Truly exceptional motorcycles change your life. Horizons seem to stretch that little bit further, the mundane becomes an excuse for entertainment, and when you’d normally stop – they inspire you to carry on.
And so, after weeks of staring at the invite from KTM to join them in their fanstand at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian MotoGP, I finally decided to go – just hours before I needed to head south. A late evening push in the office on the Thursday saw the decks clear enough to disappear the next day, so I booked a flexi ticket on the Eurotunnel, and went home to get some sleep.
The next morning, I fitted the baffle back into the GT’s Akrapovic for a less noisy trip, gave the bike a thorough wash, adjusted and lubed the chain, and put the Red Bull Ring coordinates into my Garmin. With a few spare T-shirts, pants and socks packed in the panniers, plus a first aid kit, high-vis vest, puncture repair kit and a mini pump, I was ready to go.
We rolled off the drive at 12:05pm, and headed for the Chunnel, the miles melting like butter in the heat. What felt like minutes later I was avoiding the humdrum route through the terminal, using my flexipass to jump the queue. The crossing disappeared in a cacophony of bike conversation with a group of guys heading into Europe for their annual riding tour. They were also headed to Austria via a similar route, but their schedule meant they’d arrive there the day after I’d be home again.
Once in France I arced towards Belgium, before clinging to the border down towards Luxembourg and Germany. Having refuelled at Maidstone services, the GT didn’t need more juice until Spa, where we pulled into a deserted petrol station and tanked up. But as I readied to leave after a minimal bit of leg stretching, my Garmin decided it wanted to stop right there – so it did. The sun was setting fast, I didn’t have a map with me, and being Belgium the petrol station had no shop attached. The route back onto the motorway wasn’t even the way I’d exited, nor was it obvious. Bugger. After a few minutes staring at my iPhone I decided to head for Mannheim, then Stuttgart, then Munich, hoping I’d spot a hotel from the road. Annoyed at my lack of an electronic companion, I plunged into the darkness.
God the GT is good though. I’m so comfortable, so at ease. I’m keeping the speed down, cruising at a steady 90mph for the best balance of progress and fuel consumption, and I feel like I could go all night. But tiredness creeps in at around 1am. Somewhere between Stuttgart and Munich I spot a motel, but there’s no room at the inn. Nor at the next. Nor the one after that. I’m tired and disconsolate. It’s 2am, and while my body is happy to go through the night, my head isn’t. I’ve lost the will to keep asking for a room, and instead park the GT sideways in a parking space at the third motel, lay down on the floor between it and a fence, and doze off.
Just before 6am the sound of slamming car doors lifts me abruptly from my slumber, and I decide to get back on the road. As I approach the Austrian border I stop for fuel, a vignette, and some breakfast. The GT feels fresh, and no part of me feels like we’ve travelled any further than the end of my drive. That’s amazing with over 700 miles on the trip meter.
As we drop into Austria the sun is relentless, and so is the traffic. Skirting Saltzberg the A1 feels like a poorly designed carpark, and they don’t like filtering here. Some are polite, some swerve to close the gap and beep their horns. Some bikes queue with them like cars, but I didn’t come by bike to sit in traffic. Then we’re free, edging around the Alps that rise like a wall from the landscape. Stunning lakes and mountains pass tantalizingly close, but I’m not stopping yet. I shun the A1 for the A9 south, and then randomly dive off into the hills. It’s Saturday; there’s no rush to get to the Ring.
The Pirelli Supercorsa SPs I had fitted just two days before feel awesome, delivering the sort of composure and grip the Angel GTs couldn’t have mustered. I do three runs on the 114 from Trieben to Judenburg just for the sheer joy of a deserted alpine road on a nuts bike and hot rubber. Then I head for Graz, where a hastily begged hotel room (thanks KTM) overcomes my lack of planning.
Sleep comes easily, and the next morning reveals more sunshine and heat. Tales of massive queues into the Ring have reached the hotel, but I see none, arriving unhindered to the field where we’re directed to park, before a short walk to the track. What a beautiful circuit. The racing passes in a blur, and before I’ve had a chance to get my bearings, it’s time to head home.
Despite the exertions of the last couple of days I feel razor-sharp. The 114 gets another attack, before the A9 gives way to Germany, and the schlep northwards. I’m going the shortest way home, still navigating with my nose and occasional checks of the iPhone. I call my wife from Frankfurt and suggest that I’ll stop at Cologne for the night. When I walk into our bedroom at 08:45 the next morning, 953.1 miles and 15 hours after leaving the GP, she opens only one eye before chastising me for not stopping. But I never felt the need.
The GT provided more comfort than stopping could, and the traffic-free night was mesmerizing with nothing but the V-twin’s pulse for company. I’ve never ridden so far, in so little time, so effortlessly. The GT has become a part of my life history, a partnership that will always occupy a corner of my mind. It never missed a beat, never caused me pain, never let me get bored or frustrated, never allowed me to dream of any other bike. My wrists didn’t ache, nor my posterior go numb, and petrol stops were pleasingly spaced rather than aggravatingly frequent.
Given a free choice of bike for a repeat run, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a 1290 GT.
Danger in Calais
The only blot on an otherwise stunning trip was a near-death experience riding towards the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais. A burning roadblock set by migrants very nearly ended the journey in the most negative way possible. Please take a moment to read about my terrifying experience, and heed the border guard’s warning about riding through the Eurotunnel terminal at night.
Crunching digits: Riding to the Red Bull Ring
2123.6 miles total
1170.5 miles there
953.1 miles back
£334.22 of fuel
£164 for Eurotunnel crossings
69h40m total trip time
64mph moving average
£41.54 of food and drink
32h44m moving time
1 night in a hotel
See more updates about the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT.