Epic Rides: The Motorcyclist/Edelweiss European Readers Tour

Eleven Readers on Eight Bikes in Search of the ADV Grail Through Three European Countries

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To get a feel for any bike, ideally you want a wide variety of roads. If most gearheads had their way it would be a combination of favorite forest roads, sweeping coastal curves, and maybe a sprinkling of the famous Alps for good measure. Edelweiss—a decades-old motorcycle tour company—agreed with this principle and so set us up on a journey. We would take four of the most hotly contested ADV machines on the market along a seven-day voyage through three European countries in the hands of a tour company that truly knows what it’s doing.

Latitude: 47.8000 N

Longitude: 13.0333 E

Between BMW’s scintillating new S1000XR, the legendary R1200GS, Ducati’s new-for-2015 Multistrada 1200, and KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure, the MC staff has logged many miles. So, as a filter from hearing the same opinions from the same editors (and for fun), 11 readers from all around the world joined us on an epic road trip. The goal? To find out if a week of riding through Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia was the recipe for finding the roads—and maybe the bike—from which dreams are made.

A large bridge spans a gap between mainland Croatia and an island, seen from a helicopter.
The massive bridge connecting mainland Croatia to the island of Krk. Sadly, it looks much more majestic from a drone lens than from the saddle of a bike in traffic.©Motorcyclist

The ride would be Salzburg to Salzburg—not terribly interesting if you take the shortest point to point, but a scenic route to the Adriatic and back was on the docket. And, in the ultimate case of hit-the-ground-running, within 100 miles of Salzburg we tackled the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, the highest paved pass in Austria and home of the 24-euro toll. It would also prove to be one of the highlights of the trip, even a week later. The ribbons of tarmac trickling around and down from the Grossglockner glacier soak in epic views and offer stupendous (if not a little crowded) riding, which, let’s be honest, for 30 bucks it really should.

A motorcyclist stopped in front of a mass of road signs in Croatian.
Croatian road signs were plentiful, but mostly we were glad to have Edelweiss guides on hand to keep us on track.©Motorcyclist

The KTM’s 1,301cc velvet hammer powerplant was quickly a favorite for those straddling the Super Adventure, while S1000 riders admitted to giggling in their helmets every time the XR howled through the gearbox via quickshifter. Even though most of the riders would happily have bounced along the ridges and slung themselves through the curves of Grossglockner until they ran out of fuel, we scurried south to the town of Klagenfurt for the night.

A line of motorcycles, led by the BMW S1000XR.
BMW's S1000XR leads the way along the Postalm Panoramic Road in Austria.©Motorcyclist

A cruise up Loibl Pass and through the mile-long tunnel out of Austria (in the words of one reader, “I’d never ridden a bike through a mountain before, so just that in itself was GoPro worthy!”) began the 130-mile trek across western Slovenia. The narrow river valleys in the Zelezniki region south of Lake Bled served up beautifully flowing roads throughout the middle of the day. Quaint towns clinging to coniferous hillsides, sprinkled with prolific gardens and stately little churches, had a Tolkien-esque mystique and seemed to hush the engines as we passed by. Ultra-tight sections of road meant Multistrada riders were smiling, noting that the bike felt compact and always willing to dive toward an apex. We crossed into Croatia late in the afternoon with a casual border stop and passport stamp, only a few miles down the freeway to the seaside resort town of Opatija (pronounced opat-ya).

A view of islands in a far off sea, taken from the mainland with a road in the foreground.
A view from mainland Croatia, looking down on the many islands swimming in the Adriatic.©Motorcyclist

Opatija’s taste is wholly Mediterranean, but the typical mix of old-world flavor and modern tourism is flavored heavily with the patina of prewar Yugoslavian rule. After a “rest day” by the water—some stayed and basked in the perfect beach weather or explored beyond the city limits, while others rode west across the Istrian peninsula for lunch and a photo stop near the Limski Fjord—the group headed south along the Croatian coast for the islands of Croatia. Krk and Rab proved tricky to pronounce, but what they lack in vowels they make up for in scenery, which we soaked up via short jaunts across the isles as well as two ferry rides, eventually settling for lunch in the town of Rab. Freshly caught and seared bluefin tuna flavored the cinematic beauty of the harbor; pastel buildings decorated the hillsides, and the vintage speedboats gurgling through the marina would have made any Bond villain proud.

A helicopter view of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, might be the best kept secret in Europe.©Motorcyclist
A helicopter's view of Hallstatt, Austria, from over the adjacent lake.
Hallstatt, Austria; a town so picturesque the Chinese built a copy (seriously, look it up).©Motorcyclist

Reconnecting to the mainland around 55 miles south of the first bridge, we followed the coast north for 20 miles until finally turning away from the water, nearly two days after we first spotted the sea. The road climbed away from the water brilliantly, switching back countless times and presenting a bird’s eye perspective of the triangular islands bathing in the shimmering Adriatic. Cresting the hills and losing sight of the sea changed the environment dramatically. Arid, rocky hillsides soon turned back into lush forest, and within minutes we were slowing to pass through old-fashioned farm towns straight from a New England postcard.

