Edelweiss European Bike Tour

August 12, 2005
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

We crossed the Rhine River on a ferry returning to Germany.
Not content with just travel by land and air, the tour also crossed the Rhine River by ferry on their return into Germany.

June 25, 2005 – Saturday
Riding from Obernai, France to Titisee, Germany

One thing I noticed during our tour was that if you live in a small village in Europe, the first thing you do once you get up in the morning is go outside and sweep your portion of the sidewalk. It seemed like all the village folk do it. As for me, I skipped the morning briefing as I made ready for our Saturday ride, which would see us leave France and head back to Germany, crossing the Rhine River by ferry.

Munich would be the largest city we would see the entire trip, and even then we didn’t ride in the city at all. Instead the Best of Europe Tour follows secondary roads that pass through small towns, one right after the other. On the road again in Germany we drove through several of these small villages, winding through the picturesque streets and town squares where you would often spot a communal waterspout with someone filling a watering can or some other container.

Now I’m not an experienced world traveler by any means, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a cleaner continent in the world. Not once did I see a discarded bottle or can, cigarette butt, or even a pull tab. Along those same lines, I never spotted an abandoned or wrecked vehicle anywhere. Not once!

At one of our stops I did manage to spot a wrapper flying across the parking lot. Finally I had spotted some litter! But no, it was the wrapper off my ice cream that had somehow worked its way out of my pocket! I retrieved it as fast as I could before the litter SWAT team spotted me.

Leaving the Black Forrest in Germany.
Leaving the Black Forrest in Germany. One of the most notable observations throughout the tour was the lack of litter. Not once did Tom see a discarded bottle, can, or cigarette butt.

As the ride continued, one of the riders dropped his BMW RT at one of our stops. Nothing was hurt except for his pride. Now I realize that accidents can happen on the road, but these slow parking lot maneuvers can get you if you’re not careful. We moved on from there having a lot of fun, and because it was the weekend, the local motorcyclists were out in droves! Without question the predominant bike was the BMW – I wonder why? It reminded me of riding into Laguna Seca on superbike weekend.

As the day wore on we made a few more stops, visiting the home of the Black Forest Cake and a large cuckoo-clock store. All told we rode only 140 miles that day, but at the end I was exhausted. I’m not complaining, but it was one switchback after another – very much fun but still a lot of work.

That evening when we pulled into our destination of Titisee, Germany, I was following my roommate Don who had somehow become separated from the rest of the group. As we approached the center of town, I saw Don ride right into a pedestrian path with all kinds of warnings that it was the wrong way! I thought there is no way in hell I’m going to follow him. I rode around for the better part of an half hour trying to connect with where I had last spotted him, but without luck.

A fellow standing on the street corner yelled, whistled, and motioned for me to ride down the same path that Don had entered. Oh well, I gave in and made the plunge. The next thing I knew I was pulling into our stop for the evening, the Maritim Hotel.

Some of the corners in the Alps were so sharp that a large mirror was placed in the turn so you could see if anyone was approaching.
An excellent view of a typical road in the Alps. Some of the corners were so sharp that a large mirror was placed in the turn so you could see if anyone was approaching.

Once I found Don I asked him why he entered onto that pedestrian path. He said because it was the only way to reach our hotel, and that the point had been covered in that mornings briefing! Needless to say I attended the rest of our briefings.

The Maritim Hotel, once I had found it, possessed a beautiful lakeside location, and the accompanying sunset that night was awe inspiring. It is obvious that the folks at Edelweiss have researched their routes well and hand picked their stops, including the restaurants. You couldn’t ask for more.

June 26, 2005 – Sunday
Riding from Titisse, Germany to Andermatt, Switzerland

Breakfast at the Martim Hotel, as well as everywhere else we stayed, was very good. The meals showcase a wide variety of delectables with several items to choose from, and one of the gals in our group commented that it would be nice to get home so you could find out what you were eating!

Sunday, as we made our way into the Alps, was the coolest morning we experienced on the tour. Off in the distance I was starting to see much larger, white-capped peaks.

Downtown Andermatt  Switzerland. The tour would spend two days in Andermatt; on the second day they went on a group ride that crossed over six passes.
Downtown Andermatt, Switzerland. The tour would spend two days in Andermatt; on the second day they went on a group ride that crossed over six passes.

Our tour guide said that if we thought yesterday’s roads were twisty, just wait a few minutes, and he was right. The roads wound through the mountains with dramatic turns. At strategic points in the Alps they sometimes put large mirrors in the corners so you can see if anyone is approaching – very handy.

The sportier feel of the ST handled the corners well and I never tired of the slight forward lean in riding position. At one point, with the whole group of old farts thinking we had the world by the tail riding on our BMWs with hard bags, we were suddenly surrounded by riders on sportbikes, several of them wearing colorful leathers and traveling about twice our speed. My God, I thought, we had made the wrong turn into the middle of a MotoGP race! I kept looking for Nicky Hayden, and frankly I’m not convinced I didn’t see him. They were amazing and fun to watch but they weren’t around for long. They rode like California riders – if the bike might fit an open space, they go for it.

