Riding Motorcycles in Europe

Have you ridden a motorcycle in Europe? If you have then you’ll probably agree that not much beats experiencing Europe’s history, culture, food, foreign languages and epic scenery. Riding the mind-spinning Alpine passes and ancient cobblestoned village streets is life changing.

If you haven’t ridden in Europe, then you really should try. Traveling in a foreign land expands your experience like no other.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to tour Europe by motorcycle.

Ways to Go

There are lots of ways to travel abroad, including renting motorcycles, booking hotels and devising an itinerary on your own. Coordinating all the pieces of your trip is certainly doable and will usually save you some money. But, this requires planning for things you probably won’t know about if you’ve never been to Europe before. The success of a self-guided tour depends on you’re level of adventurousness and ability to handle stress.

Hybrid Tours

Another option is to sign on with someone who knows the ropes and does all the heavy lifting for a fee. My first long tour was with Ironstone Adventures, run by a longtime colleague and friend Joe Proia. Joe is paid $500 to arrange for rentals, hotels and guiding the tour. You then pay the hotel, restaurant and rental bills yourself.

Joe has been doing informal tours for a long time and usually fills his slots with friends and friends of friends. In 2017, Caroline and I were joined by former RITZ students and acquaintances of mine from New England Riders.

The week-long trip with Joe was a ton of fun. We rode many of the most notable passes; Stelvio, Gavia, etc. He knew where to stay and had friendly connections at hotels along the way.

We followed Joe like ducklings through the Alpine passes and villages. This is how many tour companies manage their tours. The problem is that you’re stuck riding the pace of the leader and the group. You can usually pick a slower or faster group, but there is no guarantee there is a group suitable to your ability or goals. Some people want to stop often to sight-see, whereas others want to just ride big miles and see the sights from the saddle. It turned out that our group was well matched.

Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures

Then there is the established tour companies, like Edelweiss, Ayers and Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures

*Disclaimer: I participated in Beach’s Italian Idyll tour as a resident riding coach. Many of my expenses were paid and I am hoping that some of my readers will join me when I go again. See more information about the training feature here.

The Italian Idyll is a two week tour of central Italy. The tour starts in Florence and makes a 2,600 km (1,600 mile) loop through Tuscany and Umbria, to the Adriatic before looping south and west to Rome and then to Sienna on the way back to Florence.

What’s great about this tour is how Rob and Gretchen Beach encourage you to set off on your own or form a small group. You certainly can follow behind the Beachs, but don’t miss the opportunity to explore at your own pace. There is no need to fear getting lost. Beach’s provides GPSs pre-loaded with at least three route options that end at the next night’s hotel.

Our group mixed it up quite a bit. I rode with Rob and Gretchen (who ride two-up) and most of the group for several days. But I also rode alone and with one or two other riders when they were students. We had a couple on two bikes who often took of on their own to explore side areas along one of the routes. They essentially customized the tour.

The bikes we rode are brand new BMWs; I rode a R1200GS with full luggage. Not only are the bikes top shelf, but so is the lodging and food. I never expected to stay in a medieval village or renovated monastery or villa. And the food! Amazing variety and quantity.

It wasn’t all riding. We had double overnights in Florence, Santo Stefano, Rome and Sienna where we explored the tourist sites and rustic alleys. During these free days you have the option to strike out on your own, take a walk in the city or village, or just chill at the hotel.

At around $8k, the two week tour ain’t cheap. But you get top shelf accommodations, great food and a GPS equipped BMW. Oh, and a chase van is there to schlep your belongings from one hotel to the next. And you get a super-duper gear bag and tour book.

Q&A

Here are some questions from a former student of mine about the tour:

— Would this be a good first motorcycle tour?

I would say this is an excellent tour for first timers. It is immersive, but with almost two weeks you have flexibility with the route (challenging, or moderately easy) and with the pace.

— How long are the typical days?  My wife is concerned about sitting in the saddle too long.

Rob and Gretchen hit the road about 9:00 after breakfast. But, you have the option to leave later or earlier. The days range from 150 to 170 miles and we usually arrive at the hotel around 4:00. That may not seem like a lot of miles, but the roads are rural and curvy and we stopped every couple of hours for an espresso or gelato in the small medieval towns.
Since the tour is almost two weeks long, we are able to make the tour as relaxed as you want with the only requirement that you end up at the hotel at night.

— Is there plenty of time to sight see?

This tour is all about riding and sightseeing. You will see such a wide range of Italy. We literally rode by and through over a hundred medieval towns perched on hillsides. And we stopped at the most interesting ones. Mmmmm Gelato.

— Are there any major deep drop edges?  I have some vertigo issues, which is one reason we’ll probably never do the Alpine tours.

No. Unlike the Alps, this tour keeps us mostly on rolling roads that ascend and descend forested mountains that are much less severe. There are many climbing and descending switchbacks, but few drop offs. There are many towns perched high on hillsides but the approach roads aren’t a problem. The views from the top are amazing.

Take a look at these two videos to get an idea of some of the roads.

 

I’ve done my share of riding in Europe and this tour was the most comprehensive in terms of quality riding, accommodations and food. I’m a frugal Yankee who doesn’t usually spring for such quality hotels and food. But, this has sold me on the value of getting what you pay for.

It’s a lot of money and is not affordable for many, but if you want to treat yourself and your partner to the best, then Beach’s is worth serious consideration.

Plan Now

A motorcycle trip to Italy or Europe is no trivial matter. It’s expensive, even when you do it yourself. Shop around to see which way is best for you. But, go! We Americans tend to stick close to home, becasue we have so much to see in our great land. But, visiting other cultures is priceless in expanding our tolerance and understanding of the world. And to do it on a motorcycle is a special bonus.

Bone Up

Depending on what part of Europe you are planning to ride, you’ll have a more enjoyable and safer time if you get some professional training before you go. It’s not unusual for Americans to become a bit overwhelmed with the technical nature of the roads, especially when riding in the Alps.

Two of the attendees on the Ironstone Adventures Alpine tour scheduled a training day with me that prpared them for the rigors of riding relentless twists and turns.

Several attendees on thew Beach’s tour took advantage of the available coaching that helped them negotiate the challenging central Italian tarmac.

Reading List

You may benefit from reading this article about surviving hairpin turns.

You may also want to read this article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine about Riding the Alps.


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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

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