Adventure Touring | Motorcyclist Alps Challenge

Balance Pony

My wife Emily and I fancy ourselves adventurers. We honeymooned on bicycles, spending 10 months pedaling from Canada to Costa Rica. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary backpacking in Venezuela's Canaima National Park, sleeping in grass huts along with the occasional yellow-banded poison frog. We are not tourists-we are travelers. We do not vacation-we expedition-or so we like to tell ourselves. We recoil at the thought of a "package tour" like two Culicidae flying into a cloud of DDT.

So when Boehm buzzed a few months back and asked if I wanted to represent the magazine on this year's Motorcyclist Alps Challenge, a five-day Alpine motorcycle tour coordinated by Edelweiss Bike Travel, and bring Emily along for the ride too, of course I said yes. But not without certain reservations. Let's just say I saw visions of being led through the Alps nose-to-tail at parade pace, riding alongside a gang of geriatrics more interested in making pretty Polaroids than strafing apexes.

Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong. [Dude, you have no faith! -M.B.]

This year's Alps Challenge took place on the French Riviera, a motorcyclist's playground where the Alps and the Mediterranean coast conspire to form some of the most challenging riding in the world. With the Hotel Massena in downtown Nice serving as our "touring center" base, we made day trips up and down the winding coast roads to glamorous cities like St. Tropez and Monte Carlo, climbed epic passes like Col de Turini (which doubles as the Rally Monte Carlo race course) and explored the breathtaking Gorges Du Verdon, France's version of the Grand Canyon. I expected great scenery. More shocking was how satisfying the riding component of the tour was-even for a jaded adventurer like me.

Our group numbered 12, ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-70s-three couples riding two-up and six solo riders. Riders came from all walks: a dentist, a petroleum engineer, a construction contractor, a neurosurgeon, a retired policeman and more. They came from every riding background, too: a few were the expected Beemer-brained mileage junkies; two shared a passion for late-model MV Agustas; two more had national-level motocross racing experience.

And this is where my simplistic and ill-informed "package tour" bias begins to unravel. These were not neophytes who got lost on their way to the Carnival Cruise Line dock. They were all highly experienced, skilled motorcyclists. And the pace they rode at was anything but parade-like. I was never once bored hustling the BMW R1200ST over 1100 miles of insanely twisted pavement, chasing our competent, capable (and quick) Edelweiss guide, Michael Gbel.

In retrospect, it was ridiculous to underestimate Edelweiss's ability to put together a motorcycle tour worthy of the Alps Challenge label. You don't build a reputation as world's best motorcycle touring company (for 28 years running) without catering to serious riders. And I was especially foolish to underestimate the ability-and adventurousness-of my fellow enthusiasts.

If you're like I used to be, you'd never consider an Edelweiss/MC Alps Challenge for fear of finding yourself on the two-wheeled bus tour to Branson. Stop worrying. The Alps Challenge was, without exception, the best week of riding in my life. Endless miles of amazing roads, stunning countryside and, most surprising, new friendships forged from the instant camaraderie that grows out of shared adventure.

Yes, I said it (and even Emily agrees)-the Alps Challenge is a proper adventure. I hope I'm lucky enough to join a few of you readers for the next one, scheduled for June 21-29, 2008, in the heart of the Austrian Alps. This one will kick off in Munich, Germany, then cross the border into Austria for six days of riding the lake districts around Salzburg and Graz, and up and down the Tauern Mountain Range. Want to take the Alps Challenge? Surf over to www.edelweissbike.com for more details, and sign up before it's too late.

Col de Turini--18 miles of bliss.