RoadRUNNER's Five-Country Europe Tour

Text: Neale Bayly • Photography: Neale Bayly

The dog days of summer have slowed life to a crawl, with seemingly endless triple-digit temperatures scorching everything in sight. As I ride home after dark, even the sliver of moon hanging low in the early evening sky is on fire. Battling traffic, impatiently waiting for lights while inhaling hot fumes, I start daydreaming about my upcoming trip to cool Alpine passes, clear mountain lakes, roads twisting through pine forests, and stays in small, family-run hotels that serve fantastic cuisine a short walk from a comfortable room.

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Flying into Munich on a cool, damp day in late August, I join fourteen fellow Alpine sojourners on the bus to collect our rental BMWs, the bikes that will carry us through the technically challenging roads of the Alps over the next nine days. An eclectic mix of races, religions, nationalities, ages, and political beliefs, we arrived as a group of strangers destined to share the experience of a lifetime, an experience that would see a close group of friends sadly saying goodbye nine days later. Talkers, listeners, joke tellers, wise men, and caring ladies, we come from all walks of life and are linked by a common thread, our love of motorcycles, the thrill of discovery, and the fun of meeting new and interesting people.

For most in our group it's the first motorcycle trip in Europe, so later that first evening we discuss some of the idiosyncrasies of riding in Europe. The group is largely comprised of veteran riders, ranging from a motorcycle policeman to a safety instructor, with a solid number of high-mileage riders in between. Ably led by the amazing Peter Lintschinger, an Austrian motorcycle policeman who knows the Alps like the back of his hand, we couldn't have designated a better guide by committee. Brimming with personality, possessed with tireless enthusiasm and an intimate knowledge of his country and surrounding areas, Peter is the right guy to take the helm and keep things lively. There's never a dull moment with him around.

Departing from Bad Tolz under skies swollen with rain clouds, I can see that the first day of riding across Germany into Austria might test the mettle of our group. But as a heavy rain begins, Peter detours off our route and decides we'd better spend a couple of hours on a walking tour in Salzburg instead. Wandering through the city that claims Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for its chosen son, we marvel at the exquisite intricacies of Baroque architecture and the incredible number of beautifully restored churches.

The amount of water in the Salzach River indicates there is some serious rain falling in the mountains above us, although their peaks remained hidden in the thick, dark clouds. But with the day sliding away we have to head for Peter's hometown of Tamsweg to remain on schedule. Conditions steadily worsen as temperatures drop into the low forties. Sticking tightly together in a line, all of us soon learn why this particular RoadRUNNER tour of Europe isn't offered to inexperienced riders - our skills are tested to their limits on the slick, Austrian mountain roads.

On arrival at our hotel, the Gasthof Gambswirt, our smiling host whips out his typed list and hands us our room keys. An hour later, establishing a routine we would maintain throughout the nine-day trip, we were jabbering convivially around the dinner table while tucking into a superb home-cooked meal in the hotel restaurant. We enjoyed wonderful accommodations, great food, and personable, attentive service from gracious hosts everywhere.

All smiles the next morning, we saddled up in bright sunshine and hit the road. Once up into the mountains Peter cut the group loose for a couple of hours of free riding, giving each of us an opportunity to explore and get comfortable on the BMWs at his or her own pace. Some had never ridden the brand before, and the others in the group who have are well aware that BMWs are known for being quirky.

Thankfully, the weather remained favorable and we didn't see rain again until our last day. Always taking the road less traveled, we were only deterred once, when snows fell in Austria, canceling our proposed ride into Switzerland. We did get to ride into and across Slovenia, however - a real thrill for all of us. We encountered a mountain pass there called the Vrisicpass that Peter said had been built during World War I. Possibly the tightest, steepest, most sinuous road you can imagine, it features the added delight of cobblestone corners to further challenge any rider climbing or descending. Affording the most majestic views of the countryside on our descent, this vertiginous byway soon delivered us to a sunny pastel town in Italy and a well-deserved break spent sipping coffee and meeting some of the locals in an outdoor cafe.

On through grassy Alpine valleys and thick mountain forests we rode - and the way up and over the crags and spines, seemingly an endless series of first-gear switchbacks, challenged us beyond anything we had experienced before. Catching our breath at the top of each particular pass, we stood astonished, reveling in the panoramic views.

Our group grew closer and closer as we shared one incredible experience after another: the stark towering pillars of the Dolomites in Italy; the snow-capped peaks of Austria; and the fields of brilliant flowers we said goodbye to in Slovenia. We smiled and waved at groups of Europeans on Harley-Davidsons, who in turn smiled and waved at us, a group of North Americans on BMWs. With the Alpine roads running right through town centers, we weaved our way through a wide spectrum of everyday European life. Markets and weddings. Proud old men bedecked in war medals. Widows in dark clothing. Tradesmen and travelers, intriguing alleyways and sun-splashed plazas, and the cheeky kids who were always scrambling on our motorcycles.

Lying back on a blanket of soft, green grass speckled with brightly colored wildflowers, I fill my lungs with crisp mountain air. Above, the clearest, brightest blue sky contrasts with lazy, billowing clouds. Jagged peaks thrust out of the frame of vibrant green trees that ring my horizon. I smile and close my eyes. Five days of riding through the Alps have conveyed me to my own personal nirvana, and whenever my mind begins to drift back to the heat and congestion left behind in America all I have to do is open my eyes again.

By the time we reached Serfaus in Austria on the eighth day of the tour, we had been running from early-winter weather a few days and finally it caught us. Waking to find the town blanketed in snow, we weren't at all displeased to spend some time off our motorcycles and stretch our legs for a day. We had maximized our time in the saddle so far with the best riding of our lives; so a little retail therapy in the local shops and getting back into the practice of afternoon napping didn't cause too many complaints. But always the man with the plan, Pete did quickly organize a different sort of ride, in the gondola of a ski-lift for coffee at the rustic, mountain top lodge.

The snow finally stopped falling, and after our last dinner together as a group, we regaled each other with cock-and-bull stories about the trip and laughed so hard we went to bed with aching jaws. The final ride out of Serfaus, equal to any we had taken, snaked our long line of bikes through the magnificent valley, and it was an incredible sight to see everyone riding as if they were one. Relaxed and comfortable, with a huge smile practically spilling from my helmet, I had once more found my way to motorcycle heaven and I was hanging on to every last moment.