Touring, Tasting, and Tracking in Europe.
By Keith Culver
Once in a lifetime you get an opportunity to do something out of the norm. Maybe even out of your comfort zone. This is where I could go on about how leaving the US on my own to ride motorcycle in the middle of nowhere is out of my comfort zone and how scary it was. But it wasn’t and, it wasn’t. The only thing two and a half weeks of motorcycle riding in Europe was… Epic!
Leod Escapes is a bay area-based touring company specializing in International Tours with “Track Time”. To clarify, they take small groups of riders to incredible locations around the globe for multi-day long motorcycle tours that always have a few days of riding on a MotoGP track. And you thought my job was cool!
Cat MacLeod is the owner and a multi-time graduate of ChampSchool. Not only has he been through the program multiple times, but he has also been sending his clients to us for the last five or so years claiming they just seem to ride much better after coming through ChampSchool. In fact, he now screens his clients before a tour and if they don’t have a lot of experience in curvy roads, he tells them to go to ChampSchool before they can go on the tour. I can’t think of a much better testimonial for ChampSchool than someone mandating clients take our class before they go ride the alps. From the first time he finished a class, he has been telling us his dream trip would be one where all the clients were graduates of the program because he would get a lot more sleep knowing all the participants would be safe and in control of their bikes. Enter 2022.
Covid did a lot of things to a lot of people. My life didn’t change too much. Living in San Diego where the weather is good and our friends were great, the only major change was we saved money. Instead of going out to dinner with friends all the time, we just gathered in each other’s front or back yards multiple times per week and ate and drank just as much.
One thing it did to me was change my bicentennial celebration. For my 50th, I originally hoped to do something epic, preferably overseas. Living in SoCal near the coast and traveling the country most of the year causes the word “epic” to have a different definition than when I lived in Joyzee and the Poconos was a big deal. Fortunately (for my wallet) but unfortunately (for my dreams), I was not able to schedule anything overseas to celebrate being alive for a half-century. Thankfully, as the middle member of a three-generation motorcycle family, my 50th turned out to be a 1600-mile ride up and down the California coast (and mountains) with my 75 years old dad and 25-year-old son in 2021. Not too shabby for a backup plan.
OK, I digress. Back to 2022. That yearning for an overseas trip and reading all the emails from Cat about his trips to Europe finally got to me. So, I sold my trusty Yamaha TracerGT and called Cat; “Cat, I sold my bike and I want to give you the money. I don’t want to be responsible for it. I don’t want to invest it. I am going on a tour with you this year! (PS, any chance for a little discount since I might be a little short)” “Keith, what I wouldn’t do for a tour full of ChampSchool graduates! I know they would all know how to ride well, judging by those who I have met while taking your classes, I am confident everyone would get along and create lifetime friendships. It would make my job easier. Let’s make Mugello a YCRS tour and you come and be a coaching guide.” The email blast and press release were out within a day and the tour was sold out in just over a week with a waiting list of other grads wanting to come. Nice!
The downside of traveling ALL THE TIME is being away from home all the time. The upside is airline points. Flying across the country in coach at 6’ 1” is challenging to say the least. Especially with how close seats are to each other these days. PS, I want to meet the bean counters that do the math to calculate that for every two inches of legroom they can take away from me, they get XX number of more seats to sell. Anyway, points, yeah that’s where I was going……. points. California to Munich is a long trip. Hell, California to the east coast is a long trip in my book. California to Munich in First Class, now that is something I would like to try. So, I booked my trip to and from Munich and then used my points to upgrade to First Class. Unfortunately, to get flights to Munich within my price range, I had to book in and out of LAX. Way more flights than in San Luis Obispo and, more flights = better prices.
The tour we chose was the Munich to Mugello Tour which would include Germany, the Dolomites, Florence, Tuscany, three days at Mugello, and a return route back to Germany through the Italian Alps. As a lover of wine, Tuscany was a natural choice. Since YCRS was (supposed to be) off for the Month of July, it was a perfect fit.
Before the tour started, I had to get there. As did my luggage. If you know anything about air travel in 2022, you will know that inconsistent is the nicest way to describe it. It was a record-setting year for cancellations and delays. I was not exempt. Tischa, my beautiful and smarter-than-me wife, once again had a brilliant idea that paid off. Knowing she is not an early bird and would have to get me from the hotel to the airport in the morning, I booked a 9 am flight from LAX to Charlotte which would be my layover before heading to Munich on American Airlines. Tischa, considering the current state of the airline industry, recommended I got the airport early and see if I could get on the earlier, 6:30 am flight. This way, if there were any delays, I would be ahead of the game. Being an early bird, this was easy for me, but not so much for her. I love you, honey.
When I arrived to check in at 5 am, the representative from American told me there were no available seats on the early flight so I settled down at a café for some breakfast and pulled out the ole laptop, and started doing emails (my normal routine at 5:30 am). Five minutes into my coffee, I get a text from American… “Your gate has changed from XXX to YYY”. OK, it’s a long walk but I have plenty of time since I’m early. No worries.
