After reading this issue’s article about Edelweiss Bike Travel’s Best of Greece tour, you’re probably already thinking about your next vacation. European motorcycle touring with Edelweiss is as easy as travel gets. The most difficult part is deciding which tour to book because they all look so good. (Visit EdelweissBike.com to see the full list of tours around the world.)
European travel, especially by motorcycle, is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience. But before you book your tour, keep the following in mind to maximize your enjoyment.
First, acknowledge your level of riding skill. Edelweiss rates its tours for difficulty on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 5 (most difficult); most are rated 3 or 4. Read Edelweiss’ guide for how it rates tours, take it seriously, and then honestly assess your ability. Want to up your game? Sign up for Edelweiss’ One-Day Alps Prep Course or its seven-day Alps Riding Academy tour.
Second, choose the right bike for the tour. The easiest thing to do is select the same bike you already own. If you ride a BMW GS at home, then you’ll feel comfortable on one in Europe. Or you could take the opportunity for an extended test ride on something different. But before you dive in headfirst, go to your dealer and sit on the bike to get a feel for it. Consider the bike’s seat height, weight, and power, especially if you plan to ride with a passenger. On switchbacks in the Alps, a smaller, lighter bike is always easier to manage.
To prepare for your trip, I recommend buying Rick Steves’ book Europe Through the Back Door. Steves has been writing about European travel for more than 40 years, and his books are full of valuable advice. He also has a website, an online forum, a YouTube channel, and many free podcasts and audio tours. Steves covers most of the basics but not travel by motorcycle. We face a few challenges other tourists don’t.
These days, commercial air travel can be chaotic. Airports are crowded, lines are long, flights can be delayed or canceled, and those that take off are full. Once you’ve booked your motorcycle tour, book your flights as soon as possible so you’ll have the most options at the best prices. Book flights with long enough layovers for your checked baggage to make your connections and to allow breathing room for delays.
When luggage doesn’t arrive at a destination, it’s an inconvenience for most tourists. For motorcyclists, it can have serious consequences. Without gear, you can’t ride, and replacing a helmet or jacket at the last minute can be time consuming and expensive. Riding gear is heavy, so a lightweight gear bag will help you stay within the 50-lb weight limit. Carry your helmet onto the plane as your personal item to keep it safe.
Know the travel rules regarding passports and Covid. Check your passport’s expiration date and ensure it is valid for at least six months after you return home. Covid guidance is constantly changing, so stay up to date. Before we went to press, the U.S. lifted its requirement to show a negative Covid test taken the day before a return flight. Be prepared before you go and have a backup plan.
Try to arrive at your tour’s departure hotel at least one day prior to the tour briefing. Flights can be delayed, connections missed, and luggage lost, so give yourself some margin for error. Jet lag is also a consideration, so I suggest planning a few days of sightseeing prior to the tour. It’s more enjoyable to get acclimated to the new time zone in a Munich biergarten than on a steep alpine pass.
As for riding gear, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Weather can be unpredictable. Expect it to be hot and dry one day and cold and rainy the next. Bringing two riding suits is impractical but bringing two pairs of gloves isn’t. It’s a lot easier to control a bike with warm, dry hands. Your bike will have side cases, a top case, and a tankbag, so you’ll have plenty of room for gear. (Except for Ride4Fun tours, your luggage will be transported from hotel to hotel in a support van.)
Wear moisture-wicking, fast-drying clothing made of synthetic materials under your riding gear. Bring a layer for warmth, and pack dedicated raingear, even if your gear promises to be waterproof. (Pro tip: Stash two plastic grocery bags with your raingear; slipping them on over your boots makes it much easier to pull on rain pants.) Also, don’t overpack clothing. Bring travel packets of detergent, and do laundry in your hotel bathtub or sink. It will dry overnight. Casual attire is acceptable almost everywhere.
Use your smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera for photos. Dealing with an expensive DSLR camera and lenses is an unnecessary hassle unless you are a pro shooter. And remember to bring two or three Europe-compatible electrical outlet adapters to charge your devices.
Finally, be prepared to have an awesome trip. Riding in Europe is amazing. The scenery is breathtaking, the food is excellent, and the people are friendly. European drivers also have an awareness of and respect for motorcyclists that U.S. drivers often lack. About 60% of Edelweiss tour participants are repeat clients. What you thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list vacation could very well become an annual event.