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21st Century Motorcycle Touring Through Europe: Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

1) Luggage/what to pack

This is another personal decision. If you are renting a bike, then you’re limited to the space in the luggage that it comes with. You’ll need to take into consideration the range of weather that you are likely to encounter during your journey. Although unlikely in the peak of summer, snow can fall in the high Alps almost any time of the year; rain is more likely. Fog, sunshine, strong winds and high temperatures are all on the plate for any ride in Europe. The gear you choose should be easy to layer, so that you can adjust to whatever conditions you encounter.

Besides your riding gear, you should bring something comfortable to wear in the evenings or days off the bike. Again, layers that double as both riding and “civilian” clothes are your best options. Having comfortable off-bike clothes means that you’re more likely to hike up to that castle – and enjoy it. And when it comes time to pack the so-called “essentials,” It is important to consider that just because you own it, doesn’t mean that you need to bring it. You’re better off not bringing something “just in case,” saving yourself not only room, but also weight. European stores sell just about anything you could possibly need, even if it might have a different name, in case you find you can’t live without it.

Many of today’s electronics can be charged via USB plugs, making it easy to keep yourself connected and the camera clicking. I recommend picking up a simple-but-slightly bulky universal plug adaptor, so you can carry one item instead of numerous small ones. Plus, this way you’ll be sure to have things covered in case you find yourself wandering into an unexpected country.

From here on out, I am assuming that you’re going to rent your motorcycle locally, or bring your own bike with you. The information below is something that any reputable tour group should handle for (or with) you. But if you’re on your own, then you should take note of some additional nuggets of information.

2) Fueling your ride

Most gas stations in Europe offer diesel, unleaded and premium unleaded. My husband and I had just started a trip and decided to fuel up in Italy with some premium. What we didn’t realize was that it was premium diesel. Our bikes were not happy about it, but we got everything cleaned up and running again. The point is: be careful which pump you choose. I’ve never had any trouble finding premium unleaded fuel, but knowing which pump to use takes some consideration. Colors are a big hint, as unleaded tends to have green pumps, and diesel often has yellow pumps.

When you stop at a gas station with a human behind the counter, it is still a “pump first, pay later” culture. Once you figure out which pump to use and how it works, fill up your tank and then go inside and let them know the pump number. However, many stations outside of built-up areas are self-service, meaning that no one is there to assist you if you have a question. The machines are there to take your money, of course, but not all of them offer an English translation of the steps, so it can be tricky to figure out what is supposed to happen next. I have skipped a fueling station because I couldn’t work out what I needed to do in order to get the fuel pump to start.

When it comes time to pay, the machines that I have come across have all taken credit cards – in fact, you’re more likely to find a machine that will take a card but not cash, than a machine that will take cash but not a card. Be aware that European cards use a chip and pin system, and that the standard US type of card (which requires a signature) can sometimes be unusable here. I understand that some US card companies are moving towards the chip and pin system, so it might be a good idea to check with your credit card company and see if they can give you a new card before you start on your trip.

3) Do you need a modern day translator app on your phone?

Parlez vous Francais? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? ¿Hablas Español? While not everyone is a linguist, there is no reason to fear a foreign country simply because you do not know the language. Europe is a modern, well-connected place and many (I dare say, “most”) people know at least some English. This is very true in the cities but does get less common the further into the countryside you go.

In my experience, the people I have come across have been very friendly and willing to help. They may say that they do not know English, but that is usually (not always) a type of modesty and underestimation of their own abilities. Of course, there really are those people who don’t know any English, and when you need something more complicated than a bite to eat or a bed for the night, that is where a translation app on your phone can be handy.

Referring to our fueling problem in Italy, we were helped by a family who did not speak English. While we could communicate with a couple of words of French, it wasn’t enough to clearly work through the problem at hand. We found that Google Translate was not very effective - at least judging by the English translations of what they typed into the phone, and their looks of incomprehension at what I had typed. In the end, we eventually were successful in getting our bikes running again, but it was not a smooth process. Perhaps a good, quality translation app would have saved some time and frustration. But on the other hand, it was an experience made all the richer for having been able to work through it. And it also reinforced my idea that people are generally good and want to help.

Colleen First/December 2018

-- end of part two. Stay tuned to the next issue for part three. --

Need more from Colleen in the meantime? Enjoy her blog at

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