Five minutes later …. Ding ding…. “Your flight to CLT was canceled”. – HOLY S&*^!
What do I do now? Even with the discount, this trip was basically my life savings. I cannot miss this, but I also can’t afford to go over to Lufthansa and buy a same-day ticket. Crap!
I got my check and bolted to the gate where my flight was supposed to be. I explained my situation and maybe even cried a little. The attendant was awesome. “Mr. Culver, there is an early flight headed to Charlotte at gate ZZZ in fifteen minutes. I put you on standby, you are #1 so if you can get there quickly, maybe you will get lucky, and someone doesn’t show up.” (*Yes, this is the flight the first attendant told me was full and couldn’t get on.) I am NOT a runner. I did track but only the hurdles and mostly because we practiced with the girl’s track team. I was a free safety in football because I wasn’t fast enough to be a corner. That day, I was Deon Sanders. I ain’t ran that fast since I-don’t-know-when. When I arrived at the gate for the earlier flight, completely out of breath, I was barely able to speak; “I’m Keith Culver and I should be on standby. Huff, puff, gasp”. “Ahh, Mr. Culver, I’ve been calling you and I was about to start calling #2. Good timing.” – I MADE IT!!!!! (But would my luggage?)
Technology is great (when it works). I was able to watch my luggage in the American Airlines app, so I did. Surely, none of my luggage would make it on the flight with me, and, being the second flight to Charlotte was canceled, I would once again be shopping, not only for regular clothes (this happened to be in Barcelona in 2017) but also riding gear. This was not a standard vacation. I had a few thousand dollars worth of street riding gear, a custom-made Dainese Air Bag Leather riding suit, and an expensive Arai helmet in one of those bags. Gulp! The American Airlines luggage tracker feature in my app showed one of my bags made it onto the earlier flight with me. How they were able to reroute any of my bags from a canceled flight to the new one in fifteen minutes is beyond me. As much as I was pissed at the canceled flight, you must admit, this was impressive. Now I got to spend the next XXX hours figuring out which one made it, and which one didn’t. Replacing jeans, shorts, and socks is one thing. Replacing all my street riding and track riding gear in a foreign country is a whole other story.
So, remember the airline points conversation earlier? If you must worry if your luggage is going to make it, I highly recommend dealing with that worry in one of the international business class pods (see pic). Good food, plenty of wine, a little help from a sleep aid, and a comfy seat is the way to deal with any drama and an overnight flight. Waking up to “Good morning, everyone, we are starting our initial descent into Munich” was a godsend. I got a good night’s sleep! This allowed me to relax for a bit before I went back to worrying.
ChampSchool is big on mental focus (It’s one of the Four Core Champions Habits) and part of mental focus is having a mantra. In that context, it’s about being in the moment when you are doing something dangerous, like riding a motorcycle. I have taken this Champions Habit and made it part of my everyday life as well. My mantra is “What could go wrong and how do I prevent it?” Well, fortunately, I did think of this horrible situation and planned accordingly. I flew in an extra day early to have the time to prepare for something to go wrong and I already researched and learned that there was a motorcycle accessory shop down the block from our hotel which was also right next to a Dainese store. How convenient for a sponsored member of the Dainese family. I was prepared and I had a plan. I just hoped I wouldn’t need to use it, or the credit card that was as instrumental as having the plan in the first place.
In case you haven’t assumed correctly yet, it was my riding gear that didn’t make it. My regular clothes, you know the ones that are easy an inexpensive to replace, made it onto the flight with me. My entire plight was documented on the Book of Face, and we were even taking bets on which bag made it to Munich with me. The pessimists won. If I had not come in that extra day early and arrived on Sunday (which was the arrival date for the trip), THOSE SHOPS WOULD HAVE BEEN CLOSED! You see, they are closed on Sundays so I would have been screwed! At this time, American Airlines indicated that my second bag should make it to Munich the next day but since that next day was Sunday, and those shops were closed, I had some deciding to do. Drop $1200 on riding gear (I could rent leathers at the track) and be sure I would have gear but be stuck with $1200 worth of gear that I didn’t need if my gear showed up. Then there was the fact that I didn’t know what to do with that extra gear if I didn’t need it. I couldn’t return it… on a Sunday! Decisions, decisions.
One of the many beautiful aspects of Cat’s tours is that we return to the same location we leave from. Thanks the wonderful people at the Motorrad Ecke, I was able to buy all street gear I needed with the guarantee that I would return it two week later when we returned to Munich, if I did not use it. Strangely, the Dainese store turned out to be closed on Saturday as well for lack of staff. Apparently, that’s not just an American issue these days. Anyway, crisis averted.
Can anyone guess what happened on Sunday when I took a ride to the airport with Cat to pick up some more clients and see if my bag made it? Yup, you guessed it…. It was there. “Who wants to buy some street riding gear?” Funny thing, there were a few other clients on the tour that forgot a few items, so I was able to sell some of the items I bought. Max needed pants, Patrick needed gloves for wet and cool weather, and I fell in love with the TXC All-weather boots I bought so I ended up keeping them.
