January can be a cruel month for motorcyclists. Even in sunny southern climates, chilly temperatures can make extended rides an exercise in discomfort. That’s why I make an annual winter sojourn south to the land of tequila and tacos for some riding and music at the January Jam in Puerto Peñasco – or Rocky Point – Mexico.
After topping off my tank at the lone American border gas station in Lukeville, Arizona, pleasant ambient temperatures mixed comfortably with radiating heat from the cylinders of my BMW GS as I idled in the slow parade at the border crossing. Rumble strips, remote cameras, armed agents, and concrete barriers marked the intimidating border security protocol.
My anxiety was tempered by the knowledge that I had my ducks in a row. I had purchased my three-day Mexican motorcycle insurance, and I had my passport, registration, and license handy. The camouflaged border agent motioned for me to lift my tinted faceshield and then waved me through. Just like that, I was in hustling, bustling Sonoyta. Men rushed at cars with squeegees, women held up packages of tortillas for sale, and traffic was frenetic.
I knew what to do in this dusty border town. I kept my head on a swivel and rode below the posted speed limit. Local police cluster by the border and on the southern fringe of town with eagle eyes for tourists who drive like they are still in the U.S. It is not a cheap ticket if you get stopped.
Sonoyta has the colorful, informal vibe of most Mexican towns, but I kept riding south. While the temperature back home in Arizona was hovering in the 40s, I smiled as the reading on my dash indicated 72. Yep, just what the doctor ordered.
On Highway 8 toward Puerto Peñasco, I passed dozens of descansos (“resting places” in Spanish), memorials that are intriguing, sobering, and often quite beautiful. They range from miniature concrete shrines to thematic collages. One honored a Dallas Cowboys fan.
I also passed a sign that read “Hassle Free Vehicle Zone.” Uninformed tourists often mistake these signs to mean relaxed traffic and speed rules. Not true, my friends. They just mean fewer paperwork regulations for tourist travel.
The road from the border to Puerto Peñasco is straight and barren, but there is something to be said for an open-throttle roll through the warm desert in the dead of winter.
At the end of this 70-mile stretch, I came upon a group of Mexican sportbikers who were chatting along the dusty roadside. The half dozen crotch-rocketeers waved and saluted as I approached. They were more than happy to pose for a photo for a lone gringo moto-tourist before pulling a group U-turn and roaring back toward the coast.
Just as Puerto Peñasco/Rocky Point goes by both Mexican and English names, it has two distinct personalities. There is the old town itself, teeming with street vendors, rusted vehicles, and colorful buildings, exuding the character of a traditional fishing village. Street taco stands waft aromatic clouds, and small motorcycles mounted with massive transport containers serve as delivery vehicles.
Then there is the new, mostly American-owned resort community in Sandy Beach north of town. Upscale resorts line the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. What Sandy Beach lacks in traditional character, it replaces with comfort and safety for international tourists.
Both locations served as staging points for my weekend’s activities during the January Jam, which is the brainchild of Roger Clyne, the charismatic front man for Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Clyne is an entertainer with a voluminous catalog of great songs and an enthusiastic following in the Southwest and beyond.
For the jam, Clyne assembles a lineup of accomplished musicians and invites fans to congregate in Puerto Peñasco for three days of music, golf, and general reverie. Music fills the sea air, and tequila flows, especially Clyne’s own premium spirit, Canción, fittingly named after the Spanish word for “song.”
There are daily and nightly concerts at Clyne’s watering hole, Banditos, as well as performances at other venues in Sandy Beach and Rocky Point. We enjoyed the familiar tunes of Clyne’s band as well as David Lowery of Cracker, the Mexican-influenced sounds of The Jons from Tucson, and the lively rock blend of Miles Neilson and the Rusted Heart.
After a weekend of sampling traditional Mexican food, listening to great music, and riding to nearby fishing villages, the time came to head back north. It was over too soon.
The landscape of northern Spain erupted with jagged peaks and rolled along lush green hillsides. Farms folded across every nook, and waves pounded the Atlantic coast. Mile after mile of smooth, tight curves were waiting to be savored. The evidence was all around: Northern Spain is a rider’s paradise.
This past September, I joined IMTBike’s Essence of Northern Spain Tour. Leaving the planning to the pros at IMTBike, I simply arrived with my gear in Bilbao up north in the País Vasco (Basque Country) and enjoyed the ride. Over eight days, I explored new places with new friends, and fabulous riding connected every experience. This tour strung together curvy backroads through vast open spaces, rural pastoral lands, dense forests, and stunning coasts.
“Essence” tours like this one are new weeklong versions of longer IMTBike tours. Riders who can only get a week off from work can now enjoy full‑on tours of northern Spain, southern Spain, Portugal, or Morocco with a shorter time commitment.
IMTBike has been perfecting the art and science of motorcycle tours for 27 years. Initially, the focus was the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Today, it also offers tours of Morocco, France, Italy, and the Alps; exclusive MotoGP tours in Catalunya, Jerez, and Valencia; global tours in Turkey, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and New Zealand; and self‑guided and custom‑designed tours.
My fellow tour members came to northern Spain from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S. We all love travel, adventure, and motorcycling – that’s what brought us together – and as always, I enjoyed the experience of meeting and riding with people from countries other than my own.
Juanan Martin, our tour guide, has graduate degrees in history and travel journalism – perfect credentials for his role. Paulo Murteira, who drove the IMTBike support van, loves off‑road endurance riding and was a laugh a minute! Both were excellent sources of information, assistance, and insight.
From IMTBike’s garage in Bilbao, Juanan led us to the Cantabrian Mountains and strings of hairpin turns. At Collados del Asón Natural Park, we paused to take in a spectacular panoramic mountain vista. That first day, we traversed five mountain passes en route to Santillana del Mar.
Our night’s lodging was a parador located on a magnificently preserved medieval town square. Paradors are historic, architecturally significant buildings such as former castles, monasteries, and manor homes. Owned by the Spanish government and operated as luxury hotels, paradors preserve these treasured buildings and keep them relevant. We stayed in three of them on this tour.
We also grew accustomed to dinner served on Spanish time: 8 p.m. at the earliest and frequently later. Your humble scribe is a big fan of seafood, and our daily menus included locally sourced fish and other delicacies from the North Atlantic, as well as delicious meat dishes, fresh fruits and veggies, and a variety of decadent desserts. No one went hungry.
By the second day, tour members had organically clustered into three groups of four bikes each according to their preferred pace. This unofficial order enabled everyone to ride their own ride. Juanan told me that every tour is its own living entity, with distinct personalities and group dynamics, individual rider skills, weather and seasonal factors, and more. Everyone wanted something different from their tour experience, and Juanan and Paulo were focused on delivering for us all.
Later, we had our first of numerous encounters with livestock in the road. Flat, open expanses of pastureland are uncommon in northern Spain, so cows (and occasionally horses and goats) nibble on grass wherever they find it. They seemed accustomed to the passing vehicles, so I rolled off the throttle a bit and bellowed “Moo!” before motoring past.
Spain has the highest average elevation of all western European countries except Switzerland, and the mountains we rode around, over, and sometimes through were highpoints for me. Topping my list for beauty was Picos de Europa National Park. Founded in 1918, it was Spain’s first national park. Today it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and its natural beauty was wondrous to experience while carving great roads on a motorcycle.
While the mountains reminded me of the Alps, the Costa Verde (Green Coast) felt like Ireland. Okay, maybe not the palm trees. Herds of Asturian Valley cattle, the ubiquitous orange‑colored breed raised in northern Spain, grazed on grassy hills overlooking the ocean. What a completely different scene from the brown plains of central Spain. As cows chewed greenery, surfers in wetsuits carried their boards down to the sandy beach below. Some of Europe’s most popular surfing destinations are here on Spain’s northern coast. I wondered if this convergence of cattle and surfers gave rise to the expression “Cowabunga!”
From cliffs overlooking the coast, we headed inland, where entertaining secondary roads wound us through agrarian landscapes past the hilly farms of Asturias. The most common crop appeared to be manzanas (apples), and most homes, even those that weren’t farmhouses, had a lemon tree in the yard. I admired the resilience of farmers here: There was hardly any land you’d call flat, yet orchards were abundant, tucked into every conceivable space. Livestock grazed along the roads here too.
Though the weather in northern Spain was mostly clear, warm, and dry, we rode through a late‑day rain shower near Oviedo, the bustling capital city of Asturias. On the last stretch to our hotel, it was useful having a guide with local knowledge and a solid plan to lead the group though wet, busy streets to the tight quarters of a downtown hotel parking garage. ¡Bien hecho, Juanan! Well done!
That evening in Oviedo, we had dinner in a sidrería (cidery), a pub‑like establishment where locals gather to drink cider, eat, and socialize. We enjoyed multiple courses of Asturian fare, washed down with sangría de sidra (cider sangria) made from the same variety of manzanas we saw growing on trees. It was an Asturian holiday, and patrons were joyously singing, their enthusiasm enhanced by pitchers of sangria. You don’t have to visit a museum to experience culture.