A helicopter view of a white ferry boat crossing the Adriatic sea.
The 80-minute ferry ride between the Croatian islands of Krk and Rab give you time to sightsee, and our drone time to chase the boat. Security was pretty loose.©Motorcyclist

By then, about halfway through the trip, full rotations on the bikes were complete and riders were picking at the finer points of the machines. The KTM’s stiff seat was a common complaint, as well as exhaust heat from the Ducati and buzzy bars on the S1000XR. We settled in the town of Otocˇac, plunked squarely in middle-of-nowhere Croatia. But even being somewhere so foreign, the humanity was prominent: a farmer bouncing into town on a tractor, a low-key soccer game under public lights, and a train of cars honking through town to celebrate a wedding.

A line of motorcycles riding through Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Riding in urban settings always tells a different story with each of the bikes we had. Everyone loved the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and BMW R1200GS in the city. Ducati's Multistrada 1200 and BMW's S1000XR, not so much.©Motorcyclist

We left Otocˇac cloaked in dense and chilly fog, a welcome change from the sticky heat we had been riding in for days and finally a chance to use the heated grips. Soon we were circling wetlands and starting to notice signs for Plitvicˇka Jezera Park, promising waterfalls and, as far as we could tell, a snack bar. The snacks were mediocre, as it turned out, which is a lot less than should be said for the park. It’s not easy to describe how a few waterfalls can be truly magnificent, but Plitvice is otherworldly. Lakes that have been gathering for millennia spill over into each other, creating everything from low, tumbling staircases to massive cascades, all surrounded by turquoise pools and immense networks of tree roots. It’s the closest to the Avatar set you’ll ever get and well worth the $30 fee.

It was an enjoyable break from time in the saddle, to stroll around the falls and soak up the cool mist. Back roads and calm towns were the theme of the afternoon, with an Eastern Block bent—severe austerity seems a recent memory in this part of the world. To the furthest extent, military tension was evident, in a nearly whole Soviet-era fighter jet overgrown on someone’s front lawn. What with the rural and slightly impoverished atmosphere of the Slovenian countryside, nobody expected the capital city of Ljubljana to be such a sparkling gem. But it is. All of the charm and history of the Balkan states seems to be wrapped up and presented in a thoroughly vibrant, clean, and metropolitan city.

A line a motorcycles riding, with massive mountains in the background.
Riding through a postcard; the majesty of the Austrian Alps is something every motorcyclist should experience.©Motorcyclist

Being one of the larger metro areas we encountered, it also brought out more personality in the bikes. Ducati’s brilliant, full-color dash wowed everyone by transitioning from night mode and back in tunnels. Then again few were happy with the Multi’s fueling at low speeds, unless the ride mode was changed constantly. And the mighty R1200GS that we haven’t mentioned at all? Let’s just say the only thing that made everyone quieter than the local food was asking for a list of problems with the Gelande-Strasse. It set everyone up for a final two days of sampling each bike one last time and some of the best riding of all.

A line of motorcycles rides along a road right at the edge of the water along a rocky coastline in Croatia.
It was actually the road leading away from the coast that offered the best curves, but the sights along the Croatian coast via route E65 are stunning.©Motorcyclist

We meandered reluctantly out of Ljubljana, to north and the promise of twisty alpine roads. On the hem of the Alps in northern Slovenia the scenery became more severe, but also lush and green, with jagged peaks in the distance. Surrounding the border of Slovenia and Austria is alpine nirvana, with every type of switchback and curve imaginable laid into a stellar landscape via ultra-smooth pavement. Just less than 200 miles later we reached the picturesque town of Saint Gallen where a stunning, 135-year-old hunting castle was our home for the final night on the road, nestled into the eastern tip of the Alps and squarely in the middle of Austria.

Superb riding continued on the final day, with a 150-mile route from the castle back to Salzburg, via crooked and entertaining alpine valleys. A stop in on the impossibly charming lakeside town of Hallstatt got us rested and ready to climb over the ultra-scenic Postalm panoramic road, cutting across hillsides and through thick forest—eventually right through a ski area—before dropping us amongst the lakes east of Salzburg. Less than an hour after arriving at our Salzburg hotel, and following a full week of hot, beautiful weather, the skies opened. Torrential rain through that evening and into the morning of our departure from Austria was enough of a sign that the trip was a success.

It also gave time to reflect on an interesting theme among the machines. Riding German, Italian, and Austrian adventure motorcycles through the Alps and along the Adriatic coast, it’s easy to see how the inspiration for the big ADV trend was born. These bikes are the most versatile and capable mutants in the motorcycling world, clearly evolved from some of the most diverse, challenging, and epic roads on the planet.

A cockpit view from a motorcycle riding through a long, narrow tunnel.
Some of the tunnels in Europe are narrow enough that it feels like most American cars wouldn't fit.©Motorcyclist

The Latest and Greatest

Cutting-edge ADVs from BMW, Ducati, and KTM carried us through Europe. Everyone loved the Ducati’s dash, the KTM’s engine, and the S1000XR’s quickshifter. Very few readers mentioned the R1200GS as their favorite or least favorite, but were also unable to find many flaws. Maybe that’s why there are always so many GSs in the Alps?