Water, meet wine. Lemons, meet lemonade.
We’re in Munich, now what?
Why are we here? Oh yeah, to go riding! But first, we need to see Munich and drink some German beer!
I think 15 of the 18 people on this trip were ChampSchool graduates so the camaraderie was inevitable. While many didn’t know each other, most knew me, and I remember most. Patrick is a multi-time graduate who has become a friend. Not only to me but to a bunch of our staff and has even created a company, Alpha-Omega, specifically to sell clothing and raise money to help ChampSchool instructors who are going racing. He said ChampSchool saved his (riding) life and he wants to give back. When you look up “Good dude” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Patrick Edenfield. He and I planned this trip together, so he was a natural partner for much of this trip but to be honest, everyone got along so well, whoever you were near at any given time on any given day, was your partner. Now, we are all eternally bonded as the first ever Leod Escapes YCRS tour, known on our What’s App communication app as “Leod Munich to Mugello 22” and the fast group named The Black Squadron is affectionately known as “The Black Sheep”. We’re already planning a reunion tour in 2023.
Before we get to the endless, epic riding, for anyone thinking about doing one of these tours, this is how the prepping and gathering went before we put on our helmets and hit the road.
Sunday clients arrived in Munich. Cat ran back and forth many times to pick them up, but it was quite easy for anyone to take a taxi to the hotel which was just north of downtown, near the BMW headquarters. The area is on the main road called Frankfurter Ring (made me hungry every time I said it) and the perfect distance from downtown. We were caddy-corner to a BMW Motorrad store (where we got our rentals) and down the block from those moto-related stores I mentioned, within walking distance of many restaurants, close to the BMW museum (very cool), and just a short subway ride from downtown Munich. Pretty perfect.
I didn’t LOVE downtown Munich in comparison to the few other European cities I have been to (Barcelona, Madrid, London, and Paris set a high bar), but I am very happy I got to experience it. It was clean, the beer was good, and the history was inspiring. Mostly, we loved watching the locals surf in a river in the middle of a city. That was cool!
Sunday, we had a fabulous welcome dinner near the hotel where everyone got to meet each other, and I got to learn who my fellow winos were going to be. Fortunately, there were a few. We also got to see how the very few non-graduates were going to fit in and fortunately (again), it was seamless. Max could have been the odd man out. Not because he is odd, in fact, he is amazing. Only because he was from Australia and had never been to the school. It didn’t matter. I knew we would hit it off when our first interactions were What’s App messages about how we kept trying to meet up on Sunday afternoon, but beer and bars kept getting in the way. This guy was going to be my drinking buddy, I could tell. He did not disappoint.
The only other non-grads were Brad and Ian but Ian’s only excuse is he had a mechanical the day before his school in June so technically, he’s not a grad but he was supposed to be. We will fix that this year. I hope to see Brad at a school but he’s always so busy doing Leod Escapes Tours (I can’t blame him). He’s a very competent rider and super smart so he will gain a lot of knowledge if he comes. If he doesn’t, I’ll still tour with Brad any day. And I don’t ride with many non-grads.
OK, so we all made it, we all have our luggage, we’ve all met each other (many of us… again), now we go ride!
The real start of the tour
Monday morning was dreary. Cool and misty with off-and-on light rain. Not how I want to start a European tour but not to worry, we’ve got Champions Habits. Side note… Our school was originally founded by Freddie Spencer and Nick told me a story that many years ago, when a student asked Freddie towards the end of a two-day class “When are you going to teach us how to ride in the rain?”, Freddie responded, “That’s what I’ve been doing for the two days.” Why this side note now? Just to let you know this group was prepared for riding in the weather. When the pace is up or the grip is down, the proper inputs given to a motorcycle work best. Period. Smooth initial and final inputs mean everything, especially now. That’s a Champions Habit.
Monday morning, we walked half a block to BMW Motorrad Zentrum Munchen (huge dealer) and started the paperwork process for the rental bikes that would become our partners for the next two weeks. I had chosen the BMW GS (1250) as I thought it most closely related to the Yamaha Tenere 1200 I had for a few years and knew I could rack on a lot of miles and be comfortable. The GS did not disappoint. A few others got the GS, some got the XR, and a bunch took the sportier naked version of the S1000. Needless to say, there were a lot of options to find a bike that fit your needs.
After a time-consuming process to get the paperwork done and bikes assigned, we were ready to head out of town. 18 people, including guides and coaches all getting rental bikes at the same time would be complete chaos anywhere other than Germany, where an organization is the way of the land. On the road, Chatterbox in-helmet communication systems were key, especially when in the city. ChampSchool also uses Chatterbox for communication and even though it’s not as convenient as being on Bluetooth with your partner right next to you, Chatterbox uses radio frequencies to allow you to communicate with others on your channel with a range of a few miles. Absolutely necessary when doing a group like this, especially in a foreign land. It’s the best option on the track as well.