IMTBike scheduled a rest day halfway through this tour, but there was an optional lunch run to the seaside fishing village of Cudillero. Juanan led an exhilarating backroads jaunt through dense forest with little evidence of humans. Cudillero is built into rocky cliffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay. The ascending rows of colorful houses reminded me of similar towns I’d seen in Italy. At the edge of town, waves hitting the rocky shore presented spectacular views.
That evening, I decided to explore more of Oviedo on my own while speaking only Spanish. It had been decades since I studied Spanish in school, but after a few days in Spain, the fundamentals were coming back. I managed to buy a gift for my wife and order a fish dinner, celebrating these minor triumphs with una cerveza. ¡Salud!
Next morning, tour members huddled for our daily riders briefing with Juanan. He emphasized the need to depart the hotel as an organized group – and stay together as we left the city. A major bicycle race called La Vuelta, Spain’s version of the Tour de France, was passing through the area that morning. Juanan explained that the racecourse overlapped our route, and unless we rode through before race organizers closed the road, we’d have to wait. Thanks to this helpful attention to detail from our tour guide, our wellorganized group passed by the busy staging area for La Vuelta that morning on a still-open road.
After coffee, our route cut through Trubia River Gorge, where steep rock cliffs reached up on either side of us. Eventually we gained elevation, riding through the clouds until we poked above them into sunshine. I love when that happens. We crossed Alto de la Corbetoria Pass and then descended in tight curves to the Lena River to enjoy a stretch of easy sweepers to La Llama. The continuous flow of a curvy river road is always special on a motorcycle, and this tour included several of them.
Returning to the Picos de Europa, we relished technical curves and climbed in elevation before a lunch stop at Puerto de San Isidro, an alpine ski resort. At midday in late summer, skiers were notably absent. As our group prepared to move on, I let Juanan know I was going to ride alone for the afternoon. In this rugged and remote region of León, I stopped whenever I wanted to marvel at views of the mountains and lakes against a crystal blue sky. Since I opted for a GPS with routes pre‑loaded, it was no problem arriving on my own schedule (and well before dinnertime) at that night’s parador lodgings.
To build roads through northern Spain’s mountainous terrain, engineers have designed some impressive solutions. After a mid‑morning break in Potes, we reached Collada de Carmona Pass, where our mountain descent abruptly came into view. The road went through a hole cut through the cliff. Above the road, multilayer nets of steel mesh were moored onto the cliffside to catch falling rocks and held many they had snared. Then the road twisted down the mountainside, switchback after switchback, to the valley below. The smooth tar continued, snaking through positive camber curves along a meandering river for miles as the next mountain pass grew gradually closer. Up, over, and down again, the grin never left my face. At the next stop, our group of elated riders dismounted and exchanged high‑fives. What a run!
While winding roads with dramatic views earned my top score on this tour, architecture was a notable runner‑up. The ultra modern Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is a marvel of design, encased in a skin of titanium. In stark contrast, the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia was a grand example of Spanish baroque architecture. And with its classical civic buildings, elegant parkside homes, and captivating old town edifices, Oviedo was as pretty as any city I’ve visited.
By design, this tour put us on mostly empty roads. But on a warm, sunny afternoon in late summer, it was no surprise to encounter beach traffic along a scenic coastal route. The view of the seaside below was splendid from a gently curving road cut into the cliffside, and the tang of salt air scented every breath I took. A slower pace was fine for a bit.
Then we found ourselves riding into the unexpected. An altered traffic pattern sent us into a congested cobblestone pedestrian zone where some kind of celebration was underway. Clearly, this wasn’t the plan. Folks were stunned by the arrival of a dozen motorcycles, but Juanan quickly calmed any concerns. The first few riders managed tight, bumpy U‑turns, but those farther back were squeezed into an alley. Juanan pivoted several of those bikes 180 degrees on the sidestand – first time I’d seen that technique used on cobblestones – and in short order, we rode off as folks smiled and waved.
Carving more curves through the Basque Country and down the steep hills into Bilbao, our tour came to an end where it began: IMTBike’s garage. We parked our bikes one last time as Juanan poured us a cava toast. Later, over our final dinner as a group, we relived favorite moments of this exciting tour and started planning more adventures.
In 2024, the Essence of Northern Spain tour runs June 29‑July 7 and Sept. 7‑15. Prices start at 3,845 euros (about $4,100 USD) for a single rider on a BMW G 310 R and sharing a double room. Larger motorcycles and private rooms are optional. Not included in the tour price are air tickets, lunches, gasoline, drinks, tolls, GPS, personal spending, and tips. Learn more at the IMTBike website.
It came to me in the middle of the night, as most great ideas do: I would take an India motorcycle trip, crossing from north to south. My route would take me from the mountains of Ladakh to the valleys of Kashmir, into bustling Rajasthan, over the Western Ghats, and through the wet jungles of the South – a total distance of more than 4,500 miles. I would ride “Ullu,” my 2009 Royal Enfield Machismo 350 with an ongoing tappet issue, and my budget would be only 30,000 rupees (about $360).
The path to Ladakh is a playground of natural beauty. It is also vast, with no mechanics or petrol stations en route.
I waded through rivers that reached my waist in Nubra Valley and coasted down the 21‑hairpin Gata Loops at breathtaking speed. I reached the moonscape‑like peak of Wari La Pass, was snowed on at Khardung La, and raced a herd of wild horses as they thundered down More Plains. I rode through a canyon with a sparkling river running through the center and tackled the treacherous 17,586‑foot Chang La Pass. Ladakh was a dreamscape, and the surroundings changed drastically from fresh landslides to icy lakes to the legendary dunes of Pang. As far as an India motorcycle trip was concerned, I was in paradise.
The dirt road connecting Koksar to Kaza in Spiti Valley was a constant game of temporary fixes for Ullu: shoelaces through the wheel guard, a bungee cord around the exhaust pipe, and a snapped clutch lever repaired with duct tape. The terrain was a bone‑shaking challenge from start to end, and vehicles littered the boulder‑strewn paths in various states of breakdown.
Near the border of Pakistan, I steeled myself for two dangerous passes on National Highway 26 from Kashmir between Killar, Khajjiar, and Kishtwar. Both were closing soon due to forecasted snow, and I was determined to cross them off my list. The Cliffhanger was a tricky and dramatic ride on a road carved into a sheer cliff that’s 2,000 feet above the Chenab River.
Saach Pass, an endurance ride through deep forest to an ice‑slicked desolate mesa, was a mix of endless clutch control and precise handling on the downhills. With such tantalizing terrain to explore, it was difficult to leave the North, but the rest of India beckoned me.
I detoured into Pushkar to learn how to build a motorbike from scratch at my friend Mukesh’s garage. I spent a week drinking chai with a team of mechanics by the roadside, sharing communal meals on the garage floor, and learning how to replace clutch plates.
Every road from Punjab to Rajasthan was long and uneventful, but I was not so lucky when I started the next leg of my India motorcycle trip.
National Highway 11 toward Jaisalmer was a road of death, and the smell of various animals decomposing in the midday heat carried on the breeze. I saw mirages of great lakes that vanished as quickly as they appeared, and burnt‑out vehicles lay overturned in the sand. The desert can be a strange place.
The winter winds on the highway toyed with everyone on the road. I fought against a side wind that buffeted me back and forth with such velocity that I gasped for air under my helmet. Six high‑speed lorries – massive trucks in formation across two lanes – were inches away from my tires. On that road, it was suicidal to be so close to the edge with pushy trucks and a bullying wind, but I had no choice. I slowed my speed but started to be sucked under the gap between their wheels as my handlebar toggled ferociously with the pressure. I clipped the edge of the sand at 30 mph and went down.
I crawled on my hands and knees toward the bike a few meters from where I had landed on the concrete and hit the kill switch. Ullu received only a broken horn and a buckled wheel. My riding gear saved me from a worse fate, but I still had a dollop of whiplash and a mild concussion.
Jaisalmer was a beautiful place to recover. Determined to see deep desert, I rode out to catch the sunset, going until my wheels sank into endless sand. Later, as I lay back on Ullu’s seat and watched billions of stars in the inky‑black sky, I reflected on how India is not an easy place to ride, but it was worth every near‑miss.
Hoping for a bit of good fortune for the remainder of my India motorcycle trip, I sought out the Bullet Baba shrine on National Highway 65. It is one of 33 million Hindu deities and represents the legend of a local man who crashed into a tree and died and whose motorcycle found its way back to the crash site alone without keys or petrol. Locals flock to the site to ask for safe passage across India’s roads and offer whiskey in return. I visited the holy bike with a bottle stuffed into my backpack.
