My husband, Steve, was facing a landmark birthday last August. He decided to celebrate on a motorcycle, and IMTBike had a Pyrenees tour that coincided with the date. The Pyrenees is a rugged mountain range that straddles the border of northern Spain and southern France, and it’s known for well-maintained but challenging roads and twisty mountain passes. The tour covers 900 miles over eight days and seven nights, with six riding days and one rest day.
IMTBike is a motorcycle tour and rental company based in Madrid with office locations in Barcelona, Bilbao, Málaga, and Lisbon. Steve contacted IMTBike’s managing director, an American ex-pat named Scott Moreno (listen to our podcast interview with Scott), who happily answered questions during several conversations. We wanted to know about weather in Barcelona (where the Perfect Pyrenees tour begins and ends) and in the mountains, what type of clothing we should wear, and what types of motorcycles are available. As an official partner of BMW Motorrad, IMTBike offers BMW models ranging from the G 310 R up to the K 1600 GT.
Steve shared with Scott that I was hesitant about riding in the Pyrenees. I’d gotten my motorcycle license only two years prior, and I was worried the tour would be too advanced for my limited riding experience. This tour was the first since Covid-19 shut everything down around the world, and Scott said he was joining the tour to make sure accommodations and everything else was in order after such a long hiatus. He also said he’d look out for me and not to worry. “Just come,” Scott said with his characteristic enthusiasm and charm. “You’ll love it.”
Day 1: Arrival in Barcelona
IMTBike staff picked us up at the airport and drove us to a nice hotel in central Barcelona. The night before the tour started, everyone met in the hotel lobby for a briefing. Introductions were made, thorough handbooks were issued, and Spanish driving laws and road signs were reviewed. Our fearless guides, David and Mikel, described the quality of the roads, the increased amount of traffic in some areas due to tourism, and the daily fueling of our bikes. Then we enjoyed one of the late-evening dinners Spain is known for, with plenty of local specialties and vino tinto.
Day 2: Barcelona to La Seu d’Urgell
On the morning of the tour’s first day, we shuttled over to IMTBike’s Barcelona office, and everyone familiarized themselves with their bikes of choice. I’d booked a BMW F 750 GS, which I’d ridden before, but it felt top-heavy and unwieldy, so I opted for a smaller, lighter G 310 R instead.
Steve and California Joe, who has 40 years of riding experience and was on his third IMTBike tour, rode R 1250 GSs. Bill and Ruth, a young Midwest couple who rode two-up, were on an F 800 GT. Completing our all-American group were Jerry and her wife GiGi, experienced riders from Long Island who are frequent IMTBike tour participants. At 79 years of age, Jerry is an inspiration and still serves as a motorcycle safety instructor. She rode a G 310 R and GiGi rode an F 750 GS. Scott rode an F 750 GS, while David and Mikel alternated between driving the van and leading our pack on an R 1250 GS. The support van accompanied us the entire trip. It transported everyone’s luggage, provided a secure place to store our helmets and jackets during coffee and lunch stops, and carried a spare F 750 GS in case one of our bikes had an issue.
Our departure from Barcelona was the only time we rode on an autovía (freeway), and the mountains in the distance were beautiful and inviting. Before long we began to climb into the Pyrenees on twisty curves and sweepers with beautiful vistas. Steve and I had helmet communicators, allowing us to share our excitement, continuously exclaiming “Spectacular!”
Spain is known for its Paradors, historic buildings converted into hotels that are administered by the government. The Parador in La Seu d’Urgell is a former convent. It had a small swimming pool, which cooled us off after riding in peak summer heat.
Before dinner our group met for a briefing about the next day’s ride. With drinks and maps covering the table, David and Mikel explained the coffee breaks, where and how to park for lunch, and stops at scenic points for photos. This was a ritual repeated nightly at each Parador. We would be riding portions of the Tour de France route (though not during the race itself), so they warned us about hairpins or narrow roads where we might encounter groups of cyclists.
Day 3: La Seu d’Urgell to Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park
The roads on this tour were selected for optimum riding pleasure. There were plenty of challenging segments, and it was clear this was going to be an exciting adventure. After exhausting our use of “Spectacular!” Steve and I added “Magnificent!” and “Fantastic!” to our bike-to-bike exclamations.
I liked not worrying about navigation; David and Mikel took care of that. During every coffee break and lunch stop, our bikes were repositioned for ease of departure. I really liked that. At other times, one of the guides would stand in the street and direct traffic so we could cross lanes safely. I liked that too and felt spoiled.
After visiting the Baqueira-Beret ski resort high in the Pyrenees, on our descent we encountered horses trotting alongside us, as free and unfettered as we were. Our travel through tunnels and over mountain passes brought us into France and back into Spain, where we arrived at a Parador surrounded by mountains with a lovely view of a waterfall.