That first day of riding was nice, albeit wet. It was a great transition between the city and the mountains. And not just any mountains, the Dolomites, right next to the Alps and just as epic and beautiful. One of the things that stood out that day was Austrian Truck Stops. Truck stops in Austria are nicer than 50% of the restaurants I went to growing up at the Jersey Shore. It’s like a cafeteria meets a gourmet restaurant. Outstanding!
The destination was Canazei in Trento, Italy. If I ever win the lottery, you can find me in Canazei! I would probably move to Canazei tomorrow if I could. This place, high in the Dolomites, felt like it belonged in a movie or a dream. The hotel we stayed in was as quaint and comfortable as I could ever imagine. The Hotel Conturina was incredible. The family that ran it were just infectious in their hospitality and vigor. The view of the mountains outside of my room was another reason to use the word epic, and the food and drink options made it hard to ever leave. I’d really love to go back there in the winter and see it in all white. The rooms were first-come, first serve and I was lucky enough to get to the counter early and get first dibs. I like to be close to the bottom floor and close to the stairs or elevator. Or in other words, fewer steps to the bar. Objective met.
When I go back, I won’t even consider staying anywhere else. Except maybe the challenge of finding coffee early in the morning which seems to be the case wherever I go in Europe (I get up early), it was near perfect. Thankfully, Brad was a barista in his former life and was also an early-morning coffee drinker. Please don’t tell on us but we may have snuck behind the bar and made our own cappuccinos early each morning. This place is worthy of more than one photo, enjoy (that’s the view from my hotel balcony) …
With Canazei as our home base, we toured the Italian Dolomites for three days and did loops of the most amazing roads and amazing sites for all three days. The first loop, the Sella Round may have had the best views of the trip. It was 193km long and took all day with a fantastic Italian lunch of course. The next day was the Manghen Loop which Cat called “Our most challenging pass” to which I am not sure I agree but it sure was fun. Manghen included Passo Rolle and Passo di Valles. Side note, if any route includes the words Passo XXXXX, ride it! The roads, the people, the scenery, the backdrop, and oh the twists and turns. Lunches at the top of the world’s most famous passes were icing on the cake.
The candle, on top of the icing, on top of the cake, was the ski lodge where we dined on the third night in Canazei. We’ll get to that. The first night we walked a mile or so up to a delicious restaurant with typical Italian food and average (house) wine. The next night we dined in and were treated to a fantastic dinner and wine by the hotel staff, including Guilia (pronounced Julia), who I think could have stolen the hearts of every man in that town if she wanted to. Guilia, her mom Tiziana, and her uncle Silvano (who I think is really an Italian movie star) run the Hotel Conturina and have an air of welcomeness that promotes pure joy.
I think Silvano is also the former mayor of Canazei, but I am sure glad he is not anymore. Aside from the wonderful hotel at the foot of the mountains, he also has a ski lodge/ restaurant called the Fredarola Hut on the top of a mountain, at eye level with the glacier next door, and views that are… you guessed it, Epic! In fact, the most memorable experience of this trip outside of the riding was the night we went there. The place was closed except for the owner and his staff who opened it just for us. Words do not do this place justice and it will go down as one of, if not the most memorable places I have ever been to. Just look at the photos and they still won’t be as good as being there. Fun fact, in the Dolomites of Italy, at a ski lodge the rich and famous hang out at in the winter, we were treated to beef from………… Nebraska!
After three days in Canazei it was time to head south. We slowly, and maybe a little sadly (I just love the mountains) began to descend out of the Dolomites, deeper into Italy. We made a few stops on the way, including a huge motorcycle accessory store completely by mistake as we were just in search of a bathroom. After the group probably spent $1000 euros on motorcycle riding gear (during a bathroom break), we continued on to the Dainese Headquarters in Vicenza for a tour of the Dainese ARchivo (museum).
To my surprise, Cat set this up, not as a Leod Escapes visit but as a Champions Riding School visit. In 2022, ChampSchool switched to Dainese for all our riding gear, and he graciously thought a visit to thank them in person was a good idea. It wasn’t. It was a great idea.
The museum was amazing. Seeing photos of back when they first started and had Freddie in Dainese gear all the way up to the Doctor, The GOAT, Vale, VR46. The place just oozed coolness and speed. Again, we spent a boatload of money buying gear and clothing. I think Patrick has switched all his riding gear to Dainese since this trip. The funny thing about being involved with a brand like Dainese, their moto-based clothing is more fashionable than most of my regular clothing, even my nicer stuff. Oh, and they took us all to lunch. Thank You (again) Dainese. Very cool.
