This Tour of the Pyrenees has been organized especially with the US FJR Riders community in mind and may well become the first FJR Forum Meeting in Old Europe. A number of European FJR riders are also expected to join the group and make it truly international and a real bitch to manage.
Unless you want to airfreight your FJR to Europe, the best way is to rent a motorbike locally.
There are firms in or near Barcelona (Spain) that rent bikes (mostly BMWs) and this may be the best solution for you. Book the bike first and the accommodation later. (see details further down)
I am shooting for the following dates: May 28 to June 3, 2008 (That is leaving Barcelona on May 28 and returning there June 3. You will have to leave the US on May 26 and fly back on June 4) Weather for the end of May/early June is generally good and temperatures mild in the early AM. If it’s sunny it'll reach the mid-80s by midday. Waiting until mid-June or July means midday temps soaring well beyond 100F , with the hot road surface eating up your tires and becoming slippery where the tarmac “sweats”.(Let alone high-season hotel rates).
Why the Pyrenees and not the Alps?
The Alps are a massive mountain range with a total length of 1200 kms stretching over 7 different countries ( Italy, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and Slovenia ).
So, “riding the Alps ” needs further explanation. Which section of the Alps ?
To ride the whole range by crossing and re-crossing borders is a major undertaking (while undoubtedly massive fun) and would take weeks.
Road quality is another consideration: from personal experience I can say that only a small portion of the Alpine road network could be rated “good to very good”.
Traffic is the next stumbling block. The Alps being the Alps, everybody’s out there testing (and sometime exceeding) their limits riding motorbikes.
Cagers love the Alps , too. They drive there in their tens of thousands at the wheel of little city cars, SUVs, minivans, sportsters, luxury sedans, each one giddy with the Alpine thrill and most often all over your doggone lane. Traffic has become so bad that some municipalities have started charging tolls for crossing mountain passes. Others have set up speed-traps everywhere to line their local pockets. My answer to that is: forget it.
The Pyrenees are one-third of the Alps in length and only involve 2 countries: Spain and France. (Well, three if you count tiny Andorra).
Crossing borders is invariably fast and seamless.
You can get to know the Pyrenees pretty well in about a week and fall in love with their unspoilt beauty and good roads (especially on the Spanish side). Traffic is light and bikers you encounter are the long-range rider types. They’ve covered hundreds of miles to be there, they’re not the city pukes who race the Alps and get home for dinner.
Prices, too, are a factor. The Alps are pricey almost everywhere and accommodation (while generally very good) comes at a hefty price.
The Pyrenees are more modest, fairly rural, and hotels are not expensive (sometimes, there are no hotels).
I am not in business with the bike rental firms nor with any of the hotels and restaurants along the route. In fact, you’ll see me settle my bills like any other participant. I will however try to negotiate the best hotel rates for us, especially if we hit the magic number of 20 people.
I am not a professional tour leader, I’m doing this for the fun of riding together and I have every intention of enjoying this tour like everybody else. So if your hotel toilet won’t flush, please call Reception directly. (Of course, if anybody needs assistance with Spanish while we ride, I’ll be there to help out).
All routes, stops, hotels and meals listed in the program must be regarded as mere suggestions and “ride tips” for the participants’ benefit. I will not be held responsible for any problems encountered along the way or during stays. As I won’t act in a travel agent’s capacity I will not accept a travel agent’s liability for any accommodation mix-ups (while I actually expect none). The fact that I’ll be collecting deposits for hotel reservations only means that I’m reserving accommodation on your behalf and at no profit or commission for me.
You will also be individually responsible for any violation of the Spanish or French Highway Code when you ride, so please ride responsibly. You also might want to learn how to say “I’m soooo sorry, officer” “ I was only following that bald guy…” in French and Spanish…
I have chosen inexpensive but pretty decent accommodation on the assumption you will want to stay at the European equivalent of a Days Inn or Motel 6.
At the current dollar exchange rate, cost should be $70 to 80 per person per night including breakfast.
If you decide to join us, please specify the type of accommodation required, whether single room (SWB), double room (DWB) or if you’re traveling solo but don’t mind sharing with another rider.
I will start securing hotel rooms as soon as the first bookings come in.
Latecomers are always welcome but I can’t guarantee they’ll be staying at the same hotel and/or paying the same rate as the early-birds.
And remember: book your bike first! There’s more hotel rooms out there than there are motorbikes for rent.
Roads are good to very good in Spain (some are plain excellent). France’s a mixed bag but we’ll cover only a few dozen miles of French roads.
Watch out for gravel or cow dung as you ride. We only plan to use freeways or toll-roads for very short stretches.
Cagers in both France and Spain are not aggressive, drive considerately and many are even bike-friendly and they’ll move over to let us pass.
Truckers in Spain are the best. They’ll pull right and wave you along if the road is clear.
The degree of riding ability required is average.
On a scale from 1 (superslab ride) to 10 (riding Deal’s Gap) the roads on this tour will range between 2 and 8.
