Berlin Trip – A view from the front

In my information for Group participants I used the following:

Group riding in Europe can be tricky especially on motorways or dual carriageways. It is not usually safe or practicable to use the drop off system that we normally use in Club Ride outs. Instead we need to adopt the “Buddy System”. This means that you need to ride keeping the group member behind you in sight at all times. If he/she disappears from view, stop safely and wait for them to reappear. The rider in front of you should do the same so eventually the ride leader should also stop. We need to allow good space to clearly indicate where to turn off.
Your ride leader is a willing volunteer but has not had chance to ride the route in advance and is following satnav and/or map directions. Please be patient if we have to stop more frequently than you expect to check/change directions etc. [NB As Geoff is your ride leader expect the odd deviation or two (e.g. timber yards, multi-storey car parks etc.).This is quite normal with him in charge! For most this is part of the fun. It you find this distressing, look forward to buying yourself a large anodyne tincture of grain or grape after safe arrival at our last destination of the day to sooth your nerves.]

Never was a truer word spoken in jest. I lost the first bunch of faithful followers at the A5 roundabout at Stoney Stratford! The A5 south exit was either not signed at all or very poorly signed. I proceeded like a comet with a short tail around this marvellous roundabout, having to stop at each exit for traffic lights. By the time we had almost completed our 360 degrees, I saw with dismay our tail end and one other rider entering the roundabout and taking the correct exit…
We did manage to meet up again and all make it safely to Harwich to catch the overnight ferry to the Hook. We didn’t do too badly through Holland on their motorway system despite lots of roadworks and routeings not on my sat nav. We stopped for the first time at a marvellous service area. Plenty of parking but only one problem – the facilities including fuel were all on the other side of the motorway. Pedestrian access by subway footpath was fine, but it did require a further stop at the next services for fuel. We had only lost one by this time which was quite good for me.

Shortly before entering Germany we deviated off the motorway and eventually onto the B214. This is a good road which heads roughly east from the border all the way to our planned stopover in Nienburg. We managed to find a service area with reasonable food and fuel en route so all OK so far. By now the temperature was climbing into the mid-twenties °C. We survived the heat and all arrived OK at the hotel to find that the one lost in Holland had in fact beaten us to it. We showered and changed, then sauntered into town to find a beer and a meal. For some of us this was at a delightful hostelry with a sun trap rear garden. Pictures elsewhere on the Blog.

We started out the next morning having had much help in changing my headlight bulb (Pictorial evidence elsewhere…). Sadly we lost four members of the group before we got to the filling station in town. We did find and absorb them back into the Group shortly after leaving Nienburg, but did manage to lose Terry our temporary back marker. “It is an easy route” I said. “We just follow B214 eastwards, then turn left onto the B188 past Wolfsburg until it meets the B5. Turn right and follow to Spandau.” Well most of them did, but not the illustrious leader and his magic satnav. Somewhere around Wolfsburg the road sign said B188 left. Satnav said straight on. Which to take, thought I? I think the satnav probably knows best so I followed the satnav.

A good number followed me, but the rest followed the intended route. When we reached the A2 and satnav wanted me to take that for Berlin, I knew we were in trouble. We should have been nowhere near the A2. We carried on for a few miles then stopped in a shady avenue beside a beer garden when we had a pleasant lunch. Looking at the map and sat nav, I realised my mistake. We had come too far south and the logical solution was in fact to take the A2 to Berlin after all. It was hot. We were tired (but not too emotional) and it was agreed to yomp along the A2 to make progress and reach our hotels in Berlin before it got very late.

Terry managed to arrive 2 hours before me. The rest of the faithful B188 followers got there about 20 minutes before me. By now temperature was up to 30°C. A shower, beer and relaxation followed by food and more beer was called for. It was about this point that I reminded all in earshot that “I was not in fact the Tour Leader” as I had never been to Berlin before and in the words of Manuel from Fawlty Towers “I know nothing!!!” Sightseeing was the order of the next two days.

Early on Monday 15 June we regrouped outside the BMW Motorrad factory in Spandau. Our hosts were very kind, allowing us to park in front of the visitor centre and we were able to leave surplus clothing, bags, boots, helmets etc locked safely while we took our tour of the plant. We were given a detailed presentation on the BMW Group and specifically the Motorrad division before being split into two groups for the walking tour. Our excellent guides took us through the production plant stopping at prearranged points to explain the processes being carried out. An efficient radio system was issued to us to ensure that we could all hear the guide. We were shown most of the production processes and it was clear that there is much attention to detail both for quality control and maintaining a clean environment in which to work. I’m not sure I would go so far as eat off the floor, but the expression did come to mind.

We followed the production cycle from engine components through to final assembly and testing. Clearly because of shipment logistics, it is true that the Dealers are expected to finish the assembly for items such as panels which could otherwise become damaged in transit. One point strongly made was that the production is tailored to ensure that all bikes are made to a specific order. It was explained that production tends to be seasonal with quieter periods when staff can take their holidays and other times when 24 hour working is used.

After the factory tour, we split into disparate groups. The largest group headed for HarzBiker aka Pension Roseneck at Bad Lauterberg in the Harz Mountains. We were made most welcome by Jacquie and Greg Niven our hosts for the next 4 nights. Jacquie had arranged a BBQ meal for us atop the nearest hillside. Some of our party manage the chairlift up. The rest were ferried by minibus to the Restaurant. The weather continued to be warm and welcoming. The food was absolutely magnificent with plenty left over.

We had no specific plans other than a rideout with Greg on the Wednesday to explore some of his favourite roads. Dave, Melvyn and I went to Wernigerode and caught the steam train up to the summit of the Brocken, the highest point in the region. Dave and Rosemary suffered a puncture so didn’t come on the railway, but did find a garage to fit a new tyre. Dave also had two headlight bulb failures on the trip and Dave Shanks had another bulb failure.

On Thursday we experienced some damp stuff falling out of the sky so some of us went to the P.S. Speicher motor museum in Einbeck. This marvellous museum is housed in an old mill on 5 floors and contained a complete history of cycles, motor cars and motor bikes. It was absolutely fascinating and really requires visiting several times to get the full benefit. The restaurant is also well worth a visit.

After the Harz we headed for Gembloux intending originally to participate in the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. All was sold out and traffic flooding around the area in Biblical proportions so alternative activities were found. Some of us visited Namur and the ancient citadel. We found some delightful crepes, waffles and ice cream before setting off to Dinant. The Citadel there was accessible only by a seemingly never-ending staircase or by cable car. After carefully parking the bikes (!) we were whisked up in the cable car and found that the citadel was a museum. The exhibits informed us about wartime activities and the effective destruction of most of the town. The buildings in the town today are mostly reconstructions but the views along the river and from the citadel were well worth the investment of €8. An alternative route back to the hotel was employed to vary our experience of this non flat part of Belgium. Once again the trusty satnav led me up the garden path. She (well it is a female voice) wanted me to cross the river but her chosen bridge was closed, so a diversion hastily improvised.

The ride home was pretty unmemorable especially the M25 experience. The orbital car park lived up to its nick name and the services at Cobham were full to bursting. We had to filter in and out of the car park queues just to use the services, before leaving the M25 at our earliest sensible opportunity.

Several folk told me that they had enjoyed the experience. I certainly did. Grateful thanks to other committee members on the trip and all who helped to ensure that things ran smoothly.


Author: geoffbmwox