour and a half at the summit, enjoying a bratwurst, of course! The ride down the other side was just as beautiful.
I stayed in a campsite which was probably the worst overall - whilst it was in Switzerland, it was close to the Italian border, and still very much felt Italian - drivers were mental and I didn’t hear anyone speaking French or German…. The campsite itself was dated, the ground was like sand (so difficult to get my bike secure on its side-stand) and the campsite was also bizarrely a destination for locals to visit for their evening meal?! Italians gathered in groups are not quiet!! Never mind - it just encouraged me to get out and stay out the next day!
It was from there that I headed to the campsite I was looking forward to the most. A campsite in Switzerland which was at the foot of a glacier. It was basically close to Mont Blanc (as the crow flies). I stayed there a total of 3 days and chilling at the campsite of an evening was just so serene. Over these 3 days I soaked up roads in the Swiss Alps, dipped into the French Alps and enjoyed seeing Mont Blanc up close. Overall the weather was great, resulting in fabulous views. One night I experienced a first for me, a silent thunderstorm. The mountains surrounding me were blocking out the noise, and the lightening was momentarily silhouetting the mountains which was so cool. I took a tarp with me so that I could comfortably sit outside my tent and cook, etc. So it was nice just sitting there listening to the rain fall.
On my final night at the campsite, there was some light rain when I went to bed, then clearly a cold snap hit during the night so all these rain drops which had been sitting on my tent and tarp fabric has frozen solid. My entire tent was frozen, the glacier had a fresh layer of snow on it, and the ground was slippery. It was so cold that anything I then placed outside the tent as I was packing up was freezing! What I have also experienced is how painful it is trying to open frozen aluminium panniers with bare hands…! Likewise, my tent has one of the poles exposed, so I was having to melt the seams with my breath so I could collapse that down. All good fun!
Getting my bike off this hilly campsite on icy ground - well that was less fun, but I did it. This is the very campsite where the day before I thought I’d ride towards the glacier and see how close I could get (big mistake as I ended up on a dirt track with large loose stones - and then suddenly a narrow dead end out of nowhere! Turning my bike around then (with no ice) wasn’t fun, so I was glad this time I didn’t encounter any problems. I’ll also take the time at this point to say just how amazing the heated seats and heated grips are on this bike. At this point in the trip, my friend has been taking 4 days slowly riding back through France to the EuroTunnel. I didn’t want to do that, so stuck in Switzerland for as long as I could. I then rode all day on the motorway to make it to the campsite we’d stayed at on day 1. This was then a great starting point for my final trek back to the EuroTunnel. Even though it was a boring day riding through Switzerland and France, it was a compromise I was happy to make. Along with Austria, the French and Swiss Alps are certainly a place I want to go back to.
After I’d packed up at the final campsite back in France, I had a 250km jaunt back to the EuroTunnel where I met my friend again. She was a little worn out from her slow trek back through France, something she didn’t enjoy doing. But we were both safe and sound and ready for the delightful over-populated UK roads. After arriving back in the UK we went our separate ways (my friend back to London and me back up North). Terrible planning - the train had got us back into the UK on a Friday during rush hour…. So it was slow going for me, but I arrived back home with no dramas!
It was a full on adventure, moving every day, but I loved it. I enjoyed camping every night - the longest consecutive period of time I’ve spent camping. The bike was mainly a pleasure to ride, long distances and cold weather are easy to tackle aboard this bike. Really it was only awkward slow speed manoeuvring I struggled with (more because I’m on tip-toes), and then the consistent 27 degree heat in Italy ,as I get no air flow behind the huge screen, hand guards and countless wind deflectors dotted around the fairing. It wasn’t uncommon to see me standing on the bike as I travelled around Italy…!
The next time I head to Europe for a biking holiday, I’ll cover less distance. I want to spend a long weekend in the Black Forest (I think that would be enough for me). I also would love to do a week-long holiday specifically in Austria, and another week-long holiday specifically around the Swiss and French Alps. So it’s certainly given me a flavour of what those locations are like. Here’s to the next adventure!