Cars, Bikes, and Excellent Road Surfaces: Epic Euro Trip- First Leg

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After some train line and subway juggling, I arrived at Mototouring, a small outfit in Milan. As it turns out, misjudging the metro fare will cost you 5 Euros and you better have cash! I’m not bitter, I’m just warning the reader, honestly. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little terrified before setting off. The bike checked out, the weather was good, and I was making decent time. I was also completely on my own with a minimal grasp of Italian or German, about to navigate a few hundred miles of roads I didn’t know all the rules about, and hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in at least a year. To compound this my only navigation was google maps through earbuds, and I had no idea how long my phone battery would last. I fired up the V4, fed out the badly-adjusted clutch lever (I fixed it later) and pointed the big blue Honda toward the mountains. Adventure wasn’t an idle Tinder conversation, it was in every air molecule pushing against me on the A9.

 

Before I get lost in my own reflection let’s talk about why the VFR 800 is a great bike that I really can’t recommend. It felt like a classic case of “world’s okay-est bike” wherein the Viffer (sounds too similar to another word I’d rather not discuss) tried to do everything well and arguably did, failing to really excite me in the process. I will give a nod to the engine though, a torquey 800cc V4 that has a unique exhaust burble and a fakey version of VTEC that runs on two valves until 7000RPM after which it uses all four per cylinder. If you’re a cool biker guy, you can scoff at the 110 or so horsepower, but for us mortals, it’s fast as you’ll ever want or need, even loaded up with the hard cases. I was never worried about the bike starting, stopping, or turning, and it ferried me steadfast for over 3000 miles… but I still wish some schmuck hadn’t crashed the Ducati.

You know how to use a gas station, right? You don’t in Europe! Or rather, you quickly learn that every fill-up requires a trip inside whatever building is on-site and that there’s often a line at the register. A great time to enjoy mini-mart air and eye those fine european snacks. Once you’ve filled up be sure to punch in your destination, try to figure out how the toll system in your country works, and cruise through town at a pace where the speed cameras won’t wake up.

As it turns out, the Swiss charge you 40 Swiss Francs (Eurozone? Ha!) to use their highways for the entire year, a really clever system seeing as there’s a high volume of traffic that passes through the country. I slapped the decal on my windscreen and paid attention to the fear in my heart that stemmed from stories of draconian Swiss law enforcement. A meager 4KPH over the limit was rumored to cost around 300CHF. If I recklessly upped the ante to 15KPH faster than the limit I would be risking a court appearance and a vehicle impound. So overbearing is the rule of law that even taking your hand off the left bar (something I often did on boring stretches) is illegal. I didn’t learn this until later but I was never caught slipping up.

 

A few hours after entering the country I arrived in Basel, missing a great mountain pass on the way that I’ll have to go back and ride. The city was idyllic and youthful with a large river running through the middle that’s clean enough to swim in!

My host Elio was into making old Volvos go fast and sailboats and very Swiss. By this I mean he speaks three languages, knows world politics, wears glasses that could not possibly look better on him, and gets heated when people fly a rectangular Swiss flag (it’s square).

The day after my arrival, we jumped on a train and visited Cite de l’Automobile, known colloquially as the Schlumph collection. Located in Mulhouse France, it must be the only car museum that makes you tired of Bugattis. Honestly, so many Bugattis.

 

The main floor contains a chronological sampling of mid-to-upper range cars from the turn of the 20th century to the 60s, all sitting on gravel and in a great cinematic setting.
 

The wings hold a slew of vintage racing cars and top-notch prestige makes. If you find yourself in southeastern France, I absolutely recommend a visit. After another day I looked North once again with my eyes set on the home of Porsche. Beyond the black forest lay Stuttgart.

The black forest itself was an excellent ride even if it lacked the grandiose nature of the Alps, I’d love to have the time to spend a few days in the area. I’d later learn that the western mountain ranges of Germany all seem to hold great roads. After some navigating I arrived at the University of Stuttgart to meet Alex who rides an old Honda Transalp at immense speeds and shares the German fascination with partying in Mallorca. Between sleeping on a pad in his dorm and trying currywurst (it’s great!), I accompanied him to check out an E36 ,and we hit the Porsche factory along with the museum. Both components of Porsche’s world headquarters were surprisingly small with the factory in particular feeling like 3.6 liters of production in a 2.7 liter engine case. Porsche acknowledges that their choice to stay in Stuttgart led them to build upward and optimize production instead of expanding outward, later when touring the Morgan factory in the UK I’d see a different path to success. One impressive method Porsche utilizes to make sure they don’t waste space is a “just in time” parts acquisition method in which the necessary components only arrive for use on the day they’re needed, obviating storage space requirements.

 

The Porsche museum was a little sparse but definitely held an excellent sample of road and racing cars in an amazing building. I won’t linger on this too long as you can find plenty of pictures and reviews all over the nets.

On my last night in Stuttgart, I was recognized in the parking lot by a group of young car enthusiasts and we talked for a while about car attitudes in Germany including people’s insistence on telling my newly minted friend that his car is on when the turbo timer is in effect. It was one of the rare times I was reminded of the eco-minded influence in Germany as it exists today.

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