Plan for the week: Full throttle on brilliant twisties, in the evenings party with other bikers. Talk about perfection.
For a while my friend, the Hippie, had been going on about his desire to participate in Cannonball Bike Run. It’s generally not too hard to convince me to tag along with this kind of stuff, so we signed up straight away, when registering was opened. We convinced our mate Juha to join us, and he brought Markku along.
So, what is Cannonball Bike Run about? Basically we’re talking about a touring-plus event, where the participants only have to get to the start, ride and enjoy. The roads are picked to be as great riding roads as possible. The nature of the trip is kind of special, which also applies to the participants. No dull moments are to be expected.
Before we knew only that the start would be near Vienna and the finish in Munich. We got to know the days’ route on breakfast, when the roadbooks were handed out.
We started in Tampere, where we packed my Katana, Hippie’s Mille and Juha’s GSX-R in a trailer. We’d take a ferry to Germany and drive to Munich, where we’d take the bikes and ride to the start in Vienna. Markku joined us at the port. Like a proper biker, he did the whole trip on two wheels.
After spending a night in Munich, we headed out to Vienna. There’s a bit of distance, even when taking the shortest route. The best part of the trip was playing tag with a Ferrari California for a few dozen kilometres. It was pretty exciting to ride with speeds exceeding 200 km/h with the Katana’s drag racing exhaust touching the tarmac on right hand bends. As we stopped for lunch, the Ferrari dudes did the same. They came to chat, asked about the bikes and where we were going. It was clear they had also had fun.
My Suzuki didn’t seem to enjoy the fast speeds that much. The first issue was rapidly increasing chain slack. Also, after I overtook the Hippie, he stated waving his arms like a goddamn windmill. I thought maybe he was having a seizure, so I stopped. He said he’d got covered in oil following me. I had an eye on the bike, an noticed bottom of the engine, swing arm and also rear tyre were covered in oil. Oil cooler banjo needed retightening.
After the repair we set out again, aiming for speeds less than 100 km/h. I must admit our aim needs improvement. In addition the grey skies started falling on us. The oil covered rear tyre didn’t inspire confidence and it rained so hard, that at the hotel we were completely soaked.
The next morning we took course to the nearby petrol station where we met up with nearly 30 fellow Cannonballers. I also noticed that I had the oldest bike with a marginal of at least 15 years. A cup of coffee, a short briefing and off we went!
The sky was still grey and although it didn’t rain, the roads were wet. The tarmac was inconsistent, which means so was the grip, which really didn’t inspire confidence. The roads were extremely nice, but the proper tyre would have been a wet or at best intermediate race tyre, which was pretty frustrating. After 300 kilometres we arrived in Leoben, about 100 km from the start. The shortcuts were pretty good!
During dinner we got to witness Cannonballism at its best. All of a sudden the sound of bike engines hitting the limiter came from the ourside. Two riders, who had missed the start, had found their way to the hotel and made a spectacular entry. Literally.
The next morning was quite crisp, maybe a degree or two above freezing point. The Hippie had his perma-smile turn upside down, when his Aprilia begun pissing itself when started. Luckily tightening some jubilee clips solved the problem.
None of us had navigated with a roadbook before, but we thought it didn’t seem too hard, as long as we just found out way out of the town. Contrary to our expectations (Slovenia), we headed to Italy. It was going to be a long one; in total the route was 650 kilometres. If we didn’t get lost. Which we did. All the time. That’s how easy roadbook navigating is… Or maybe we’re just a bit slow.
During the day we realized that we had stopped for fuel all too frequently. We were supposed to be at Lake Garda at about 5 o’clock. With the current pace we’d be there late in the night, so we had to speed up. Due to heavy traffic and construction work we didn’t manage high average speeds although when the road was open we went flat out. In the end we were there at around eight, as the second arrivals. But it’s not a race, is it?
I noticed the Kat needed some TLC; the carb rubber flanges had started to deteriorate during the day. The problem was fixed with a bit of gaffer tape.