Wine Country, but not just wine
What’s next? Tuscany! That’s what. And you know what’s in Tuscany? Mugello! (You thought I was going to say wine). It really was a pinch-yourself-everyday tour because just when you think you’ve maxed out on epicness, Cat throws more of it on your plate. Our hotel in Tuscany was up this little winding goat trail that led to this castle that is, no shit… over 700 years old! Needless to say, we were not staying at the Holiday Inn Express. Via Campestri is an olive oil resort with two sections; the 700+-year-old castle below (where I stayed) and some more modern villas a quarter mile up the hill. Air conditioning -hah! Insulation – hah! My own bathroom – hah! Actual windows – hah! I barely had lights and even felt a little disappointed when I was shown to my room. That last about 30 seconds as I opened the shutter to see the view of the countryside and be taken back to medieval times. Then I walked down to the common area and outside to the patio where I would spend the next five nights sipping wine and catching up on emails after riding the world’s best racetrack. Disappointment?!?!…. not a f&*^ng chance!
FB post from July 7; I know I suck at social media but this Leod Motorcycle Escapes tour is like ChampSchool in that we are on the go all the time making posting pics pretty low on my priority scale. Wake, eat, ride, ride, ride, and ride some more, get to the hotel, eat, drink, sleep and then do it all over again the next day. The most epic scenery and riding I have ever experienced. Dinner at a ski lodge high in the clouds among the glaciers will go down as one of, if not the, most amazing location I have ever been to, is only one of the moments that keep piling on. Yesterday, we visited Dainese HQ. Today, we ride Mugello.
The real reason we went south
Would I go back to Via Campestri if I went back to Tuscany again? Um, yes! But the resort is an accessory to why we were there. We were there because this a MotoGP track and tour. It’s time to get to the MotoGP track portion of the tour. Mugello!
Riding into Mugello past the giant red helmet inspires goosebumps. If you don’t get them each time you go through that gate, you don’t deserve to be there.
The facility is amazing. Europe just does tracks better. Not only do they have amazing garages on the first floor (of four) along the front straight, but each garage has its own bathroom AND SHOWER. Restaurant: yeah, they got that, on the second floor, with a coffee bar right next to it! Take that, American tracks!
How to describe Mugello? Take the aura of Daytona combined with the hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling of coming over the entrance road into Laguna Seca, mix in the pavement quality of Pitt Race (times ten), and then consider this was Rossi’s home track and you still won’t quite be able to match the feeling of being at Mugello. As a guy that no longer races and looks at lap times, works in the industry, and rides tracks all the time, I’m not easily excited to ride the track as I once was. This was different. This was Mugello and I was a cross between feeling not worthy and super proud that I have gotten myself to a point in life where I can do this. I have earned it and it felt good.
Our hosts for our three days at Mugello were Racing School Europe (RSE). Whereas Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) is the premier school in the United States, RacingSchool Europe is the premier school in Europe (short of Rossi’s VR46 Academy that you need to be invited to). Our schools differ in that RSE is a racing school. Their curriculum is for riders to go faster on that bike on that track (and they do a really good job at it) where ChampSchool sticks with the principles that work equally for street riders as they do for racers on racetracks or public roads.
The one major thing we do have in common is the principle of riding the bike like a champion. You see, RSE is owned and operated by Troy Corser, a two-time world champion. So, the techniques taught are those he used to win his world championships, much like YCRS is largely based on the principles that Freddie Spencer used to win three.
I was the ultimate student. Humbly sitting in the front row for every classroom session (except when they forgot to unlock the door and left half the class out on the balcony) and was always respectful of my instructor, even when he was trying to get me to do some weird foot position stuff that was opposite of what our, three-time world champion taught us.
It’s been a really long time (like decades… plural) since I have been able to concentrate on my riding as far as speed and lap times were concerned. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. When I was racing, I was so far below the tax bracket needed for motorcycle road racing that, one minor tip-over was the difference between being able to continue or packing up and going home, possibly for the season. Now, with a few more bucks in my pocket maybe I could concentrate on going fast without being all worried about what could go wrong. But wait, the bike I am riding is well over $20k and I am on another continent representing our school on a track I’ve never seen and a bike I have never ridden. Maybe I need to think of this in another manner.
Remember my mantra? We’re taught to find something to turn our brains on when we get on a motorcycle which can be a dangerous activity. Rossi bends down and appears to be praying to his footpeg before every time he rides. This is his mantra. Nick Ienatsch, my mentor, and business partner uses and shares “Where am I, what am I doing”. “Cold Tires” will surely turn on your brain. My mantra, “What can go wrong and how can I prevent it?”, has served me well with only having crashed on my own one time since 1997, including making it all the way up to pro. The negative side of my mantra is that it’s defensive. You see, I ride to not crash while many in my circle ride to go fast. I always hold back in fear of what could go wrong, and this was no different. I used the same mantra for this school, and I think it served me well, again.
The school itself was fantastic. They have some challenges we don’t have to deal with including sharing the track with a track day company (Speer Racing) and a race series!! Yes, three programs sharing the track for three days. Quite interesting. So, for three days, we had five, 30-minute sessions each day. The first one was a warm-up and the last one was a cool-down so there were really only three “learning” sessions each day which I would change if I were working with them but thankfully, the education we got during those sessions was quite helpful.
