If you have only ever ridden your bike in England then it’s a simple fact – you’ve only scratched the surface of the enjoyment to be had from your bike and biking.
If you’ve ridden in parts of Wales and Scotland then you’ve started to experience the real pleasures of biking. To take things to another level however, you must do a trip in mainland Europe. Simple fact.
Whatever your bike, whatever your style, track-day king or classic pipe, slippers and real ale, European roads lead to biking Nirvana.
If you are a Continental, US or Aussie/NZ rider you may well ask then, why visit the UK? The answer is the variety available on a scale more manageable/attainable than on a cross-continent trip (+ we are a very friendly lot, well most of us! And we have some bloody good pubs that serve cracking food and drink).
To use an Irish term, it’s about the Craic. The whole trip is about the craic, with your tripmates and with those you meet on route. The craic starts with the planning.
Generally the planning is best done by one person, who either takes into account the wishes of the group or in good dictator style sorts just about everything. Elect/choose the sensible, reliable, organised one in the group for this job (if you are a saddo on your own then its you). Don’t worry about convincing them to do it, if you have chosen correctly you’ll not be able to stop them.
Next stage, organise a ‘Planning Meet’, preferably at the home of one of the group (not yours, just in case it gets messy!). A few beers, a curry and a few Michelin maps are the essential equipment (believe us Michelin are the best and we are not remunerated for saying so, though Mr Michelin if you are reading …..)
Discuss and then allow your leader to choose the destination of your choice?! Obviously you will have checked out some of the ideas for destinations on the FullChatter site.
Spread out your map(s), mark your start point (home), mark your destination. Now the idea is to highlight several of the recommended roads from FullChatter approximately between your start and destination points. Note we say approximately. To the recommended roads, you add a few of your own. Check the topography (the ups and downs) on your map, you are looking for the hills, mountains, rivers, forests and if you are using Michelin maps, roads with a green edge (scenic route).
Having done all this (or your group organiser has done all this) you join all the bits up like a dot-to-dot and hey presto, Fanny is your aunt, you have a route both outward and inward. No probs if it looks like an unravelled ball of string meandering all over the place.
This process should take you approximately three ‘Planning Meetings’. That’s if your Chief Planner has done all that you require of him/her in between.
N.b. it’s preferable if there’s a good take-away, chinese or indian close to the meeting venue.
There, you should now have the makings of a route.
The first rule, we repeat, the first and most important rule is that the route may be changed or indeed dumped at any time. The two main reasons for doing so are weather and bad choices. It happens. Have the strength to re-route if needed, particularly to get out of prolonged bad weather. Don’t worry usually half a day and you are back under blue skies.
Generally speaking, when deciding your route, avoid motorways and National routes unless you need to make up time or just want to get from A to B quickly. Motorways and National routes carry the most traffic (inc. commercial), are straight, and usually they are the ones the police monitor.
Avoid big towns. More often than not the mileage to go around them is not too far. You will keep moving, you’re less likely to get split up and often it’s far more interesting. To go into a large town needs a bloody good reason. It will take you longer than you think to get through, it always does! If you are thinking of going through a city, forget it. You are on a roadtrip. Come back later with your non-biking friends on a £25 Easyjet flight for a City-break. This is a Biking Trip!
The distance you can travel each day depends on a number of factors:
Your pace; road type; topography; weather; your arse; your fitness; type of bike; your masochistic tendencies (endurance limits).
Remember it’s meant to be enjoyable, even for the keenest amongst you.
You will average less than you think. As a guide, for time in the saddle and timing purposes (e.g. estimating arrival times): -
Motorways – Your speedo will be a guide but if you are an average sort, keeping 70mph average speed, means you’ve to keep at it.
National routes – Keeping 55mph average again means keeping the pace up.
B and C roads – 45mph average would be a good pace.
D and mountain roads – Averaging 30mph can be challenging.
The above averages are realistic and meant as a guide for a roadtrip. If you wish to set a cross-continent record speed, then you’d stick to the autobahns and yes you could up the anti but the above averages, year after year, work for us and we don’t like to think of ourselves as ’slow coaches’.
In our humble opinion the average rider will be happiest covering between 150 and 250 miles per day. One hundred and fifty miles in the mountains can mean 5hrs in the saddle. Yes, if you wish to do four, five even six hundred miles in a day there is a way to do it but it’s not part of a roadtrip that we’d enjoy!
On a ten day trip we would expect to cover between 2,200 and 3,000 miles fairly comfortably and we consider ourselves reasonably hardy sorts.
Don’t leave it too late, of an evening, to stop either. The later you leave it the more tired and irritable you’ll become. And in the likes of France, Germany, Austria, parts of Wales and Scotland, it can be surprising how early the restaurants and bars close, in comparison with the likes of England, Spain and Italy.
