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Europe Adventure Options

By Dr. Gregory W. Frazier/Professor of Motorcycle Adventure

"I want to go adventure motorcycle riding in Europe!" one student declared after watching a slide show about riding motorcycles on the best roads in the Alps.

When asked if he wanted to go extreme or powder puff adventuring, he asked for clarity. He wanted to claim he was an advanced adventure rider but admitted he had never left the United States and seldom adventured off paved roads, simply had the farkled and blinged adventure motorcycle with ADV stickers.

Five options were presented after explaining that American motorcycle riders had been exploring Europe for over 100 years, that it was not virgin adventure territory.

Photo: Crossing the border from Germany to Austria, with no border control.

Option 1 : Powder Puff Adventure Riding - The Canned Adventure Tour

For the newbie to motorcycling in Europe, this was the best option given that he had no foreign language skills and had only a two-week vacation window.

For $4,000 to $5,000 the "fly and ride adventurer" can be met at an airport by a tour company representative, dropped at a pre-booked hotel and eventually be given the keys to a relatively new and insured motorcycle. Over the next days they can follow the tail light of the tourist guide with their luggage ferried along behind the group in a van. All hotels are pre-booked, routes mapped and often available for GPS or Smartphone use and there is little chance of becoming lost in one of the foreign countries.

For these types of tours, the tour company tries to reduce the degree of risk for the paying customers, to make the experience as comfortable as possible. The tour company does not want clients crashing the company motorcycles or posting on the Net negative experiences as the result of risk they could not manage.

The Powder Puff Adventure is best described as a comfortable vacation versus an adventure incorporating serious risk management, and an ideal way to stick a toe into the water of motorcycling in Europe.

Option 2: Rent And Ride Adventures - More Risk, Same Roads

Numerous rental companies offer a wide range of motorcycles throughout Europe, from small displacement to the behemoth adventure models. A seasoned 750 cc BMW was available for $100 per day, whereas from the same agency a BMW 1200 Adventure model was $250 per day.

When renting, the adventure mode moves towards the middle of the risk scale, more risk requiring more personal management, such as finding lodging to carrying your own luggage. To reduce the risk of becoming seriously lost, some rental companies provide a GPS with routes programmed that match the routes they offer as guided tours.

The overall cost of renting a motorcycle and going it alone is about ½ to 2/3rds the cost of the Powder Puff Adventure Ride, the savings being not having to pay for a guide, shag wagon, company advertising, overhead and the net profit for the owner's vacations when not running the tour company.

Option 3 : Ride Your Own Motorcycle - Air Cargo or Sea Transport

Some people feel they must use their own motorcycle and revel in prepping it for the adventure. To transport it out of the USA and into Europe moves the adventure meter further towards the extreme end due to the intricacies involved with transporting the motorcycle.

Shipping by sea can often take two months, and require a great degree of patience as the motorcycle is out of the adventurer's hands for an extended period and in the hands of numerous others from freight forwarders to crane operators.

Photo: Europe is the birthplace of the motorcycle, shown here as a replica.

Air cargo is more expensive but far less time consuming. Prices range from an initial cost of $800 to as high as $2,500, depending upon where the motorcycle starts and ends its air cargo transport. Not to be overlooked is the time and costs associated in getting the motorcycle from where the owner is to the air cargo carrier and through the paperwork adventure of Customs, inspections, freight forwarders and the payment for the various services along the way.

The great advantage to riding your own motorcycle in Europe is using a known vehicle versus using an unknown rental or one of the tour company's fleet.

The disadvantage is managing the vehicle once the riding tour or adventure is over, either finding a place to store it in Europe until the next adventure or paying the costs to fly it back to its home base, which can easily be as expensive as transporting it to Europe, and as frustrating.

Option 4 : Fly And Buy - Purchasing a new or used motorcycle in Europe.

Obviously this option saves the transportation costs, but in the end the owner is again faced with what to do with the motorcycle when the adventure is over. There are also very limited places where a foreigner can secure the necessary ownership papers and absolutely mandatory third party insurance, the best place being Great Britain or Ireland.

Option 5: Beg or Borrow and Trade - Possible Long Shots

A remote option is to find a friendly donor who will lend their motorcycle for a foreigner to use, or do a trade, their motorcycle for yours. The lender will be responsible for insurance and to see that the motorcycle is road worthy. The same will be true for a trade.

Myths Dispelled and Lessons Learned:

No Carnet de Passage (a security bond issued by a Swiss agency) is required for riding in Europe, and most of the borders no longer even have gates or identifiable borders (in the EU) so transiting with your motorcycle is relatively easy.

Mandatory third party insurance, or "green card" liability insurance, is an absolute must for European countries. With a tour company or a rental company, their vehicles have the insurance. For your own motorcycle the insurance can be purchased through at least one USA-based motorcycle shipping company or purchased in Europe with the proper paperwork and in a friendly country, like Germany that has an arrangement with their ADAC and our AAA. One wrinkle recently discovered was the need for a doctor to sign off on the driver as being physically able to manage a motorcycle if over the age of 65 or 66.

Photo: Some roads are off limits to motorcycles, only on some days. This shows the days the road is closed.

If looking for a dirt riding adventure, forget most of Europe. For thousands of years the Europeans have been replacing dirt roads with everything from cobble stones to three feet thick concrete. To find dirt adventure riding the best destination is Spain.

Do not take your motorcycle to Europe if it has had major upgrades to enhance the sound or performance. If something breaks, there may not be replacement parts in Europe. One adventurer discovered in Norway that his aftermarket horsepower enhancements were irreplaceable because the country did not allow the modifications. He would have had to purchase the parts in the USA and sent to the repair shop in Norway and then also purchase the computer program for the repair shop's use for installation. In the end he walked away from his broken motorcycle after having learned an expensive lesson.

Do not try "run with the locals," whether on your own motorcycle or a rental. The European motorcyclists are far better trained than American riders and apt to travel at higher speeds.

Conclusion: European Adventuring Is Fun, But Different

Adventuring in Europe is culturally different than doing the same in the USA. With the lack of off-road riding venues in most of Europe, the adventure is pretty much confined to pavement riding. Autobahn or express highway riding can be an adventure when you realize that keeping with the flow means 80-100 mph, or having to pay serious money (as in tolls for Italy, Switzerland and France) to run with the big dogs on the super highways.

There is no agreed upon "best" for the European road system. Most agree that the Alps provide the best for twisties or scenic riding. A tour company defining the best is their opinion for logistics and their location.

With gas costing close to $10.00 a gallon in some countries, a cheap motel $70 - $100, and an average daily cost when moving of $250, adventuring in Europe can be more of an adventure in spending, far off the radar for budget travelers.

Photo: Mickey D, B King and other chains have a pretty well established presence in Europe for those needing a burger and fries fix.

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