I've been asked to give some hints about touring Europe. The brief is this: to fly over from the States with a Harley 883 Sportster to Frankfurt. From Frankfurt, riding south to Italy, spending some time there before crossing into France and exploring Spain.
It's some time since I was in Frankfurt. I expect that as in many European cities one-way systems have sprung up to confuse the unwary. Germany, like all the EU member states (except Britain) requires daytime headlamps on bikes. Speed limits are 50Kph (31mph) in built up areas, 100 - 130kph (62 - 81 mph) outside built up areas and on motorways there is a recommended maximum of 130 kph (81 mph). These figures are pretty much Europe wide - except for motorway limits. Most countries have a mandatory maximum speed on their motorways. Germany has a minimum - 60 kph (37 mph). This makes Germany unusual as is the lack of tolls on the motorways.
Having babbled on about motorways I would recommend steering clear of them. The Harley is more suited to the relaxed style of the back roads - and in Germany these are extremely good. It's up to you, of course - you may relish the idea of clinging to the handlebars like grim death as the turbulence from the trucks chucks you about like a paper bag. It is a challenge after all.
As the brief is to travel to Italy via Switzerland, I would follow the Rhine. Like most major motorway routes throughout Europe, there is a small road following it. This is the one I would use. There are good reasons for this. Apart from the one I mentioned earlier, there are towns and villages you pass through on the route that you would miss on the motorway. Inevitably you will want to stop. Yes, there are motorway services, but if I were to choose, alongside a bar or café on the banks of the Rhine, they just don't compare. It's a magnificent waterway, you must see it.
Once in Switzerland, you must display a vignette for motorway use. You can buy one of these at the border or at post offices and garages. If you don't have one, you can incur a fine of 100 Swiss francs plus the cost of the vignette. I have to admit my feelings about motorways apply here. Give me those winding mountain passes every time. Although I've not been there, friends recommend Interlaken and Lucerne.
One point to bear in mind when travelling through Germany and Switzerland: Riding up the outside of traffic queues is illegal. Logic, it would appear, doesn't always bear any relationship to legislation. It seems sometimes that irrational prejudices are more likely to find favour with lawmakers worldwide. God forbid that they should apply reason and the best interests of those they represent when making their decisions.
There is a choice of crossing from Switzerland to Italy. It depends largely on where in Switzerland you intend travelling to. I'm currently planning a trip to Italy later this summer and will be crossing from France, so I will be making for Turin before turning south. Equally, if you cross further east, your journey will take you to Milan. You may want to explore this town before heading south.
So far, my journeying in Italy has been limited to the Riviera - so Tuscany will be new to me. You say that you are not yet sure how far south you will be travelling. I have not been further south myself - I will have a better idea when I go later this year.
Crossing from Italy to France, you have a choice. You could go via the mountains and drop into Grenoble. I will probably be travelling this route later in the summer as I've not been this way before. An alternative is the riviera. This route is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there is a beautiful twisty road following the rugged coast. There's also a pleasant little restaurant perched on the edge of the cliff just outside Cannes. On the other hand, the area attracts tourists like the proverbial honey pot. I enjoyed riding into Monte Carlo, but I didn't stay long - far to busy. When we used this road to cross into Italy it was a Friday afternoon and Menton was manic. The traffic was unbelievable - we rode down the hill into the town between two almost stationary traffic queues. Believe me this is no mean feat on a Yamaha TR1 two up with luggage. As you're flying over from the States (something you won't be doing too often I suspect), I think on balance you'd regret it if you passed up the opportunity to see this part of the world. We rode back on a Sunday morning and had the road to ourselves. Presumably the jet set were recovering from the night before. If you intend to stop in the area, take a look at Fréjus, it's worth a night stop and a little time to explore the town.
If you're going to spend any time in France on your way to Spain, check out the Cevenne. These are a range of mountains just inland before you get to Montpelier. The Cornice de Cevenne has to rate as one of my all time favourite roads. Twisting through the mountains with hairpin bends and smooth tarmac, it is slow enough to enjoy the scenery yet quick enough to provide a challenge - it is a pleasure to ride.
From the eastern side of the Pyrennes, you will cross into a part of Spain I have not explored as most of my journeying has been further west. I can recommend the Aragon region (see my article ). You may want to wander along the coast - it all depends on your tastes. The Spanish resorts can become crowded. Personally I prefer to amble about the interior - the prices are cheaper, the people are friendly and you get to see the Spain most tourists miss.
Check my article on Spain for more info there. If you have the time, Portugal is worth a visit.
The reader talked about importing his bike and selling it after the trip. This will incur import duty and will reduce the price he can expect from your bike. For a quick sale, he would most likely have to go to a dealer - further reducing the price. It may be worth considering either hiring a bike over here or buying one and selling it before flying home. Although I haven't looked at the cost difference, it may prove to be worth a look. Click here to return to Lessons Learned Page