Over 34,000 motorcycle enthusiasts from across the globe gathered in the Southern Germany for the 2007 BMW Motorrad Days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Walking toward the gates of the rally, anticipation was in the air as thousands of fellow riders congregated to participate in the annual festivities. When I heard the approaching rumble of a motorcycle, I recognized the same sound I'd been listening to all day. It was a Twin, but this Twin's note was subtle, not brash, and I didn't even have to glance over my shoulder to guess what I'd see, both in terms of the bike and rider.
I looked anyway and wasn't surprised to see two riders, a man and woman, and this couple wasn't riding two-up either. They were each on their own machine, with both wearing full-face helmets and sporting full protective riding gear from head to toe. The duo stomped down their gearshift levers. From across the street the unmistakable first-gear transmission clunk was audible before they hummed past.
We ain't in Kansas anymore. And, nope, this isn't Sturgis, South Dakota either. We're in Bavaria, Germany, mein Freunden, 90-kilometers (56 miles) south of Munich and just a mountain away from neighboring Austria to participate in the 2007 BMW Motorrad Days
As guests of BMW
, I was privileged to join a select group of journalists that had been flown back to the Old World to get a taste of how they do biker rallies in the Alps. As you might have guessed from our introduction, things are a bit different on the continent, and we loved every minute of it.
Doing a poor job projecting the image of a refined, nonchalant world traveler, I arrived in Germany with my face plastered to the window of my Lufthansa flight into Munich. Getting my passport stamped at customs and meeting up with our BMW hosts, I did my best not to betray the wide-eyed, American yokel which was screaming to get out. All I needed was a straw hat and rope belt as I gawked at the old-world beauty of Southern Germany. By the time our group picked up the press bikes we would ride from BMW's Munich headquarters to the main event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I was grateful I could hide my giddiness from the volk behind my tinted faceshield.
For our Alpine adventures through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, BMW gave us the key to a 2007 R1200S. Here it poses in front of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain.
The mount with which I would come to bond with during the next five rain-filled, Alp-crossing days was the R1200S. I was pleased to be paired up with a bike utilizing the horizontally-opposed Boxer, as the distinctive engine was ubiquitous during our five-day European excursion. Beemers in Germany are like Harleys in the U.S. in that you can think of them as the default ride, which makes sense, as BMW shares a similar position in the Rhineland as H-D holds in America's heartland. After a week on German and Austrian roads, the Boxer Twin was as prevailing as the V-Twin seen on most American byways. No doubt we saw an over-representation of Beemers on our journey due to the Motorrad Days, but the difference was still noticeable.
Behind the controls of my trusty R1200S, I navigated through the picturesque backroads of the Bavarian countryside, with our group opting to forego the frantic madness of the no-speed-limit Autobahn. Instead we took in the pastoral landscape en route to our destination and site of the Motorrad Days, the sleepy mountain town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We worked our way through the small villages set off by irregular fields and manicured groves of evergreen timber which I had viewed from above during my flight into Munich. As our day progressed, however, the rolling hills began to give way to the rugged mountain peaks of the Northern Alps as we drew near our destination.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is an amalgam of two separate villages, which Hitler (yeah, that
Hitler) scrunched together for the 1936 Olympics. A quick survey of the mountainous hinterland, which includes the vertical majesty of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak, confirmed why the city and the surrounding region are a bastion for winter sports activities. In fact, the entire Alpine area (G-P is hemmed in by Austria in every direction save North) is a virtual Winter Olympic-land and the "duh" lever in my brain activated for what was one of many obvious but nonetheless enlightening epiphanies during my journey when I realized, "so that's why Austria (just over the hill) wins so many medals at the winter Olympics!"
Another of these "duh" moments occurred as we rode through the Garmisch village square to our hotel and I noticed a blonde-haired, blue-eyed German goddess strut her way down the cobblestone street. My hot ethnic stereotype button (its close to the "duh" lever) got smashed down hard as Fraulein Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate sauntered through the village square. It then occurred to me that I was in the land of Heidi Klum and Claudia Schiffer... Ah, but of course!
Appreciating the fact that visions of the St. Pauli Girl had just obliterated vivid memories of mustachioed East German Olympic swimmers as my unconscious representation of German womanhood, I joined an estimated 34,000 Beemer aficionados to participate in the 2007 Motorrad Days.
The Motorrad Days event has been hosted at one of Germany's finest ski resorts for the past six years. The view from the lift shows the villages of Garmisch and Partenkirchen, which were fused together at the behest of Hitler for the 1936 Olympics.
According to our BMW contacts, the Boxer models make up 60% of the manufacturer's motorcycle sales. We'd have guessed the figure even higher, judging from the makeup of the Motorrad Days parking lot as we strolled through the gates of the off-duty ski resort which has hosted the event for the past six years. It seemed like almost every rider we encountered during our German experience, including the duo introducing our story, was equipped with an R-series machine. Of the Rs, the best-selling GS models were by far the most popular. BMW confirmed our observation one month later when it celebrated production of its 100,000th R1200GS
, dubbing it "the most successful BMW motorcycle of all times."
