In May 2014 my dad and I journeyed to Germany together by motorcycle. Here’s the story of our trip.
I’ve always been into motorcycles. At 15 I used to devour all the bike magazines, and although my dad didn’t have a bike himself he certainly didn’t discourage me. He would recount how he and my mum had journeyed to Italy on honeymoon on his 600cc Panther, the long-stroke single seemingly firing every lamppost.
Decades on, motorcycling has given my dad a new lease on life. Five years ago he signed up for ‘Enduro India’, a 2000 km ride across that country on locally built Enfield India bikes almost identical to the 1950’s British Royal Enfield singles on which they were based. To prepare for the trip he bought an Enfield to use at home, and was back on a bike after a gap of 50 years, apart from occasional short trips on my brother’s Yamaha trail bike. The trip gained him a whole new directory of friends with a common passion and a shared experience, and they obviously took inspiration from his presence and energy, bearing in mind that he was 20-40 years older than most of them (he was born in 1928, you work it out).
Five India trips later, including one to traverse the world’s highest road across the Himalayas, you could say he is a seasoned biker. His exploits make me feel like a rank novice, trailing in his wake.
We took a family trip together to Ireland last September, my dad, brother and I, having a great time biking around the Ring of Kerry. And now here I am with him, sharing a hotel bed in a room overlooking the Mosel river near Bernkastel-Kues in Germany.
We take our time on the road, cruising at around 55-70 mph. At 60 my KTM feels relaxed and barely off tickover, and Dad’s 750 Moto Guzzi is similarly unstretched. Our sedate pace is reflected in our frugal fuel usage, with over 200 miles before my low fuel warning light appears – thrashing around Leicestershire it’s been down to 135 miles on a tankful before now.
Not everyone is so slow. Heading towards Dover a brace of Harley Davidson’s come thumping past, their pilots adorned with the cut-off denims long associated with the marque and proudly displaying their ‘Hells Angels Holland’ tribal moniker. They must think that, with our high-vis fluorescent yellow bibs, we’re a couple of wimps. Little do they know!
The deep, resonating rumble of a pair of Harleys in flight contrasts with the screaming banshee that startles us near Mons in Belgium. Too fast to identify, the rider has his right leg extended in the form of greeting used to signify the universal camaraderie of two wheelers on this side of the channel as he weaves through the four-wheeled detritus at 100 mph plus.
In Germany, it’s the BMW saloons that come past like demons. A glance in the mirror shows a clear road for miles behind, but seconds later the bike is rocked sideways by the pressure wave from a car that must be doing 120 mph or more. He’s soon out of sight and clearly not enjoying the view.
Which is a shame, as there’s lots to enjoy, especially here in Rhineland. We’ve arrived at the Weisser Bar, or White Bear, Hotel which is owned by Dad’s former employer, his main engineering factory a few metres further along the riverside. They have a long-standing and mutually appreciative relationship, and Rolf proves to be a warm and gracious host. Last night he was christening a newly-installed barbecue cooking device, and we joined him and a group of his workers to enjoy roasted wild boar in the hotel restaurant. Thick slices of distinctively flavoured meat with a never-ending flow of delicious local wine make for a memorable meal, and the language barrier only adds to the fun. We eventually depart to our room to savour a beautifully calm, peaceful night from the balcony, the Mosel shimmering like glass in the moonlight.
Today we’re heading back to Lille via Luxembourg. We’ve opted to go cross-country, although it’s hard to avoid motorways altogether on this vast continent without slowing journey times to an unacceptable crawl. We begin, though, with the serpentine road alongside the Mosel to Trier.
Like most German roads, this one is smooth as silk and a pleasure to traverse. It is also accompanied by superb views as the Mosel wends back to it’s source, and this morning’s crystal blue sky brings out the magnificent colours in vivid style. This is wine country, and we pass countless vendors offering their sweet, lemony white nectar that is the speciality here. We’ve already ordered ours from Ulrike the previous day, a long time acquaintance of my father’s who had plied us with samples before taking us down to her cellar to show us the 1000-litre barrels that have harboured her family’s endeavours over 250 years of wine production. Mosel wine favours sunny years as they bring out the sugar in the wine, helping to enhance the sweet acidity that is it’s hallmark. Best years, she tells us, were 1976 and, before that, 1959. She is keeping some bottles from that year to celebrate her 60th birthday in a few years time. She’s obviously of a good vintage, I tell her. The wine will be delivered soon. If you’d like to sample her multi-award winning varieties just type Dr Leimbrock into your search engine and you’ll find her.
The intimacy of the Mosel road turns into the impersonality of the main highway to Luxembourg, and then on towards Liege and Namur. We turn off at Neufchatel on to the N40, cutting the corner off the route but substituting a steady and relaxed 110 kph for a 90 kph trundle through the countryside, slowing to 50 kph or less through the many small towns and villages.
Arrow straight for the most part, we ride a section that swings through bend after constant-radius bend, under the trees, past rivers and streams, up slow rises and down again, for what seems like forever. This is motorcycling nirvana, and if you’ve never experienced it I pity you.
Eventually the N40 gives way to the autoroute around Valenciennes, then on to the madness of Lille in the evening rush. We enter the city with a clear idea of the way to our hotel, having studied the internet map and made copious notes. All are to no avail as we immediately get lost with only a vague idea of our direction. Fortunately signs point to each of the many hotels and we eventually find ourselves perched on the roadside outside the Best Western, our pre-booked choice for tonight. Only when we check our trusty smartphone map do we realise that there are 3 Best Western’s in Lille and this is the wrong one. Fortunately the correct one is only a few streets away and we find it soon, although finding their private car park (“eet’s really very simple” says the very helpful Maureen on reception) sees us revolving around the Grand Place several times.
It’s a modern, funky hotel and we enjoy a great meal at a frenetic street restaurant before retiring to an early-ish bed. It’s been a hugely enjoyable motorcycling day, easy yet demanding. Riding a motorcycle at any kind of speed along unknown roads requires a form of complete concentration that is tiring yet therapeutic, and although sleep comes easily it is accompanied by a flow of images recalled from the day’s activity. I thoroughly recommend it.
Tomorrow is an early start to catch the ferry, still an hour and a half away, and a long ride home on reportedly the busiest motorway day of the year. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.