My Dad Rides A Motorcycle

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.

The Mosel from our hotel room

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.

Mosel Mayhem

The country that invented the internal combustion engine is still very much in love with it.

Leaving our hotel window open to allow the ingress of cool air to make the night more comfortable also brings into the room the sounds of engines. Car after car, motorcycle after motorcycle, we hear those everywhere. But here, in this family hotel on the banks of the delightful Mosel river, there is more.

Tractors, for example, ripping past at no less velocity than the myriad Mercedes saloons. Or plying up and down the grassy riverbank, four-stroke powered cutting blades in constant action.

Then there is the great river itself, several hundred feet wide. Huge double barges, laden with coal and carrying a stylish living cabin at the rear together with two or three cars for the pilot and his family, power serenely by with a low thrum that can be heard long before the craft itself arrives. Regularly punctuating the peace is a speedboat or two, the driver indulging the German love of speed.

Not to mention the buses, lorries, pleasure boats, and assorted other petrol-powered paraphernalia that are part of the seeming conspiracy to break the natural silence of the mighty Mosel.

But there is peace to be found. Walking along the riverside towards the nearest town, Bernkastel-Kues, the path leaves the road far enough behind for the traffic noise to abate and the sounds of the trees, the birds and the movement of the water to once again return to prominence.

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Until we reach the town itself, of course, and especially on this weekend in early September. It’s the time of the Weinfest of the Middle Mosel, an annual event that attracts thousands of visitors, all intent on enjoying the festivities.

The steep banks of the Mosel river, with their consequent good drainage and long exposure to the sun, make the production of the Riesling grape the dominant feature of the river, with a history going back to Roman times. The local area is dotted with small villages, each with its own vineyards and wine makers, many of them family concerns. Each year many villages have their own wine festival celebrating this year’s crop and presenting it for sale to the world, but they all come together in Bernkastel-Kues in early September for this major festival of the grape. The historic and colourful streets of the town throng with people who come to sample these wines, eat the local specialities and enjoy the party atmosphere among the many stalls, shops and restaurants. And whether you speak the local lingo or not, that atmosphere is infectious. It’s hard not to have a great time.

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The highlight of the weekend is the annual parade through the narrow streets and over the Mosel bridge, for which the traffic is halted and foot and wind power take over. Wind, that is, in the form of the many brass bands that are a mainstay of the procession. We stood for an hour and a half watching village after village, vineyard after vineyard and grower after grower make their way past. Many had their own highly decorated float, adorned by images of the grape, characters in period costume and, commonly, the local Wine Princess and her attendants looking down from on high. And all of them, or so it seemed, had its own band. Most were of the traditional brass variety, but both the instruments and the repertoire of tunes spanned the ages from Mozart to Michael Jackson, all seemingly accompanied by the beat of a very large drum.

Helping things along were the free samples. Each float was stocked with its own mini-cellar for offering to the crowd, and as the next wave approached arms were outstretched, replete with empty wine glasses, hoping for a top up. Success or failure in attracting the attentions of the ministering vintner were made loudly, all in good spirit and with great amusement. As you might imagine, the spirit and amusement increased as the afternoon – and the wine intake – wore on.

It wasn’t hard to imagine this same scene having been repeated countless times over centuries, and clearly there are traditions here that go back to the middle ages. A successful harvest and the first wines of the season would have been a major economic and social event for the region. They still are.

If you want to experience the best in German hospitality and to enjoy a great time in a delightful and picturesque area at an event that has spent hundreds of years refining how to have fun, come to the Weinfest. But book your hotel early or you probably won’t get in. And after a day sampling the wares of the good burghers of Bernkastel, you won’t want to be in charge of your own internal combustion engine as you wend your way home.