That isn't to say you had to have a BMW to show up for the fun at Garmisch. There was a virtual smorgasbord of European designs swimming in the Beemer pool, as well as some sport-touring Japanese brands. And yes, there was even a Hog in attendance. I saw, or rather heard before I saw, the gentleman parking his noisy bagger while curious onlookers watched. Decked out in biker dress that would have made Willie G. proud, the Mediterranean-looking Harley owner could have been teleported from Daytona Bike Week.
The loud growling notes our entourage heard upon entering the Motorrad Days' site, however, were of a distinct off-road nature. Our arrival had coincided with an enduro/motocross demonstration on a purpose-built moto/endurocross track right in the heart of the festivities - dubbed the X-track. BMW
factory riders like five-time FIM World Motocross champion Joel Smets joined Simo Kirssi and Sascha Eckert as they ran the course aboard BMW's off-road specialist machinery. The Boxer-powered HP2, all-new 650cc single-cylinder X-Country and even the experimental 450 enduro, which Smets and Eckert are running this year in the World Enduro Championship, turned numerous laps for the entertainment of the gathering throng of spectators.
An appraisal of the rally goers was dead center with just what you would expect at a BMW event: Men and women, but predominantly men, approaching or already arrived at the half-century mark in life, who appear to have money to burn. This demographic made some of BMW's activities at the three-day event more telling, with it clear that the German marque, like most manufacturers these days, is going out of its way to reach out to the younger riders.
The popular GS models, both old and new, were the predominant design in the Motorrad Days parking lot.
To this end, almost all of BMW's on-site activities seemed to have a youthful slant, with the aforementioned off-road extravaganza just the first of many such showcases. Another was the Trials Kids, a group of young riders who showed off their burgeoning skills next to a pair of more experienced Trials competitors. Having never witnessed Trials riders in action, it was a treat to see the dexterity and talent on display as they hopped, skipped and balanced their way over impressive obstacles, including a small car.
The real draw at Motorrad Days, however, was stunt rider and consummate showman Chris Pfeiffer, who peddled his trade on his specialty F800 stunter. The charismatic Pfeiffer, with his Alpinestars jacket and flat-brimmed baseball cap, is pure Southern California with a German accent. Maybe it was just because his riding style was dressed up in BMW's European finery, but Pfeiffer's approach to stunting seems more refined than the hooliganist bent you see Stateside. One thing is certain, BMW and Pfeiffer have developed quite a partnership in promoting the new F800. Don't be surprised if you see a Pfeiffer-ish version of the 800 available one day. His stunting wasn't limited to the 800, however, as he did some impressive tricks on the HP2 Megamoto that BMW had on display at the event. (Expect the Megamoto as a possible 2009 model here in the States.)
Participants weren't limited to just spectator status, however, as there were plenty of activities available to attendees at the Enduro, Urban, Sport and Tour tents. The X-track utilized by Smets and company was opened up for Motorradders, as was a special Enduro Park, which set up some challenging off-road terrain for riders to sample aboard BMW's extensive off-road-capable lineup. On top of it all, there were guided tours offered on the beautiful and challenging Alpine routes surrounding G-P, with over 850 riders taking advantage of free test rides on complimentary BMW machinery. The manufacturer reported 74,976 kilometers traveled, 4000 liters of fuel burned, 87 tours tallied and, most important, zero accidents to its test fleet. No doubt at least some of those 850 samples will result in sales for the marque later this year.
When we arrived at the Motorrad Days, BMW's talented contingent of off-road factory riders, including five-time World Motocross champion Joel Smets, were turning laps on the X-track.
If you weren't in the mood for two-wheeled action there were more relaxing opportunities available. A cinema area was set up for riders to kick back and relax to BMW-related film programs. Participants were also able to shop at the various vendors on hand, which had plenty of apparel and aftermarket options on display. The aftermarket parts for sale were performance-oriented exhausts, carbon fiber bodywork and touring accessories. No skull-and-bones footpegs, or comic book-inspired artwork. There were some custom Beemers on display, however, just as you would see modified Harley's and metrics at a stateside rally. There were some wild designs utilizing a Beemer as the starting point, that's for sure. One of the most striking was a carbon fiber-adorned custom from German firms Boxer-Design and Beutler Lack & Design, whose only recognizable parts were the Boxer powerplant the futuristic model was built around.
Another interesting segment of the vendor row were the numerous touring companies located outside the Tour tent, with some even touting round-the-world opportunities. BMW has placed its R1200GS as the niche world traveler, with the German firm asserting an established history as a long-distance travel mount, a perception cemented by the popular Long Way Round television series. (Ironic because the show's stars, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman were devastated when their first choice for bike supplier, KTM, pulled out of the project at the last minute. An amusing fact not lost on the BMW representatives we spoke with during our German travels.)
