“Whether it’s riding over the Yorkshire Moors… crossing the Peak District…, or leading friends along the A370 through rural Somerset en route to Weston-super-Mare… all it took was a little more time and a vague plan.”
If you’re reading Scootering then it’s a safe bet that you have a scooter. We are therefore all members of ‘that club’ which understands that a motor-scooter is not only a great tool for beating traffic, but compared to being in a tin box of a car, is also the best way to truly see the world.
Whatever the capacity of your engine, scooter touring is a more pleasurable alternative than going directly from A to B. It’s something I try to allow for these days wherever possible, an opportunity to get off the motorways, explore the less travelled roads and discover places and things I’ve not seen before.
This is equally applicable to a British scooter rally as it is to an overseas adventure with plenty to see throughout our green and pleasant land without even thinking of getting a ferry anywhere.
Whether it’s riding over the Yorkshire Moors on the way to Scarborough, crossing the Peak District when taking the scenic route to Morecambe, or leading friends along the A370 through rural Somerset en route to Weston-super-Mare, they’ve all turned what could be potentially mundane journeys into far more memorable trips, and all it took was a little more time and a vague plan.
None of it was far off the beaten track, we just shave a few corners here and there and hey presto, a scenic road!
As I said last month, the target was the Rimini Lambretta Centre open day, and with planes, trains and automobiles generally hateful forms of transport, a good scooter seemed the logical choice, and after years of experience the Suzuki Burgman 650 sprung to mind immediately as the one for the job.
The underseat storage space is complemented by an accessory Givi topbox which together took enough clothes, cameras, iPad and chargers for two people to spend 10 days or so on the road.
But which road? As much as I wanted to get there fast, the reason for taking a scooter was to enjoy the ride, and not just because I was flying past cars at great speed on the autobahns. As such, the plan was left open so we could literally follow the road and end up where it took us. As long as we were at the shop on time.
Many years ago a band manager/driver told me the only way they’d consider crossing into Europe was on a ferry from Dover to Calais. As he explained, if you miss one, there’s usually another within an hour, and if a boat breaks down the rest simply sail around it.
I was reminded of this while waiting for an unacceptable amount of time at the Eurotunnel on our way to Italy. A lack of information for both customers and staff on the ground saw us hanging around at the terminal until gone midday because just one tunnel was being used due to a breakdown (or power cut, I’m still not sure).
When it was then suggested that the delay could continue until early evening I got onto my mobile and within 10 minutes had booked a ferry crossing and we were heading down the road to Dover to catch it. Sorted. And the last minute booking was no more money than the Chunnel either.
Also worth remembering is that if you break down in Europe, the Chunnel won’t let you push or tow your scooter on to its trains, while the ferry companies will allow you to do so, and at Calais and Dover they will often let a recovery truck take you to the dockside rather than push to and from the main gate.
After a fast blast from Dunkirk port to make up some of the lost day, we stopped at a local hotel near Spa in Belgium. This gave us the opportunity the next day to check the map for a cross country route that took us through the pretty town and areas of the Ardennes region that I’ve travelled past so many times, but never through. Beautiful scenery, picturesque villages, good roads with plenty of twists and turns; very recommended.
After crossing the Swiss border and buying an annual Vignate for motorway travel (top tip: buying in Swiss francs worked out much cheaper than euros), we blasted past the cities until we reached the lakes and again got off the beaten track for some sightseeing and generally far more pleasant roads.
Our stopping point that night was a biker-friendly local hotel in Wassen where we woke up in the morning to the sight of snow capped mountains from the window. We were also a short ride from the Andermatt Pass and while it wasn’t fully open yet, there was plenty to see and explore before the snow allowed you to go no further.
As it was early in the year our way through was via St Gotthards Tunnel, which is free, and we continued checking out the lakes the other side as we dropped into Italy around Como.
Once at our location there were plenty of local roads to explore in the region around San Marino, the principality itself well worth a visit (and best done on two wheels rather than four) if you find yourself in the area.
Emilia Romagna is generally a very beautiful region of Italy with enough quiet hills and valleys to check out only minutes from what at first appears to be a bustling town. They could just do with a road resurfacing programme because in places the Burgman was pretty much off-roading. And I thought the Old Kent Road was bad…
Coming back we gambled on Bologna and were pleasantly surprised to find a bike friendly hotel close to the city centre at a very good rate. Our next stop was Milan for the pilgrimage to all things Innocenti, before heading back through Switzerland with Colmar on our mind.
Having stayed they in the past we knew it was pretty enough with plenty of places to stay and eat, and we even bargained a good deal from a quality chain hotel for a decent sized room, breakfast and underground parking – a treat for our last night in Europe!
The final leg home was via the Alsace Wine Route (www.alsace-wine-route.com) which involves some simply stunning roads through a beautiful region of France.
So remind me, why don’t I want to join the cattle at Stansted again?