I won’t give away their curriculum but will say that trying the techniques each session to see the results was fun and helped me drop six seconds from day one until day three (two seconds each day to be precise). Yes, they actually take lap times during school. It’s a racing school, remember? Another piece of technology that was really helpful was the deceleration meter on the BMW S1000RR. Instead of brake pressure (which it may measure somewhere), this bike measured how quickly you decelerated in meters per second. This way, you could use different methods of slowing down and measure the difference seeing which methods worked best, compare it to your lap times, and how you felt. I struggled with Troy’s preference on foot placement, I got a lot out of their term “Chain Force” and how going a gear lower than you think can be very helpful, and everything else was very much in line with what ChampSchool teaches.
One technique from the school worth of talking about is trail braking. Trail Braking had its own module/session which was cool, especially since we are basically the trail-braking school so I was excited to hear what they teach. Marcel, Troy’s right-hand man, and the lead instructor said it best; “If you do not trail brake, you will not get on the race line”. That was it. That was their lesson. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. He and I chatted after that classroom session and talked about how they keep trail braking as such a simple lesson, especially when compared to how prevalent it is in our school and we discovered why. In Europe, they understand that we naturally slow when we turn in everything we do. So there, trail braking is not foreign, it is never discouraged, not even to new riders. When Marcel and I talked, he pointed out that they don’t have to put as much emphasis on it because everyone already does it. In Europe, they don’t take a new rider’s class and be told they have to get all of their braking done in a straight line so RSE doesn’t have to spend as much energy on unlearning an improper technique as we do here in America. Did I mention I would move to Europe?
So after three days or learning from another World Champion’s School, dropping six seconds, and being the third fastest rider according to their timesheets, I felt good. I would love to have been first but I totally prefer giving back my bike still shiny and bringing my fancy YCRS suit back home unscathed. I knew what could go wrong, and I prevented it. The absolute best session was the last session of the school. I ended up hooking up with the instructors while they were playing and coaching each other on track. We definitely went faster than I had gone on my own all three days. Too bad they had removed all the lap timers by then! Being able to ride with them was proof enough to me that I still have a little in the tank. It was also reminiscent of when I get to out and play with Nick Ienatsch, Chris Peris, and Eziah Davis during day two of a ChampSchool and ride above my comfort level. Pure joy (and respect!). (Bet they wouldn’t have been #3 🙂
Overall, an impressive program that helped much of our group of ChampSchool grads (and even their washed-up operations manager), improved each day. I surely hope our reunion trip in 2023 includes a Racing School Europe and I really hope Troy is there. He had a family emergency and had to go to Australia, so I did not get to meet him/
Bucket-List…. Mugello…. Check
Off the bike(s), sort of
Somewhere during our Tuscany stay, we did have a day off to be tourists. Some choose to park their bikes, but Patrick and I decided to ride down into the city of Florence and do some sightseeing. From afar, over the river, the city is epic and beautiful. Once inside, I was a little disappointed. I know if I were there with Tischa, she would do all the research to find us the coolest places to go but as tourists without a plan, we just ended up running into areas with Benetton, Apple, Banana Republic, and all the common big city stores. It was like being in New York City but with way older and cooler architecture. We put in our few hours of being tourists and headed back to the Castle. That night, we had a giant feast at Via Campestri and emptied a lot of bottles of wine.
Facebook post before leaving Tuscany, July 11; Update as we leave Tuscany later this morning. The ride down from Canazei to Florence was long. It started with some really fun stuff but then quickly came to just burning miles. A few more miles thanks to my Garmin gps which cost me a round of beers. Now I know why Niel Peart used to call he and his buddy’s Garmin’s Dufus and Dingus. I was worried about the hotel (1000-year-old mini castle) not having A/C but being here only in the mornings and evenings, it was never once needed. Via Campestri is centuries-old Olive Oil Resort where I could leave the windows wide open (no screens) for five days and have zero complaints except maybe the poor lighting. I came here thinking I don’t care about track riding much anymore; I get to do it all the time and don’t care about getting faster so maybe I’ll skip Sunday and get in an extra day of sightseeing around Florence. Then they posted the lap times. (it is a “Racing School”) While I may have had to push beyond 80% (it is a school ya know) to be on top, I couldn’t drop from the top three and go home with my head down…. So I stayed. I’m glad I did as not only did I get to ride with some of the other tour peeps, I also got to go play with the instructors in the last session (too bad the transponders were off the bikes then ). 280k at the end of the front straight and I still over-slowed turn one every lap. 290k riding with the coaches and staying WFO until the 200 board was definitely eye-opening. Overall great experience, not as formal as Yamaha Champions Riding School as it is run in conjunction with a race series and has to share track time but Racing School Europe has a polished program. Troy Corser 11 is a world champion so I definitely got to add some new #ChampionsHabits to my toolbox. Marcel and Marianna were great and I am very thankful. Monday was an off day so Patrick and I did the tourist thing In Florence. Beautiful city but the heat and tourist trap feeling of It had us only stay for a few hours and get back to the villa and actually relax. Today we head back into the mountains and start to make our way back toward Munich. Hopefully, everyone is on point this morning. The earlier we get to the mountains, the more passes we get to ride. Enjoy some more snapshots.
