H.O.G.® member Vanessa Ruck takes a 2,700-mile trip through Europe’s best Alpine passes with Authorized Tour operator Tour1
Thinking about making an epic road trip?
Then get up and go! I guarantee you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. The world is filled with seriously spectacular roads and for me in the
Plunge into the
So how did I get here? A honeymoon road trip on Softail® bikes, a Street Bob® wedding anniversary ride-out and a serious road traffic accident in 2014 have all led to me being unable to imagine life without my Harley-Davidson. Now I’m physically unable to participate in the sports that once filled my life, it’s my route to exploring the countryside around home. Without it, I don’t know how I would have kept smiling through the dark days.
And now I was heading beyond the
When you’re undertaking a 2,700-mile-plus road trip, it’s easy to stress. Have I picked the best route? Will the roads be as good as I hope? Can I handle the distances between stops? But I hadn’t a worry or question in my mind. I had offloaded all that by booking a guided tour with Tour1, allowing us to concentrate on the ride of our lives instead.
The Tour1 guys recce everything, researching the best routes, testing hotels and picking the ultimate roads, restaurants and coffee stops to make your ride as perfect as possible. They take the stress out of contingency management too. If your Eurotunnel is delayed by four hours (yes, it happened), they know how to get you back on time with the group. Landslide closes a mountain pass? (Yes, this happened too.) Relax with a coffee while they plot an equally impressive alternative route. The only variable no one can plan for is the weather, which in the
Take a beautiful road in the
Safety in numbers
There are many more fabulous passes that haven’t achieved such reputations and the roads connecting them are often gorgeous valley sweepers, ebbing and flowing through towns and lowlands, providing a welcome breather before the next ascent. I had sore abs on some days from leaning my 320kg Sport Glide over around corner after corner on so many passes.
There’s confidence and safety in numbers. Our 15-strong gang of Harley-Davidson motorcycles was hard for drivers to ignore and our range of experience and skills meant we had a solution for every eventuality. You’ll also learn from such a group. At a minimum, the tour leader will be an advanced rider capable of teaching you a few tricks. At best, you’ll rub shoulders with some awesome riders. A Kiwi guy became my favourite back wheel to follow. I learned from his lines and took guidance from his speed: an incredible way to improve my riding. Without such an experienced lead, I wouldn’t have developed to such a level, and the Stelvio in particular was a real education…
Surmounting the Stelvio
We click down into first, hands gripping the bars. We’re off. The potato-potato of our V-twins kicks in as we accelerate through the first hairpin. Dab on the back brake entering corner two, heads looking up. Bend three, weight leaning over, bends four, six, nine… pegs kissing the ground on 10, rubber gripping the tarmac… 13… 17… 21… the throttle whips open, revs flying as we climb… 25… 27… gears changing, up and down in quick succession… 31… the wind whistling past… 34, 35… riding hard, gaining speed on the straights. Left turn, right turn, whipping back and forth across the rugged terrain. Coming out of 48, the summit is in sight.
We pull over. Time slows as I take in the views, the jagged mountains. My body is flooded with something I’ve never experienced before. I’m throbbing with adrenaline. I’ve never felt so alive!
Back on track
How do you keep 15 bikes together in unknown terrain with the lead man on navigation duties? The buddy system kept us linked together while allowing us to ride to our own abilities, fast riders at the front. Each rider was responsible for making sure their ‘buddy’ – the rider behind – knew where to go at any turn-off: ride the straights, wait at junctions. Doing this mileage in a group was something special, as were the looks on locals’ faces as we thundered through. We even had a nursing home out on the pavement when we stopped nearby. Judging by their smiles, they’ll have talked about us for weeks.
The tour passes through nine countries and the transformation of cultures as you cross each border adds a subtly different flavour to each leg. From Swiss mountain lodges to
The engineering of the roads is incredible: high-altitude passes with sheer drop-offs and no guardrails, and totally exposed hairpins. The occasional rock slide, herd of cattle or throng of Lycra-clad cyclists all add to the road surface challenges. Riding in a place free of the health and safety police is liberating, and a sensory overload too. You try to drink in the scenery as the potential for disaster spikes your adrenaline, while also ensuring you don’t fixate on the drops. It’s a riding nirvana that leaves you feeling you’re living on the edge. Literally.
Something I hadn’t anticipated was riders in Lycra, not leathers. The
I smashed him on the up, though, and some of the ups were huge! For guaranteed pothole-free riding, where you can power around any corner with confidence in the rubber to road traction, head to
As a relatively new biker, only really taking up two wheels after my accident, the
You can follow Vanessa on Instagram @thegirlonabike
Photos: Alex Ruck