Updated: Mar 26
A chance to ride some of Europe's finest bikes through the mountains until the tires just couldn't take anymore...
The opportunity to travel to a foreign country for a motorcycle adventure ranks pretty high on most riders wish lists. Epic trips come to mind like the magazine editors who get invited to Bologna for the launch of the new Ducatis, or the film crews that tag along with Ewan McGregor on his “Long Way…” adventures. A few summers ago, I had the incredible good fortune of being part of a ride that for me, was just as epic.
This started while I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team. My friend Phillip, who at the time I knew only as a father one of the girls on my team, introduced me to a business partner of his from Germany. Uwe was a serious motorcycle enthusiast and one of the few people I’ve met who may love motorcycles even more than me. Uwe would come to the US on business, and the three of us began carving out time to make sure we could do some riding. I would lead sport bike rides all over Northern Virginia and twice trailered bikes to the Smoky Mountains to ride the Tail of the Dragon.
Like Me, Uwe enjoyed leading rides, and a few times each year he would organize a trip for clients and friends to join him for a multi-day ride somewhere in Europe. Now, I was fortunate enough to be able to join him for one of these rides through the Alps in France.
Being a former racer and having traveled all over Europe to compete, and now for business, Uwe had an amazing knowledge of roads to ride, places to stay and the best places to eat and relive your ride over a cold beer. Through his racing relationships, his business supplied race spec parts to many of the European motorcycle manufacturers. This gave him access to just about any model of bike he could chose to ride. You’d be hard pressed to find someone better qualified to be your tour guide.
I was so excited to ride along I’d have ridden anything that would start. So, when he asked me what I wanted to ride? I thought, well …I’ve never ridden an MV Agusta. Uwe’s response “…is not a problem.”
Still being willing to ride any extra bike Uwe could get his hands on, Phillip and I flew to Germany to start our European riding adventure. When we arrived at Uwe’s shop, I was thrilled to see so many of his employees were riders. There were bikes all throughout the parking lot, in the shop bays, and a few select motorcycles displayed inside the lobby and conference room. A bit of motorcycle heaven and making for great conversation starters with new clients.
Phillip and I put our gear in the trailer and went to the garage to begin loading the bikes. Upon opening the door, there it was. A MV Augusta Brutale 1090RR ready for me to ride. …all I could say was Wow! Phillip would ride a Triumph Speed Triple R. Uwe chose to ride a Ducati Monster 1200 S, and we took a Ducati 1100 EVO as a spare in case of mechanical issue (or worn-out tires.) We loaded these fabulous machines into the trailer just as Uwe’s friends arrived with two additional trailers and six more bikes. (Other than Uwe’s son riding a Yamaha 250 everyone was on a European sport bike.) After a quick intro to our new riding friends, we departed for the 9-hour drive to Southern France.
The anticipation made the drive fly by. That evening we arrived and off-loaded our bikes and gear to be ready to ride in the morning. Over dinner we listened to Uwe explain in excited broken English, the incredible riding we were about to experience. Narrow, twisty, scenic roads through the mountains would be on tap every day with the start our ride following some of the route ridden in the Tour de France.
When we left in the morning I quickly realized and even for all his enthusiasm, Uwe hadn’t oversold the experience. The Alps are massive with jagged rocky edges and long steep slopes into the valleys below. The roads were often cut into the side of the mountain with a rock wall on one side and a vertical drop on the other. In many places the roads were cut through the rock forming tunnels on the edge of the mountain.
The elevation gains were huge and unlike anything I had ridden before. I was used to wining roads, but ridding uphill for miles then navigating steep downhills with views into the valleys was new to me. The uphill corners allowed for a heavy throttle hand and the descents definitely gave the front brake a workout. These roads will test your skills while being Crazy Fun!
The twisty roads provided a great opportunity to showcase the handling and torquey engines of the bikes we were riding. What I really liked about the MV Agusta was how it fit me. I’ve heard these bikes described a “compact” or “a bit cramped.” That may be true if you are over 6 feet tall. But for me, being 5’8” the Brutale fit me as well as any bike I’d ever ridden. MV somehow managed to create a smooth revving in-line four that still packs broad mid-range power delivery and an sweet exhaust note similar to a Ducati. Riding from corner to corner, low-end through mid-range power delivery was essential or our ride. The motor, physical size and light weight of this bike made for a perfect choice for me.