Our arrival into Andermatt, Switzerland was breathtaking. It is a small farming village that also doubles as a winter ski haven. The roadway was as dramatic as the scenery, and there were times I wished I had a lower gear than first. I also now possess a greater understanding of the term “drop off.” Wow, we are in the Alps now, baby!

It was common during our ride to have to slow down or even stop while cows crossed the road. I wondered how in the hell all these crazy cows got here in the first place? With the steep mountainous terrain, if they ever lost their footing they would roll all the way to the bottom. I also began to wonder if the German and Swiss governments didn’t have some type of law requiring motorcycle owners to ride on the weekends. The number of motorcycles on the roads was amazing.

It s very common to have to stop or at least break for these fellows. They are all over the Alps.
It wasn’t uncommon for the group to slow down and yield the road to one of these fellows.

We had dinner at our hotel in Andermatt. It was beef stroganoff with buttered hash browns, perhaps the best of the tour, at least for my taste. I relaxed from an exciting day’s ride and looked forward to tomorrow, our second free day of the tour. The air was much cooler that evening, and it’s no wonder – there was still snow present on several of the surrounding peaks.

June 27, 2005 – Monday
Andermatt, Switzerland

Claus Lazik, one of our tour group leaders, had organized a group ride on our rest day. However, my friend Don and I wanted to do our own thing, so we decided to forego the group ride for an adventure of our own. Prior to leaving for this tour, my friend and I thought we would never ride with the group, but instead venture off on our own, exploring as we saw fit. We tried this once. Oh my God!

First off, the roads in Europe don’t have any route signs posted, and neither do the maps. So the only way to effectively navigate is to know the name of the next town you should pass through on your route and follow the signs on the highway to that village. We had to stop every 15 minutes to double-check our course. Believe me, we rode with the tour leader from that day on.

Lake Vierwarldstatter in Switzerland.
Switzerland provided more than its fair share of amazing views, including this shot of Lake Vierwarldstatter.

We did however manage to survive and began our ride by first crossing the Oberalp Pass for lunch, then continued on to Interlaken, Switzerland, a lakeside community reported to be the capital of extreme sports in Europe. I think just getting to Interlaken itself should be classified as an extreme sport. All told we traveled over 370 km (230 miles) and rode through six passes, all of which were in Switzerland.

The scenery was beyond description (again, you’ll have to look at the pictures), and although it was Monday, there were still plenty of motorcycles on the passes. We saw few Harleys in Europe; instead most of the motorcycles were various brands of sportbikes.

There were also a number of bicyclists on the roads. I can’t imagine pedaling over those passes! There is a very high priority given to cyclists throughout Europe. Bike paths can be found even out on country lanes. Later, on my return trip to America, I sat with a young woman named Lauren who is from Ohio but teaching in Munich. She doesn’t even own a car, but instead does all her commuting by bicycle. If she needs to travel further distances she travels by air or rail, depending on which is offering the cheapest fairs.

In the center of this picture you can make out a quasi-tunnel  with everything enclosed but the outer side which is open  you can see the support posts .
There are many tunnels in the Alps. In the center of this picture you can make out a sort of quasi-tunnel, with everything enclosed but the outer side which is open (you can see the support posts).

As we rode along, I got to experience the shock of European fuel prices (at least it was a shock to my American sensibilities). We paid around 1.35 Euros for a liter of supreme, which works out to something like 5.40 Euros for a gallon of gas. With the exchange rate we were paying around $6.50 per gallon. Filling the BMW would cost me about $30 to $35. Lucky for me we only filled up about once per day.

As for the roads, the Europeans are fond of their tunnels. This is particularly true in the Alps. I was amazed by the turns inside the tunnels. I was wearing a darkened face shield on my helmet and had to flip up the screen once inside so that I was able to see. In one quasi-tunnel (you can make it out in top right photograph) everything was enclosed except for the outer side which was open. In another tunnel, we entered under warm and sunny skies, and when we exited out the other side it was raining!

June 28, 2005 – Tuesday
Riding from Andermatt, Switzerland to Warth, Austria

When we left Andermatt Tuesday morning is was clear and cool, but as we left the Swiss Alps you could start to feel the increasing heat and humidity. I saw one thermometer register at 94 degrees.

Leaving Andermatt  Switzerland.
One of the views leaving Andermatt, Switzerland and heading to Warth, Austria.

Our way to Warth, Austria would take us through one of the world’s smallest countries, Liechtenstein. We stopped in the capital city of Vaduz and then headed over the Hochtannberg and Furkajoch passes. The road was very narrow in places, and required us to stop when meeting a car or truck. But once again the views were supreme.

Arriving in Warth, we began our stay in the fanciest hotel stop on the entire tour, the Warther Hof. The vistas of the Austrian Alps were spectacular, with everything very green and almost manicured. If a blade of grass can grow there, it will be harvested. Large mountains jet skyward and the sound of cowbells can be heard off in the distance. Far away you can make out the image of farmers cutting and turning hay in their Alpine fields.