Although I’ve ridden across the Alps now at most times of the year, I don’t do it anywhere near enough to remember when the various passes are open and closed.
I do recall crossing in June for a EuroVespa Rally in the early 2000s and after four of us has coaxed our PXs and a T5 to the peak we were surprised to learn that the particular pass we were on had only been open for a fortnight. This was T-shirt weather in the summer, yet the snow was still piled over 12ft tall at the side of the roads!
As such, I now check both passes and tunnels before leaving home, and between them these websites offer some useful advice:
I often get asked by riders of all types of powered-two-wheeler what I reckon is the best scooter out there. “How long is a piece of string?” is my usual reply. When asked what I recommend for touring however, well I’ve still yet to find something better than a Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive – and I recommend it to bikers too.
It does everything I need it to and more, as long as you’re not greedy. By that I mean if you want to pack the kitchen sink and then go scratching around corners like Barry Sheene, look elsewhere. But if you’re away for a couple of weeks, you’re going to be carrying a fair bit of kit, a pillion too, then the Suzuki is King.
It will piss all over a Vespa GTS too, both on performance and comfort so if you want to enjoy the ride, munch the miles, yet still be able to filter through traffic and appreciate twisty mountain passes, then the Big Burger takes a lot of beating in my book.
Once at our destination the Burgman wasn’t allowed to rest with plenty of hills to tackle, a Sunday rideout to photograph and possibly a race around the twisties to the lunchtime restaurant stop. Ahem… I have to say here mind you, that the ‘power mode’ really got a good workout here and proved it’s worth as it pulled out leads from tight hairpins, the three disc brakes bringing the 277kg of scooter to a halt more than adequately a few yards later, the ABS at the back of your mind for reassurance.
Mischievousness aside, the Suzuki Electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (SECVT) really is a good piece of kit. If your only experience of an auto scooter is the common CVT rubber band as seen on almost all of them today (Gilera Runner, Italjet Dragster, Vespa GTS etc) then this really is different.
In ‘drive’ or ‘power’ auto modes it monitors the throttle action, responding to the rider grabbing a fistful and snatching it open by effectively changing down a gear to enable you to accelerate a lot faster than a normal CVT would allow. In ‘power’ mode it holds on the equivalent of lower gears for a little longer, allowing the engine to rev high and resulting in faster acceleration.
Use this to pass another car and it will take you from 80mph upwards at an eye watering rate of knots (on a German autobahn of course) to a comfortable three figure top speed, even fully loaded and with a passenger. And if that’s not enough, you can select six speeds manually, changing gear using push buttons on the handlebars.
Add electrically operated screen and mirrors, heated grips and seat, and 150 to 165 miles between fill-ups even at full chat (and that’s before the last ‘panic’ flashing light comes on the dashboard), and this is a decent piece of kit. The Burgman 650 Executive retails at £8799 RRP which isn’t cheap at first glance, but then again Piaggio are charging nigh on £8500 for a 125cc Vespa 946 and if you type Lambretta into a certain auction website you’ll see people asking £8-£10,000 for a couple of models. Suddenly the Burger doesn’t seem so pricy.
10 top tips for tiptop touring
1: Don’t risk new riding kit on tour. If untested you’re guaranteed boots will rub, gloves will be uncomfortable, waterproof trousers will leak and the jacket will be so bulky you can’t move. Test it well first.
2: If away for a long time practice packing and unpacking at home first. It took us three days on the road to find the optimum place for everything!
3: Use a map rather than sat nav on your journey. The latter only shows you a very small area or main roads, but a map allows you to see the bigger picture and find alternative, more interesting routes.
4: Don’t be afraid to haggle for a hotel, especially out of season or arriving late. Online booking can also be cheaper than walk-ups, and get loyalty cards and mobile Apps for potential discounts.
5: Learn numbers 1 to 10 in different languages. It will prove useful for many things from fuel to directions, booking hotel rooms and even buying a round of drinks. Just don’t stop at pump 11 at the petrol station!
6: Either mark your mph speedo in kph, or make a note of the main kph limits in countries you’re visiting and learn their mph equivalent so only a quick glance at your speedo is needed when the limit changes as you ride along.
7: Check out in advance deals for mobile phone roaming abroad, including data usage. This could be ideal for checking weather forecasts and booking hotels.
8: With so many gadgets in our lives these days, invest in some double USB chargers. You can get these for both 12v cigarette sockets on the bike, and 3-pin wall plugs, allowing one socket to charge two appliances (and don’t forget your travel adaptor of going abroad!).
9: Even if camping, if the weather is very bad a cheap hotel with secure indoor/ underground parking could prove ideal to dry your kit and tent out.
10:Remember that place names can change from country to country. What is Liege in Belgium to us here in Blighty becomes Luik on local road signs, while Munich in Germany is signed as Monaco in Italy.
– Originally published July 2015