Sunflower fields dot the countryside in Germany, where May found me landing and collecting the motorcycle from the shipping company in Heidelberg. The “sonn” flowers in this picture were about the only “sun” I saw in Germany, which in early May was living up to its reputation of being a cold and wet country. It rained nearly everyday. My first stop was in Heidelberg, where I collected my motorcycle from having been shipped by boat in a container from Bike Week in Florida in March.
Before I could start to work on my Kawasaki KLR motorcycle, re-assembling it after having taking some parts off for shipping, the owner of the shipping company asked me for a small favor: to get his 1947 Indian Chief running. He had purchased it after a well-known Indian aficionado, and friend of mine, in the United States had restored it. When he got it to Germany and started it for the first time, the Chief had only run for a minute before it quit. He had not been able to get it started again. New to him, and his BMW mechanic, the Chief was a puzzle. He knew I owned several Chiefs and raced a 1936 Indian Sport Scout, so assumed I would know why his Chief would not run. After I asked him if there was gas in the gas tank and the battery fully charged, and he said “Yes,” I did not have the heart to tell him it would probably be as big a puzzle to me, but agreed to take a look at it.
I got lucky, impressing both him and myself. I diagnosed the problem on first guess; the points were not opening. Five minutes after I started to solve the puzzle, we had the Chief running smoothly, starting on the first kick.
Knowing he had a good thing going by having a “captive Indian mechanic,” he asked me to accompany him with his Chief to the German TUV for an inspection and certification so it could legally be driven on the German roads. I expected this to be a huge problem, because the TUV is probably the second toughest motorcycle inspection in the world, the first being the Swiss TUV. Several years ago I had worked on a project to get an Indian Chopper through the Swiss TUV, so knew how difficult the inspection could be.
At the German TUV, the first problem we encountered was when the inspector, an unyielding older man, said he could not pass it because the sealed beam headlight was wrong. What I saw as a silent observer was rain clouds rolling in, and the clock showing only a few minutes left before closing time, which meant bier time. An extended inspection was not going to happen. The motorcycle was either going to pass quickly or have to be brought back on another day.
After some haggling, and my quiet assertion that the 1947 light had not been a problem on other Indian Chiefs I knew were TUV approved, he agreed the rule he looked up in a TUV technical manual applied only to motorcycles made after 1954, so the first hurdle was overcome. I had gotten lucky again, lucky to remember a piece of trivia from the Swiss TUV.
The next problem was he could not find the VIN numbers on the frame, which I pointed out on the lower left shock absorber. Problem #2 was out of the way and I felt we were moving along just fine at that point.
The next problem was not so easy to solve, that being the braking system, a notoriously deficient system on the Indian Motocycles, even when new. The inspector wanted the owner to drive the motorcycle up and down the street, applying the brakes at a given hand signal. The owner, never having ridden the Chief before, but knowing the difficulty of using a foot clutch and hand shift, handed me the keys and asked me to perform the task. I felt my luck fade, as did my smile. I had earlier tried the front brake and knew it needed to be adjusted with a wrench we did not have. I also knew, even when perfect, the front brake was like a bicycle brake trying to slow down a 1,000 lb. Gold Wing. The other problem I flashed on was getting the Chief running. It had been an hour since we first got it started and the temperature had changed from warm to cool as rain clouds were swirling around.
Not every Indian Motocycle starts and stops the same. I fumbled the starting procedure enough times for my right leg to feel like wet spaghetti, then finally got it running. I made a short ride down the street, turned around, then rode back towards the inspector, who held out his hand for me to stop, which I did, using both the front and rear brake. It was a lucky stop, because I had anticipated when he would give the instruction to stop, so already had my rear brake under slight foot pressure. It was the panic stop test and we (the Chief and I) did not panic.
Next the inspector made it known he wanted me to perform the same stop, but by using the front brake. I knew this would result in our flunking the test because the front brake on a 1947 Indian Chief works by prayer only, and then only in a maximum combination with the rear brake, so I rode past him seeming not to understand his instructions. I knew if I tried to stop when he wanted me to, and having to use the rear brake, he could see my right foot because it was on his side of the motorcycle. By riding past him, I was able to turn around and make another pass, this time “understanding” his instruction when he flagged me to “Stop.” This time he could see my right hand fully squeeze the front brake lever. We made a smooth stop and I prayed he did not want me to do it again. With droplets of rain falling, he was satisfied.
Later, the owner wanted to know how I managed to stop the bike so well using only the front brake. I told him it was an “OIT,” which in Indian Country (as in Native American where I come from) OIT stands for “Old Indian Trick.” For me, on a 54-year-old motorcycle, I thought it was an appropriate term to apply to the Indian Chief. I told the owner he should spend some time thoroughly learning how to use his braking system, and the engine to assist, before attempting to ride in traffic. I also suggested allowing more than sufficient distance for panic stops, new brake pads, and a serious adjustment to the front brake and carrying a pocket full of prayers. It was a lucky prayer that got us through the TUV that day.
The German Two Wheel and NSU Museum in Neckarsulm, Germany is a great motorcycle museum, and worth a 2-3 hour stop. Housed in an old castle, the museum has a mixed presentation of motorcycles from around the world, including numerous Indian and Harley-Davidsons, as well as an extensive NSU collection. I have been there several times, and never been bored.