After the marathon day we were pampered with a boat ride on the lake. We buzzed around the lake looking at the scenery and occasionally racing each other.
The ride was just 290 kilometres in the direction of south Tirol. In relatively early stage of the ride the roadbook could have been clearer and many of the riders (us included) got lost. After thinking about the correct way with the others for a while, we decided to head for the next certain waypoint.
All the messing about meant lost time and extra mileage. The trip included 3 mountain passes, temperature rance of 0,5-20°C and amading scenery, which, due to being late, we had to admire in an extremely efficient manner.
However there were nice breaks too. On top of the third pass, one of the Cannonballers, Jeremy, decided to show off a bit for the cameras and had a stunt show of his own. Also our late lunch in a postcard-like scenery was made memorable by the sounds of sports bikes echoing in the valley.
The next morning we found out that we had got cheated. Last night the organizers said that early in the morning there would be a mountain pass with tight opening hours. Apparently this was an effort to keep the participants away from mischief; after all we were in a city centre. They mostly succeeded, but some kind of party had found their way to a bar. Two guys complained about still having a hangover at dinner.
The day’s route, about 450 kilometres, would run over some mountain passes and along twisties to a highway towards Slovenia, and finally smaller roads to Croatia.
Unsurprisingly the guys with more corner-oriented and modern machinery were “slightly” quicker than me on the mountain roads. I was leading the pack on a fast mountain road. When we stopped for a break, the Hippie told me that he had the correct page of the roadbook open, so he could have passed me. He had just been too amused by the flying sparks and me wrestling the Katana.
The road to the second pass of the day had just been closed as we got there so we had to find a detour around the mountain. After a bit of riding about we found ourselves on an Autostrada. At the border we stopped to buy vignettes and have some coffee. As we were about to leave I decided to draw some black lines in front of the café. The waitresses came out to see what was going on and they were clearly impressed; we got to ride off with their friendly waves and smiling faces in our mirrors.
After the Slovenian border I took the lead again, and got instantly lost. We found the route again, but Hippie, who had taken the lead, sped several miles past a turn. Markku spotted the mistake and he said he had tried to get Hippie’s attention with little result. The Hippie had been too focused on breaking the speed limit as much as possible.
After a while’s ride, we met up with a bunch of Brits and tagged along. There were nearly 20 bikes in our convoy, which made the border crossing (Croatia isn’t a Schengen country) substantially easier. The border control wasn’t bothered with our passports, they just wanted to get the blockage that was us the hell away from there!
From the border it was just a short stint to the Croatian Riviera and Opatija.
After arriving at the hotel, the first thing was to light up a fat Cuban and moisten our throats with a few beers. Before getting too smashed I went to mend the bike again. I had used the complete arsenal (gaffer tape, steel wire and zip ties) to keep it going.
The next morning we headed to Grobnik race track. We were supposed to carve corners there for a few hours. Sadly, the wind was extremely strong and the track was closed. Sude, we were bummed, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the bastards, who had come from Germany (I think) to enjoy a few track days. They said that during the last two days the track had been open for three hours.
After a while we decided to keep going, as the wind wasn’t going to calm down. We had all the time in the world to clear out 380 kilometres.
While waiting for the others to get ready, I entertained fellow Cannonballers by laying some serious rubber on the pits. And I’m not sure, but I think something broke…
However we were heading towards Italy again. As we had time to spare, our riding was almost like “normal” touring. The speed was high but relaxed and every now and the we’d stop for a photo break.
The mountain road to Italy was closed, so we had to find an alternative route. Luckily the detour was only roughly 50 km longer; with less luck an alternative route around a mountain could have been several times that. Again we met up with fellow Cannonballers and decided to ride in a group to the finish.
At the hotel, I, for a change, had another look at the bike. As I removed the front sprocket cover, a bunch of sprocket teeth fell on the floor. They hadn’t liked the burnouts. On a positive side, the hotel had a proper sauna.
