When you need to cross Europe in temperatures low enough to make a brass monkey wince, and still need to look chipper at the other end, only a serious tourer will do. We take three of the best to Prague for the coldest test of the year
On the face of it, this test was madness. Not just daft or perhaps a bit foolish, but potentially an exercise in precisely 'what not to do'. Riding to Prague isn't the hardest of trips - it's only 900 miles away and most can be covered on motorways, but in the depths of Europe's harshest winter for years it was an entirely different prospect.
Watching the weather reports plunge from laughably bad to scarily awful, I learned the night before we were off that Kent was already one large snowdrift, and with more of the white stuff forecast overnight our chances of making it even as far as the Channel Tunnel were slim to none. Assuming we made our crossing there was still France to contend with, which had at this point been largely closed for three days thanks to heavy snow. And if we got through that, the rest of the route was all enjoying yet more snow and temperatures between minus five and minus ten. And these were the daytime highs - once the sun dropped things would get really cold...
But how bad could it be? As the weathered veterans and bon viveurs we were, surely this would be a walk in the park. Hell, it would be fun. A jolly jaunt across Europe to one of the world's most beautiful cities (and one which conveniently specialises in very cheap beer and highly beautiful women at that), on the best tourers money could buy. What more could we want?
Exactly. So to hell with the cold and on with the test. Our requirements were simple but specific. We needed large amounts of comfort and weather protection, plenty of luggage space, endless motorway ability and we needed some agility too to stand a hope of making it through the snow, ice and slush that lay ahead. In short, we needed big tourers, and as there are only three on the market our choices were simple.
From Honda we had the Pan European, a motorcycle long-recognised as the governor at churning out the miles with minimum fuss. From Yamaha came an FJR1300. Capitalising on the cult following of the long-deleted FJ1200, Yamaha have revitalised the spirit of that old war-horse with some modern touches for a sportier-looking take on the grand tourer theme. Finally we had a Beemer in the shape of the new R1200RT. Heavily taken to task by its makers this year in an attempt to oust the Pan from top slot, this bike is true to BMW form. For starters it has an incredibly dull name, secondly it is rather ugly and thirdly you'd be a fool to assume it'll be anything less than excellent at the job in hand.
Day one dawned as Ben and myself slithered out of south London bound for the Eurotunnel where snapper Martin would meet us. The roads were clear, there wasn't much snow and although it was icy cold it was bearable. Sat atop the Beemer I began to reassure myself all was well and that I wasn't leading my compatriots to a snowy doom in the depths of eastern Europe.
But as we left the cosy urban confines of the M25 and headed into deepest north west Kent, things began to change. The M20 shrunk to one lane ahead of us as falling snow turned the rest into the Cresta Run, articulated lorries began spinning into the Armco like pinballs, and the BM's radio refused to find anything other than Radio Three.
Despite all this, and despite the M20 finally giving out in favour of a 'diversion' that had apparently last been gritted by the Romans, we made the Tunnel. Not only had Ben and myself failed to drop the BM or the Yamaha, but Martin was there waiting for us with the Honda. Huddled together for warmth on board the train we swapped notes. It didn't take long because, as it turned out, we'd all been that preoccupied with staying upright we'd barely thought about the bikes. All we could say at this point was they'd swallowed all our clobber with ease, and had been manageable enough to get us through the worst conditions any of us could ever remember riding road bikes in. So far then, so good.
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