The final stop on my Rajasthan tour was Udaipur. I lazily wound through the undulating Aravalli hills of Kumbhalgarh in afternoon light and rode around the famous Rani Road at sunrise to see Rajasthan’s shining lakes. India was changing her look every few hundred miles, and I could not wait to see what the Western Ghats had to offer.
I entered Mumbai in Western India like a child pretending to be a racer. I was in a tide of hundreds of motorcycles at rush hour, all revving their engines impatiently. Without any warning, signaling, or light change, true to their name, the Bullets sped forward, each one racing the next. On wash day, the air smelled like a bucket of soap suds, and the whole city was brightly decorated.
I headed immediately for Mahabaleshwar, a hill station with luxurious views of the stunning Sahyadri range. With less than 2 liters of petrol after the hills, I bounced along the descent on badly broken road surfaces, glad that I had reduced the air in my tires. I sputtered into Goa on Christmas Day through a blanket of freezing sea mist. My present to my trusty steed was a full service and a week off.
The roads into Munnar are on every Indian traveler’s bucket list. I chose to ride through five national parks, relishing the gorgeous blue Nilgiri hills on all sides. In beautiful Ooty, I raced down 36 consecutive hairpins on the addictive downhills of the accident‑prone Kalhatty Road. At one time, tourists were not permitted to ride it due to the complexity and danger of the epic turns.
I reached Munnar, where the oscillating route was full of seemingly endless tight corners and fast bends. It was some of the most perfect motorcycle riding I had ever experienced. Tea leaves were draped over the hills in a lime green patchwork quilt, knitted with care by whichever gods had imagined such a place.
I dawdled through the coconut plantations of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, fingering the meager rupees left in my pocket and wondering if I would make it to the end. I was almost there, and it was probably because of the heat and fatigue at this point that I began to make mistakes.
I took a wrong turn and had to explain to a very confused ranger why I was riding illegally in a tiger reserve. Ullu’s ignition cable suddenly came loose in the middle of the jungle, but again I was fortunate; a local reattached it with his teeth for free. Another time, I stopped to admire the view and carelessly knocked my bike keys into a pile of rubbish many feet down, and the whole village came running to help. Eventually, a tiny man with a hooked stick five times as long as he was tall came running to the rescue, grinning from ear to ear.
It hit me hard when I got to Kerala and saw the sign for Kanyakumari – the city at the southernmost tip of India – that my journey would soon end. Little moments of the trip replayed in my mind, from the icy dreamland of the Himalayas to brightly decorated Rajasthan to the sublime colors of the South.
At the end of my India motorcycle trip, I sat atop Ullu and patted her tank, watching the sight I had been waiting for: the sun setting into the Arabian Sea. The next morning, sitting at the same spot, I watched the sun rise over the Bay of Bengal to the east.
Indian roads are a complex machine that operates on courage and trust, and I now understand the absurdity of them in their confusion and chaos. I learned that every breakdown is a chance for a new connection with a stranger; that many bike issues can be fixed with tin cans, rubber bands, or a mouthful of petrol; and that no matter how long the journey might take, there is always time for another chai.
What do Evian spring water, Gruyère cheese, and St. Bernard dogs have in common? Prior to going on the Western Alps Adventure with Adriatic Moto Tours, I didn’t have a clue. But on the seven-day motorcycle tour through Italy, Switzerland, and France this past July, we got to visit the places where these things originated.
No one goes to the Alps – especially not motorcyclists – for overpriced bottled water, strong cheese, or big slobbering dogs. We go for the roads, particularly the winding sort that rise and fall as they crest passes where the air is ethereal and the sky is so blue it looks like a backdoor to heaven.
We go to lose ourselves in wonder, to have our heads in the clouds – literally and figuratively – as we take in heart-achingly beautiful vistas and admire peaks and valleys worth fighting wars over.
But, ugh, planning a motorcycle trip through the Alps is such a pain. How will you rent a bike? What route should you take? Where should you stay? Where should you eat? And what’s French for “I’ll have another large beer, please”?
Instead, I rely on the experts, the folks who have scouted the routes, the hotels, and the restaurants. It’s all new to me anyway, so I’ll take a curated, stress-free experience over being my own bumbling tour guide any day.
I flew into Milan, Italy, a day early to get acclimated. Coincidentally, I arrived on the same flight as Jim, an attorney from Seattle who’s a veteran of more than a dozen tours with Adriatic Moto Tours.
After checking into our hotel, a former royal villa built in the early 1900s that now has modern air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a lovely pool, Jim and I took the train into Milan to visit the Duomo, one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
The next day, we met our guides and fellow riders. In addition to Jim and me, we met a third American, David, a tanned retiree from Florida. Hailing from Canada were Ben from Toronto and Simon and Marie-Claude from Quebec City, and there was Linda from Australia and Malcolm from New Zealand. Matej, our tour leader, and Jure, our van driver, are both experienced guides from AMT’s home country of Slovenia, and they kept the tour running like a well-oiled machine. Everyone was easy to get along with, and we quickly gelled as a group and shared inside jokes and friendly comments on WhatsApp.
AMT’s rental fleet includes mostly BMWs plus a few Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha models. Bikes come equipped with a top box and a GPS unit pre-programmed with daily routes, which allows riders to venture off on their own without worrying about getting lost or finding the hotel. Accommodations on this tour were comfortable and charming, our luggage was always delivered to our room before check-in, and meals were delicious and unique to local areas.
Some tours start off gradually, but the Western Alps Adventure kicked off like a cowabunga cannonball into the deep end of the pool. After a short stint on the freeway to get out of Milan, we crossed into Switzerland, and it was game on.
First, we summited Nufenen Pass. Next, we stopped at the Hotel Belvedere, which is situated inside a hairpin overlooking the Rhône Glacier and was featured in a car chase scene in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. Then we climbed a little higher to Furka Pass, all before having lunch in the ski resort town of Andermatt.
While trying to digest quattro stagioni pizza, we rocked and rolled our way to Susten Pass. Down, down, down we went into the valley before making our fourth and final climb of the day to Grimsel Pass, where our hotel was located on the shore of a postcard-perfect alpine lake. Before dinner, a few of us took a bonus ride on a narrow panoramic road that goes to a glacier.
We ended our first day with beers on the patio overlooking the lake and a comfort food dinner of potato soup, veal piccata with pasta, and panna cotta. Sleep was well-earned, deep, and enhanced by clean, cool alpine air drifting in through the windows.
Day 2 started with sunrise over Grimsel Lake and a hearty Swiss breakfast, fortifying us for another full day of riding. Bombing back down the winding road from Grimsel Pass with zero traffic was like being on a private track.
After that early burst of adrenaline, the rest of the day was mellow. We rode into a valley of high cliffs with glacier-fed waterfalls and had coffee near Lauterbrunnen. We had lunch in Gruyères, a medieval walled hilltop village where we had the eponymous cheese mixed in a shredded potato dish called rösti. In the afternoon, we summited Jaun Pass and crossed into France for an overnight stop in Évian-les-Bains, a city on Lake Geneva that sends its bottled mineral water around the world.
Riding in the Alps is like a yo-yo: up and down, mountain to valley, valley to mountain, again and again, with hairpins, sweepers, and every conceivable type of curve. Day 3 was scenic, pleasant, and exotic enough to remind us that we were far from home, experiencing another part of the world. We had coffee in Annecy, known as the “Venice of France” because of the canals that run through the old town, and then lunch at an outdoor cafe at Col de Granier, a notch carved in the Massif de Chartreuse. At our hotel in the ski area of Villard-de-Lans, we had a gourmet dinner on a patio with mountains rising all around us.
On Day 4, we rode through the damp, dark, narrow Gorge de la Bourne, where the road cuts into the limestone walls as it runs along a mountain stream. We climbed high and rode Combe Laval, one of France’s “balcony” roads chiseled into and through limestone cliffs. Then we summited several passes – Col de la Machine, Col de Rosset, and Col de Grimone – and cruised through fertile valleys full of sunflowers and lavender.
Make no mistake, this is a rider’s tour, with days full of twisties, climbs, and descents and minimal sightseeing. On Day 5, our rest day, we forfeited the “rest” part and rode over Col de Vars and into the thin air of Mercantour National Park. Just below Col de la Bonette, we relaxed in Adirondack chairs and sipped coffee in the pure alpine air on a bluebird day and then looped around the treeless Cime de la Bonette. What goes up must come down, and we retraced our route for a totally different experience. Every right became a left, every foot of climbing became a descent.
Day 6, July 14, was Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, and we celebrated by bagging four alpine passes, including Col de Montgenèvre and Col du Mont-Cenis, where we rode along the shore of a turquoise lake. After having oven-fired pizzas on a patio for lunch, the high point of the day was climbing more than 3,000 feet in 8 miles through green mountains covered with wildflowers and cut deeply by snowmelt waterfalls and creeks to Col de l’Iseran (9,068 feet), the highest paved pass in the Alps.