Chris Pfeiffer smokes the rear as he whips his F800 stuntbike around for another trick. The German stunters performances drew big crowds during Motorrad Days.
We stopped and chatted with British rider Kevin Saunders, owner and founder of GlobeBusters, at the company's Motorrad Days booth. A multiple Guinness World Record holder for his round-the-world jaunts with wife and GlobeBusters co-founder, Julia, Kevin was there to plug his company, which was just about ready to start its 2007 venture - a five-month trip through North and South America. Want to ride around the world but don't want to fuss with the nightmare of logistics? Give GlobeBusters
As editorial guests of BMW
, we were honored with a special audience not afforded the Motorrad regulars, an informal face-to-face with David Robb, Chief Designer for BMW. It was a real treat to pick the brain of a man who decides what a Beemer will look like. Robb outlined the design philosophy of BMW, explaining that he is charged with developing a bike that not only performs, but has a distinctive personality as well. This philosophy that BMW cultivates leads to designs that are different and sometimes flout convention, resulting in components such as the paralever and duolever suspension systems. There are also quirks like BMW's unique turn-signal paddles. When the surrounding journos pointed out that the turn-signal units, which feature a separate turn-signal cancellation paddle, were often a source of complaint when we tested designs bearing the Beemer badge, a smiling Robb said people are "allowed not to like it."
Robb promised that they do listen to feedback from riders, but it was refreshing to know that a bike isn't just the heaped together stale creation of a focus group. Bikes are still designed by individual people, and in the case of BMW, that person is David Robb. Love them or not (and I would say that most people do), you can't complain that Beemers don't have a distinctive style and lines that identify them as BMWs. Robb and his staff design more than just the bikes, however, with his department responsible for all the motorcycle accessories, as well as clothing options.
This carbon-fiber goodie from the German firms Boxer-Design and Beutler Lack & Design was just one of the Beemer-powered customs on display at Motorrad Days.
Speaking of which, there was a fashion show at Motorrad Days too. BMW riders, in their own way, are every bit as fashion conscious as their American "biker" equivalents. Swap out some ass-less chaps for a GORE-TEX, heated riding suit and you get the idea. It was a bit odd watching the choreographed dance steps of professional models showing off the latest BMW digs on the catwalk at Motorrad Days, but hey, we're in Europe. Impromptu fashion shows happen every other day here, right?
So what else was different at Motorrad Days? Well, the absence of any thuggish patch-wearing elements to sour the scene with the unspoken threat of potential violence was a definite plus. Which is all kind of odd, as an instinctive "uh-oh" goes off in my American brain whenever I hear a bunch of Germans are gathering together for a rally, but this one was just a bunch of folks out having some fun on their motorcycles.
The whole vibe of the Motorrad Days was a little different, more laid back. No wet T-shirt or bikini contests with drunken goons screaming "show us your tits" were to be had here! No bikes being trailered to the event either. A wide assortment of Europeans rode from all over the continent for one purpose - to gather and share their love of two-wheeled transport. Wandering through the crowds you could hear German here, Italian over there, Spanish, English and even more exotic Slavic tongues like Russian as well. BMW claims riders from 40 different countries were in attendance, from as far away as Australia and Indonesia. We spotted a GS Adventure in the parking lot with Alaska plates, quite a long haul for that rider!
With a relaxed vibe and some of the greatest roads within a throttle twist, expect the BMW Motorrad Days to keep rolling strong for years to come.
Now although I said it was a more laid back scene at Motorrad Days, that's not to say the Beemer crowd didn't know how to get rowdy. Countless liter steins of beer lubricated the social graces of all the attending nationalities, and a good time was had by all under the mammoth beer tent every evening. Getting wined and dined, or beered and pretzeled to be more accurate, all I can say is dancing on the tables till the early a.m. hours as German bands covered American rock and roll was par for the course. Trust me, you've never heard Timewarp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show
until you've heard it shouted by a couple thousand drunken revelers whose first language is not English. Also, a little tip when partying in a beer hall. If an inebriated Italian is standing on the far end of the same bench you're standing on, do not, repeat, do not jump up or off without giving said signor a heads up. Prost mine herr!
Having recovered from just the right amount of imbibing (quite a bit) required to get the full flavor of late-night outdoor Bavarian biergartens, our group bid Auf Wiedersehen to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to embark on an unforgettable three-day Alpine adventure with Edelweiss Bike Tours
(the subject of an upcoming article all its own). It was on these days that the true greatness of the Motorrad Days experience came into full effect, as the event is placed right in the heart of some of the most incredible stretches of asphalt in the world. High mountain passes, twisty forest roads and no-limit Autobahns are just a throttle twist away.
If you're a BMW disciple, sharing your love of all things BMW with folks from all corners of the earth at Motorrad Days should be on your must-do-before-you-die list. The event itself is a blast, but the experience of getting there, staying there and wandering through the Alps in your spare time will change your life. I know I'll always crack a grin from now on whenever I hear that familiar Boxer drone.
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