The first run to fun

Oxford (21 September 2012) - Chapter runs and events across the UK are superb. Each event is a chance to ride, get away, chat, enjoy laid-on entertainment and meet like-minded Harley-Davidson owners. And all of this blended with a sense of adventure – how else would you describe riding to places never visited before?

It’s at H.O.G.® events, where big fun rocks and where you usually come across the stalwarts of Harley® ownership. Here you get to hear about big European events, like Harley Days in Barcelona, St Tropez and more, from folks that have attended and will continue to attend.

The more you hear of such adventures, the greater the idea of being part of this group becomes. Soon enough the web is your informant as you scour the Harley Owners’ Group pages for information on the ideal trip. Upon seeing the choice of European events on offer the seed of excitement becomes an Oak tree of intent. Soon, so very soon, a location is chosen and a decision is made. With the knowledge gleaned from H.O.G that Harley-Davidson will be celebrating every 2013 event in royal style because of the 110-year anniversary celebrations – commemorating 110 years of production – the wallet and phone to book travel and accommodation are reached for in unison…

Does what you have just read sound familiar? For some of our readers it will ring memory bells loud and clear. For some it’ll only fuel the desire to travel. The chances are most owners will opt for the major Rome event, 13-16 June. Details released so far paint an impressive picture of Harley-Davidson aficionados literally filling Rome, Vatican City and the Port of Ostia for a serious one-time event.

But then there’s always the traditional big one of European Bike Week, the annual gathering of thousands of motorcyclists at Faaker See, Austria. This year’s five-day event, the 15th year held in the scenic Carinthia region, was massive in every sense. An estimated 100,000 people attended, mostly on the combined figure of 60,000 motorcycles. And every visitor from just about every country within Europe had a good time. I should know because I was there.

While the first day of Faaker See started on the Tuesday, a group of five others and myself set off to Faaker See on a collection of Dyna®, Softail® and Touring machinery and all geared for travel – panniers laden with MotorClothes® and a touring screen from the extensive official accessories range fitted to the Fat Bob®.

Like all journeys, the route and stopover points were planned in advance, as were the Eurotunnel shuttle bookings. Some people prefer crossing into France by ferry, but for me the crossing is easier and a lot less hassle when bikes are simply parked on their side stand. The added bonus is you stay with them in the shuttle compartment. Buying sandwiches at the shuttle terminal before departure and munching on the way across under the English Channel makes this 35-minute section of the trip pass even quicker.

Our original internet booking was for a 3:20pm crossing, but, for no extra cost on the £35 per bike charge (one way price), we were placed aboard a 2:50pm shuttle because we arrived early – it’s often cheaper in mid-afternoon as opposed to the early morning starts.

With the extra one hour of CET added to our watches and clock displays, by 4:30pm we rolled out of the French terminal and into the first petrol station conveniently positioned about a mile from the shuttle terminus. This also acts as meeting point should a group of riders get split up.

Fully fuelled and bladders emptied, the first part of the Euro mainland journey started. Our destination of Gent, Belgium was now only an hour and forty minutes away on the A16 and then A40 motorways, or approximately 150 kilometres (93 miles). It was an easy first stint to ensure a decent time of arrival at our hotel for evening food and liquid relaxant, plus a few miles under our belts to make the remaining journey less frantic.

For €104 per room, the four-star Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof is a steal. Booked via an internet booking service, it is a cheap luxury of clean, modern rooms and excellent service. Like most of the popular hotels, it is located in the city centre and only five minutes walk from the scenic river restaurants. Considering it was Tuesday night, the town centre was heaving with fellow wine and food takers and not an angry voice to be heard. The queen-sized bed was very welcome that first night…

An early departure of 8:30am followed breakfast before the 842-kilometre (523 miles) run to Munich, Germany. Well, not quite Munich but Parsdorf on the North East side, away from the hectic city centre – there’s nothing worse than trying to navigate rush hour first thing in the morning.

Fifty miles later and the lead rider makes the decision to refuel before knuckling down for hours of motorway riding. Our first lesson of Belgium service stations was a hard lesson in distrust. Quite a few of the fuel stops will only accept Belgium issue credit cards. So, if anyone says you don’t need cash nowadays for travel, ask them if they’ve been to Belgium recently?

With fuel stops and dinner to knock back motorway monotony, the ride becomes effortless. The quality of driving is far superior in mainland Europe. The quality jumps several rungs in Germany especially on the speed limit-free sections of Autobahn. Nobody hogs the outer lane and with good reason – super saloons and estates never drop below 110mph unless road signs say otherwise.

One of the best purchases to aid travelling is a modern sat nav. With most of Europe undergoing major revamps of its B-road networks, update your satnav frequently; the cost will be justified. Also, worth remembering that if you opt for a sat nav purchased at a Harley-Davidson dealership, you’ll have the added peace of mind of a dealer network list, should you need to locate one.

Parsdorf, Munich is located on the edge of the motorway run into Austria. There is a selection of hotels to choose from but it’s wise to book in advance. Our hotel for the night was Best Western Plus Hotel Erb München. Once again clean, decent food is on offer but, above all, it’s chosen for its secure parking.

Another early rise for the third day of travel and the last leg of the run into Faaker See. Although the distance is only 400km (250 miles), we have a mission to complete: we want to ride the scenic, twisting roads of the Austrian Alps that border Germany and Austria. One such road is the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (Grossglockner High Alpine Road). It’s a tortuous ribbon of road that winds upwards to 2500 metres above sea level. It’s an incredible road for motorcyclists and lovers of nature. The route up and down the Grossglockner takes in mountain valleys, brief glimpses of snow-capped mountains, the scars of glaciers past and incredible forestry.

You have to pay €22 for the privilege of using this road and €9 for the return leg, but it is money well spent even if the route up is covered in low cloud and clinging drizzle, which it was. Because, once the summit of the Grossglockner is reached, the sun is almost certainly going to be cooking the northern side of this incredible mountain route. If you choose this route make sure there’s time to spare for taking in the surrounding scenery of mountain peaks and more. The usual tourist info offices and eating locations are all to hand and really make it a great event; the toll charge means motorcyclists can play all day on the grip-laden roads if they want.

The journey continues. Nobody in our group takes the option of rejoining the motorway for an easy and quick run into Faaker See – the truth is we are all so impressed with the Austrian landscape – and apple strudel to be found at roadside restaurants – that we stick to minor routes. Minor routes in Austria make the UK’s B-roads look like decommissioned 1940’s throughways…

As we near Faaker See we come across, and join, convoys of Harley-Davidson® motorcycles and other bikes with the same aim. Suddenly the convoys slow as we hit the congested and now one-way route around the Faaker See Lake that is home to European Bike Week. Congestion suddenly becomes total immersion in an atmosphere of partying motorcyclists. We have arrived. Pre-planning pays off yet again as we head for our hotel. The 32-mile route to our two-day home shows us that every available official accommodation of hotels, lodges, villas and camping grounds for a 40-mile radius of Faaker See is filled solid with people like us – tired but extremely happy to be there.

The next two days at the event show that we only just touch the surface of all that is happening over a wide area and it’s little wonder so many visitors go for the whole five days.

Faaker See