After our fourth pass of the day, Col du Petit St-Bernard, where we crossed back into Italy, we rode through the 7.2-mile Mont Blanc Tunnel. We emerged back in France near our hotel in Chamonix, a bustling alpine city full of hikers, mountain climbers, and tourists.
We began our last day with a gondola ride to the top of Aiguille du Midi to see Mont Blanc (15,778 feet), the highest mountain in Western Europe, and the surrounding peaks and glaciers. After summiting Col de la Forclaz, we began the long climb to our last pass, Col du Grand St-Bernard, where a hospice founded in 1049 used St. Bernard dogs in mountain rescues.
Upon arriving back in Milan, Matej and Jure popped corks on bottles of prosecco, and we all toasted to a fantastic tour. Grazie mille, Adriatic Moto Tours!
Make your plans and pack your bags, because the Edelweiss Bike Travel tour brochure is back for the 2024/25 travel season with new tours added to the list of beloved classics. Edelweiss Bike Travel has over 40 years of experience guiding motorcycle tours and currently offers tours in more than 180 destinations.
Edelweiss tours vary in terms of difficulty, length, and type of riding, as well as location. Detailed information about each upcoming tour is available in the brochure to help you pick the tour that’s right for you.
New tours this year include Motorcycle Dream Portugal, Southern Italy Delights and Twisties, Adventure Namibia, Best of Southern Brazil, and more.
Read the press release below for more information about the brochure and a link to download your digital copy or request a copy by mail.
The most wonderful time of the year has come again! With great pride and joy, we present to you the brand-new Edelweiss Bike Travel catalog 2024/2025, packed with unforgettable adventures, breath-taking landscapes, and loads of two-wheeled action.
Those who know us also know that resting on our laurels is not our thing at all. That’s why we already have big plans for the upcoming season. We are delighted to inform you that as of today, our brand-new travel program for 2024/25 is now available online and ready to be booked.
As a thank you for your loyalty and enthusiasm for our tours, we are offering an exclusive early bird discount: Book a guided tour in Europe in 2024 from our Edelweiss standard program until Oct. 31, 2023, and receive a $250 or €200* discount! To redeem, simply enter the booking code EBB2024,and the discount will automatically be deducted from your booking.
(*Valid for new online bookings of guided motorcycle tours in Europe from the standard Edelweiss program until Oct. 31, 2023. Not valid for motorcycle rentals or self-guided tours. The amount will be deducted automatically. No cash redemption possible.)
While you’re already dreaming of the next adventure on two wheels, our brand-new catalog for 2024/25 with all the tours and information about Edelweiss Bike Travel is on its way to you! Haven’t signed up to receive the catalog yet? Just click on the link below and get your free printed version delivered. If you prefer browsing through the digital version, you can also download the catalog directly from our website.
We have worked tirelessly to put together another spectacular program that will make all your dreams of exciting motorcycle tours come true. With our commitment to always offer the ultimate travel experience for all motorcycle enthusiasts, we have further enhanced our proven tours and expanded our program with a variety of new destinations.
The successful AMA Alps Challenge tours, where we conquer the 40 highest passes in the Alps, will be included in the program as fixed Edelweiss AMA Alps Challenge tours:
We have expanded our long-distance destinations to include tours in Namibia and Brazil, which not only offer breath takingly beautiful landscapes and cultural highlights, but also plenty of thrilling curves.
And also off-road fans have every reason to be excited: We have new Unpaved-Tours! Edelweiss now offers three new guided Adventure Country Tracks (ACT) tours in Italy, the Balkans, and Greece.
Whether you dream of exploring the majestic mountain roads of the Alps, traversing the wild and untouched Patagonia, visiting the charming villages of Europe, or experiencing the endless landscapes of the Australian outback – with Edelweiss Bike Travel, you will undoubtedly find the perfect motorcycle tour to turn your dreams into reality!
The following Yamaha Ténéré 700 adventure story about a trip to beat the winter blues in France came from a new contributor, Jean-François Muguet, and appeared in the July issue of Rider, our second Adventure Issue. – Ed.
At some point, all motorcyclists must admit that winter sucks. Especially here in France. You can dress warmly and put on raingear to stay dry, but the roads will still be soaked, dirty, cold, and slippery. Not the best season for a road trip.
Fed up with yet another bleak winter, I called my friend Robin. He’s a great friend to have. He knows all the roads of the Basque Country and northern Spain, and he owns Rental Motorcycle Biarritz, just south of the coastal resort town in southwestern France. Biarritz is the home of Wheels & Waves, the annual festival that celebrates motorcycles, surfing, skateboarding, music, and art. But W&W is in June, at beach time, which was six months away.
Robin and I have known each other for a long time, and we both needed to get away from crowded places, preferably on motorcycles. We would be joined by another friend, Eric, and our busy schedules afforded us just three days, so we couldn’t go far. Robin suggested a trip to Bardenas Reales Natural Park, a desert badlands area in Navarre, an autonomous region in northern Spain.
Since we’d be riding off-road, Robin’s rental fleet gave us two options: the Royal Enfield Himalayan or the Yamaha Ténéré 700. We would be logging road miles to get to Bardenas, including small, curvy roads through the Pyrenees, so we opted for the larger, twin-cylinder T7.
We got an early start from RMB headquarters on a gray, rainy day. It was foggy and beautiful in the Pyrenees, the mountain chain separating Spain from France, dividing the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. We made our way south to Pamplona, the city known for the Running of the Bulls during the Feast of San Fermín. The sun decided to come out and warm us a little bit, right in time for us to hit the dirt.
It was time to press the button to turn off the T7’s ABS, and it would stay off for a long time. After starting our day cold and wet, we welcomed the warm, dry, dusty conditions. We began on trails that were easy and wide, sometimes rocky, sometimes with ruts, but nothing too challenging. We floated through hills and among sandy dunes, and the landscape opened more and more.
We’d been riding for hours, and our stomachs started making strange noises, so we left the trails and found a restaurant. We were in Spain, so everything was closed until 2 p.m. because of siesta. But the good news is, once the restaurants open, you can have a starter, a main course, dessert, wine, and coffee for about $12. Some might think it’s unwise to ride dirtbikes after a big meal, but we needed our strength for the rest of our trip.
Bienvenida a Las Bardenas
We continued our ride and entered a huge valley. From the plateau we were on, it looked like the ground had been torn apart. Welcome to Bardenas Reales. It was incredible, tremendous – all ocher, white, and yellow. It was late afternoon, and the sun was sinking low. Time for a picture, then many pictures. We parked the T7s in the grass, which was actually thyme. Each step we took shook the thyme and released a fragrant aroma to our noses.
From the cliff where we stood, we could see for miles. This incredible scenery was cut in two by a serpentine trail, and it was all ours. Our goal was to ride the trail and get to Tudela, where we would spend the night. For the next hour and a half, we chased the sunset through the desert, the yellow and white canyons, sandstone cliffs, and rocks slowly turning orange and then red. It was gorgeous – pure pleasure for the eyes and pure happiness for our hearts.
It was getting dark, and fatigue was setting in as we finally reached a paved road. The lights of the city got closer as we approached Tudela. We had ridden 170 miles, but the day passed so quickly. Checking into the hotel, we looked at each other and realized we were filthy. We were dirty and tired but happy like little kids, which made the receptionist laugh. We needed a shower and dinner.
Ride, Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Day 2 started off slow as we were a little sore from the previous day. This ride would be about 125 miles, with 90% on dirt trails. The sun was shining, but it was still a bit cold in the morning. The first few miles of trail got our blood flowing and warmed us quickly, and we had splendid views of snowy mountains.
The T7s were roaring along, a pleasure to ride. Robin was leading with the GPS, and Eric and I were just enjoying ourselves. The trails were easy, but we still needed to stay focused. In some places, parts of the trail had collapsed, creating holes where you wouldn’t want to put your front wheel or else you’d learn how to fly.
The rest of the day was like riding through the set of a Spaghetti Western like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There were no cowboys, but a Spanish military base was nearby. Sometimes we came across soldiers in cars or trucks or saw signs warning that areas were off-limits. But the trails were fun, and the landscape was perfect. Once again, the sunset in the desert was an incredible show. We slept well with colorful dreams.
Ride to Eat, Eat to Ride
As French people, we love to eat. Oftentimes while eating a meal, we’ll talk about meals we’ve had in the past, both good and bad. It might seem strange to people from other countries, but that is what we do.
During the day, we’d found a cheap menú del día at a roadside eatery. At night in Tudela, we enjoyed going to an old-fashioned restaurant called Remigio. Locals recommended it, and it turned out to be great. Always trust the locals. Robin was a chef for many years before he started his motorcycle rental business, so he knows good food. Remigio served us traditional dishes like pig’s ear and snail stew with sausage. It was delicious, and so was the Riojà wine. Robin was like a kid in a candy store.