While the remaining portion of the trip was the backside, the last leg, dare I say, “the end”, it was not without more epicness. (Is that even a word?) The trip down from Munich was the Dolomites. The trip back up to Munich was the Alps. The Alps have the most famous passes in the world and for good reason. This last leg of the trip went through Bormio and included passes like Croce Domino, Gavia Pass, and a great hotel in Bormio called the Hotel Rezia situated in this really cool, Italian Alps Ski Village.
In Bormio, some of us even tried to go out into the town to party after dinner. I say tried because I don’t think any of us made it past 10 pm. I know I didn’t. The end of this leg included Stelvio Pass and Timmelsjoch with Stelvio being the most famous pass in the world. Have I mentioned how much fun passing Ducati Superbikes ridden by pilots in full leathers while riding an ADV bike is?
All good things must come to an end.
Well, the final journey had more highways in one day than we have seen in the last two weeks but we had to get back to Munich so it was a necessary evil. Just not without one more epic event. You see, the highway back to Munich included Autobahn. I always thought the Autobahn was just one specific road that you were allowed to go as fast as you want on. Not so. Autobahn is a section of any autostrada (highway) that the German Authorities deem safe to go fast on. The left lane is regulated with signs and lights to let you know when there is no speed limit. Get into a no-speed limit section and have at it. This is normal for Germans. For Americans, it’s like a candy store when you are five:)
Speaking of that GS1250. It’s good. I bleed blue. I have five Yamahas in my garage on top of the 80 or so the school owns. I would have loved to have my TracerGT and its nimbleness on this trip, but I have nothing to complain about with the GS. Three-gear wheelies in between switchbacks and making racer wanna-be types on SuperSport bikes move out of the way in the twisties. All while being comfortable, not too shabby!
Back in the city
Back in Munich, Patrick and I planned a few extra days for exploring. We went back downtown to catch the river surfing with a few of the others, this time renting electric scooters and terrorizing the pedestrians. We found more churches and stuff older than our country that was amazing, even if out of our typical realm of l interest. We visited the BMW Museum and even rented a BMW 5 Series for the weekend.
First, we went to a Baggers Race to see an old friend, Andre Jager, from Harley-Davidson Europe, race his Harley bagger against BMWs and Indians in a fun, exhibition race where we also got to do some laps around the track with a professional driver (fun!). How funny is this; We go to a bagger race in a small German town. When we walk in, we see the big screen where they are playing a MotoAmerica Bagger race at Road America with Kyle Wyman leading. How do you say “I know him” in German?
The next day we, of course on the autobahn, drove it to Zurich, Switzerland to an event at Motoworld Manufacturer museum for the Horizon Days motorcycle Lifestyles event combining road racing, off-road, rally, and custom bike-building people from all over Germany and Switzerland. And we got to do Formula One race simulator. Patrick and I raced; you guessed it…. Mugello! Now we can say we have better lap times than Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP times at Mugello! (No one has to know it was in an F1 simulator, right?).
Motorsports can be a small world. The invite for this event started back at Mugello where Ricky, our tour guide, Speer Racing Instructor, and all-around mayor of motorsports says to me; “You must meet Anja (pronounces Anya) Tschopp. She has been to America riding and racing. I’m sure you know the same people.”
Anja has been to America riding and racing. She’s even gotten to demo our ChampSchool bikes with Steven and Eziah at Femewalla. She knows Dustin Coyner and Shelina Moreda. She is an ambassador for Mithos leathers, and Triumph Motorcycles, and is an all-around marketing guru who was even the communications manager for the American Racing Moto2 Team for a while. Anja is badass. Check out her blog! You can’t make this stuff up! Anja is the one who invited us to this badass event and even gave Patrick and me a shout-out at the event as the “Friends from America”. I know in some places around the world, that could get you shot. Here, we were actually cool for a few minutes. I hope our paths cross again someday.
I finished my trip with another day in the car searching for that typical German town in the country with a pub for some local beer, right up until I got a call from Patrick. “Dude, my flight home has been canceled”. Talk about bookending a story! #fullcircle I could probaby sneak in a few details about that day, but starting and ending with a canceled flight just seems too fitting. I will share a shot I caught from my rental car that day. As I said, you can’t make this stuff up.
Some random notes to my friends, the “Leod Munich to Mugello 22” group,
Brad, It was a treat to meet you. I am so jealous you get to do this all the time. You are a joy to be around and although you are a paying customer, you treat these tours as if they were your own. Don’t ever change.
PJ, a true gentleman and also a joy to be around. You ride well and I hope the tips in the switchbacks help you get even better. Hope to see you at another school as well as another tour! Tunc! Hard not to keep from laughing when you are at the table, or on the helmet radio. You were a bit out of your element on those roads but handled it like a true champion and got better each day. Well done.