During our nightly briefing, Scott confessed that, yes, he needed to connect with the Paradors and restaurants, but like all of us following the lockdown, he wanted to get back out in the world and enjoy the ride. Scott is passionate about motorcycles, as are David and Mikel, and the latter has been a tour guide for IMTBike for 16 years. Stoke makes all the difference.
Day 4: Ordesa to Valle de Tena
The morning coffee break occurred in France, so naturally, everyone ordered crepes. On steep, narrow roads, we passed cyclists who impressed us with their strength and endurance, but pedaling uphill didn’t look to be as much fun as I was having. We reached Col du Tourmalet (6,939 ft), one of the highest passes on the Pyrenees section of the Tour de France, and it offered spectacular views.
Late in the afternoon, we traveled through the beautiful Pyrenees National Park. Spectacular twisties brought us to Col d’Aubisque (5,607 ft), another mecca for cyclists. During a short break, a burst of applause brought our attention to another group of motorcyclists circled around Jerry. They found out she’s a 79-year-old rider and displayed their admiration.
We mounted our bikes in dense fog. The descent was on a narrow road with no shoulders or guardrails, with one side of the road edged by a vertical cliff. There was no margin for error. It was scary. Steve and I kept saying to each other, “Don’t look down.” We couldn’t look down if we wanted to because the fog was so thick. That was a blessing, but also a curse because the fog filled our faceshields.
Our group formed a slow conga line. The taillight on the bike in front of me was my only guide. On tight turns, the red light in front of me would disappear until I rounded the bend. Finally, we dropped below the fog, only to encounter a herd of sheep crossing the road, forcing us to stop. They kept coming and coming, making us laugh. I also laughed with relief.
By the time we checked into our lovely Parador tucked in the mountains, I was exhausted yet exhilarated. On Day 1, our guides said if we needed, for any reason, to put our bike into the van and ride shotgun next to the driver, it was always an option. As scared as I was, I trusted Scott, David, and Mikel to get us down safely, and they maintained a careful pace and conservative lines. We all tackled the trying conditions. I did it! And the sense of accomplishment felt good.
Day 5: Valle de Tena (Rest Day)
Everyone decided to explore beautiful Tramacastilla on the rest day, while David and Mikel offered to guide a loop ride. Steve and I wanted to stroll and relax too, but I wanted to test ride the F 750 GS. We asked David and Mikel if a shorter jaunt was possible, and without hesitation, they reorganized the route. California Joe joined us.
It was fun to watch David and Mikel ride together so joyfully. And it was contagious; we had so much fun we decided to extend the route. We had lunch outside with tables overlooking a lovely ski area, and we shared laughs and stories. It was another great riding day, and I gained enough confidence on the F 750 GS to ride it the rest of the tour.
Day 6: Valle de Tena to Cardona
Another day of excellent riding. More twisties, more sweepers, more landscapes, and more exclamations between Steve and me. “Bonito!” was our new favorite.
The Parador de Cardona is a converted castle, which was fortuitous because it was Steve’s birthday. Before dinner, I asked David and Mikel to take the little birthday candles I’d brought to the kitchen for Steve’s dessert. They paused and then said, “Okay, we’ll tell you. A bottle of wine and snacks are being sent to your room, and we already have candles for the cake we arranged.” I was very touched.
Dinner was in a grand, vaulted banquet hall. The food was terrific, and dessert was even better. A birthday cake was ceremoniously set in front of Steve and luckily our motley chorus singing “Happy Birthday” was drowned out by Scott’s phone blasting the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Steve was embarrassed but delighted. Everyone, especially David, Mikel, and Scott, made Steve’s birthday fun, memorable, and just so damn cool.
Day 7: Cardona to Barcelona
The last day brought us more excellent roads, and another exclamation: “Awesome!” Less than two hours from Barcelona are the Sierra de Montserrat, distinctive saw-toothed mountains that are visible from far away. As we got closer, each peak became a thick, pointy finger jutting upwards. A steep, winding road brought us to the Montserrat Monastery. Wandering through the monastery complex is well worth the visit.
Then, reluctantly, we returned to Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona is a lovely city. But our fantastic trip was over, and it was time to say goodbye to new friends. My initial reluctance to ride the difficult roads the Pyrenees are famous for was replaced with miles of joy, laughs, and confidence thanks to Scott, David, and Mikel. They’re very good at what they do, and they’re new friends too. Steve and I have since done two self-guided tours with IMTBike, and we look forward to our next guided tour with them.
The Perfect Pyrenees tour runs in August and September, and pricing starts at 2,850 euros (about $3,200). For more information about IMTBike’s tours, visit imtbike.com.