Editor's Note: Givitsum
is a regular on the MBT Forum, and when he offered to let
us have a write-up on his recent European road trip we jumped
at it. This article is essentially unedited as we wanted to
retain his unique style.
I have had my XJR1300SP since it was new
and over the past four years have carried out a few modifications
with the aim of improving the handling, power and comfort
of the machine. A naked bike without protection from the wind
and weather isn’t generally regarded as a long distance
tool particularly when planning some mile-munching in short
order but the big finned, air-cooled four cylinder motor in
the XJR certainly rocks my boat and together we can usually
hold our own when the going gets tough.
Purchased for the trip were a set of Oxford Sports throw over
panniers and a Baglux tank cover fitted with a bag large enough
to hold my camera, binoculars, spare maps and a few incidentals.
These together with my well-travelled holdall would have enough
capacity to swallow spare gloves, clothes and footwear plus
cans of tyre sealant, chain lube and water dispersant or ‘instant
maintenance’ as it was known by the African mechanics
in my civil engineering days.
Hmm... Still room in the panniers, so in went a handful of
cable ties, tying wire and pliers plus the heavy duty ‘just
in case’ ratchet and sockets. We’ve all been caught
out at the side of the road with a flat tyre, the wheel nuts
have been done-up twelve months previous by an eighteen stone
tyre fitter with his windy-gun on maximum setting, the manufacturer’s
chocolate wheel brace is in your hand bent into a ‘U’
shape and the wheel is still on the car. I didn’t want
it happening to me, not in the places I was headed for. I
couldn’t have been carrying more gear had I been setting
off with Charley, Ewan and Claudio on their Long Way Round
thoughts of making a European tour in my summer holidays
kicked off in January when Bjoern, a member of a biker website
I use, posted a thread about a proposed meet of the German
XJR Owners Club to take place later in the year in the Eiffel
Mountains. The meet known as the Rheinland Treffen was scheduled
to take place at the Bad Neuenahr airfield between Cologne
and Koblenz in late August. Minor problems like language difficulties
and how to send the entry fee without the banks adding their
high margins were overcome when the thirty five euros went
off in a plain brown envelope.
Plan was to finish work on Thursday at five o’clock,
load the bike that evening, obtain special dispensation from
the fair one to park in the kitchen over-night ready for an
early start and reach my destination some time on Saturday.
Once there I would spend the rest of the day with my fellow
XJR owners expected to number around two hundred and fifty
all told and head for pastures new on the Sunday. But as our
arguably most famous Scotsman once wrote, ‘The best
laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft aglae’.
Packing and overnight parking went to plan and I was on the
road to Shrewsbury by six o’clock next morning, no motorways
if I can help it and the rising sun was a red ball of fire
in my eyes as I crested the climb at Wenlock Edge heading
South-East to Oxford and the Folkstone tunnel terminal. Had
a hearty breakfast at the Travel Inn on the Evesham by-pass
just a few miles from Broadway, the genteel Cotswold town
where I arrange our annual get-together for XJR owners every
September. Back on the road and with the early morning chill
wearing off it was a pleasure to givitsum up the winding Fish
Hill that sucks you in with its two fastish left and right
sweepers before it hits you in the guts with a tightening
blind left-hander! Thought I could have done it even quicker
and was still chewing it over when I ran a couple of gatsos
around Chipping Norton shortly before picking up the motorway
network at Oxford.
Hoping to save time on the journey I had decided to use the
chunnel crossing instead of my usual method of catching the
first available P&O ferry. By pre-booking I had secured
a good deal at just over sixty quid return, and allowing for
the fact it was going to be the first day of my holidays had
arranged to travel on the three fifteen afternoon train. I
was quite surprised to arrive there shortly after eleven in
the morning only to be told at the kiosk that as I was so
early I could either go away and come back in two hours or
pay thirty quid extra and take the next train which would
be leaving in ten minutes! Well, what would you do? Yup! I
flashed the plastic, rode onto the train, packed my remaining
Sterling into the back of my wallet, shoved my wad of Euros
in the front, put my watch to European time and I was riding
out of Calais within an hour of boarding.