Considering the average age of the FJR rider, talking about discipline is almost an insult, but you never know…
For the sake of safety, keep your position in the group and do not pass the guy in front of you unless he rides off the road.
If you want to pass the lead bike, do so at your own risk. We may be leaving that road in a few minutes or stop for a break and you might well get lost.
All the usual common-sense riding rules apply and there’s no point in reiterating them.
If we exceed 10 bikes, we’ll split into two groups.
Spain has a number of different types of LEOs: Policia, Mossos de Esquadra (only in Catalonia), Guardia Civil and Forest Rangers. They all can write you a ticket but on the roads we’ll be riding there’ll be precious few patrol cars and we’re gonna be law-abiding folks most of the time anyway.
France has only the Gendarmerie to patrol rural areas (and some bike units ride FJRs).
Stick to the rules and you’ll never have to use your high-school French or Spanish.
Price of Gas
In the summer of 2007 Spanish gas cost on average EUR 1,05 a liter (against EUR 1,40 in France).
You do the math. We will fuel up our rides before turning in for the night and leave in the morning on a full tank.
There’ll be no need to ever buy gas in France, unless your tank leaks.
For bike rentals in Spain
(You may choose a smaller bike than an FJR, like a 650 or 800, if you ride solo. It’ll be powerful enough to stay with the group on this tour. Hondas and even HDs are also available).
For airfares to Spain from the US, add-on tours, extra hotel bookings etc. you may want to contact Sandra Williams firstname.lastname@example.org USA tel. 800-274-2544
Note: a $50 fee is charged for international air tickets
For further program info and bookings:
Please contact me through the Forum. I’m Teerex51 aka Stef.
In order to secure the hotel bookings I will ask all participants to Paypal funds to me sometime in early 2008. This money will cover your hotel costs and guarantee your accommodation. (Please be aware Paypal will charge me around 4% for each transaction).
Should we eventually reach a total of 20+ participants, group rates may then become applicable and you will get some cash back when you arrive. Every participant will receive an account statement showing the monies paid, the accommodation purchased and any balance left.
Food and drinks en-route and evening meals will be settled individually. You can reckon $50 a day ought to cover it. The average gasoline consumption is a bit over a tank (i.e.: 30 liters) a day.
Should you decide to cancel after having paid your deposit, the amount you will be refunded (if any) depends on hotel policy and whether your cancellation has affected our group rate.
Please be aware that I will book hotels starting the first night en-route and ending on the morning we leave for Barcelona on day 7. This means that you will be responsible for booking (and settling) your accommodation in BCN. (Once we have an idea of the group size, I may book a hotel for everyone on arrival from the US and on the last night of the Tour. We can decide to do this at a later stage. There are hundreds of hotels to choose from in BCN).
You’ll need a passport to get into Spain but there’s no need for ID when crossing inter-European borders. All border posts are unmanned or simply gone. Customs in and out of Andorra still exists and is a bit of a joke, yet I got stopped once entering Spain from La Vella on my motorbike and had to unpack a lot of stuff. If everything is neatly stowed and has a rain-cover on it, you can be sure they’ll want to search your bike. Customs agents are underpaid and this is a fringe-benefit of theirs.
Meals and Drinks
Lunch is as often as not a “baguette” sandwich with ham and cheese or assorted cold cuts on a platter or an omelette.
No fast food joints where we’re going to be, but “slow food” is also available for those who want something hot to eat.
France and Spain are home to several good brands of beer and, of course, a number of excellent wines. While ordering French champagne would be regarded as showing off, the Spanish equivalent (“cava” by Freixenet or Codorniu wineries) is moderately priced and very good, too.
Please be aware we don’t drink and ride. Anybody dying for a beer at lunchtime will probably have to die. Some folks mix beer with Seven-up with no adverse effects. You may try that if you don’t want to drink water or sodas with your lunch.
Now, evenings are a different story altogether….Bring your own Aspirin and Maalox.
If you want to be part of this group, just drop me a PM. I will post a list of participants every few weeks. I’ll use Forum nicknames not the real names. If anybody wants to be off the list, please tell me in your PM.
Day 0 (May 27, 2008)
Arrive Barcelona, Spain on the airline of your choice. (You will typically have left the US on May 26 ) Head to hotel. Drop bags and crash out. Have a good night’s sleep, tomorrow we start engines.
Day 1 (May 28, 2008)
Morning free to roam the city. Early PM, visit bike rental place and pick up the bike you booked.
Around 5PM hook up with other FJR riders who arrived BCN by car-ferry or by road.
Handshakes, backslaps all around and then the group leaves for the Costa Brava.
Arrive destination at 7.30PM. Paella is a must for dinner. (fish'n'chips also available for Brits) .
First round of beers is on me.(I can't believe I just said that...)
Our hotel is a couple of blocks from the Mediterranean’s sandy beaches. You can go for a midnight swim if you wish.
Day 2 (May 29, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast and head for the Pyrenees through Figueres.
Stop at scenic Besalù for coffee and an unmissable photo op. Continue to Ripoll as the twisties-to-straights ratio becomes interesting. We’re getting close to the Pyrenees… Proceed to State Road N152. Here you are treated to 50kms of pure exhilaration. This is a mountain road to remember.
