Out of California | COOK’S CORNER

European riding is different but there are unquestionable similarities.

Days before United Airlines succeeded, on only the second try, in getting me to Berlin for the start of this year's Edelweiss/Motorcyclist reader tour , we received a missive claiming that we don't work hard enough to test bikes outside of California. The brunt of the commentary focused on our CA-centric testing regimen, claiming that we don't spend enough time on open highways, in hot/humid conditions, in the rain; in short, we're slackers. And because of that, we're not providing our readers full service.

Setting aside the issue of us, well, living and working in California—where, incidentally, the bulk of the support network for our industry is based—there is value in testing unfamiliar bikes in familiar places. We know where to find choppy concrete-block highways, tight and twisty two-lane, fast sweepers, crowded cities, and everything else (besides snow and glare ice, probably) needed to thoroughly test a modern motorcycle. Plus, we can ride and photograph year-round. Crazy as it sounds, we’ll be working on our April issue as Christmas rolls through.

We don’t care how you do it in California! Cook, Frank, and Robert (l-r) glacier-test ADV gear in Austria.

But our reader got his wish, since staffer Aaron Frank, videographer Spenser Robert, seven lucky Motorcyclist readers, and two Edelweiss tour guides joined me on a fantastic tour aboard what the Euros call "roadsters" that started in Berlin and concluded in Bologna. We sampled surprising cold (for August), plenty of rain, all kinds of roads, stultifying heat, and humidity (thanks, Italian lowlands), every day for a full week of travel. We had a good cross section of naked bikes on the tour, which would allow me to see if the conclusions made in California held up on some of Europe's best roads.

There is no question that European riding is different, just as our California experience doesn’t reflect what it’s like to ride in other parts of the US. But there are unquestionable similarities. On the fourth day of the Edelweiss tour, Aaron and I were chatting through our Bluetooth communicators as we meandered through Austrian farmlands. “You know, this could totally be western Wisconsin,” he said. “The kind of road, the landscape, it’s all very familiar.” I’ve ridden in that part of the country, too, but as soon as he mentioned it, I imagined coming around a bend and finding a cheese shop or brat stand. Later in the trip, as we churned through the pass between Foza and Valstagna, Italy, that emptied into a gorgeous river valley, we could have been in California. Or Spain.

I suspect our letter-writer wasn’t as concerned with how verdant the landscape or smooth the roads but how different testing conditions—location, weather, road size, and quality—influence the conclusions we come to on comparisons and road tests. I was a little curious, too, so I paid close attention to the comments of our fellow tourers and my own impressions to see how they aligned with our recent naked-bike comparo.

In that story (see "In Thrust We Trust" here), the BMW S1000R won on value and performance, with the KTM 1290 Super Duke R right with it. In the Europeans' homeland? No change. Everyone on the tour was either hugely impressed with both bikes or flat-out smitten with one of them. Sometimes both. In the same day. Performance and capability work everywhere. The biggest swing had to do with weather protection. In Europe, the average speeds over secondary roads are relatively low, so a naked bike is nothing like a hardship. You will, however, see more weather, especially north, and that's a point against the roadster for a Euro tour. No wonder mountain passes are virtually clogged with BMW R-GS bikes.

A surprise to me was the Honda. We omitted the CB1000R from our naked-bike comparison, believing that it had gone too long without a major update and that it would not finish well. That was a mistake. While the CB-R is nowhere near as charismatic as the top finishers, it is unflinchingly competent, the perfect sightseeing vehicle because it demands so little from the rider. On those sections of the Edelweiss tour where I could relax and take in the scenery, the CB was an amazingly good choice.

We don’t care how you do it in California! Cook, Frank, and Robert (l-r) glacier-test ADV gear in Austria.