Ducati's Multistrada 1200 in white
Ducati's Multistrada 1200©Motorcyclist
KTM's 1290 Super Adventure in white
KTM's 1290 Super Adventure©Motorcyclist
BMW's S1000XR in red
BMW's S1000XR©Motorcyclist
BMW's R1200GS in silver
BMW's R1200GS©Motorcyclist

The Readers

Motorcyclist Edelweiss motorcycle tours
Dan Quick and Barb Amato
Lakeshore Township, Ontario, Canada

Bike at home: R1200GS Adventure

Dan's Favorite Bike on Tour: "I guess my favorite bike would probably be the GS. I hate to say it, maybe it's almost cliché, but it does everything so well. It handles great, the water-cooled engine revs up so quick, and has great power."

Dan's Least Favorite on Tour: "I had high hopes for the S1000XR, and I was kind of disappointed. At the end of a day on the XR my hands were numb. It's definitely buzzy."

Barb on riding in Europe: "I wish we had more time! The roads, the cities, everything was so beautiful."

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European Reader Tour
Hasan Anlar
Istanbul, Turkey

Bikes at home: S1000RR HP4, R1200GS

Favorite Bike on Tour: "The S1000XR because I think it's an all-'rounder. I especially like the engine—I'm used to it from the HP4 I have. It feels like the engine from a superbike. When you're shifting up, it's so smooth it's almost like a video game!"

Least Favorite on Tour: "The Ducati is my least favorite bike. Even though it handles very well, there were a lot of false neutrals. I also stalled the bike a few times because the dash was saying I was in neutral but the bike was in first gear."

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European Reader Tour
Yoram Arnon
Palo Alto, California

Bikes at home: V-Strom 650, 1290 Super Adventure

Favorite bike on tour: "I own a KTM Super Adventure, so I came off with that being my favorite, but these bikes are all good in their own way. [For example], getting on the S1000XR is like putting on an old glove—it just does whatever you want without you even thinking about it."

On riding in Europe: "The Alps are…something else. You look around and there are wonderful peaks everywhere. Riding on these wonderful, smooth, sometimes-narrow roads, beautiful scenery for miles and miles, with a very capable group of riders—it doesn't get much better than that."

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European reader tour
Bruce and Dawn Smith
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bikes at home: Super Ténérés, Burgman 650, Kymco scooters

Dawn's Favorite Bike on Tour: "My favorite bike was definitely the GS. It's very responsive, light, and easy for me to touch the ground at 5-foot-4. I liked the gearing, and I felt right at home riding it."

Bruce's Favorite Bike on Tour: "If I had to buy one, being 54 years old the bike I should buy would be the GS, but I don't know. I think it might be that Super Adventure. That thing has gobs of power, and who doesn't like 40 extra horsepower?"

Dawn on Riding in Europe: "It was the trip of a lifetime. The different cultures, the different foods, the scenery—it's very difficult to describe. It was just beautiful."

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European Reader Tour
Shawn Sokell
Toronto, Canada

Bike at home: 1190 Adventure

Favorite Bike on Tour: "For me, with the amount of straight-on, boring highway riding I have to do, I'd have to pick the KTM. It's just better at that. But in the corners, nothing gives me the confidence that the XR gives me."

On Riding in Europe: "I've often dreamt of riding the Alps and the roads of Europe, with all of the corners and mountain passes—this has been a dream come true for me. The downside is, riding at home is going to be sad!"

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European Reader Tour
Tim Lambert and Donna Stumpf
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bikes at home: V-Strom 650, Aprilia Futura

Tim's Favorite Bike on Tour: "Without a doubt it's the S1000XR. It might not be your classic adventure bike, if you're going to go off road, but as far as sport touring it just dominates. It's a fantastic, amazing bike."

Tim's Least Favorite on Tour: "Probably the Ducati. Between the heat under the seat from the exhaust and the false neutral between every gear, it was clearly the worst bike in my opinion."

Donna on Riding in Europe: "Austria… The whole country is just so pristine and exquisite. Everything is perfectly manicured—it's straight out of a postcard. From the back-seat perspective, you're completely intoxicated with your eyes every minute of every day."

Motorcyclist Edelweiss European Reader Tour
Kirk and Sherrie Young
Redding, California

Bikes at home: Multistrada 1200, KLR 650

Kirk's Favorite Bike on Tour: "My favorite bike was the KTM 1290. It felt smaller than I expected. Gobs of torque and power and just really easy to ride. If I was going to buy one, which I might because I'm in the market, that KTM might be it."

Kirk's Least Favorite on Tour: "Believe it or not, the Multistrada, even though there's one in my garage. It doesn't seem as refined; it doesn't shift as easily. It's not a bad bike. It's just not as good as the other three."

Sherrie on Riding in Europe: "Opatija reminded us of South Africa [Camps Bay]; the houses on the hill and the beaches—we came around the corner and saw it and thought, wow."