Cross into France and head to Andorra. Arrive Pas de la Casa, climb the Envalira Pass and descend into La Vella, the tiny state’s capital. Shop till you drop – it’s duty free…(but check prices anyway as you would when buying cameras in NYC).Dinner and overnight.
Day 3 (May 30, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast and descend into Spain. From Seu d’Urgell head to Sort and angle North to Esterri and Vielha.
Take N230 due South and then N260 West to Castejon and Campo. Take A139 South to Graus. Cut West and take A130 North to Ainsa.
This itinerary does not make sense if you drive a car but when you ride a bike it’s the thing to do.
Beautiful roads and many photo ops here and maybe lunch, too, if you can stop twisting the throttle.
Ride on N260 all the way to Broto and then climb the short distance to Torla, in the Ordesa Nat’l Park. Dinner and overnight with the huge red-rock of Monte Perdido (Lost Mountain) looming above.
Day 4 (May 31, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast. You can leave your bags at the hotel as we’re coming back for the night. Now ride West to Biescas through Cotefablo Pass. Road’s fun but narrow. Watch out for cow dung on the blacktop. Here you take A136 to the Portalet Pass into France’s Aquitaine Region. Arrive Laruns and stop for coffee. (For God’s sake don’t buy gasoline in France! Cognac is cheaper.) Head North and then NW to Larrau.
Climb up the nasty French road D26 all the way to the pass and finally enjoy Spanish blacktop again. Roll down the wonderful Salazar valley for a few fun-filled miles and start climbing again to the Hoz d’Arbayun, an awesome canyon inhabited by eagles and hawks. Shoot a million pics and roll back to Torla via the N240 through Jaca. Dinner and overnight.
Day 5 (June 1, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast (this time with bags). Now ride West to Biescas through Cotefablo Pass (yep, we’ve been through here before.You want another way West from Torla, you better start blasting rock…). Once in Biescas head South to Jaca and then North on N330 to Canfranc. Stop for coffee and shoot a few pics of that huge white elephant of a train station. Climb the Somport Pass into France. Ride the E7 until it’s time to head NW to Arette. Better grab a bite here before continuing on to the Mouthful Pass i.e.:Port de la Pierre St. Martin (I told you so). This is a surprisingly good road for the French Pyrenees, but you’re in for a treat because NA172 on the Spanish side is probably even better.
Descend the Roncal valley and notice how many village names have become weird (unless you would name your own town Uztarroz or Ezcaroz). This is Spain’s Navarra region and many names are Basque. (Near here at Roncesvalles the Basques wiped out Charlemagne’s rear-guard and the fearless paladin Roland bought the farm in the process. That was in 778 AD and the spin-doctors of the time put the blame on a huge horde of 400,000 Saracens, i.e.: the usual suspects. Truth is, the Basques simply put paid to Charlemagne’s attempt to “liberate” Spain and proceeded to make hamburger of his knights and plunder his supply columns.)
Time to stop the history lecture and head for the hotel, dinner and overnight.
Day 6 (June 2, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast sans-bags: we’re coming back for the night. We head to France (St. Jean de Luz) and the Atlantic Coast through the Pyrenees’ NW reaches. Ride now along the Atlantic coast into Spain’s San Sebastian (in Basque-speak: Donostia). Visit city and snap away at the many targets. Coffee in San Seb’s a given. Then ride a short freeway stretch to Exit 12 and head for Zumaia. Cruise along the Atlantic shore and its huge breakers into Getaria.
This is a fishing village and seafood’s pretty good and inexpensive.
If the weather’s good, we can eat “al fresco”. You will have marveled at the greenery surrounding you, that’s because it rains a helluva lot in this area.
So we may have to eat inside after all.
Return to the hotel via the hill road to Villabona, a short freeway ride on N1 and then hit the scenic N130 through Pamplona. Dinner and overnight.
Day 7 (June 3, 2008)
Leave hotel after breakfast. We now head East to Yesa on N240 and catch bugs with our teeth as we grin during the whole ride along the Embalse de Yesa, a large man-made lake. Bends here are a bike-rider’s dream, except for some annoying grooves in the blacktop. But pretty damn good riding anyway. We will soon need to head South. Once we reach Puente de la Reina (The Queen’s Bridge), we take spectacular A132 and inevitably stop for pics every minute or so…
Our final destination’s waiting so we want to press on. After Huesca and Barbastro we head to Lerida and eventually reach Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona mid-afternoon (say around 4PM).
Some folks will leave the group tonight on the car-ferry or by road. Others will check into their hotel (not part of the tour) and enjoy a night out in BCN. You may want to return your rides to the rental company this PM, depending on the arrangements you have made at the outset.
To tour BCN you should most definitely use the subway system and/or walk.
Day 8 (June 4, 2008)
Catch your plane back to the US (or wherever).
I hope you enjoyed the tour. In fact I just know you have.
Photos of past tours here and a short video here