Taking my first guided motorcycle tour was a dream that was years in the making, and last fall, I took the plunge by booking a two-week trip with IMTBike to tour parts of Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, and France.
As an avid reader of motorcycle touring magazines, I was drawn to the siren song of companies advertising guided tours to exotic, faraway places. However, up until that point, my bike trips were confined to self-guided tours in the U.S. and Canada, which certain advantages over guided tours.
The pros of self-guided tours are:
- Cost. A self-guided tour is a lot cheaper than a guided tour.
- You can travel exactly at your own pace and set your own agenda.
- In North America, I have lots of friends and family I can see along the way and cadge a free place to stay.
- Also, my bike is here, and I don’t have to worry about transporting it overseas or renting.
The pros of a guided tour are more extensive and include:
- Not having to worry about where you are going to stay, and enjoying excellent accommodations.
- Not having to pack and unpack your stuff every day you are on the road; IMTBike has a tour van that follows you.
- Going at a reasonable pace by avoiding the temptation to push yourself beyond physical and mental limits.
- Never having to worry about where and when you are going to eat. With IMTBike, food was top-notch.
- Using someone else’s bike and, in my case, getting one that was beyond my wildest expectations.
- Having a gang of congenial people with whom to share the experience.
- Leaving the decisions on where to go in the hands of seasoned and knowledgeable professionals with local knowledge.
- Most importantly, never getting lost.
IMTBike and Bike-friendly Barcelona
The IMTBike Sardinia and Corsica Motorcycle Tour starts in Barcelona, a large industrial, commercial, and cultural hub located in northwestern Spain. After being met at the airport by our tour guide, Sergi, I was struck by seeing an airport parking lot with hundreds of bikes. Sergi explained that with two wheels, you can park at the airport for free, regardless of why you are there. Never had I encountered such a bike-friendly place – a fact that was reinforced by seeing bikes parked in the city on just about any available space that was not part of an established thoroughfare.
After checking into my hotel, Sergi and our tour assistant Paolo scheduled a briefing for our 16-member tour group, which included folks from New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Argentina, followed by dinner at a restaurant built in what was once a bullfighting ring.
Following dinner, I had the misfortune of getting separated from my group and hopelessly lost. After a couple hours of aimless wandering, I encountered a German lady who spoke fluent English and hailed me a cab and wouldn’t leave me until I was safely ensconced in my hotel.
The following morning, we embarked on our first day of the tour, which included some fantastic riding outside Barcelona, a city with the Mediterranean to its east and mountains to its north, west, and south. Just 15 minutes from downtown we were in motorcycling paradise.
Our afternoon ride took us due north through the Montserrat Mountains to the Montserrat Monastery, which is literally built into the mountain range. I was riding a BMW R 1250 GS, and I was blown away at what a great touring bike it is. While there are faster, better handling, better looking, and maybe even more comfortable bikes around, the 1250 GS hit such high scores across the board that it wasn’t long before I started saying to myself, “I’ve got to get me one of these.” Don’t tell my wife.
After a 90-mile ride, we were back in Barcelona to wait for the ferry that would take us to Sardinia. The ferry was late, and we waited in light rain. Upon arriving in Sardinia, we disembarked in Porto Torres and spent the rest of the day in what the IMTBike guidebook billed as “without doubt one of the best places in the world for motorcycling.”
Having only taken long-distance bike trips in North America, I was in no position to argue, but I can say it was the best I had ever experienced. According to the guidebook, this is because “no other place offers such a density of perfectly asphalted and lightly traveled twisty roads. … It’s as if God decided to give this island the best possible combination of attributes for the sole enjoyment of motorcyclists.”
Our destination was Alghero, where our hotel rooms overlooked the vast expanse of the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. In fact, almost every hotel we stayed at on the two islands had the same type of view.
The following morning, our tour followed a familiar pattern. First, a daily briefing where our guides explained where we were going for the day, with a description of the historical and topographical highlights. Then we would hit the road around 9 a.m., stop for a coffee break about an hour and a half later, and then ride on for a couple more hours until we stopped for lunch.
After lunch, we rode again for another hour and a half, took another coffee break, and then completed our day’s ride in late afternoon or early evening. In this, our first full day of riding, we traveled 147 miles, where our lodging awaited us in the village of Arbatax.
