Three years ago, we travelled to Northern Spain and Portugal on the BMW GS with a group of bikers. We had a wonderful time and this year decided to revisit the experience. We toured with Global Motorcycle Tours, having gone with the Company three times before to various locations in Europe. Northern Spain and Portugal remain our favourites even though this year's journey was quite a different kettle of fish.
When we join these tours, we like to get to know everyone else in the group. Usually consisting of about fifteen bikes with a mix of singles and couples, most of the singles are male, so it's good to have at least five or six couples involved. Mark and I are 'people loving people' and part of the holiday for us is chatting to everyone, finding out a little about each person and hopefully making some new good friends. It's always interesting to see the vast range of characters who get into biking. In the past we have met musicians, nurses, teachers, oil-field engineers, surgeons, chief executives, metal workers, hotel proprietors, bus drivers, to name but a few. Once on a motor bike, there is no difference - the bike is the leveller, the link between all.
But of course, the real holiday is the tour. Riding on roads that sweep and wind through mountain passes or across open plains with little traffic is a joy. When the weather is warm, there is nothing like being on a motorbike, the breeze in your face, the smells of the countryside herbs or cattle changing to odours of civilisation as you approach a town. The aromas of newly baked bread, or roasting meat waft fleetingly through your senses together with the traffic of the busy streets. Then back out into the countryside again, watching storks standing in mown meadows, the sight of men working in the fields, scything the grass in preparation for next winter's fodder. The sound of the bells on mountain goats whilst you wait patiently for a flock of sheep to be herded across the road by an old bored-looking sheep dog.
Riding in a group with fourteen other bikes is an experience in itself. After a day or so, you find yourself bonding as a group, thinking like a group, looking out for each other. If one of the group have a mishap everyone feels it. Sometimes, as in all groups, there are people that you don't feel so comfortable around and this for me, is part of the adventure. But they are still a part of the group and because of this, each time we go on a tour it is different.
People tell me that being a pillion on a motorbike is dangerous and that maybe I shouldn't be putting my life at risk for such a pastime. This year's tour in Spain and Portugal did bring home to me just how dangerous it can be. Anyone can come off a bike, even the most careful of riders, and I have always been aware of that fact. However I have always been confident that my partner is a competent rider who would not take risks, especially not with me on the back, and not in such a situation as whilst on a tour like this.
It was only on the second day, the first full day of the tour, when one of the group had an accident and came off on a bend. We were riding towards the middle of the group which had strung out over several miles when the tour leader pulled up, led us into a shady spot and told us that one of the riders had come off. We knew nothing more at this point as he left us with his partner and went back to investigate. We waited in the limited shade for news. He kept us fully informed and within an hour or so, the rider was on his way to hospital, extremely lucky to have survived what could have been a nasty outcome. A more subdued party arrived at the hotel that evening. You will always get riders who take perhaps more risks than is necessary and I imagine that after riding on English roads, suddenly arriving in a country where the highways seem to be made for bikers to enjoy, it is easy to forget how dangerous some of the roads can be.
There was much talk in the bar that night and it made me think about how much responsibility we each have towards the group in these situations. You pay for a holiday adventure and perhaps you feel that it's no one's business but your own how you experience that holiday, but if you are in a group such as this, what you do and how you behave has an effect on the group. Luckily for the rider involved, he had only fairly minor injuries - but it was a close call and certainly affected the way others behaved after the event. For me, I saw how well we were all looked after by the tour leaders who ensured that everything for the rider who came off was put into place without a hitch, as well as keeping us all updated on progress from the moment of the accident to the end of the tour eight days later. They worked hard to keep the morale of the group on a level so that we could still enjoy our holiday whilst being aware of lessons which may have been learned by this incident. Some people may say that going on a 'guided' tour is an expensive way to travel on holiday but I can honestly say that the tour leaders earned their money on this tour.
We certainly recommend this company for a superb range of tours in Europe for those who wish to combine a great holiday with an adventure. Certainly not for the faint-hearted but great fun. Run by Tom and Susan Bennett.
Facebook page: Global Touring UK Motorcycle Tours
This Tour was the Northern Spain & Portugal Tour which covered Picos de Europa, the Peneda-Geres National Park in Portugal, the Serra Da Estrela National Park, and included a visit to the Sandemans Quinta do Seixo vineyard.