The hotel was very luxurious. It had three swimming pools: one inside, one outside, with another a co-ed no-swimsuit pool. Saunas and massages were also available. As we ate dinner that evening, there was a strong sense that our tour was coming to an end, for tomorrow we would return to our starting hotel in Sauerlach, Germany.

June 29, 2005 – Wednesday
Riding from Warth, Austria to Sauerlach, Germany

A room with a view. One of the views from our room in Warth  Austria.
A room with a view… The scenery surrounding the Warther Hof, the most luxurious hotel in the entire tour.

It rained the night before, so prior to breakfast I readied my raingear. But in no time the sun was out and the roads were dry for our departure.

Europe, like America, tries to emphasize the importance of motorcycle safety. This was especially true when traveling through the challenging roads of the Alps. As we rode we would see large signs picturing motorcycles on them with writing that I couldn’t understand. One of the signs depicted a motorcycle traveling down the highway with a giraffe coming out of the ditch and onto the road. Our tour guide Claus translated the wording as “Sometimes things appear that you don’t expect.” Another sign showed a motorcycle coming at you in a turn with shaded images of the bike in the background. This sign said, “Give your guardian angel a chance.”

As we headed toward our final tour destination we stopped at King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle. A tour of the fairytale castle is available but takes three hours to complete, so after a few pictures we were on the road again and headed to our last official stop of the tour, the Meadow Church. Built more than 250 years ago, the church stands in the middle of nowhere and is an excellent example of Baroque architecture.

As we made our way back to Sauerlach, I was able to convince Claus that I simply could not return home without a souvenir BMW t-shirt. He took us to a shop in Niederberger just outside Munich, and believe me, the group dropped some Euros there.

One of King Ludwig II of Bavaria s castles. He lived there only 120 days before moving to Lake Starnberg.
As the tour wound down they made a stop at King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle.

Thanks to that little side stop we managed to miss a large hailstorm that had hit Sauerlach just prior to our arrival. The hail had melted but the damage remained, with downed limbs and leaves everywhere, not to mention some damage to parked vehicles. It looks like our little t-shirt shopping spree paid off!

We went back to the garage with our bikes and inventoried them again for damage. My R1200ST had served me well throughout the tour. The ST had a smaller fairing than the RT’s which most of the two-up riders used. Given the high temperatures throughout the trip, I was glad to receive a little more exposure to the wind. Some of the two-up riders had some minor complaints about the RT’s rear suspension, which they found a little mushy. But all told, the BMW fleet performed well, without any mechanical problems. We had managed to drop two bikes during the tour, but luckily there were no serious injuries to any of the riders.

We had a wonderful farewell dinner on our final night. Afterward, our guides Claus and Michael handed out Edelweiss Tour t-shirts and made some general comments about the group. That evening we repacked and tried to fit the items we had purchased back into already full luggage. The next morning we were up early and heading to the Munich airport for our return flight.

And so ended my Edelweiss European motorcycle tour. If I had only one complaint it would only be that it was too short. The tour was well planned out and kept you busy, and as a result there wasn’t much free time on our tour, with only two rest days to do what you wanted and go out exploring. Some of the group members had arrived a couple of days before the beginning of the tour to explore on their own, so if you are more adventurous that may be a good option for you.

Also, the tour book sent to each participant prior to their arrival could be updated. In particular, the advice to bring casual business wear for evenings is not necessarily required. The common clothing was shorts and t-shirts, and only one restaurant required long pants. It could save on packing space for sure.

My friend Don Livingood and I with our rides in the Swiss Alps.
There and back again. Tom and friend Don Livingwood pose with the bikes that carried them on their memorable tour.

Also the tour I took was listed as the Best of Europe Tour, but both of our tour guides thought that was a slight misnomer. They felt there were at least two other European tours that were better in terms of scenery and hotels. The Tuscany Tour was given as one example. It all depends on what you want to see, and where you want to spend the $4,500-$5000 it will cost you to book the trip. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, it’s just a matter of personal taste and Edelweiss offers many different European touring options catering to the different tastes of its clientele.

There is just no way I can adequately describe my experience in full. I visited several countries and met some fine folk along the way, not the least of which were the other tour members with whom I shared the experience, and each of them agreed they would participate again if given the opportunity.

The photographs I have taken will be viewed for many years, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this was a life-altering experience. It is one of those things that will affect you forever, and I have thought of the trip every day since my return.

Several years ago I watched a TV program which outlined the 100 most important things you should do in life before you check out. Well, if you love motorcycle touring, then I would suggest you add this experience to the list as 101. The great roads, meeting the people, riding an excellent motorcycle, experiencing the foods and culture, and the sights… what a trip!

Edelweiss Bike Travel
U.S. Contact Info:
P.O. Box 1974 – Wrightwood – CA 92397-1974
Tel (760) 249-5825
Toll Free 1-800-507-4459
Fax (760) 249-3857
e-mail: edelweiss@trict.com

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Edelweiss European Bike Tour
Edelweiss European Bike Tour

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