Getting Ready for Europe Riding

Text: Raymond K. Anderson • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

Some choose to bungee jump, extreme ski, fly ultra-lights or skydive. However you get your thrills, there is one experience that any real motorcyclist should not miss. In September 2004, 20 others and I rode the Alps of Austria and Italy with RoadRUNNER publisher Christian Neuhauser, his brother Daniel, and senior staff member Mike Miller. Having lived in Italy and experienced the "Euro" riding style, I was stoked about being able to let loose the reins and forget about speed limits and tickets for a while.

Most experienced motorcyclists have done their share of tour riding; but many may not be aware of the differences between North-American and Euro-riding styles. Therefore, should you be considering coming on the next Euro tour, we want you to be properly prepared and fully enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

GROUP RIDING: We tend to adopt a staggered formation and simply travel from point A to point B while taking in the scenery. Most of the time the roads in the mountains of Europe are simply not wide enough for a staggered formation, so groups tend to ride in a tight single-file formation. Over there, it is extremely important to stick tight to the rider ahead of you in order to pick the right line through the corners while maximizing your speed. If you allow a "gap" to occur, then every corner is new (i.e. dangerous) to you and that will begin to affect confidence and, most importantly, safety. The group then inevitably spreads out, allowing other vehicles to embed themselves in your group, which can cause a whole host of problems on those twisty roads.

LANE SHARING: When we think of lane sharing, we conjure up visions of staggered formations or riding between stopped cars on an LA freeway. In Europe, lane sharing means anyone will share your lane - anytime, anywhere. I had people on my tires, passing me in blind corners and when going up and down mountain passes. We have a mindset that we are entitled to a modicum of space around us for safety. The culture that prevails with drivers in Europe is to tailgate or lane share. The Europeans are used to it, but it can be very unnerving when being passed on a blind curve or on the inside in a switchback.

PASSING: Unless you have nerves of steel, don't attempt this in Europe until you have two or three days of serious Euro riding under your belt. As you watch Euro riders pass anywhere and anytime, you may unconsciously fall in line with that dynamic and begin to do it as well. Unfortunately, because of high speed and the extreme roads you will be on, passing can be exceptionally dangerous. Cars, trucks, buses, and ambulances will come out of nowhere, and unless you are quite experienced in evasive maneuvering, you just might get an up-close and personal view of the countryside.

FREE-RIDING: When we go on a poker run or day trip, we stay together; we probably have communications and everyone is fairly familiar with the route and language. On a Euro tour, you will do some "free-riding." This means, when the lead rider raises his left hand, the road is all yours and you can literally go as fast as you want. It is the most intense and exhilarating riding experience you can have off a track! The downside is that gapping may occur because the distances may cover many miles over steep and twisty roads. As a result, riders may feel they have missed a road or gotten lost. Daily, the group is informed about the stopping points at the top of each pass. However, because you will be unfamiliar with the passes, you might not know where the top is. Remember, you are in the Alps. There is always another mountain. Also, you will probably not speak the language or know your precise location or where you are going at any given point, resulting in confusion or the feeling you've gone astray. The best way of dealing with this dynamic is simply to keep going until you see another member of your group. If you reach the top and can't place any of the faces there, stay put - the leader will come back for you.

You will definitely experience a myriad of personalities among the riders on your tour. Some of your tour mates will ride in an overly aggressive manner while others will be intimidated by the terrain and driving culture. Find your niche and your riding position in the group. After you have a couple days of experience and have grown more acclimated to the terrain and riding culture, pick a group member whose skills are better than yours and follow him or her. You will find as you mimic them that your skills will improve exponentially.

This might sting a little! North Americans can be a bit arrogant and overestimate their skill levels. As a seasoned MSF instructor, I've known riders with the "30-years' experience attitude" who could not turn their heads through a corner or use the friction zone if their lifes depended on it! Unless you are at least an intermediate or advanced rider, this tour is probably not for you. This tour is about time in the saddle, experiencing the ride and roads. If you expect a leisurely lope, stopping at every village for photos and souvenirs, then I recommend a tour bus. However, if you want to go faster than you ever have before, if you want to hone your skills to razor sharpness, if you're attracted to the pucker factor of sport touring in one of the most breathtaking environments on the planet, then sign up now!

Thanks to Christian and Daniel for providing the personal touch that other tour companies can't duplicate. And, hat's off to all the 2-uppers who rode, as they will never ever have to prove their courage again in any other way! Well done by all, and here's hoping I see you next year.