A sign seen in the Black Forest, going into 7 kilometers of twisties, warning motorcyclists they can easily fall down. In Germany there is a federal office that studies motorcycle accidents around the country, so knows on which roads, and specifically which turns, accidents happen. Some of the best, and most dangerous, roads are closed to motorcyclists, especially on the weekends when “Johnny Racer” gets out of the office and wants to go fast. Somewhere close to 50 sections of roads in Germany have restrictions on motorcyclists. This section, in the Black Forest, has a warning, but there are considerations to close the entire road on the weekends.
A German “frog fence” to keep frogs from crossing the road, where they could be flattened by passing cars. Instead the frogs are forced to hop through a tunnel under the road. Germany is the only country in the world where I have seen this attention paid to the preservation of frogs. In Australia, frog conservation worked in the other direction. I once saw a couple of Australian guys whacking Cain Toads off the road using hockey sticks.
One of the picture perfect towns I passed through on a Sunday afternoon ride.
In search of snow snakes wearing snake-proof hunting gear: Aerostitch Darien suit, Combat Touring Boots and Lee Park Design gloves. On this day my hunt was unsuccessful. However, I did see several Yeti footprints, and Elvis was just over the ridge.
I went to Europe in early May. Many of the high passes were just open, which made for superior riding. In the months of July and August, when many American motorcyclists travel here, these roads are clogged with tour buses, camping caravans and cars. I have found the riding better in June and September, but of course, a little cooler. Whether mid-summer or late spring and early fall, the Alps of Europe offer the best motorcycling roads in the world for the rider who lusts for paved roads, perfect curves and severe elevation changes.
Entering France on the way to Spain, I realized I was entering warmer weather when I started wearing less rain gear. My fully loaded Kawasaki KLR 650 cc motorcycle was easily able to maintain highway speed of 80 miles per hour on the autobahns. The price I paid, however, was in gas mileage and consumption. Gas was running about $1.00 US per liter, or $4.00 per gallon. In France it seemed I was stopping every 100 kilometers to pay a toll to ride on the high-speed highways, whereas in Germany they were free. I decided to watch my budget a little closer, so got off the autobahns and onto the smaller side roads. It was more time consuming, but average speed was considerably slower and I saw more of the country, plus saved the tolls.
This was a photograph of several small boats in the
harbor in Monaco. I think the word “monaco” must mean “money”
in this French-speaking kingdom. When I asked a policeman where I could
find a campground, he laughed, and said, “There are no campgrounds
in Monaco.” I also discovered the “cheap” hotel I
used to stay in that once cost me $110.00 US per night was $150.00 US
per night. My tent and me moved down the road to Nice, where I was able
to camp for $10.00per night. No camping in Monaco is probably a way
the rich keep the riff-raff out. I can’t imagine what moorage
for a boat in the harbor costs. I suspected if I asked someone the cost,
I would have immediately been targeted as riff-raff, so I did not ask.
Travel around Europe is not cheap, especially eating and sleeping. Eating in restaurants, sleeping in hotels and moving around will average $100.00 US per day or better, with $150.00 US probably closer to the mark for my timid American friends who choose to bunk in a hotel instead of taking a room in a private home, cheaper pension or guest house. A Big Mac combination at McDonalds was $4.50 - $5.50 US. Dinner for two in a Chinese restaurant near Munich was $28.00 US, and did not include any alcohol, just two average meals and a couple of cokes. The same meal in the USA would cost about half the German price. For the Germans it is not too bad, because they are paid close to 100% more than their counterpart American workers, but for the American to pay German, or European prices, it is bit pricey.
I have been lucky, learning how to travel cheap over the years as prices have crawled higher in Europe, and also having a wide circle of friends in Europe who invite me to stay in their homes as I pass through. If it were not for them, and carrying a sleeping bag and tent, I would not have been able to afford my run south to Africa on this trip.
If this sign was in America, my guess is the traveler would think it meant there was a bar up ahead for horny people. When I saw it on my map, I thought it merited some exploration. What I found was a sleepy little town, and if there was a bar, I missed it as I passed through.
I cannot read Greek (or speak it). The advertising on this building made no sense to me, but four floors of motorcycles and “Kawasaki” and “Suzuki” in large print told me I had found a large motorcycle shop. I found the price of parts to be nearly the same as in the USA, but the hourly labor rate lower.
Not every night was I putting up my tent or enjoying the hospitality of friends. Some campgrounds had inexpensive cabins like these above. Although there was no running water or electricity inside, they were dry and warm when it was raining. I used my flashlight to light the room at night and to read, but usually a warm meal in the campground restaurant and a couple of beers at the end of the day made worrying about heat or light no worry. I was usually asleep by dark.
Next I will cross the Mediterranean Sea from Spain by ferry boat to Morocco and the Arab world where I will continue to “let the good times roll” with the Kawasaki motorcycle into the sands of the Sahara and a search for Rick’s Café Americana in Casablanca. Morocco will be the southernmost point in Africa on this, my fourth motorcycle ride around the world, a quick globetrot on two wheels of less than five months.
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited