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Go different – Alternative travel guide (Part 1/3)

Published: 09 March 2016

Updated: 07 March 2016

Biking trips are what you make them. So make yours awesome by trying something new this summer 

here’s no finer way to bond with your offspring than taking a trip to the cradle of Rossi fanaticism in Mugello 

 

Father and Son in Italy

Words: Rupert Paul

rgh. I never want to sit on a motorcycle again. My arse aches. My back hurts. My eyes feel like two gritty raisins. I’ve done 1200 miles in three days, hacking across Europe to watch the Mugello MotoGP. And I don’t regret a second of it.

More to the point, nor does my 23-year-old son Freddie. I’m a grizzled veteran of at least 30 continental trips, but to Fred it’s all new: the language barriers, the grinding motorway miles, the crazy mountain roads, the sheer physical endurance. This time last year he hadn’t even passed his test. Now he’s not only done 2500 miles there and back safely; he wants to do it again.

For me as a biking dad, it’s passing on a tradition that I inherited as a 20-year-old, when Bike magazine’s reports of endurance races at Le Mans, Paul Ricard and Montjuich Park inspired me to head across the channel with a Z250, a few quid and a toothbrush. Although maybe that’s not quite right. This trip to Italy was my son’s idea.

My wife (Fiona): “What’s this about you and Freddie going to Mugello?”

Me: “Are we? He hasn’t told me.”

Fiona: “Can I come too?”

Freddie: “No!”

Why Mugello? Because it was a long way. Because we wanted to see Valentino Rossi, in the final flowering of his stupendous talent, pitting himself against the titanic skills of Marquez, Lorenzo, Dovi and Iannone. To witness that, at the GOAT’s home track – we had to go.

With the help of RiDE magazine’s Simon Weir, whose knowledge of European roads appears to be limitless, we hatched a three-and-a-half day route with the bare minimum of motorways. That plan disintegrated when our TomTom sat-nav refused to be programmed with Simon’s Google map routes, so we bodged it, finding our way via key towns and villages, backed up by old-school Michelin maps.

Voyage of discovery

It didn’t take Freddie long to discover the magic of travelling on a motorcycle. We arrived in Verdun at the end of day one, exhausted but happy. When we couldn’t find the cheap hotel Simon had recommended, a local rider on a GS came over and showed us the way. That’s what bikes do that cars can’t.

Halfway through the next day we got to Switzerland, and the deserted roads turned from arrow-straight across undulating fields and woods to hairpins every 200 yards, set off by snow-capped peaks. Freddie, who’d looked it all up on Streetview before leaving, could hardly believe it was real. The Swiss countryside looks like an Anchor butter advert – wildflower meadows, cows with bells round their necks and Alps everywhere. We stopped in the village of Interlaken, staying at the friendly Hotel Post und Hof which, later in the year, is a biking hotspot. Day three should have been a joyful romp over the Susten Pass to Italy, but we forgot to read the signs that said the pass was still blocked by winter snow. What the hell – it was still a stupendous 20 miles, and it’s not every day you get to ride up to a glacier.

We tried the Grimsel Pass (blocked) and the Göschenen Pass (allegedly open, but not really). That left the autoroute, complete with five-mile queue for the 10-mile Gotthard Road Tunnel. With no Swiss motorway carnets (£40 each, or a £500 fine if you’re caught without one) we were bricking it. So, it seemed, was everyone else. Unlike France’s 90mph Citroens and Peugeots, Switzerland offers the bizarre spectacle of posh Porsches and Audis never exceeding 60mph. “It’s like everyone’s got speed cameras in their heads,” said Freddie after we’d finally slipped through the customs post near Milan undetected. The Swiss police, Simon had warned us, are fiends from hell.

Strange place, really. In the UK we take our hideous litter, urban sprawl and trashed countryside for granted. The Swiss city of Basel (to take one example) was like some vision of the future, with amazing architecture, wide streets fringed with wildflower verges, and trams, cyclists and pedestrians happily co-existing with modest traffic. But it just made us suspect they must be sweeping all their undesirables under some huge rug somewhere.

You can, if you’re determined enough, get from Interlaken to Mugello in a day. So we did. It was pretty grim, especially when Swiss order changed abruptly at the border to Italian chaos. Italians, as everyone knows, are crazy drivers, but that’s a mere detail compared having to negotiate 30 miles of their roadworks at night. But we made it, and over the following three days the race – or rather the 91,000 crazed Italian fans who came to watch it – blew our minds. The first 30 seconds are like landing on the planet Tatooine in Star Wars. The delicious tang of roasting meat. The bass thump of a sound system. Bikes everywhere, parked and buzzing about. Air horns blaring at each other across the valley like seagulls. A guy on a penny farthing with a 46 flag on a pole. Beered-up, yellow-shirted nutters three-up on scooters pledging undying allegiance to Valentino Rossi.

We plotted the most mountainous route we could devise through north-west Italy and southern France for our return leg. Little did we know it was going to be the most perfect 400 miles we could dream of, with everything from 15mph hairpins to 90mph sweepers. We weren’t alone: hundreds of other riders – nearly all of them riding various forms of BMW GS – were out to savour the hot tarmac and staggering scenery.

Looking back, half our plans went wrong, and it cost a fortune. But the sheer joy when it went even slightly right made up for it. The whole trip was so wonderful and life-affirming that reality for both of us took weeks to reassert itself. Every father and son should have a go. 


Rupe’s top tips

Do

• Get a sat-nav you can stick a Google map into
• Learn the lingo. It makes all the difference
• Enjoy meeting your fellow road rats. It’s half the fun

Don’t

• Book ahead for hotels, they’re everywhere
• Worry about it costing a fortune, it just does
• Go round a mountain when you can go over it

Have a go

• Eurotunnel £175
• Travel insurance £32
• Tolls £93
• Fuel £447
• B&B/hotels £574
• Oil, parts £41.35
• MotoGP tickets £171
• Food £198

Total £1731

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