My plans to steer clear of the autoroutes didn’t help
with my route finding. I had hoped to do a loop south of Dinant
and arrive at the meet via Luxemburg and the Nurburgring but
that habit the Belgians have of changing place names between
one signpost and the next in Flemish speaking areas threw
me again. I got totally lost near Lille, it was coming down
in buckets and as I stood there dripping all over his posh
carpet a helpful head waiter in a smart restaurant by a roundabout
directed me on my way. I was confused when he sent me west
towards Paris, the exact opposite of where I was trying to
get to but soon picked up signs for Brussels and followed
the autoroutes east to by-pass Liege.
Could have taken the easy option at this
point by staying on the autoroute to Cologne then south down
the autobahn to reach my destination before dusk but names
like the Eiffel Mountains, Nurburgring and Bad Munstereiffel
were calling to me from my right and I turned onto a narrow
washboard surfaced road signposted for Eupen and the Ring.
Had a square go with two souped up cars, an Audi saloon and
a two seater Merc sports, both cars were fitted with full
roll cages and wearing the Ring logo on their boot lids. I
soon settled back into fast touring mode when it occurred
to me that being locals, they would have more idea where traffic
police might be operating than I did, no point getting into
trouble with the law this early in my tour. I rode through
some lovely places as I staggered this way and that across
the mountains in the gathering gloom and eventually found
the well hidden airfield site just as it got dark. Signing
in completed I dropped by the bar for a word with my German
friend Chromi and then headed back down the hillside to find
the hotel he had booked for me in nearby Bad Neuenahr.
I'd spent the best part of fifteen hours in the saddle up
to that point less fuel, food and chunnel stops so after feeling
my way off the hilltop site I was relieved to park up in the
carport behind the hotel and unload my gear. For twenty three
Euros a night I had a comfortable double room with en-suite
services and breakfast in a small main street hotel boasting
a public bar and restaurant. After a quick wash it was down
to the bar where any plans to get a taxi back up to the site
for what was left of the evening were quickly dropped when
the barmaid and her lovely pals, knockouts all of them, sang
the Cologne FC song to the tune of ‘By Yon Bonnie Banks’.
My first day and I thought I’d arrived close to heaven
particularly when I saw the white sequinned Elvis suit hanging
on a peg beside my table. I just knew he was somewhere near
enjoying it too!
Saturday morning after a topping breakfast, fresh and up
for it I rode back to the Treffen site hoping to look round
the bikes, meet a few fellow owners and maybe take part in
one of the rideouts. Despite or maybe because of their tightly
regulated lifestyle, German owners are really into to the
Streetfighter cult and the retro looks of the XJR give would-be
customisers a head start. With over two hundred bikes at the
meet there was every configuration you could imagine - chopped,
stretched, polished, tuned and turbo’d. My head span
just looking and listening to them! A rare mod in the UK is
to fit upside down front forks from a sports bike to improve
on the spindly conventional items fitted as standard. Over
there every other machine had the conversion from a whole
variety of donor bikes despite the supposedly tough TUV laws
which presumably have something to say on the matter.
Rideout groups were running at fifteen bikes max with a choice
of fast, medium or slow pace and when Chromi asked which group
I would like to ride in I picked the fast one out of habit.
Little Gunter the lead rider took one look at my white locks
and said his ride was full. Chromi was made of sterner stuff
and told me to just go and join them. At this stage Big Günter
came over and asked if my riding was ‘dynamic.’
Well what do you say to that without appearing to be big-headed?
I muttered something like ‘Yeah, I should be alright
but if I’m holding you up I’ll drop off and find
my own way back’. ‘OK then, take number two spot
behind little Gunter and I’ll follow’. Couldn’t
have been better for that’s my favourite position, the
guy in front sets the pace and I get a decent view of the
road ahead from my off-set position a few lengths behind.
Formalities over, and pleased to be free of my touring luggage
I was quickly on the pace and fit for anything that came up
during the ride including the tuned, ex-Ring taxi Fazer thou
that big Gunter was on. No more questions about my riding
abilities that day!
