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

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From Stuttgart I rode North and East into Bavaria to a small town called Volkach, being flashed by a speed camera (no front plate no problem), but otherwise uneventfully blasting along the Autobahn at around 90MPH. Above that speed my VTEC kicked in and the fuel economy went south fast. Contrary to what I had heard there are still many derestricted sections of Autobahn where you could very much expect to be passed by an Audi wagon going 180+ KPH, the limiting factor was actually road conditions most of the time. Rarely wider than three lanes and usually with some curves and elevation change, the highway demands respect and is not the V-Max playground that it’s made out to be.

 

Burbling into the rolling hills and old villages of Bavaria, I instantly understood the appeal of the area. It was reminiscent of quite a few US landscapes but never imitated a specific one, perhaps the natural frequency of Napa county rings closest. My host, Markus, made clear his affinity for Japanese machinery and (amazing) local craft soda and we wasted no time jumping into his UK import Forester turbo and exploring the monuments .

 

His Forester seen here is quite “loud” compared to how most german cars look! His GT-R was down on account of repairs but I learned over the course of a few days that precious few exciting JDM rides exist in Germany, sometimes in single-digit quantities. Even seeing the R33 was a rare treat.

After touching the sights and discussing the merits of starting a car import/export business with Markus I slightly girded my loins for another multi-hour blast that would take me to my launch point for the mythical Green Hell.

Lugging my bulky cases to the third floor of the Airbnb in Heerlen, NL, I could definitely feel the mix of exhaustion from my travels and apprehension about how I’d handle my time the next day attempting to wring the most out of my track experience. Finding no seedy HBO channels to distract me after lowering the commonplace metal storm shades I went for the big guns and popped The Notebook into the DVD player.

The next morning, I learned that you should never ride with just one hard case on the bike because your arms will get tired from keeping it upright. Snaking my way south through the sinuous roads of the Eifel forest I stopped briefly at Vogelsang, a sort of summer camp for the future leaders of the third reich. A strange mix of eerie and boring, stripped of its use the facility stands as a kind of monumental footnote.

 

An hour later the tease ended. Making good time through the hills as the weather turned from sour to sweet I finally pulled up to a large garage with the fleet of Need4Ring-stickered cars waiting outside. The Italian owner/operator Franky, excited about my Italian plate, was soon disappointed by my cheeseburger accent. After a brief excursion down to a restaurant that sits right under a turn on the Nordschleife(!) an australian bloke and I were in the office signing on the “I won’t break it” line and preparing for glory.

It is folly to attempt a description of the Nurburgring that does it justice but I’ll try to relate it to what experience I’ve had driving on roads and tracks. It’s first of all, fast. In a lowish power car like the E36 328 I was driving my foot was very often flat to the floor. The elevation change really is wild, an element that video games can’t quite simulate. Like every other paved surface in continental Europe, it’s narrow as well. There are places where I could imagine four cars running abreast but not many of them. Most of all, it’s addictive and intoxicating. The amount of nuance in the corners, the miles of layout to remember, the views of the gorgeous hills and the thrill of feeling the Ring Taxi blow by at three feet from your left shoulder means this place doesn’t meet expectations, it far exceeds them.

 

I didn’t miss the opportunity to say hello to some of the pilots of the machines I was running with, this lot is definitely an iconic place in and of itself.

The road leading back to the ‘bahn was naturally an amazing sunset ride and after an hour of travel I met up with local student Lukas in the (underrated?) city of Aachen. A place with both a hip vibe and a rich history, I’d love to return for another visit. As Lukas and his friend showed me around the various points of interest from the red light district to the cathedrals to the warm smelly fountain my appreciation for Deutschland was cemented. What I imagined would be a nanny state turned out to be very much in the mold of “don’t be an idiot and the government won’t bug you.”Despite my dead phone and subsequent dread I found my way back to the room in Heerlen and only had enough energy to think “rad” before I was asleep.

Taking mental note of the new speed limit conventions and wondering about lane splitting in the Netherlands I continued north in a drizzle to visit Tom in Made which I know I’m pronouncing wrong because Dutch defeats me.

 

Proving to be a lovely fellow, we took his US Import E36 for a spin past a windmill and I marvelled at how well the chassis has aged. It felt great on the ‘Ring and now great in a different way, the clean lines and strong six a timeless pairing. Will the E36 ever gain the fanatical following the E30 eventually garnered?

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