Tips for Riding in Europe

Some tips from fellow New England Riders after their riding trips in Europe, from a discussion on Facebook.

Nancy Alves Martin: Shop around for bikes. We got a very good price because we rented three bikes for three weeks. They even delivered them from Frankfurt to Munich to the hotel. Be clear about what insurance is included.

  • Don’t get a huge bike. Riding mountain passes is more fun and less work with a smaller, nimble bike.
  • Plan on 150 miles a day, 200 max unless it’s an A-road day. We used BaseCamp or Harley Travel Planner which you will need wifi to use. In Scotland and Iceland I also planned 200 miles or less miles a day. There’s a lot to see along the way.
  • Don’t over plan. In three weeks we never had a problem finding accommodations in July. August might be another story. Remember you are doing mountain passes and summer is off-season. The accommodations either had food or it was within walking distance. That said, Scotland and Iceland because of a lack of accommodations are very planned.
  • If you don’t wear your gear on the flight, which I never do, everything you need will fit into a large rolling duffle: riding gear, tank bag, moto luggage liners with clothes, toiletries, etc. We have a carry on that we use for helmets, Senas, GPS.
  • Try to plan a stay or two in MoHos where you will meet lots of motorcyclists. Much fun.
  • Mostly everything went on a card. Get a chip card. We usually carry local currency for small purchases.
  • Know the PIN on your chip card as you will find yourself getting gas at unattended gas stations. Ask me how I know.
  • Travel light. Wicking clothing washes and drys easily. I once did a 9-week trip with, two each wicking long and short sleeved shirts, 1 zip off pants, 1 jeans, 3 wicking undies, 3 wicking socks. It’s boring but it’s a motorcycle trip not a fashion show.
  • Bring power plug adapters for charging stuff.
  • Take your electric gear. Even in the three-week heat wave in Alps/Dolomites, I used it under my BMW Air jacket on some of the high passes. Ask me how often I used it in Scotland and it’s packed for Iceland. I always carry rain gear. Didn’t need it in Europe or South Africa (actually I used it in SA, but it’s a story), but sustained rain in Scotland and, I’m betting Iceland, make it a must-pack. Arrange with the rental company about attaching anything to the battery. In Iceland they don’t allow it, so we’ll do it after picking the bikes up.
  • I usually will buy a SIM card with phone calling, text, and data on at least one phone. In Scotland we just used wifi at night.
  • If you are going to be in remote areas, know where there’s gas, or get it whenever you see it. In Lesotho, Africa i had gas poured into my bike from two-liter soda bottles. It was planned, if it hadn’t, we would have been stranded.
  • General travel tip: if you wear glasses, take a spare pair.


Lisa Cheney: I think you’ve covered pretty much everything Nancy! Your packing list was very helpful. If traveling to Switzerland bring Swiss francs, as they are not part of the EU. Some places will accept Euro but you never know. Definitely the less you pack, the better. I had 2 sidecases and a top case but ended up trying to get everything I needed into one case liner so I didn’t have to lug anything more than that up to the room at night.


Nancy Alves Martin: If you really don’t want to do much route and accommodation planning, and you have the money, you can usually do a self-guided tour. They rent the bikes for you, pick up and drop at airport, luggage delivery if you’re not ending up in the same place that you started. Routes are all done for you, motorcycle friendly accommodations with food there or close. The company is usually local. They know the best roads and must-do stops.

We did this for New Zealand. The company uses the same accommodations for all tours so you’re very likely going to be having dinner and breakfast with other motorcyclist from all over. Knowing what I know now, I’d likely do it myself, but I don’t regret doing it that way.

For Iceland we were going to do this, but they didn’t get enough people. The tour operator gave me the itinerary and stops (with GPS coordinates even), and I made the reservations and wrote my own gpx files in BaseCamp. Win, win!


Nancy Alves Martin: One last note. I have gpx files for a 12-day Scottish Highlands tour, starting and ending in Inverness. I also just completed planning two weeks in Iceland. It’s a shame to do all this work and not share, so if anyone wants the files for their personal use, I will share.


Nancy Alves Martin: Learn a few words/phrases in the local language(s). Usually not necessary, but people love when you make the effort. Make believe you’re Canadian, also. We were in Switzerland maybe four days. We got by with credit cards, but having a few francs would have been convenient. Another Europe tip: buy a flat sink stopper since most sinks won’t have one. Mine is in my toiletry pack.


Alan Chipetine: How long does it take to get comfortable riding on the left side of the road?

Nancy Alves Martin: I’ve done it three times. The first two times I put “keep left” stickers on my mirrors to remind me. It really doesn’t take any time all. You do, for the first couple of days, have to pay attention and think before turning at intersections. Rotaries are another place you have to think.

When you’re tired at the end of the day, it takes more thought. Being connected to someone using comms helps.

An Alps/Dolomites tour is all done on the right side.


Magilla Ner: I survived two weeks in Europe with all dry wicking clothing. 3 sets LD Comfort motorcycle underwear. Dry wicking shirts, shorts, one pair of pants and 3 pairs of wool quick dry socks. Gortex gear, water proof boots.

Brought single use Tide liquid packs to wash stuff out in the sink. Would probably bring small bottle of Woolite instead as it is lower suds -but the Tide worked.

I wish that I had brought a fleece despite hot weather for most of the trip. Nights cool right down. Ask for English menus. Most places had them. Don’t wait, go and do it.


Joe Proia: Larger groups may require making reservations with hotels ahead of time. Smaller groups can usually get by without reservations (that brings the excitement of the trip to another level). Try to stay out of the bigger chain hotels and look for the family run operations in rural areas, they are sooo much more personal and you really get a local flavor. So many fond memories meeting the locals.

And be careful to try to avoid weekends on the major passes (eg Stelvio) they can get crowded with a lot of “go fast” locals. Also be aware that some destinations are very touristy (We tried to visit the Neuschwanstein castle but the crowds resembled Times Square so we passed it by).

And as far as your concerns about terrorism, generally, stay away from large crowds if at all possible. As far as anti-Americanism, I have had only minor issues with that. Act inappropriately and it doesn’t matter where you are from; respect the local traditions, be kind, and you will be welcomed.