The forecast for the next morning predicted quite cold weather, so before heading out the bike and tyres should be properly warmed. A certain Cannonballer (you know who you are!) took care of that in the early hours in the comfort of a hotel room. Just to make sure the new decorating would be perfect, also a fire extinguisher and a few bags of crisps were emptied in the room.
Don’t ask, but the unmentioned Cannonballer now goes by the name of Rock Star.
Rock Star’s tyre warming wasn’t in vein, because it really was chilly in the morning. The day started by a tiny track up on a mountain. First the light drizzle turned into snowing and in the end we were literally in a cloud. The visibility was non-existent and staying on the road took as much luck as skill. When hearing back downhill we got out of the mist, whe temperature sank and the wet mountain roads turned into icy mountain roads. Riding that pass was one of the most intense riding experiences I have ever had.
Next in line would have been the famous Großglockner, but on the way there we were informed that the road was closed and we were asked to arrive directly to the Eagle’s Nest for lunch. The problem was that roadbook was useless now and no-one knew what the Eagle’s Nest was in German (Kehlsteinhaus), let alone its address. The data connection on our phones refused to work. Luckily we could still use them for calling people and we soon got the address as an SMS.
The detour ran to the other side of the mountain through a tunnel. The day had started so chilly that we weren’t far from slight annoyance, but on the other side of the tunnel it was as if we entered another world. The season changed from winter to summer, sun was shining and the temperature rose about 15 degrees.
When we arrived at the address we were given, we were greeted by a lady, who after a brief discussion said that she didn’t live in the Eagle’s Nest but was nice enough give us directions. Vielen Dank!!
The scenery from the Eagle’s Nest was stunning. But I must say, those Nazis weren’t right in the head. Who the hell would build a house on a mountaintop?
The day ended with a short ride to Bad Reichenhall (aren’t German city names awesome?). I decided to double-or-nothing it when I saw some Cannonballers thinking about the correct way at an intersection and headed on. Afterall, the intersection was all too early according to roadbook. However it turned out “nothing”, and again we got to cruise a bit more than intended.
I had hoped that the local Suzuki dealer would have had a Hayabusa front sprocket, which I so sorely needed, but sadly that was not the case. So I had to finish the trip with the sprocket I had. I counted the cogs, there were nine and a half out of 18 left – over 50% that is.
The final day was a laughable 280 km stint to Munich and although I was confident about finishing, our recovery van driver Jeremy promised to find a longer van to transport the Kat. What a negative attitude!
We got to enjoy the company of the Norwegian duo of Jan and Tom on their R1’s. The rolling and smooth roads were a nice cool-down for the intensity of the alps and the trees in Bavaria had turned into beautiful autumn colours. Apart from some navigational problems (which were to be expected) the day went in a relaxed manner. We had lunch at a local biker café, where we found Rock Star and Jeremy. The latter pulled a nice wheelie when he took off.
For once we found the hotel in Munich without problems. We were on top of the world and rev limiters tell it to everybody within a hearing distance. I must admit the beer in the lobby bar did taste very good.
After everybody had finished we had the closing ceremony. They told me that I was the most positive Cannonballer of all time (Is your bike all right mate? – Yeah, yeah, it’s good) and described me by “Those guys are from Finland but this one is from another planet, we’re not sure which, but he’s going to report back from here”. So, in the end I got the Spirit of the Cannonball trophy along with my name in the Legends’ list.
After the closing ceremony we headed out to Oktoberfest to have a bite. Maybe we had a beer or two as well.
Afterwards, the whole trip was simply unbelievable. In the day time it was all about full throttle on the most amazing roads you’ll ever ride and each night was spent with a few pints with colourful and fun company. If your life seems to be missing some rock’n’roll, this is a good remedy. In 2017, Cannonball Bike Run will be in the UK and bigger than ever.
I’ll be there, how about you?
Check it out: cannonballism.com