Taking the Yamaha Ténéré 700 Home
Helmets on for Day 3. It was time to go back north to Biarritz. Clouds followed us for the first few miles through the desert. We stopped at the spot where you must take a picture to show the world you have been to Bardenas: Castillo de Tierra, a natural column of sandstone that rises up to the sky and was formed by millions of years of erosion.
We squeezed as much trail time as we could out of our final day before finally returning to tarmac. We got back on the road near the medieval village of Olleta, continuing north to Pamplona. We summited many passes as we wound our way up and down through the Pyrenees. Before we knew it, we were back in Biarritz.
The trip was fun, and Robin made it easy by providing the bikes and planning the route. He was a great traveling companion, even if he ate more than his fair share of the pig’s ears. And Eric was our third musketeer. The T7s were fantastic on the road and on dirt. And Bardenas Reales was amazing, like a lunar park for motorcycles.
Those three days passed like a colorful dream – a bubble of fresh air, sun, desert, and fun with motorcycles that provided relief from the doldrums of winter. Exactly what we were looking for. From April to November, Rental Motorcycle Biarritz rents BMW, Ducati, Indian, Royal Enfield, and Yamaha motorcycles – including the Yamaha Ténéré 700 – with prices starting at 50 euros per day. RMB can provide GPS routes as well as guided tours. For information, visit the Rental Motorcycle Biarritz website.
We published the first part of Owen Howells’ story and photos about riding the Trans Euro Trail in Albania in our Nov. 2022 Adventure Issue and on our website here. What follows is Part 2, which also appears in our July 2023 Adventure Issue. –Ed.
With the Albanian part of the Trans Euro Trail in my mirrors, there remained the small matter of getting my battle-hardened 1982 BMW R 80 G/ST back home to the U.K. Having ridden the Albanian TET from south to north, I ended up near the Montenegro border, and since the TET through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia goes north, it was a viable option for the ride home. I had been traveling for four weeks, and I had two weeks left before I had to be back at work.
Bosnian and Croatian Trans Euro Trail
The trails through Bosnia and Herzegovina were smoother and less challenging than what I’d faced in Albania, so I was able to ride faster and cover more ground in a day.
My heavily laden Airhead was surprisingly adept at a bit of mischief in the corners, skidding the back end with a good jab on the drum brake on entry and getting sideways with low-end grunt on the way out. Humps and bumps allowed a bit of airtime, though somewhat limited by the short-travel suspension bottoming out as the bike returned to terra firma.
Incredibly, after a month of riding, with most days spent on the Trans Euro Trail, I had yet to meet another adventure rider, so I was chuffed when I pulled into Mostar and was greeted by three Germans.
“Are you also riding the TET?” they asked. I guess the shabby state of my bike, its knobby tires, and my overloaded luggage had given me away.
From then on, I encountered a steady stream of TET riders heading south – Germans, Austrians, Poles, and Estonians – on Honda Africa Twins, KTM 1190 Adventures, and BMW R 1250 GSs. But the flavor of the month was clearly the Yamaha Ténéré 700. It seemed every other bike on the trail was a T7, which is hardly a surprise. It’s a great looking, focused adventure bike with an engine capacity that makes a lot of sense for off-roading.
Buoyed by frequent chats with fellow trail enthusiasts, I rode at a spirited pace, but my 40-year-old BMW was a bit worse for wear. The top box hung awkwardly off the back after the rear rack had snapped in two places, and the rear brake was almost useless. I made a running repair on the rack with cable ties and duct tape and then limped to the beautiful Ramsko Lake for my overnight stop.
Repairs, Land Mines, and a Tit on the TET
I found a garage in the lakeside village, and while the mechanic took care of welding the rack, I investigated the rear wheel. The whole drum area was soaked in oil, caused by a few bolts in the bevel drive case working loose. I put thread locker on the bolts, retightened them, and cleaned the drum and shoes as well as I could.
After breakfast and coffee in Kupres, I rejoined the TET heading to Glamoc. A group of TET riders had warned me about impassable snow on this section, so I proceeded with caution. I rode for an hour into the hills before seeing the first patch of snow. Conditions seemed good, and I crested the highest point on the map with no problems.
Soft-arse Ténéré riders, I thought, remembering my challenges in Albania. They probably just rode off the showroom floor. They don’t know struggle!
As I began my descent, a wide blanket of snow covered the trail. It didn’t seem too bad, so I just eased off a little and prepared for less traction. Almost immediately the front wheel plunged into a foot of snow, abruptly halting my progress. The rear wheel dug a trench until it spun freely. I was facing downhill, but the bike wouldn’t budge.
I dismounted, surveyed the situation, and scouted ahead on foot. The impenetrable field of snow continued as far as I could be bothered to walk. It would be a long, arduous ride back the way I came, but pressing ahead was impossible.
My bike was impressively stuck, wedged in the deep snow. Retreating meant that I needed to get the BMW turned around. I tried pushing the bike to begin a three-point turn, but it held fast.
The advice on the TET website is clear: Never attempt the TET on your own. Of course, numpties like me disregard this advice, and moments like this demonstrate the folly of that decision. Considering my options, I shuddered at the thought of walking 10 miles back to civilization to get help to retrieve my bike, all the while hoping someone with strong friends wouldn’t steal it before I got back.
I remembered the times in Wales when I’d become equally stuck in mud. One approach is to lean the bike to its side and use the cylinder head as a fulcrum to lever the wheels off the ground. Then, with much grunting and cursing, you can drag the bike out of the problem area. The levering worked, but even with the luggage removed, the BMW was too heavy to drag uphill. At least I was able to spin it around so it was pointing the right way.
When I tried to ride out, the boxer Twin’s wide cylinders sank into the snow, and the rear wheel again spun helplessly. I donned my winter gloves, dug out the snow around the bike, and created a ramp that I covered with fallen branches and sticks to help keep the tires afloat. Though surrounded by snow, I was hot and sweaty from my efforts. I fired up the bike, pushed with all my might, and dropped the clutch. The rear wheel dug into the slushy mud just enough to climb onto the carpet of sticks, and I made my way back to dry land.
I was relieved to have gotten out of a bad spot, but it was my cavalier attitude that got me into that situation. I take it all back, Mr. Ténéré. You were right, and I was definitely wrong!
With my tail between my legs, I trundled back down the hill, having wasted four hours and made it no closer to home. I found an alternate trail on the map and decided that, although it appeared to be harder going, it was preferable to doubling all the way back to the road. Exhaustion was setting in, and I dropped my bike again.
Soon I came across a sign that filled me with dread: a skull and crossbones on a red background with MИHE! (mine!) in big, bold letters. Even though the Yugoslav Wars ended more than two decades ago, war-torn buildings and houses riddled with bullet holes are still a common sight in the Balkans. Efforts have been made to clear land mines, but they are still a danger in some remote areas. The TET website warns riders not to go off the trail where land mine signs are present, and I was happy to heed the advice. But the trail I was on, which wasn’t part of the official TET, wasn’t clearly defined. After a very careful 21-point turn, I finally headed back to the main road.
A Drag Race at an Abandoned Airbase
After a few tough days on the TET in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I followed faster paved roads to reach Zeljava, an abandoned airbase on the Bosnia/Croatia border. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival, but there were no signs or gates to block access. I rode past a rusting Douglas C-47 transport plane and right onto the massive runway.
Zeljava was constructed in the late 1940s to be an indestructible Soviet airbase, with a labyrinth of huge interconnecting tunnels buried deep into the mountain capable of housing hundreds of fighter jets and protecting them from a nuclear blast. The base was partially destroyed during the Yugoslav Wars in the ’90s, and it has been abandoned ever since. Though technically off-limits, the local police got so tired of kicking people out that they no longer bother. Today the huge blast doors sit permanently open, inviting investigation by the curious.
I wasn’t the only one at Zeljava that day. With a kilometer-long runway, there were scores of other bikers competing in run-what-ya-brung drag races. My Airhead got thoroughly embarrassed by a BMW F 800, a Honda VFR800, and a Ducati Multistrada. Even with my belly on the tank, I barely scratched the ton!
From there onwards, the Croatian TET was glorious, with winding woodland trails culminating in elevated views of the Adriatic Sea near the Slovenian border.
After riding through Slovenia and attending a friend’s wedding in Italy, I had only three days until I needed to be back at work, so the final jaunt was mostly a road-going affair. But it would’ve been rude to cross the Alps without sampling at least one off-road trail. For bragging rights, I wanted to summit the highest unpaved pass in Europe, but I’d heard it was too snowy at the top, and I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.
Instead, I opted for an unpaved military road built in the late 1800s that climbs up a 9,200-foot mountain in the Cottian Alps in northwestern Italy, near the French border. Perched near the top of the mountain is Fort Jafferau, which was completed in 1898 and used in both world wars.