A shower and your first beer following a day’s riding will be a ‘Hamlet’ moment, so give yourselves time to enjoy it. The evening meal followed by that relaxing drink or two, of whatever your tipple, is the part of the day you get to re-live it all. You wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to point out to the whole group someone’s ‘little happening’ during the day, the one they thought no one had seen! … therefore do give yourselves time to wind down and chill each evening. Sharing the memories is what it’s all about.
Ride with like-minded souls. Those who want to ride 3-5hrs per day will not find it easy to do a roadtrip with others who want to do 6-8hrs+ per day.
Sightseeing, a source of conflict if not discussed at the outset. Some are happy to see what they do, from the back of their bike. Others wish to dismount and spend a couple of hours around a local market. Discuss it at your ‘Planning Meetings’.
Our advice is, if you are not like-minded, find others who are. Take care, compromising can leave everyone unhappy.
What To Take
Toolkit – Besides your standard kit, which you may or may not have adjusted from the OE, useful and in some cases legal requirement items are:- spare bulbs front and rear; spare fuses; duck tape; small mole grips; leatherman type tool; adjustable spanner; puncture repair kit (if you’ve not used one, we know from experience the plug type work); chain lube (travel pack size); zip ties (a few mixed sizes); short length of bike electrical wire; insulation tape; cable connectors; latex gloves; a few rubber bands; a couple of zip-lock plastic bags; bike security chain.
One full kit like the above, should cover the whole group, as you’ll be able to replace anything used, on route.
Clothing – You are on a bike trip. We grant you the common sense to know that you travel light. It’s not a fashion show and generally the continentals are relaxed about dress. However don’t be a scruff and make sure you don’t smell in the evenings, at dinner or at the bar! (during the day is acceptable, you are on a bike in protective clothing in hopefully hot climes for chrissakes!)
Paperwork – Yes you need some with you. Check out the printable tick-list below.
Mobile Phone – The best bit of emergency kit available (and on the continent it will work anywhere!).
Horses for Courses.
If first class hotels and fine dining is your thing, you’ll find what you are looking for. You’ll probably pre-book your stays sorting them out at the planning stage.
If camping is your thing, the Continent caters well. If you’ve done it before you’ll know about campsite guides and site lists and equipment. If it’s your first time camping, a little ‘surfing’ will get you all the knowledge you require (isn’t that your Chief Planner’s job?)
We at FullChatter are a middle of the road bunch.
We never book (in 15+ years of European travel). Very occasionally we have rung ahead. We have never had a problem finding somewhere. We reckon the spontaneity adds to the enjoyment and you’ll find some fantastic places whatever your budget.
All though we have never had a problem just turning up, we tend not to stay in major tourist towns and travel in a group of between 3 and 8.
Mostly on mainland Europe they charge by the room, so if you are willing to share a 4/5/6 berth room, the price per head comes down (watch out for snorers though!).
In France the Logis Group (pronounced low-gee with a soft g, language tuition thrown in for free), offer a good selection of hotels at affordable prices, mostly family run and offering an evening meal/restaurant. Each hotel will give you a free guide and map of all Logis hotels.
Don’t be afraid to check a hotel out and ask to see the room. Most expect it. Also, tell them if they are the first hotel you have looked at and that you wish to check the others out before deciding. They understand. Check what parking facilities they have and that they are included in the price. (Many Continentals speak English, but it may be interpreted as rude, if you expect it. Try the other way, go armed with half a dozen useful words and try them out, no matter how badly pronounced, you’ll receive a smile and a much more willingness to show you how well they speak English – at least that’s our experience).
We prefer smaller family run hotels. On the whole we find them friendlier, more helpful and proud of their establishments. If they have a bar, all the better. It’s somewhere to gather whilst you await everyone, following scrub and brush up. It’s also somewhere to return after the evening meal, a great opportunity and source for good craic.
Throughout Europe there is a splendid selection of this type of hotel covering most budgets.
Sometimes you just have to take what is available but, it is to those that you usually relate when telling a tale back home!
For anyone traveling from mainland Europe to the UK the above comments generally still apply.
You’ll find a good selection of major chain hotels, often prepared to ‘do a deal’. Checkout the Pubs, Inns and Bed&Breakfast, there’s great variety to be had.
Crossing The Channel
We reckon you can work the necessary out for yourself on what suits you and your trip regarding how and where to cross between the UK, Eire/N.I. and mainland Europe.
Our only comment is, be aware you will more than likely have to tie your own bike down on a ferry crossing. Rope(s) are provided but the tying of will be your responsibility. You see all sorts of attempts using between 1 and 5 ropes. Some take ratchet straps, if you do, be careful you can over tighten them and do damage to your bike. It’s tough to advise on this subject but most of us feel one rope is enough on side-stand bikes. Leave the bike in gear, hook a rope around your foot-peg (non side-stand side), protect your seat (waterproofs make a good pad), pull the rope over and tie down. Make sure your knot is tight and pressure is on the bike against the side-stand. With centre-stand bikes, place the bike on its stand and tie a rope one each side using above method.
Asking ferry staff to help or check your bike is safe can be met with anything from a blank, a grunt, or actual helpfulness, but they are still likely to point out your bike is your responsibility regardless.
