Germany is home to two famous rivers, the Rhine and the Danube. But it’s the underdog, the Main (pronounced “mine”) River, which connects some of the most beautiful motorcycling areas in the country. The Main meanders drunkenly between the most traditional and innovative beer brewing areas in Franconian Switzerland and some of the best white wine-growing hills of Germany in Mainfranken. The river and the roads along it are twisty, not straight, as the Main has to squeeze through several mountain ranges.
It’s a perfect summer morning, and the Fat Bob and I are taking the same direction as the water. The source is located in the tallest range along the river’s path, the 3,455-foot-high Fichtel Mountains. But here is a typical German problem: it’s in the middle of a forest. As usual in Germany, forestry roads are off limits to motorized vehicles. The hike is exactly one mile long. I take the challenge, because there is a reward: at the end awaits a beautiful beer garden at Waldrasthaus Karches on the shores of a small lake. Back in the saddle it’s all downhill. Route 303 kills the altitude with perfect, wide sweepers. Extra double-guard railing is installed, a sure sign that this is a very popular motorcycle road.
Thirty miles from its source, the Main flows through the pretty town of Kulmbach. High above the old town sits the impressive Plassenburg castle. But Kulmbach is known for something else. With only 26,000 inhabitants, it is called the beer capital of Germany, with the highest per capita beer production in the country. I could try two dozen different beers brewed here, but I keep moving. There are more interesting things to do this afternoon. Just a ways down the river, the small town of Wiesmann marks the entrance to Franconian Switzerland, a fairy tale countryside of clear rivers, limestone rock formations, and picturesque villages. The best feature, though, is that everything is connected by traffic-free, curvy, roller-coaster roads.
Back in the Upper Main Valley I pass two impressive religious buildings: Banz Monastery and Basilika Vierzehnheiligen, or Basilica of the 14 Holy Helpers. Like guards they sit opposite each other on both slopes of the valley.
For a while, canoes float down the river next to me. In Bamberg the watersport idyll ends. From here on out, the Main becomes suitable for large ships. The river actually only passes the outskirts of the town. It is the Regnitz River that helps to form one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Others might be bigger or more famous, but it’s Bamberg that has the most well preserved historical center of them all. Nicknames like “Franconian Rome” (because of the huge dome and the many churches) or “Little Venice” (referring to the area along the river) give a hint about what to expect. Churches and castles are responsible for the skyline, but the most photographed spot in town is the old mayor’s house. The beautiful building sits on an island in the middle of the river with a couple of bridges around it. The powerful Catholic Church in town didn’t want a civil government beside theirs, so they would not sell any of their land. That’s why the citizens had to create the artificial island to host their building.
Motorcycle & Gear
2015 Harley-Davidson Dyna Fat Bob
Downstream from Bamberg the river slows (it is tamed by 34 locks until it joins the Rhine), but the landscape compensates. To my right the Haßberge range is rising, and to my left are the slopes of the Steigerwald Forest. I stop in Zeil at the local bakery, when something unexpected happens. A pickup truck—according to the advertising, the local cabinet-maker—comes through an alley with AC/DC screaming out of his radio. In this charming place you would expect folk music, maybe Simon & Garfunkel at the most. He stops, wishes me a good morning, and gets his bread before “Hells Bells” starts to ring again.
In Obereisenheim, vineyards dominate the hills lining the river. This must be one of the most attractive stretches of the Main. The road circles through the landscape with great views of the river and the villages next to it. But the absolute highlight is a 180-degree turn that follows the river around one of the wine-covered hills. This is too beautiful to ride past. I check into the town of Volkach, perfectly located near the turn. The decision wasn’t made without a hidden agenda, though—it gives me the chance to sample some of the local wines.
In the morning, the wine theme continues to be thrown at me. A wine festival is going on in Marktbreit. While having a Weisswurst breakfast (typical Bavarian sausage made of veal meat and served with a pretzel and sweet honey) I watch the interesting multipurpose use of the stage. First a preacher holds a church service (it’s Sunday morning). Half an hour later, it’s used by a jazz trio.