Harley-Davidson European Bike Week

Text: Daniel Neuhauser • Photography: Daniel Neuhauser

Thousands of motorcycles, great beer, terrific food, good company, and the incomparable Carinthian countryside - what more can you ask for?

Saturday, eight in the morning, and I'm sitting in the kitchen with a toasty mug of Italian coffee. The weather channel summary says: No showers on the horizon. So I can ride the 140 miles from my hometown of Graz to Faak without slipping into any of my foul weather gear.

This dark green coffee mug, my favorite, reminds me of some real good times on vacation in the United States. I bought it in Durango during a big Harley and Goldwing meet and I was very impressed by the whole affair.

Wondering what the Austrian organizers would do with this year's event, I had to get with it and hit the road if I wanted to catch the big parade opening the annual European Harley meeting in Faak/See, in the state of Carinthia. Coffee downed, I hit the door and pointed my Yamaha XJR in the direction of 'Harleywood' for European Bike Week.

This is the fourth year in which this meet takes place around the tiny, normally silent lake called the Faaker See. But throughout this week, a deep thunderous sound reigns. It's become an institution and it makes me proud for Austria to host this worldwide gathering. Larger countries in Europe would have liked to be the site, but when Harley put together plans to hold a 'happening' like Daytona or Sturgis in Europe, they chose Austria. That first celebration in 1998 coincided with the 95th birthday of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

This year, although the weather leading up to the occasion was extremely nasty (unusual for Austria at this time of the year), some 27,000 visitors roared into the idyllic, lakeside setting of Faak on 25,000 motor­cycles, most of them forged in Milwaukee. And their faith and perseverance were amply rewarded with more than enough sunbeams to shine and shimmer on the tons of roaming chrome.

The atmosphere in Faak is unique, with imposing mountains as a backdrop, the picturesque lakeside, and plenty of winding pass roads. But also topping the list is the Austrian hospitality that gives this event its particular character. The successes of the past three years are acknowledged in Milwaukee; that's why the entire board of directors and the president, Jeff Bleustein, decided to visit Austria this year to gather their own impressions of Faak and discover what the European Harley scene looks like. And as they have in the past few years, a number of North American Harley riders also found their way here to participate.

But the person actually responsible for this successful event is Daniela Gabriel, a 32-year-old Austrian from Carinthia, and of course she's also a Harley Rider. She studied marketing and began as the chief organizer in Faak in 1998. Daniela administered that project so well, she became assistant manager of Harley Events of the HOG. She has since moved to the European headquarters in London, where she is now the manager of events in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. In Faak she was supported by the Carinthian Chapter of the HOG and the Carinthian tourist traffic organization, and by practically everyone living there.

I was surprised by how quickly I reached Faak that day. I cheated however and used the autobahn (obviously a taboo for a 'real' biker), but I was so anxious to see the parade and meet my friends I couldn't help it. They had already arrived on Friday and helped me get oriented, which wasn't really necessary because everything was clearly signed and easy to find. After I dropped my luggage in the room, we found a nice sunny place beside the road to observe the parade, the main attraction among many during this week. It would be impossible for me to describe the many beautiful and unique V2s that earned my admiration during the grand procession.

The organizers prepared an abundant program, offering almost all that the heart of a motorcyclist desires, including guided tours, fashion shows, helicopter flights, stunt shows, a poker run, and a riddle rally. If you had a problem with a bike, the mechanics in the technician's tent would surely help solve it. And of course there was a 24-hour bike wash. For our entertainment, bands from all over, even the US, played on different stages. After watching a bit of the parade, which continues on into the evening, I decided to go for one 'round,' a lap around the lake by myself. The parade is the uncontested highlight of the Bike Week and the 18,000 bikes growling around the lake created a serpent 35km long, a European record! And most unusual for Austria: There were no visible signs of policemen on duty around the lake and the surrounding roads.

After only a few miles I was forced to stop in front of a makeshift start/finish line where some crazy guys were taunting bikers to make burn outs. A big traffic jam ensued, but everyone was patient, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Across the way, I noticed the marketplace set up for the festivities where a Harley rider can buy nearly everything a Harley rider needs, from bandanas to socks, wallets to wooden-model Harleys, and expensive tuning parts to leather and lace for the ladies.

When I finally worked my four-cylinder through the traffic snarl, my nose led the way to the next stop. Some terrific smelling barbecue was cooking in the 'Harley village' and I couldn't resist hanging out for most of the evening, something you tend to do when there's lots of good Austrian beer on hand. The 24-hour 'village' kitchen offered everything from barbecue to typical Austrian fare, and the Austrian cooks discovered another way of serving the corn that grows in great abundance in Carinthia: corn on the cob, one of my absolute favorite side dishes to eat when I'm travelling in the States.

Around midnight I found my way into a tent where an Austrian 'oldie band' played. The mood was hard to beat when suddenly a Milwaukee iron backed into the tent and smoked us with a big fat burn out. We could hardly breathe. But it was time to leave the tent anyway to watch the fireworks. After a 'few' more beers and more ears of corn on the cob, the shuttle bus pulled up to take us back to our lodgings, which run the gamut here: from five-star hotels to simple campsites. But this party has no end. When I left for the lodge, the first of the early birds were arriving for breakfast.

After a big thunder-and-lightning show in the morning the temperature dropped dramatically, but the air cleared and the sun came out at just the right time for me to finagle a test ride and take some pictures aboard the star of this year's Bike Week, the new V-Rod.

When the well-attended Sunday service ended, the place began to clear out. Unwillingly, the guests prepared for their journeys home. Then came the last ride around the lake, the last pictures, handshakes and a cup of coffee. Though tired, all the faces I encountered seemed to say 'Come on, let's party another week!'

About Carinthia
Austria's southernmost state has 200 lakes, 75 nature preserves, and two national parks. The Hohe Tauern National Park is protected by the United Nations and encom­passes our highest peak, the 3,798-meter-high Grossglockner. Breath­taking alpine scenery extends around the mountain, best viewed in transit from the Grossglockner Hoch­alpen­strasse. This 30-mile-long winding road connects Carinthia with Salzburg. Carinthia is also a great jumping-off point for tours to Italy and Slovenia. Contact www.twowheelsontour.com for more information.