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DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR

Absolutely guilty, Your Honour...

Hands up who hasn’t be-spaffed themselves when they’ve seen images of amazing alpine roads in Europe? Astonishing marvels of road-engineering carved into the sides of snow-capped mountains, promising death or glory, and a riding experience like none before.

 

I mean, what kind of motorcyclist would you be if you DIDN’T en-fat yourself upon the instant, then stroke your log as you imagine yourself carving these amazing corners like a thousand Rossis?

 

The names are legendary. There’s the Grossglockner Hochlapenstrasse and Timmelsjoch in Austria. Switzerland has the Furkenpass and the Grimsel. France boasts the stunning Corisca Coast Road (702km) and the Great Alpine Road (675km) – both major multi-day trips. But you may be able to do the Verdon Gorge (242km) in a day. Germany will serve you 515km of German Alpine Road, or just aim for the Bavarian Alps and see what you can find. And Italy will give you the Stelvio Pass and the Great Dolomites Road – both sound and easy one-dayers.

 

Want to get crazy? Head east, bitch. There lies the incredible Transfăgărășan – a beastly 151km of Romanian madness in the Carpathian Mountains where all the werewolves live. And of course there are countless other twisty roads in Eastern Europe where all the mountains are.

 

One day, all things being equal, with the planets in sublime alignment, you will ride them because you must and because you should. And you will ride them like a road god, a glint in your eye, a song in your heart, and your knee skimming the tarmac as mountain-sluts rain their minty panties down on you.

 

And here’s where I will piss gloriously upon your grand delusions. You may well ride these amazing roads one day. But you’re not gonna ride them like you think you’re gonna ride them. In fact, you’ll be too terrified to be ashamed at how you’ll be riding them.

 

And that will be slowly and carefully. You’ll be holding your breath, and muttering dark curses when you’re not screaming in rage and terror, and you’ll be both looking at the views and trying not to die at the same time.

 

There are several reasons why this will be the case.

 

Firstly, most of us are rather average riders. We struggle to be genuinely fast on roads we all know well. Roads that have advisory cornering speed signs – which we Aussies rely on more than we realise.

 

Let’s see you bring the knee-down chocolates on an unfamiliar road, with an unknown surface, that’s a bit narrower than the ones you’re used to here, at an altitude of 2000m above sea-level.

 

On top of which it’s invariably heavily trafficked by holidaying Euros. Now this is not a bad thing if they’re from a civilised country with stringent licencing rules. Those folks are polite and know how to drive.

 

But it’s a bona fide nightmare if that dirty old VW Golf is rocking plates from Latvia, Poland, or any of the Balkan countries.

 

Ever since the Schengen Agreement allowed the wild-eyed, salami-breathed, singlet-wearing Beasts from the East free transit into Western Europe, EU apparatchiks have been scrambling madly to turn back the clock on this act of highway bastardy. I think they once imagined the poor Slavs could never actually afford to holiday in the rich parts of Europe like Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Or that they even had cars.

 

Fucking fools. The Beasts had cars. Old ones, kept running by village witchcraft, concrete, tin, and glue.

 

And as if the Slavs needed money to load up the family Trabant with dried meat, onions, rakija, and stuffed cabbage leaves, and head off to see the Alpine sights, complete with bald tyres and a licence they bought off a mate called Radoslav.

 

Why do you think NATO was really created and why do you think it still exists?

 

Please consider this as you’re stroking your Alpine road-riding erection and visualising yourself tucking hard into some guard-rail free hairpin at 120km/h.

 

And remember, you will be doing these alpine roads in summer (they’re not navigable in winter) – and everyone in Europe is on holidays in summer. Everyone. All 750 million of them.

 

And they’re all driving around Europe. Especially the ones from Eastern Europe, where they learned their driving skills on a tractor stolen from another village.

 

So the human factor is certainly at play here.

 

Then there’s your good self. Who is now riding on the other side of the road to what you’re used to. On roads you’ve never ridden, and partially entranced by the stunning vistas bombarding your brain. This is precisely when you need to be on you’re A-game, and you so won’t be.

 

And thus will crumble those delusional fantasies you nurtured for so long. You’ll find yourself grannying around corners you’d have thought you’d be carving like a MotoGP god. You’ll start to see every car – on-coming and preceding – as some kind of threat. Good call. It’s possible that car may either veer into you, or simply stop to take in the view.

 

Naturally, if you manage to lace a few bends together at a respectable clip, then there’s the danger you’re now over-filled with confidence. This won’t be clear to you until you wake up and there’s a doctor speaking Romanian to you.

 

Of course, chasing someone with local knowledge is a huge asset. By all means make friends with as many locals as you can if you do go. It’s likely they know when to go fast and hard, and when to back it off. Do not fall into the trap that the Austrian bloke in front of you is going way too slow for your liking, and pass him. He may just ride past the catastrophe you may well be involved in a few corners ahead, and be laughing at you with his mates that evening over some cold beers.

 

“Ja, ja! Stupid auslander passed me just before se summit! Zen he missed ze next corner und kaput! Ha ha!”

 

I tell you this not to dissuade you from going and riding these roads. They are everything they’re cracked up to be – just maybe not what you’ve cracked them up to be in your head. I have not ridden them all myself. But I have ridden a few, and I have almost been caught out by the very things I’ve told you about. Almost.

 

Just appreciate Europe is so not Australia. Europe is made up of lots of very different countries, all of which are as different to each other as sharks are from horses. The road surfaces are all different and can change within metres. There are bugger-all advisory corner-speed signs. It’s very much a: You’re an adult, here’s a corner, you work it out, thing.

 

Some of the drivers you’ll encounter are highly skilled. Others will melt your guts with terror. You can’t control their actions any more than you can stop a cage full of chimps fighting over their own excrement. And as bad as having a mishap in Australia can be, trust me when I tell you having one in the mountains of Montenegro is another thing altogether.

 

Should this stop you from staring at these roads on your computer screen as you soil yourself with anticipation? Hell no. I still do that all the time. I just know that when I get there, reality will offer me a vastly different ride to the one I envisaged.

 

And that’s just fine. It’s still worth going.

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Boris Mihailovic

Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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