Compared to what I’d faced in Albania, the trail wasn’t a challenge, but the altitude sure was. In the thin air, my old Beemer wheezed like an asthmatic, barely able to power itself up the hill and frequently dropping to one cylinder.
Bike issues aside, the trail up to the fort was one of the highlights of my multiweek journey, though riding in a pitch-black, 876-meter-long tunnel through the mountain jangled my nerves. A half day spent in the hills meant I had a tougher, faster ride to catch the ferry, but it was entirely worth it.
The Final Push on the Trans Euro Trail
Crossing France in a heatwave via toll roads was torture on my old R 80. All I could do was drone on, squinting at the bright sun made hazy through a graveyard of insects on my faceshield while being blasted by hot air and vibrated into numbness by the knobbies. Fuel stops allowed a few minutes in air conditioning, but I had to pay through the nose for crummy ethanol-laced petrol.
You don’t hear much about this part of road trips. It’s all about Instagram moments of unforgettable experiences, incredible roads, and friends made along the way. But unless you have unlimited time, there comes a point where you’ve got to munch some serious miles, and rarely is it fun. At times like these, I dream about being on a big, smooth, modern sport-tourer – or even better, in a car with the A/C on full blast, a plethora of snacks to graze on, and a good podcast to pass the time.
I wanted to push harder to get it over with, but the R 80’s engine had other ideas. The heat took its toll, and the bike began running rough. The next morning, I checked the valve clearances when the engine was cold. The exhaust valve on the right cylinder was tight, which was not surprising given the 5,000 miles I’d ridden since leaving home – and the going had been rough.
Thanks to the simplicity of the Airhead’s pushrods and rocker arms, the valve adjustment took only a few minutes, and I was soon back on the road with the engine running smooth.
As I sat in a quiet cafe in Ouistreham, France, waiting for my ferry to the U.K., I admired my R 80 G/ST parked across the road, with its patina of dents, scratches, rust, and dirt accumulated during my six-week journey. When I finished my ST-to-GS conversion, I’d created a beautiful and unique bike, one worthy of keeping pristine for posing at a town square or bike meet.
Has it lost potential resale value? Almost certainly, but the value of the memories is worth far more to me. Every scuff on the paint is a reminder of the adventures we’ve had together, and every scratch is a memento of the struggles we overcame on the trip of a lifetime.
Taking my first guided motorcycle tour was a dream that was years in the making, and last fall, I took the plunge by booking a two-week trip with IMTBike to tour parts of Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, and France.
As an avid reader of motorcycle touring magazines, I was drawn to the siren song of companies advertising guided tours to exotic, faraway places. However, up until that point, my bike trips were confined to self-guided tours in the U.S. and Canada, which certain advantages over guided tours.
The pros of self-guided tours are:
Cost. A self-guided tour is a lot cheaper than a guided tour.
You can travel exactly at your own pace and set your own agenda.
In North America, I have lots of friends and family I can see along the way and cadge a free place to stay.
Also, my bike is here, and I don’t have to worry about transporting it overseas or renting.
The pros of a guided tour are more extensive and include:
Not having to worry about where you are going to stay, and enjoying excellent accommodations.
Not having to pack and unpack your stuff every day you are on the road; IMTBike has a tour van that follows you.
Going at a reasonable pace by avoiding the temptation to push yourself beyond physical and mental limits.
Never having to worry about where and when you are going to eat. With IMTBike, food was top-notch.
Using someone else’s bike and, in my case, getting one that was beyond my wildest expectations.
Having a gang of congenial people with whom to share the experience.
Leaving the decisions on where to go in the hands of seasoned and knowledgeable professionals with local knowledge.
The IMTBike Sardinia and Corsica Motorcycle Tour starts in Barcelona, a large industrial, commercial, and cultural hub located in northwestern Spain. After being met at the airport by our tour guide, Sergi, I was struck by seeing an airport parking lot with hundreds of bikes. Sergi explained that with two wheels, you can park at the airport for free, regardless of why you are there. Never had I encountered such a bike-friendly place – a fact that was reinforced by seeing bikes parked in the city on just about any available space that was not part of an established thoroughfare.
After checking into my hotel, Sergi and our tour assistant Paolo scheduled a briefing for our 16-member tour group, which included folks from New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Argentina, followed by dinner at a restaurant built in what was once a bullfighting ring.
Following dinner, I had the misfortune of getting separated from my group and hopelessly lost. After a couple hours of aimless wandering, I encountered a German lady who spoke fluent English and hailed me a cab and wouldn’t leave me until I was safely ensconced in my hotel.
The following morning, we embarked on our first day of the tour, which included some fantastic riding outside Barcelona, a city with the Mediterranean to its east and mountains to its north, west, and south. Just 15 minutes from downtown we were in motorcycling paradise.
Our afternoon ride took us due north through the Montserrat Mountains to the Montserrat Monastery, which is literally built into the mountain range. I was riding a BMW R 1250 GS, and I was blown away at what a great touring bike it is. While there are faster, better handling, better looking, and maybe even more comfortable bikes around, the 1250 GS hit such high scores across the board that it wasn’t long before I started saying to myself, “I’ve got to get me one of these.” Don’t tell my wife.
After a 90-mile ride, we were back in Barcelona to wait for the ferry that would take us to Sardinia. The ferry was late, and we waited in light rain. Upon arriving in Sardinia, we disembarked in Porto Torres and spent the rest of the day in what the IMTBike guidebook billed as “without doubt one of the best places in the world for motorcycling.”
Having only taken long-distance bike trips in North America, I was in no position to argue, but I can say it was the best I had ever experienced. According to the guidebook, this is because “no other place offers such a density of perfectly asphalted and lightly traveled twisty roads. … It’s as if God decided to give this island the best possible combination of attributes for the sole enjoyment of motorcyclists.”
Our destination was Alghero, where our hotel rooms overlooked the vast expanse of the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. In fact, almost every hotel we stayed at on the two islands had the same type of view.
The following morning, our tour followed a familiar pattern. First, a daily briefing where our guides explained where we were going for the day, with a description of the historical and topographical highlights. Then we would hit the road around 9 a.m., stop for a coffee break about an hour and a half later, and then ride on for a couple more hours until we stopped for lunch.
After lunch, we rode again for another hour and a half, took another coffee break, and then completed our day’s ride in late afternoon or early evening. In this, our first full day of riding, we traveled 147 miles, where our lodging awaited us in the village of Arbatax.
While Sardinia is part of Italy, the island—the second largest in the Mediterranean—is an autonomous region, and its inhabitants consider themselves more Sardinian than Italian. It is sparsely populated with an idyllic climate and gorgeous mountains and seascapes, making it a true paradise for the long-distance biker.
For the next four days – and one optional rest day – we followed a similar itinerary throughout the length and breadth of the island. On Day 4, we traveled 215 miles from Arbatax to Su Gologone, where we stayed two nights. Some of the group took an optional tour, while others, like me, kicked back at an Olympic-sized pool.
On Day 6, we left Su Gologone and spent our last day in Sardinia, traveling 125 miles until we reached our destination, via a short ferry ride, to the spectacular natural port of Bonifacio, Corsica, an island north of Sardinia that is part of France.
On Day 7, we rode 135 miles from Bonifacio to Ajaccio, the administrative capital of the island and childhood home of France’s most famous citizen, Napoleon Bonaparte. Generally, the roads in Corsica were not as well-paved as in Sardinia, but I was grateful that the public restrooms on the island included toilet seats, as opposed to Sardinia.
We spent an extra day in Ajaccio, and this time, I took advantage of the optional rest-day ride offered by our guides. The following day, we left Ajaccio and headed up the western coast of Corsica, which is one of the most spectacular stretches of coastal road in Europe, to arrive 140 miles later at Saint-Florent. Generally speaking, the mountains of Corsica are higher than Sardinia, so the vistas tend to be more dramatic and breathtaking.
Mainland France and Spain
Upon leaving Saint-Florent, we had a short travel day of less than 70 miles to Bastia, where we boarded a ferry for an overnight trip to Marseille, on the French mainland. On this day we covered the most ground, traveling 222 miles, much of it on toll roads that appeared indistinguishable from a U.S. interstate. But after multiple days of traveling on sharp, twisty roads, I was ready for the kind of mindless monotony that this leg of the journey offered.
Our destination was Carcassonne, a spellbinding double-walled medieval town that can only be entered on foot and has cobblestone streets. In some respects, the beauty and serenity of this perfectly restored town was the highlight of the trip for me, giving me the sense that I was truly in a different time and place from my native country.
The next leg of the journey would take us through the Pyrenees Mountains and the tiny principality of Andorra, notable as a tax haven and playground for Europe’s elites. The Pyrenees were very rugged, replete with switchbacks and enough elevation to provide the only cold weather of the trip.
Our destination for the day was La Seu D’Urgell, just inside Spain and 140 miles from Carcassonne. The next morning would be the day that most of us would dread: the last day of our trip. After almost 12 consecutive days of motorcycle nirvana, my dream trip was coming to an end, but we still had one more day of intense riding in front of us – 130 miles through the mountains surrounding Barcelona to our final resting stop.
