I once went on a management course. You know those useless days away from real work, which serve only to have your inbox pile up with shit you really should be looking at, but instead you spend time getting in touch with who you are and daydreaming in shifts either about that new slipper clutch for the track bike or that gorgeous girl you saw this morning. At the end of said course the annoyingly chipper woman who was ‘facilitating’ told us all “remember, never ever make important decisions when you’ve got your bad idea hat on!”
The bad idea hat was firmly on my head on Friday evening, when I decided to set my alarm clock for 7am the following morning and attempt to tackle the Eroica. What’s the the Eroica then? Here’s a link. In essence it’s a 205km loop around the province of Siena, divided between paved and gravel roads. It’s actually a cycling event held in September, but seeing as it’s on open roads it can be done with anything you want whenever you bloody feel like it. Yes, I’m going off road with a 240kg pachyderm, sure the brochure has lots of pictures of very manly men riding it across sand dunes, but I’m not a very manly man, I’m a fat bloke with finance owing. Remember the bad idea hat?
Anyway, the Eroica kicks off in Gaiole in Chianti, where you get approximately five kms of asphalt before things get very dusty and all of a sudden, very dangerous. Not because of the road, because of the bike. It has an Enduro mode, which softens the throttle and suspension off, backs off traction control and makes everything all a bit more friendly, what it doesn’t do is turn off the ABS. Approaching a hairpin left turn, I take the appropriate enduro stance and start to brake. Nothing. I get pulsing through the pedal and the shaft drive shits itself and starts bouncing all over the shop. Fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fuuuuuck, I somehow manage to get the bastard slowed down and make the turn. Seat pinched, brow sweaty, hands a little shaky I stop and assess the situation. There are uglier places to soil yourself.
After having taken a breather I got back on the pachyderm and continued on my journey. The Eroica is very cool because it’s all signposted and you know exactly where you are at all times. This didn’t stop me getting lost. In Siena. The town I come from. Despite this momentary lapse in concentration I managed to find my way in the end and was soon back on the appropriate path. The road leaves Siena and points south, towards some of the nicest scenery you can possibly imagine. Once again I have only the briefest respite on paved surfaces and am soon clicking back into Enduro mode for the gravelly stuff. Like I mentioned, this enduro mode softens things up and makes the traction control intervention much less pronounced, but it was still a pain in the arse coming out of corners so I turned the traction control off completely. The bike was transformed. On the more open, flowing roads of this portion of the Eroica I could get into my full Gaston Rahier delusion mode, up on the pegs, banging through gears, fishtailing like a hero (in reality I only got it sideways a few times, but I did giggle a lot). Things remained open and flowing for the next 30kms of dirt road and much enjoyment was had. However once again the view got the better of me so I decided to stop and take some more pictures.
The journey around the southern side of Siena continues and I continue to alternate between gravel and asphalt. Clicking between riding modes is a bit baffling, if you do it in neutral the bike switches from one to the other almost instantaneously, if you do it on the move it takes forever, not so much a big deal when you come off the dirt, slightly more disconcerting when you go off road and you’re left with rock-hard suspension and a hair-trigger throttle for longer than feels comfortable. I resign myself to leaving it in Enduro mode even when I get back on the road, but the bike’s just too soft and wallowy.
At one point whilst I’m on gravel I come across an extremely pretty piece of tree-lined road. It looks a little bit too manicured to be a natural occurrence.
It is, out of the corner of my eye I spot a very fat, pale man, wearing the kind of questionable pastel hues that can only be associated with whacking a tiny ball across valuable motocross track space. Yes, in the middle of my unspoiled Tuscan countryside idyll, sits a damn golf course.
Oh well, keep going I guess. Unfortunately the next stretch of dirt road is in the shade and the road gets very muddy. Now the OE Michelin tyres do a passing impression of an average tyre on the road and are comprehensively overwhelmed by the bike’s weight and power on dry gravel, wet muddy surfacest makes them utterly useless. People say true fear is facing a wild, charging beast with nothing to defend yourself. I say bollocks. True fear is feeling the front end of your enormously heavy, still 45% BMW-owned motorcycle tuck on an off-camber muddy uphill hairpin. By some stroke of good fortune I don’t stack it and make it out of the muddy bit a paler, much more fragile man. The good bit is that I’m now on my way to Montalcino, home of some of the finest wine on God’s green earth and some truly fantastic roads. Put the electronics back in to Road and hustle along, on the first corner I forget about my dirty tyres and nearly get fired into orbit. Bother.
After Montalcino the Eroica road meanders into the middle of absolutely nowhere. And I mean that. My sat-nav knew I was on a dirt road and that’s about it.
It was when I stopped for these pictures that I realised why all of those stylish people with the full BMW-branded Gruppenfuhrer get up go for textile clothing. Off-roading with a GS during the hottest summer in 140 years is HOT. I was wearing what I always wear in summer, leather jacket, textile trousers and leather boots. I may have perspired somewhat. A point which was hammered home when I fished a map I had printed out the night before out of my jacket pocket. It was wet, at first I thought my drinks tube from my backpack had caught in the pocket and got it wet. Oooh no. I had sweated through my t-shirt, through the waist band of my back protector, through the inner lining of the jacket pocket and on to the map!
At this point I’ve been on the road for five hours, I’m exhausted. It’s 38 degrees and the hottest time in the day. At a certain point I come around a corner and spot an abandoned road maintenance building, there’s even an old chair out the front. It’s too perfect. Time to take a moment to rest, take a pee and stretch my legs. As usual on the Eroica, the scenery is still amazing.
Unfortunately the place is deserted so I can’t actually replenish any lost energy. Fortunately I’m a stone’s throw from Castelnuovo Berardenga, which is the two-thirds waypoint on the Eroica, it’s a big-ish town, there’s bound to be somewhere where I can grab something. Unfortunately it’s Italy in mid-summer so everything is closed, except for an ice cream place where I manage to buy a bottle of water and get a coffee. A couple of Dutch-sounding motorcyclists are in there as well. One look at my bedraggled, dust-covered self and their expressions of disgust are clear. They mooch out of there and go back to their Gold Wing. The husband sees me struggling to throw a leg over the now filthy GS and gives me a nod of respect. This pleases me far more than it really should.
At this point clouds start forming in a very ominous manner. Memories of my earlier wet dirt road experience flood back and I really don’t want to wrap my motorbike around a tree. Discretion being the better part of valour I resolve to finish the Eroica as quickly as possible.
The moment after taking this picture the heavens open in a spectacular fashion. The roads become a lottery and I call it a day. I come up 10kms short and don’t finish the Eroica. But I don’t care, it’s been brilliant and the bike is utterly filthy, thereby giving me an excuse to lord myself over the vast majority of adventure bike owners with their immaculate motorcycles.