We ambled down the banks of the Rhine for a few kilometres
then caught a ferry to the other side, a really nice way to
start the ride. As we waited for the boat I counted our lot,
nine in total, so little Gunter had been taking the proverbial
when he said his group was full. No worries, I know what it’s
like when you want to make progress and you have someone along
with other ideas or abilities, frustration all round.
After covering about one hundred miles on some interesting
undulating twisties, we found a little restaurant and had
a slap-up lunch accompanied by the usual banter on such occasions.
During the meal the heavens opened and after an extended lunch
break with no sign of it letting up we decided to head for
the nearby autobahn and givitsum back to the airfield. The
rain had moved on by the time we got there and I noticed the
137bhp Fazer went straight on to the dyno no doubt to find
out why it had been regularly out-hauled by a supposedly less
The meeting was a typical well organised German affair, a
mobile dyno on site through-out always had someone’s
bike strapped down to it being revved to near oblivion.
The tyre-fitting bay also came in useful for the guys who
couldn’t resist the burn-out pad, one in particular
was doing ‘wheels on fire’ donuts after dark -
very spectacular but I did note that the marshals kept a fire
extinguisher on hand just in case. Another feature was the
use of the runway later in the day after the local flying
club had put their planes to bed for the night - much better
than the dyno for settling arguments about who is the fastest.
A visiting Kawasaki sports bike was taking on and beating
all the XJRs until Marc Muller on his very tidy Cologne Motorcycles
XJR complete with upside downies, special big bore underseat
exhaust and tuned 1400cc motor burbled down the strip and
blew him away. That bike is no slouch and neither is Marc
who races regularly in the Macau Grand Prix. It was dark by
then, time to return to the bar and watch events in the spare
hanger where the stage was set up for the Streetfighter band
later. I wasn’t too sure what was being announced but
everyone was looking at me, next thing I knew I was up on
the stage receiving the Iron Butt - Furthest Travelled award
for covering 968 kilometres in one day on my way to the meet.
I didn’t really understand the lingo the award
ceremony seemed to go on for ever and I would have died of
thirst if Uwe from Bremen hadn’t supplied me with beer,
very decent of him for I believe he was the next farthest
travelled. Speeches and photo session over it was time to
turn the Streetfighter heavy metal band loose on the stage.
They were something special, boy did they rattle the rafters
in that old hanger and were still givinitsum long after I
had called it a night and returned to my hotel.
My initial plans made back in the spring were to take a long
weekend off work and just do the Rheinland but somewhere along
the way I thought that as I’m over there anyway why
not make a proper adventure of it. I worked out all the ferry
times and costs for a circular route round the North Sea riding
from the Treffen to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Shetland
Isles and Aberdeen. I was all set to do it until the soaking
of all soakings on a camping weekend with some biker friends
in the Lake District mid-summer made me think again. August-September
can be pretty late in the season to be touring as far north
as Scandinavia if you want to stay warm and dry.
Next favourite was to follow the mighty River Danube all
the way across Eastern Europe to Romania and try to reach
the Black Sea, a tall order to make it there and back in my
two weeks holiday but achievable. Got real excited about visiting
Transylvania the home of Dracula and riding the highest trunk
road in mainland Europe, the Trans-Fargasian Highway, open
only in summer but I allowed some bad press about the country
to put me off the idea. Maybe next year... or the one after.
Was running out of places to go when I saw Dubrovnik on the
far edge of my map of Europe. Last time I came across that
name it was on the telly having lumps shot out of it during
the wars between Bosnian Serbs, Christians, Moslems and anyone
else in the area with a big gun and an axe to grind. Should
be warm enough down there I thought. Slovenia and Croatia
were in the process of joining the European Union and the
clincher came when my insurers informed me that I was covered
for those countries under my euro-policy at no extra charge.
All my enquiries regarding travel to Croatia by road appeared
to point in the direction of Italy where I would catch a ferry
across the Adriatic to my final destination. Couldn’t
work that one out as there were plenty of roads shown on my
maps so I decided to head on down through Austria and Slovenia
to find out why.
Croatia and The Balkans