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Bike Profile - Posted 7th December 2011

BMW K75RT Travels, Part 1
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After rebuilding his BMW K75, Steve MacGregor took it on an extended test ride around Eastern Europe. The trip didn't start well...

I'm riding south on the Forth bridge in heavy traffic. I'm struggling to control the bike whilst being lashed by stinging rain driven a strong, gusty side wind. The effect of the large side area of the fairing and topbox is compounded by the tent, sleeping bag and bedroll strapped to the back of the seat. Riding at less than 40mph on the inside lane I'm forced to lean the bike at an angle of around 15 degrees just to keep it pointed straight.

The problem is gets worse when I pass bridge supports and I'm momentarily sheltered from the wind. The bike flops towards the kerb. Just as I catch it, the wind hits again catapulting me towards overtaking traffic in the outside lane. Car drivers, much less affected by the side wind, are probably mystified by my strange antics as I wobble and weave slowly over the bridge.

I'm cold, my visor is misting up, my wrists and arms are aching from the effort of controlling the bike and I still have almost 150 miles to go before I reach the ferry. Must be summer holiday time again...

Who needs colour photography? BMW K75 - Setting off from home...

I had never been to Eastern Europe before, which is as good a reason as I know for visiting somewhere. So for this visit to the continent I had planned out a rough route taking me and my BMW K75RT across Holland and Germany, into Poland and the Czech Republic and on to Austria, hopefully taking in Prague and Vienna on the way.

Which was why I came to be struggling over the Forth bridge at the end of May on a bike laden with luggage, tent, sleeping bag and bedroll. I was riding alone, which is how I prefer it. This is either because a) I enjoy the freedom of being able to go where I want and change my itinerary without having to consult someone else, or b) because I'm a miserable, anti-social old git with no friends.

My wife and daughter favour option b), but I like to think that motorcycling is best enjoyed as a solitary pursuit, and I really do enjoy the freedom and space for reflection that only comes from travelling alone.

The rest of the journey south to the ferry at Newcastle was fraught with excitement as I grappled with the unpredictable and gusty side wind on wet, greasy and very busy roads. I was tired when I arrived at the ferry terminal, but bikes were loaded with customary efficiency and it wasn't long before I was slumped on my bunk recuperating.

Shoe-horn not shown... BMW K75 - On the ferry...

After a pleasant crossing, we disembarked at 10am next morning at Ijmuiden, north of Amsterdam. Although I have been here several times before, I still managed to get lost on the Amsterdam ring road. This has now become a sort of traditional start to my visits to the continent. I finally got myself sorted out and headed east, passing Amersfoot and Apeldoorn. The wind had dropped and by mid-afternoon I was riding under a clear blue sky in temperatures in the mid-twenties. Joy!

I crossed Holland without any incidents and entered Germany near the town of Schutorf. I was now back on the autobahn for the first time since my last visit in 2009. On that occasion I had been on an elderly Honda XL500, which was dangerously underpowered for these roads and I had spent most of my time being edged onto the hard shoulder by passing trucks.

On the K75 it was a different story completely. I settled at a cruising speed of between eighty and ninety, at which pace the bike felt stable, comfortable and unstressed. The roads were very well surfaced and the traffic was extremely disciplined. I was frequently passed by much faster traffic, but it all felt very safe. It's noticeable that German drivers may go fast, but they generally don't speed. In areas where there were speed restrictions (at roadworks for example), everybody travelled at the posted speed (usually 80kph). Use of mirrors and indicators was also generally good, and it was unusual to see anyone pulling out into a faster lane without first indicating and looking behind. The autobahn was also well provided with pleasant picnic areas so breaking the journey wasn't an issue.

And... Relax... BMW K75 - At a picnic area, German autobahn style...

Of course, I couldn't resist seeing what it would do. The K75 ran up to 110mph fairly briskly before the acceleration tailed off. It then built slowly to about 115 depending on road conditions. It didn't feel happy at this speed though. The engine was straining and the wind noise was horrible, though the bike felt quite stable. So, after the first childish excitement of thinking 'Look at that, I'm doing over 100mph', I backed off and allowed the bike to settle to an unstressed cruising speed, which generally meant between eighty and ninety.

At one point when trying higher speeds I had noticed that I was in the slow lane doing a steady 100mph while being passed by two lanes of other traffic. And some of the stuff in the fast lane was moving 30, 40 or even 50 mph faster than me!

I continued east to the City of Osnabruck, then south on the E34 towards Paderborn. For my first night I had booked a bed in Wewelsburg Castle, now a hostel run by Hostelling International. It's a large medieval castle set on a hill, and the address was in Paderborn, so I had assumed that I wouldn't have any difficulty finding it and I hadn't bothered to print out a detailed map.

By the time I arrived in Paderborn it was after seven in the evening and I was quite tired. After half an hour of riding aimlessly round the city without seeing the castle or any sign for it, I was forced to admit defeat and stop at a petrol station to ask for directions. In my halting German I was able to make the two women working there understand my problem. They explained that Wewelsburg castle is in Paderborn district, not Paderborn city, and that it was about 20km away. And that it was 'complicated'.

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After some chatter in German which I wasn't able to follow, one of the women told me to go to my bike and wait. I did this, and she turned up a few moments later in her car. She explained that I should follow her and she would drive until we came to signs for the castle. I thanked her profusely and we set off back into the centre of Paderborn. I followed her as we drove all the way through the city, out onto the Autobahn and south before, after 15km, we came to a well signposted turn-off for the castle.

With a cheery wave and a toot of the horn my rescuer continued on the autobahn and presumably all the way back to the petrol station. I continued the last 5km on twisting, tree lined roads and found the castle without further difficulty. I had been feeling weary and a little down while lost in Paderborn but it's amazing how an unexpected act of kindness by a stranger can lift your spirits.

Nice doorway / arch juxtaposition... BMW K75 - Outside Wewelsburg Castle...

The castle was wonderful. It was built in the early 1600s but had fallen into disrepair until the 1930s when it was taken over by the SS. Himmler had intended the castle to become the centre of the SS empire after the war and had it rebuilt. In the event it was almost destroyed in 1945, and rebuilt again in the Sixties and Seventies. It's now fully restored and run as a hostel.

When does the bar open?... Reception area. Bike not shown...

For anyone who hasn't visited a hostel for some time, and who may be put off by memories of Spartan accommodation infused with the smell of damp towels and boiled cabbage, things have improved a lot. Hostelling International own some wonderful buildings across Europe, and most have been finished and furnished to a high standard. Wewelsburg was no exception, and I was even given a room of my own. This turned out to be particularly welcome as the hostel was filled with what appeared to be hundreds of friendly and happy but VERY NOISY German teenagers.


Next episode: Colditz and the Czech Republic


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