Accept also that the likelihood of you becoming hot, sweaty and irritable during the above process is high and any pillions should tread carefully when offering helpful comments!
May 2010: We travelled to Northern Ireland with Stenna, Stranraer to Belfast, they were very helpful and tied your bike for you. They recommend one rope tied as above but throw it back to non side stand side to tie off. September 2010: We used above, one rope method (tied just on sidestand side) in a rough Hull to Zeebrugge crossing, and the bike was fine.
May 2012, Stenna are still the only ferry company, to our knowledge , who will tie your bike for you.
All sorts of hard and soft luggage products are available on the market. We don’t propose to tell you what’s best but we have a couple of comments to make. On a trip you will quickly become aware that the quicker and easier it is to detach/attach your luggage the happier you are. Also on a trip your bike will receive a scuff or two, accept it and move on or you could be miserable.
On sports bikes we have found Ventura kits very good. Again, honest opinion not a paid advert.
Here at FullChatter we vary in our thoughts of the relative merits of SatNav.
Trying to keep our comments balanced. The SatNav will get you in and out of a town or to a particular destination, usually and/or eventually. It may help you find petrol and accommodation if in a fix.
It cannot however, think, make an informed decision, choose the best biking route between two points. And, at worst, it stops you from thinking, turning you into a mindless zombie-fied mush.
Maps however are beautiful and are your friend. They can’t do everything but they will help you think and make your own decisions. And you will know where you have been if you follow a map, not so the SatNav follower!
As we said we differ in our opinions. Both have their uses but if you only have one make sure it’s a map (a good one anyway).
We use Michelin and our preferred scale(s) are between 1/150,000 and 1/400,000. We also like to have an overview map covering the whole of the trip.
Costing A Trip
We could give you a long list and breakdown but for easy reckoning, budget for around £100 per day plus your channel crossing (Summer 2009 – Pound worth 1.18 Euros approx.). That will cover throughout Europe.
*2011, 2012 – exchange rates and prices, particularly fuel tend to go up; we still feel £100 is fine but allow for £120 if it’s critical that you don’t run over budget
If you’re the first class type then budget probably doesn’t come into it.
If you are camping or use the cheapest hotel available each night, supermarkets for your food and being tea-total will help bring the price down.
For the normal ones amongst us £100 (£120) per day will include:-
Petrol, hotel/b&b; mid-morning coffee break; lunch (sometimes a café, sometimes a supermarket sandwich); mid-afternoon coffee break; dinner, wine and drinks (without being silly every night!) ………
Then £100/£120 per day is as near as you need be for budgeting.
N.b. Do check the current exchange rate to adjust the above accordingly.
A few basic words in the native tongue of the country you are visiting, no matter how badly pronounced, will ensure a much warmer greeting from your hosts than expecting them to speak your language (a few mimes will add to the craic).
Get to know the key/legend and scale on your maps. It’s helpful and will benefit your trip.
Petrol. The more mountainous areas have less stations don’t push it and soldier on, fill up, particularly on Sundays.
Though we feel credit cards are best and safest, you’ll need cash. Quite a few country petrol stations, hotels and restaurants don’t take cards, especially in Austria.
Allow for spontaneity. It’s the spice of the trip.
Chat with the people you meet. It’s chance to increase and share the craic. You’ll add to your memories and maybe make friends to visit on a future trip.
In rain you are likely to get wet and your bike dirty.
Waterproofs. You can get as wet and uncomfortable from sweating on the inside as anything the outside throws at you. One-piece suits can throttle you when you lean forward, they are more difficult to put on and tend to cause the most sweating. Two-piece waterproofs are easier to put on and on occasion you may wish only to put the top on (e.g. intermittent light showers). Linings are un-necessary.
You may have worked out our preferences are for the inexpensive, un-lined two-piece, sealed-seam waterproofs.
If it’s torrential rain, unless you have no option than to continue, find cover or a café ‘til it passes (remember you are on your jollies).
Waterproof sleeves should be worn over the top of glove cuffs (We’ve heard a new rule for this – when holding the handlebars, if your elbows are higher than your wrists waterproofs outside gloves; if elbows below hands then waterproofs inside gloves – all to do with water running downhill!).
Plastic carrier bags are as good as anything for keeping your feet dry for a reasonable length of time. Just in case it needs saying – worn inside your boots – yes, we’ve seen it the other way!
Take a spare set of bike keys with you and swap with a fellow group member. If you lose yours or have your bum-bag nicked you’ll have some keys.
Breakdown cover. The moment you breakdown without it you’ll wish you had it!
Use Google images to get an idea of what towns are like along your trip. Highlight, on your map, those of particular interest alongside your route then if you’re close come break or stopping time you can head for it.
If you are considering a trip, do not hesitate, do it and do it as soon as possible. That way you’ll be closer to your second trip and believe us it will become an annual pilgrimage. You will have some of your greatest times ever and create some of your best and lasting memories ever!
Have a great trip!