Raj, as always, excellent company and it was great to ride with you as well as see at the race helping Henao with your technical savvy. 2023 reunion?
Stephen, thanks for making us look so good and to you (and Raj) for figuring out that Munich subway system and not leaving it up to us old peeps. Dinners with you, Raj, and Max were as enjoyable as the rest of the trip. Rene, move over Patrick. I think there needs to be some space for Rene’s photo when you look up “good guy” in the dictionary. When Ian’s bike got damaged, you went with him to the dealership and had to ride him back to the hotel two-up, in another country?!?! They don’t make enough people like you.
Ian, I haven’t heard from you in a while but let’s converse about getting you into the class this year. I think after the class, you are going to want to go on every one of Cat’s tours.
Hector, you rode so well. I guess since I am always in operations, I don’t always get to see how good our students ride. You were haulin ass and I could tell, giggling in your helmet the entire time.
Speaking of hauling ass, my brother from another mother. The older brother I never had; Nelson. Your southern charm and laid-back demeanor make people just want to be around you. I just need to let them know, they ain’t gonna keep up to get close to you. I cannot wait to ride with you again and next time, we are getting a video of us wheelie-ing GS1250s next to each other so we can show it to Eziah! You must also be as good of a dad as a rider because you raised one heck of a great young lady.
Christy, if Nelson is my brother from another mother, then I guess that makes you my adopted niece. Just like your dad, being in your company is pure joy and I really hope you come out to more events, ours, N2s, and Cats. Please enjoy Portugal and keep the spare room ready.
Ryan, you were a big help sweeping the Red Squadron which shows your character as you did not have to do that as a paying customer. It was joyous for me to be able to relieve you of duty a few times per day so you could go ride with your bride. Remember, couples that ride together, stay together.
Mrs. Waltman. Elizabeth, my old friend. We bonded when I picked you up at the hospital (not at this event) and when you told me you were coming on the trip, I smiled for three days. You are just a pure badass and I ain’t got much better than that. Hope to see you soon.
Paul, you are a lucky man. It was great to meet and spend time with you. Very cool hearing how you and Elizabeth are always doing cool stuff together. It’s an inspiration.
Shaun Olcott, why have we not hung out since we got back from this trip? You hung out with Elizabeth! Wait, she is way better-looking than me (and nicer.. and smarter). OK, you’re off the hook but not for long. We must hang. I can come bus tables at your F1 event in Vegas. You make everything one more level of fun.
Murray, where will I see you next? I go to a ChampSchool or a ChampGrad, I see Murray. I go to Chuckwalla, I see Murray riding with Jason Pridmore. I go to Willow Springs, I see Murray riding with Jeremy Toye. I got to Italy, I see Murray (for two weeks straight). Don’t change Murray! You are so relaxed it rubs off on the rest of us.
MMMMax! In the movies, it was… “You had me at Hello”. For Munich, you had me at “Sorry I didn’t meet you guys, I kept getting sidetracked by bars and beers.” We drank a bunch on this trip but the only time I ever felt it in the morning was when we shared a few bottles of wine at dinner and THEN went and spent a few hours in the hotel’s private whiskey lounge. Your riding is on par with your drinking. This is what bonds us. I sincerely hope you get to the states. Maybe time it when Patrick finally gets his ass out west?
Patrick, dude! Are you glad I got you to come on this trip? We’ve talked plenty since the trip and I am sure we’ll be seeing each other a lot in 2023 but I would be remiss if I didn’t put how much your friendship has made my life better. Two weeks with someone who is a relatively new friend could go a few ways. Have nothing in common and not be able to hold a conversation. Find out you actually don’t like each other and then what? Or be like us; be able to talk about anything at any time and act like we’ve known each other since childhood. I ain’t kidding about the Good Dude in the dictionary. Now get your ass out to Cali with Tiff or I may have to beat you up. I know your scared.
Ricky Lowag. You ain’t staff. You are a friend! Period. If I were to dream about the perfect motorcycle tour in Europe and I had to dream up the best person to be a guide, I don’t think my imagination could come up with anything better than you. If I were to dream up the perfect motorcycle tour outside of your area and had to dream the perfect comrades to be on the tour with, you would be there. Your passion for riding and keeping everyone together and having a good time was so inspiring. I don’t know if my next tour will be in your neck of the woods, but I sure hope you can find a way to join us somehow. Viva La Black Sheep!
To Cat MacLeod, the maestro, The “Red Squadron Leader, The creator of these incredible tours. The attention to detail you put into these tours is amazing. I honestly do not know how you keep track of everything. It is very impressive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be part of this one and I sincerely hope we find a way to make it a yearly occurrence.
To everyone. My door is always open. I have access to some pretty dang good motorcycle roads and Cat is only a few hours north with access to even more so don’t be shy. And don’t forget the Champions Habits that allowed this tour to remain so safe. I even hope to do a grad-only ride this summer during the week leading up to Laguna Seca. That is if Cat doesn’t convince me to go back to Munich to Mugello J
– Keith Culver, 2022