For the first time in three days I’m wrapped in a blanket of soft, sweet silence.
I’m still immersed in the world of two wheels — more specifically, two wheels produced by BMW — but the constant hum of thousands of boxer twins and in-line fours has been replaced by the rustling of a stiff breeze through my open visor. I’ve taken advantage of BMW’s test fleet, and as the gob-smackingly beautiful European vistas roll by, another in an endless succession of cheesy grins spreads itself across my sunburnt face.
This particular cheesy grin comes from the C-Evolution’s surprisingly sprightly performance, its delightful lack of noise and the looks of surprise crossing the faces of the many bikers I’m passing on a sinuous mountain pass. This scooter is BMW’s entry into the electric market, and I’m impressed. It undoubtedly has a place in Europe, where rebates and incentives abound from countries that are massively incentivising a green transport revolution, but until the South African government offers similar rewards, I have a feeling the R200 000 price tag will be too steep for most.
After a refreshing glide along the valley floor, following the Loisach River into Austria, I’m back at BMW Motorrad Days. This festival of all things BMW is an annual occurrence on the first weekend in July in the southern Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, an ideal venue for a celebration of motorcycling. A tented town has gone up on the festival grounds, containing everything from a showroom for all of BMW’s new models, to a tiny corner outlet selling commemorative badges and pins. But best of all are the countless variations of standard models, particularly the R nine T, that have been modified into some truly wonderful “specials”. The biggest tent of all is the main marquee — which is probably able to hold at least 3 000 people, all seated at sturdy wooden benches and tables that have to support the weight of endless steins of beer and perfectly crispy pork knuckles, known in this part of the world as schweinshaxe.
Each evening this huge enclosure reverberates to the sound of traditional Bavarian music and a cacophony of different languages as BMW riders from the farthest corners of the globe mix, party and compares stories of their shared passion for the bikes with the blue-and-white propeller motif. Within earshot of my own bench, where Afrikaans, English and German compete to be heard, I can also catch snatches of Spanish, Russian and Indonesian.
Behind us, a group of Colombians trade friendly jibes with some Chileans (the Copa America soccer tournament is at the knockout stages), while a group of Japanese watch on with smiles as wide as the occasionally vast cleavages of our waitresses —all dressed up in traditional Bavarian dirndls — swoop by. On the first Friday of the festival I walk through the site to get an overview of what’s on offer. There’s too much to take in, too many beautiful, unique creations, too many people to speak to, too many stalls to peruse and far too much in the way of entertainment, with bands of all persuasions playing in different corners of this temporary bikers’ paradise.
On Saturday I soak up as much of the two-wheeled entertainment I can find, and catch myself gawking, open mouthed like an overwhelmed child, at the unbelievable antics of the riders in one of the few surviving “wall of death” shows in Europe, if not the world. And then I sit and cheer with a few thousand other fans as stunt rider Chris Pfeiffer does things with a BMW F 800 R that make you question your eyesight and the laws of physics. The man is, quite simply, a genius on what is essentially a standard commuter bike.
He is one of several people I interview during my time at BMW Motorrad Days, and he lets slip a rather interesting nugget of information: he seems to be under the impression that he will be performing in South Africa later this year. Doing a rather feeble impersonation of an investigative journalist, I manage to track down BMW Motorrad South Africa’s top man, Alex Baraka. “Yes, indeed,” he confirms. “We’ll be doing something similar in South Africa, some time in November. “A celebration of motorcycling that caters to riders of all models of BMW motorcycle, on- and off-road.
And of course it will be open, just as it is here, to riders of all brands. We want to share the passion of BMW with everyone. ” And that is perhaps the one thing that has surprised me the most, although perhaps it shouldn’t have. We all tend to concentrate on the stereotypical vision of BMW as the ultimate expression of German technology, efficiency and engineering excellence, forgetting that behind it all are people every bit as passionate about life on two wheels as you and I. I don’t want to wish time away, but November can’t come soon enough for me…