While Sardinia is part of Italy, the island—the second largest in the Mediterranean—is an autonomous region, and its inhabitants consider themselves more Sardinian than Italian. It is sparsely populated with an idyllic climate and gorgeous mountains and seascapes, making it a true paradise for the long-distance biker.
For the next four days – and one optional rest day – we followed a similar itinerary throughout the length and breadth of the island. On Day 4, we traveled 215 miles from Arbatax to Su Gologone, where we stayed two nights. Some of the group took an optional tour, while others, like me, kicked back at an Olympic-sized pool.
On Day 6, we left Su Gologone and spent our last day in Sardinia, traveling 125 miles until we reached our destination, via a short ferry ride, to the spectacular natural port of Bonifacio, Corsica, an island north of Sardinia that is part of France.
On Day 7, we rode 135 miles from Bonifacio to Ajaccio, the administrative capital of the island and childhood home of France’s most famous citizen, Napoleon Bonaparte. Generally, the roads in Corsica were not as well-paved as in Sardinia, but I was grateful that the public restrooms on the island included toilet seats, as opposed to Sardinia.
We spent an extra day in Ajaccio, and this time, I took advantage of the optional rest-day ride offered by our guides. The following day, we left Ajaccio and headed up the western coast of Corsica, which is one of the most spectacular stretches of coastal road in Europe, to arrive 140 miles later at Saint-Florent. Generally speaking, the mountains of Corsica are higher than Sardinia, so the vistas tend to be more dramatic and breathtaking.
Mainland France and Spain
Upon leaving Saint-Florent, we had a short travel day of less than 70 miles to Bastia, where we boarded a ferry for an overnight trip to Marseille, on the French mainland. On this day we covered the most ground, traveling 222 miles, much of it on toll roads that appeared indistinguishable from a U.S. interstate. But after multiple days of traveling on sharp, twisty roads, I was ready for the kind of mindless monotony that this leg of the journey offered.
Our destination was Carcassonne, a spellbinding double-walled medieval town that can only be entered on foot and has cobblestone streets. In some respects, the beauty and serenity of this perfectly restored town was the highlight of the trip for me, giving me the sense that I was truly in a different time and place from my native country.
The next leg of the journey would take us through the Pyrenees Mountains and the tiny principality of Andorra, notable as a tax haven and playground for Europe’s elites. The Pyrenees were very rugged, replete with switchbacks and enough elevation to provide the only cold weather of the trip.
Our destination for the day was La Seu D’Urgell, just inside Spain and 140 miles from Carcassonne. The next morning would be the day that most of us would dread: the last day of our trip. After almost 12 consecutive days of motorcycle nirvana, my dream trip was coming to an end, but we still had one more day of intense riding in front of us – 130 miles through the mountains surrounding Barcelona to our final resting stop.
All in all, it was an outstanding journey that has only whet my appetite for more. As for IMTBike, I chose them because they were offering one of the most desirable places I would ever want to go on a bike. Fortunately, the quality of service provided exceeded my expectations. For example, of the whole group, I faced the biggest challenges health wise, with a heart condition and bad arthritis. The tour guides quickly recognized that and provided service above and beyond, like grabbing my luggage and taking it upstairs to my room in a hotel with no elevators, grabbing my helmet and cleaning the visor when all I asked for was a rag with which to do it myself, or parking my bike when I struggled to get it up off the curb.
I’m sure the other bike touring companies provide similar excellent service, but I can only go on what I know from IMTBike, which was founded 26 years ago by Scott Moreno, who, like me, is a native New Yorker and Mets fan – a piece of common ground that was icing on the cake when it came to choosing his company for my tour.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the biggest obstacle for long-distance bikers taking such trips is likely the price. But there are budget options. IMTBike rent bikes and offers self-guided tours where they provide the route and make the arrangements but you travel on your own. As for me, taking this tour was a no-brainer, and I have no regrets. In fact, all I can think about now is where and when my next trip will be. Iceland, anyone?
Lance Lamberton is a retired public relations professional and political junkie who once worked in the Reagan White House. He lives outside Atlanta, Georgia, and has been an avid long-distance motorcyclist since 1968. He has ridden across 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces and territories.