All in all, it was an outstanding journey that has only whet my appetite for more. As for IMTBike, I chose them because they were offering one of the most desirable places I would ever want to go on a bike. Fortunately, the quality of service provided exceeded my expectations. For example, of the whole group, I faced the biggest challenges health wise, with a heart condition and bad arthritis. The tour guides quickly recognized that and provided service above and beyond, like grabbing my luggage and taking it upstairs to my room in a hotel with no elevators, grabbing my helmet and cleaning the visor when all I asked for was a rag with which to do it myself, or parking my bike when I struggled to get it up off the curb.
I’m sure the other bike touring companies provide similar excellent service, but I can only go on what I know from IMTBike, which was founded 26 years ago by Scott Moreno, who, like me, is a native New Yorker and Mets fan – a piece of common ground that was icing on the cake when it came to choosing his company for my tour.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the biggest obstacle for long-distance bikers taking such trips is likely the price. But there are budget options. IMTBike rent bikes and offers self-guided tours where they provide the route and make the arrangements but you travel on your own. As for me, taking this tour was a no-brainer, and I have no regrets. In fact, all I can think about now is where and when my next trip will be. Iceland, anyone?
Lance Lamberton is a retired public relations professional and political junkie who once worked in the Reagan White House. He lives outside Atlanta, Georgia, and has been an avid long-distance motorcyclist since 1968. He has ridden across 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces and territories.
Rider magazine is inviting its readers to join contributing editor Scott A. Williams on the IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Motorcycle Tour, taking place from Sept. 9-17, 2023, and offering riders a rich blend of spectacular and unforgettable landscapes and encounters with ancient cultures.
Based in Madrid, IMTBike specializes in tours of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), but it also offers tours in France, Italy, the Alps, and Morocco, as well as MotoGP tours (Catalunya, Jerez, and Valencia) and tours in Turkey, Thailand, Japan, and New Zealand. In 2021, IMTBike earned a coveted Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best award. In 2022, IMTBike celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Rider EIC Greg Drevenstedt, and his wife, Carrie, helped celebrate by taking the Southern Spain Andalusia tour.
The IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Motorcycle Tour should be just as amazing. IMTBike says the tour, which is nine days total (including two travel days and one rest day), will combine “all the wonderful aromas that one expects to find in the North of Spain; from the salty azure waters of the Cantabrian Sea along the Costa Verde, to the pristine fields of verdant grass of the Basque Valleys and the crisp air of the majestic mountains of Asturias’s Picos de Europa.”
The tour will start and end in Bilbao, a former shipbuilding town that is now famous for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and Jeff Koon’s “Puppy” sculpture. The tour will lead through the northern regions of Spain – the Basque Country, Cantabria, Castilla-León, and Asturias – on a route through small picturesque fishing villages and charming lost hamlets in the most remote mountain regions of Spain. You will visit fascinating cities such as the capitals of Asturias and the Basque Country, Oviedo, and Vitoria.
On Day 1 (or earlier, depending on your country of origin), arrive in Bilbao and take the day to explore the city. The group will meet for dinner and prepare for the journey, which begins on Day 2, when riders will enter the easternmost Cantabrian Mountains. You will ride little-known mountain roads surrounded by incredible greenery on the way to the magnificently preserved medieval town of Santillana del Mar.
Day 3 goes through the Picos de Europa mountain range, which stands out because of both the height of the mountains and their proximity to the ocean. You will visit the beautiful beaches and cliffs of the Green Coast (Costa Verde). We’ll dive into the heart of the immense Picos de Europa Mountains where you can take a cable car to the summit and ride through the narrow canyons that surround the massif.
The Day 4 destination is the Asturian capital, Oviedo. On the way, riders will visit some of the most photographed fishing villages on the Asturian coast and go along some of the most interesting local roads that run through the green mountains of eastern Asturias.
Take a rest day to explore the elegant city of Oviedo on foot, or there will be a ride to visit the western Asturian coast and the picturesque fishing village of Cudillero. IMTBike has prepared “a nice curvy route to get there.”
On Day 6, the route will start heading back to the eastern part of Northern Spain, crossing Asturias through its mining region. These mountains are full of natural resources below ground and perfect motorcycling roads above. You’ll spend the day immersed in captivating natural landscapes and cross several mountain passes before arriving in Castilla-León’s lake country at the foot of the Picos de Europa.
Day 7 takes riders to the charming Basque capital of Vitoria, passing through several mountain ranges, valleys, and beautiful remote areas, as well as a few natural parks east of the Picos de Europa and the Cantabrian Mountains before finally setting foot again in Euskadi (Basque Country).
The final riding day will be a beautiful route that crosses the entire Basque Country from south to north on the way back to Bilbao. After several mountain passes, you’ll arrive at the coast and then ride local roads that pass through authentic fishing villages while experiencing the wild landscapes of this coastline.
If you’re looking for curve-filled roads, verdant mountains, azure ocean water plus delicious gastronomy, charming cities and incredible hotels all wrapped up into a weeklong getaway, then this Essence of Northern Spain Tour has been custom made for you!
IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Motorcycle Tour daily itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival Bilbao
Day 2: Bilbao – Santillana del Mar
Day 3: Santillana del Mar – Picos de Europa
Day 4: Picos de Europa – Oviedo
Day 5: Oviedo – rest day
Day 6: Oviedo – Palentine Mountains
Day 7: Palentine Mountains – Vitoria
Day 8: Vitoria – Bilbao
Day 9: Flight back home
Pricing starts at $3,990 per person, including a BMW G 310 R motorcycle rental for a rider in a double room (see below for what’s included in the price). See the Essence of Northern Spain tour webpage for tiered pricing for different motorcycle models as well as pricing for a passenger and a single room supplement.
IMTBike Essence of Northern Spain Motorcycle Tour included services:
Airport pickup on the first day of the tour
Overnight accommodations in high quality hotels
A gourmet evening meal every night (except on rest days)
Complete buffet breakfast every morning
New model BMW motorcycle fully equipped with three BMW cases
Tour handbook (normally about 70 pages-very comprehensive) and highlighted map
Expert multilingual guide on a motorcycle
Multilingual guide in support vehicle which will carry your luggage, any oversized purchases you make; or even a passenger or two
Services not included:
Air ticket, lunches, gasoline, drinks, tolls, personal spending, and tips
Every international motorcycle tour is special, but none is as memorable as your first one. For my wife, Carrie, and me, our first international tour was in 2010 – a two-week tour of Spain and Portugal with IMTBike, a motorcycle tour and rental company based in Spain with office locations in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Málaga, and Lisbon, Portugal.
Carrie and I have had the good fortune to go on many international motorcycle tours together. Riding two-up, mostly on a big BMW GS, we’ve explored a dozen countries in Europe, as well as Canada and Ecuador. We got engaged at the top of Stelvio Pass in the Alps and spent our honeymoon on a tour in Norway. But for that first tour, our guides were Scott Moreno, IMTBike’s founder and CEO, and “Super” Chano Lorenzo, IMTBike’s longest serving guide, who’s been with the company since 1998.
Like old friends, Scott and Chano shared their unabashed love and deep knowledge of Spain and Portugal with everyone in our group, treating each one of us as special and taking time to get to know us so they could tailor the tour experience to our particular needs or desires.
Of all the tours Carrie and I have been on, our most embarrassing moment happened on Day 1 of that first tour in 2010 – before we had even gotten on the bike. While enjoying ourselves at the festive welcome dinner the night before, we imbibed a bit too much vino tinto. When we got back to the hotel, feeling the effects of jetlag and the wine, we decided to wake up early to pack and get ready for the tour. I set my alarm, and we went to bed.
With the curtains drawn to block out the city lights of Madrid, I was jolted awake by the phone. It was Chano. “Buenos dias, Greg! It’s nine o’ clock, and everyone is on the bus, waiting to go. Are you ready?”
Mierda! I had gotten the a.m./p.m. mixed up on my phone’s alarm.
“I’m soooooo sorry! We overslept!”
“Don’t worry, that means you were relaxed! Scott will head over on the bus with the others and start the bike handover. I’m downstairs with everyone’s luggage in the van. I’ll wait for you.”
Hungover with throbbing headaches, our pulses racing, we threw everything into our luggage and suited up in our riding gear as fast as we could. Carrie and I are both fastidious Type A people, and we hate being late. We did the walk of shame out to the van, only to find Chano with a big smile on his face as he reassured us, “Is no problem!”
And it wasn’t. As embarrassed as we were, Chano and Scott just rolled with the situation. Our blunder was the source of playful ribbing throughout the tour, an inside joke we still share to this day. And we learned our lesson – in nearly 100 days we’ve spent on overseas motorcycle tours since that first morning, we have not been late once, and we’re often the first people on the bikes in the morning, ready to go.
