ALPS, ADRIATIC & ALCOHOL

Words and pictures by Givitsum

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.

Big Red in her Weekend Warrior clothes 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 world tour!

In nondescript black---‘eye on the horizon’ trimFirst 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’. Ex-ringtaxi 137bhp Fazer-thouCouldn’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 powerful XJR.

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.

Far right with beer and award in handAs 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.

Next Instalment:

Croatia and The Balkans




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