On the road again, to a BMW biker festival
Fun is as much about getting to and from an event in southern Germany as attending it
Mattie Griffin puts on a show amid the mountains of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany as part of BMW’s Mottorad festival
Irish on tour: More than 120 Irish and British bikers joined in the trek to the Mottorad festival, which 35,000 people attended this year
Fancy a 3,700km trek through five countries? For many four- wheeled motorists with summer holidays in mind, it sounds like pure hell. Yet bikers are an inherently different motoring breed when it comes to continental treks.
Perhaps it harks back to the Easy Rider freedom and the lure of adventure that remains a part of the biking culture, but bikers love the idea of roaming and exploring. More likely it’s the fact you will not have any rear-seat passengers fighting, screaming or demanding to know if you’re there yet.
Holidays honed for bikers is an increasing niche in the travel sector, but the industry itself has a well-established history here. BMW has been organising its annual Motorrad festival in southern Germany for 15 years and the fun is as much about travelling to and from the event as attending.
This year’s event attracted in excess of 35,000 people travelling from all over the world, with 2016 marking BMW’s 100th year anniversary adding to the occasion. A group of 120 motorcyclists from Ireland and Britain travelled to the festivities in the small town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany.
Our expedition involved travelling the 3,000km to a BMW motorbike mecca with the help of Mottorad Tours.
Travelling from Rosslare on the overnight ferry to Cherbourg, we then rode to Rouen, passing the D-Day landing beaches of Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword, before stopping for a coffee at the historic paratrooper glider landing at Pegasus Bridge.
Remembering the Somme
Another poignant juncture along the road was passing through the Somme, thousands of crosses mark the resting place of fallen soldiers from the first World War Battle of the Somme, this area of France is steeped in history, with an abundance of memorials and museums giving an insight to these tragic events from the past.
On our 10-day excursion, we covered about 450 kilometres a day. It is pretty non-stop, save for quick coffee stops. Yet the beauty of biking is the ability to set your own pace and deviate to historic sites along the way.
You can, of course, cover the same ground in a car, but there is something about being on a bike that brings you somehow closer to the local nature, more immersed in your surroundings than when cocooned in a modern car.
There is a real sense of occasion on arrival to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, as the town is echoing with the sound of motorcycles, old and new. It is a grand mix of nationalities, all gathered in this ski resort town in the summer through a shared interest for two-wheeled motoring.
Over run by bikers
The idea of a town being overrun by bikers might seem a little disconcerting to the uninitiated, but these are middle-aged and middle-class BMW-owners. The biggest threat is likely to be a strongly-worded letter about over-starched linen on the hotel beds.
The BMW Motorrad festival village is based at the foot of a mountain overlooked by a ski jump. It is spread over a vast area combining motorcycle displays, an off-road test track, beer tents, stunt shows and accessory suppliers.
Ireland plays its part in the festivities courtesy of Galway- based stunt rider Mattie Griffin. He wows the crowds with stunts on his BMW F800 R motorcycle. Griffin is increasingly establishing himself among the stars of the motoring world, but perhaps he doesn’t get the recognition at home that he deserves.
After marking the 100th anniversary of the brand in fitting German fashion and an evening spent debating the finer points of its biking pedigree over the years, we return to the road, travelling to the spa town of Baden Baden, riding along the famed B500 road.
From here it is onward to Reims, the capital of the Champagne region in France.
One of the highlights was riding through some of the Austrian Alps; the roads are fantastic with long sweeping bends with a billiard-table smooth surface.
The BMW R1200 GS Adventure I rode is built for long distance travelling. With a 30-litre fuel tank, it can cover more than 550km between fuel stops.
The optional panniers accommodate all my luggage. I chose to use a top box and Oxford roll bag in favour of the side panniers, as they can restrict progress through traffic due to their width.
It also makes life easier when you only have one bag to carry into the hotel after a long day’s riding.
Getting back on the ferry, it is fair to say the trek has taken some toll and it does require a level of focus and attention that perhaps the average car driver would not have to encounter, but it is certainly more rewarding than any similar trip on four-wheels.
As the German brand prepares for its next centenary with promises of automated cars, it is appropriate it also marks its strong ties with the two-wheeled world.