A Very Good Year
Like all motorcycle tour companies, the pandemic was a gut punch to IMTBike. Covid restrictions meant the company couldn’t run tours for more than a year, but Moreno kept his team on the payroll, and they used the downtime to refresh, refine, and expand their tour offerings. IMTBike specializes in tours of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), but it also offers tours in France, Italy, the Alps, and Morocco, as well as MotoGP tours (Catalunya, Jerez, and Valencia) and tours in Turkey, Thailand, Japan, and New Zealand.
IMTBike resumed its tours in 2021, the same year it earned a coveted Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best award. In 2022, IMTBike celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Scott personally invited Carrie and me to join him and Chano on the Southern Spain Andalusia tour.
As much as we were looking forward to getting the band back together for a reunion tour, a family emergency precluded Scott from joining us. Chano served as head guide, and our consolation prize was Paolo Pezzoli, a young, energetic Italian who was new to the IMTBike team.
The Southern Spain Andalusia tour hits the sweet spot – not too short or too long, not too easy or too challenging, and just right in terms of daily mileage, choice of roads, scenery, sightseeing, and accommodations. The tour is nine days, with six riding days, one rest day, and travel days on each end. It starts and ends in Málaga, a city on Spain’s Mediterranean Costa Del Sol (Sun Coast), and includes stops in Granada, Córdoba, Seville (rest day), Arcos de la Frontera, and Ronda.
Carrie and I arrived a day early to shake off our jetlag and spend a day exploring Málaga, which was founded in 770 B.C. and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. IMTBike booked a modern, stylish hotel that’s a short walk to the heart of the city. We visited the 19th-century Atarazanas Market, the 14th-century Cathedral of Málaga, and the 11th-century Alcazaba, a Moorish palatial fortress perched on a hill overlooking the city and coast.
After our walking tour – which included a stop at a busy sidewalk cafe for tapas, sangria, and people-watching – we met the tour group in the hotel’s bar. Over beers and wine, we met Lonny and Linda, a couple from Idaho; Kobus and Magda, a couple from South Africa; Bernard, a solo rider from Canada; and Oliver, a solo rider from Dominican Republic. Each of us took turns telling the group a little about ourselves, and Chano gave us an overview of the tour and rules of the road in Spain.
To keep us connected, IMTBike set up a group on WhatsApp so we could send text messages, live locations, photos, and more via Wi-Fi. We also received links to the tour’s daily routes on Google Maps and to a Google Drive folder so we could upload and share our photos.
Following the briefing, we walked to dinner. Spain is known for its afternoon siestas and late-night dinners, and in the evenings, the streets of cities we visited were bustling with locals and tourists, young and old and everything in between. Our tour was in October, with mild days and cool nights – ideal for strolling on cobblestoned and tiled sidewalks that are hundreds of years old, their surfaces worn smooth by millions of footsteps. Our welcome dinner was at a restaurant handpicked by IMTBike, and Chano got us started by ordering Iberian ham, cheese, and wine for the table. Everyone was in good spirits as we broke bread and got to know each other.
Up, Up, and Away
Carrie and I woke up early, enjoyed a decadent breakfast at the hotel, brought our luggage down, and walked outside to find two R 1250 RTs, three R 1250 GSs, and an F 850 GS lined up on the sidewalk. IMTBike is an official partner of BMW Motorrad, and it owns the world’s largest fleet of BMW motorcycles (more than 200 at last count). Bikes available to rent range from the G 310 R to the K 1600 GT, and all are outfitted with a top case and side cases; a GPS unit is optional. Our group was followed by a support van that carried luggage and a spare bike.
On our first tour in 2010, Carrie and I described Spain as “California with castles.” The coastal areas of Southern Spain and Southern California have mild Mediterranean climates as well as rugged mountains that rise dramatically from the sea. Within minutes of leaving Málaga, we climbed up, up, up into the mountains on a tight, steep, endlessly curving road that kept us on our toes. After a midmorning coffee stop, we rode back down to the coast to have delicious paella right next to the beach. We ascended into the mountains again on a narrow lane carved into the rock known as the “Goat Road,” arriving in Granada in time to explore the city’s old quarter before meeting up for a gourmet dinner at one of the best restaurants in the city.
From Granada, we got full use of our tires and leaned deeply through the curves of a shaded canyon before popping out into the high plains, where we got a bird’s eye view of the village of La Peza from an overlook. We rode through endless olive groves and visited the Núñez de Prado organic olive oil factory in Baena, where the olives are crushed by enormous stone mills to extract the “flower” and first cold pressing of extra virgin olive oil.
After lunch in the Baena town square, we rode to Córdoba, home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other city. It was a hot afternoon, so we cooled off in the rooftop pool overlooking the Guadalquivir River and the city. We explored the narrow, cobblestoned streets and visited the stunning Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. At an outdoor cafe, Carrie and I joined Lonny and Linda for sangria, and then we enjoyed a family-style dinner with the group at a local restaurant.
On our third day, we rode from Córdoba to Seville on a series of backroads that seemed tailor-made for motorcyclists. Spain is a motorcycle-mad country, and you can’t help but think that civil engineers said to themselves, “Let’s make these curves flow with a nice rhythm. We’ll give them a consistent radius, good banking, and smooth pavement. Riders will love it!”
After winding through farmland with rolling hills filled with oak and cork trees, herds of sheep, and black Iberian pigs (the source of highly prized jamón pata negra), we rode over the Sierra Morena mountains and back down into the Guadalquivir River valley and the magnificent city of Seville.
We arrived with a few hours to unwind, relax, and explore before dinner. We walked from the hotel to an old restaurant decorated with bullfighting memorabilia, and we enjoyed vino tinto and plates of jamón, queso, ensalada mixta, and other delicacies, all topped off with a variety of diet-busting sweets and little glasses of house-made liqueur.
Caves, Coffee, and Cava … IMTBike Style
After a rest day exploring the wonderful city of Seville and a mesmerizing flamenco show, we continued our meandering lap around Andalusia. We rode through rolling hills of olive trees and passed several of the region’s iconic Pueblos Blancos (White Towns), where all the houses and buildings have whitewashed walls and terra cotta tile roofs. We stopped for lunch in Setenil de las Bodegas, a town built along a small canyon with houses and shops built into the hollowed out limestone caves on both sides of the river.
Next up was the most impressive road of the trip, an Alps-like climb from the valley to 4,452-foot Palomas Pass. We descended an equally winding and scenic road and made our way to Arcos de la Frontera, an old town built high on a limestone promontory. De la Frontera means “on the frontier,” so named because Arcos was on the frontlines of Spain’s 13th-century battle with the Moors. Perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Guadalete River, our hotel was a Parador, one of roughly 100 hotels managed by Spain that are in buildings of historical, artistic, or cultural interest.
Leaving Arcos de la Frontera, we rode under the flying buttresses of the cathedral and descended steep, narrow cobblestone streets made damp by overnight rains. We continued our ride along La Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos (Route of the White Towns) where whitewashed villages on the mountainsides stand out like large polka dots on the green landscape. We rode into Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park and wound our way up to El Boyar Pass on our way to our morning coffee stop in a bustling town square.
Every day, we rode up and down on small mountain roads and through idyllic agricultural plains. Traffic was minimal, and the rugged, old-world scenery was enchanting. On our fifth riding day, we enjoyed more fast and fun roads in the afternoon as we made our way to Ronda, a city perched high on both sides of the Tajo gorge carved by the Guadelevin River. We stayed in a Parador on the edge of a cliff overlooking the “new” 300-year-old bridge over the gorge (the old bridge was built during the Roman Empire).
We started our last day of the tour with a beautiful sunrise over Ronda. We rode east into the rugged granite mountains of Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, winding our way through canyons and over passes toward El Burgo.
It was Saturday, and we stopped for coffee at a popular meet-up spot for motorcyclists, its tables abuzz with riders and its parking lot full of bikes. The final highlight of the tour was a ride up to El Torcal de Antequera, a mountain ridge covered in unusual karst rock formations that reminded us of Joshua Tree National Park seen through the eyes of surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.
We descended more narrow, twisty roads back to Málaga, where we turned in our BMWs at IMTBike’s warehouse and toasted a celebratory glass of cava. After drinks and laughs on the hotel’s patio, we enjoyed a festive farewell dinner at another wonderful restaurant.
The week went by fast, a sure sign of how much fun we had. Chano and Paolo were a constant source of charm and good humor, and they did a lot of work behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly. Our small group bonded quickly, and even months after the tour, we still send messages via WhatsApp to stay in touch.
If you love good roads, good food and wine, and nice accommodations, as well as history, architecture, and rugged mountain scenery, this tour is for you. Just try not to oversleep.
The 2023 Southern Spain Andalusia tours run March 11-19, April 15-23, and Oct. 14-22. Visit the IMTBike website for more info.