We did take the opportunity to switch bikes a few times and I tried both Phil’s Triumph Speed Triple R and Uwe’s Ducati Monster S. Both bikes are fabulous. The Triumph is a physically larger bike, the in-line triple is very smooth, powerful and packed more low-end punch than my MV. But the intoxicating exhaust note of the Ducati combined with the massive torque made this bike simply exhilarating to ride. Re-watching my GoPro videos I could hear myself laughing each time I exited an uphill corner. Rolling the throttle and feeling the front wheel lift into a clutchless power wheelie. Damn that’s a good time!
We were very fortunate to have Uwe as our leader, not only for his skills on the bike but as a guide and translator. He made sure our trip was more than a ride, it was an experience. From introducing us to the locals, to ordering great food and selecting a dusty bottle of wine straight from the cellar, he found a great way to cap off each day’s adventure. Early mornings, He and I would ride to local bakeries and return with a backpack full of fresh bread to share with the rest of our group, who may have had slightly less enthusiasm for seeing the sunrise on two-wheels than we did.
After six days of riding and nearly 2,000 miles of mountain roads we didn’t have enough tire tread left to go back out for another day. If there is a better sign of a great time, I’m not sure what it would be? With the tires having given us all they had to offer, we loaded the bikes and returned to Germany.
This is a part of the world that is well worth exploring on two wheels. The French culture is very accommodating to motorcyclists. Cars would move over and let our group pass when it was clear our pace was quicker. The roads were in great condition for riding with a course asphalt that provided for excellent tire grip in corners. The National Park-like scenery, fresh French food, afternoon espresso and great people to meet each time we stopped all added to an epic sport bike experience.
I tend to lead most of my own rides but having someone with familiar with the roads, villages and language was a huge help. If you are inspired to ride the French Alps below are a few more logistics of our trip that may help you with your plans.
The Bikes – My primary ride was an MV Agusta Brutale 1090RR. This was an excellent place to ride naked sport bikes. With the lack of straight sections or highways smaller displacement bikes may provide and even better experience. Below are the other motorcycles in our group.
o MV Agusta Brutale 800
o Ducati 1200 Monster S
o Ducati Diavel
o Triumph Speed Triple R
o Ducati Panigale Tricolore
o Ducati Streetfighter
o Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak Edition
o Bimota DB 10
o BMW R nine T
Skill Level – On a scale of 1 – 10 this is probably 9. This was a very technical ride with expert riders. The pace was fast and the rural mountain roads rarely included a straight away. These roads certainly could be ridden at a less aggressive pace, so don’t be intimidated by my 9 rating. I just would not advise riding here if you are inexperienced or if you rent a bike that you’re not familiar riding.
Travel logistics – We flew from Washington DC to Frankfurt Germany and trailered the bikes to Southern France. Uwe arranged the hotels and lead the route each day. We had a few chase team drivers to move the trucks and our gear to the different hotels each night. This really added to the experience by allowing us to ride unencumbered by panniers and backpacks. There are AirB&B style places to stay and motorcycle tour companies who will rent bikes and map a route to follow.
Time required – This trip was 11 days total including air travel and trailering the bikes with 6 days of riding. Allow adequate travel time and possibly a day off this bike if you plan more than four riding days.
What I learned – My riding line improved. The combination of being able to trust the road surfaces and needing to navigate narrow width of the twisty mountain roads had me alter my riding line. I began staying as close to the center for as long as possible then tipping into the corner when I had the best possible sightline and riding toward the extreme inside of the road. This may not seem like anything new to experienced corner carvers, but having learned to ride in Pennsylvania, this style of riding often is not safe. Pennsylvania roads frequently have potholes and/or gravel accumulated between the tires tracks where cars have traveled. Fear of encountering these prevented me from carving a sweeping lean angle in most corners. Thankfully, that issue is not the norm everywhere. Carving a corner is safe, and fun when you can see through the turn and can trust the road surface.
How physically demanding is this ride – On a scale from 1 – 10 this is probably an 8 due to the length. With six days of riding and 6 -7 hours on the bike each day this ride was physically and mentally tiring toward the end.
What is the perfect motorcycle – For these roads I would recommend a bike of mid-size displacement that handles well. After riding with so many different bikes on this trip it was clear there is no perfect bike. Therefore, you can’t own just one!
For the benefit of the engineers reading this, there is a simple, yet proven mathematical formula for how many bikes you should own = N+1. (Where N is the number of bikes you currently own.)
Uwe was passionate about his Ducatis. Their torque filled engines and great handling made all of the models ridden on this ride a great choice. Warning: Ducati enthusiasm is infectious. Prior to meeting Uwe I had never ridden a Ducati. Today they are my bike of choice and I own five of them.
Who will go with me – Take a good friend and make a few more! Many thanks to buddy Phillip who traveled with me, and Uwe and his friends made for an unforgettable experience. …Forever grateful for such an epic ride.