IF YOU’RE thinking of touring Italy, in the next thousand words I’ll throw you up a few options.
One morning in early August I received a text I’d been waiting years for.
KTM were launching the new RC-390 in Italy and Nige (Cycle Torque’s publisher) had sent the message asking if I wanted to go. Thankfully, Harley-Davidson were launching their touring range in the USA at the same time, so it left a vacant seat to Milan.
Thanks to those stars aligning I now had my first European trip lined up – and with one last call to KTM to have the flight home extended and I was set.
But what do you do when you are faced with nearly two weeks in northern Italy?
Where do I start? How far do I travel? Do I take a tour? Do I just backpack?
This is where the story begins really.
What do you do when you have an open slather shot at Italy?
Let my fingers do the walking
The answer I came up with was to send a motorcycle hire company an email in Milan.
Like everyone I consulted Google and there were a few choices, but I settled on HP Motorrad. I knew in Australia this would be really expensive, but these guys seemed to have a wide range of bikes and reasonable prices, and within a few hours of my original email I had a reply.
As easy as that, there were two bikes of my choice available… a 2011 Ducati Monster and a BMW K1600 GT tourer. Perfect.
Now I started to think about it a bit harder… I had no idea where to start really.
I hadn’t travelled Europe before, I couldn’t speak Italian and I hadn’t ridden on the right hand side of the road at all. It was great to have every option open to me, but also a little daunting.
I decided to make a few loose plans and consult Google some more, mapping out a rough itinerary and a couple of events to take in.
Into the deep end
Before I knew it I was riding the hills around Maranello on KTM’s new RC-390.
After that launch, the group of journos headed back to Milan where we all went our separate ways. HP Motorrad was easy enough to find – about ten minutes taxi from Centrale in the middle of the city.
I had so much riding gear and luggage and I didn’t want to be carting gear around forever.
On the final walk up to HP Motorrad that slightly daunting feeling told me these guys had to deliver spot on or this could be a bit ordinary.
What I found at their shop totally set me at ease. Not only did they have a great range of bikes but they also had every bit of gear you could need – all for sale or hire.
This meant all the good brands of clothing, helmets and luggage as well as Go Pros and other accessories.
Any trace of doubt was long gone. Lined up out the front were about half a dozen 1200 GSs, a Ducati Diavel, Multistrada, Hyperstrada, scooters – and of course, the Monster I had been hanging out for.
It took about 30 minutes to get settled, Marco and Matteo ran me through everything I needed to know in regards to road rules, but I was lucky enough to have had a small heads up from the RC-390 launch ride.
I was able to dump all my excess gear in a secure spot below the shop – everything else I wanted to carry fitted neatly into two large Hepko and Becker soft panniers.
If you haven’t seen these, look them up. They have a neatly styled frame and the bags key-lock to it securely.
This isn’t a touring story with pretty pictures, sights and scenery, it’s more of a ‘how to’. The next step was finding some accommodation, and I decided to chance that on something a bit different as well.
I searched a website called AirBnb – where people rent out a spare room, or sometimes their entire place. It works in a similar way to a hotel, but the AirBnb website takes care of all the administration. Kind of like eBay, you can pick a host with good feedback and even choose someone that speaks English.
It is still a bit risky I guess and I have heard of some horror stories where people were left stranded after last second cancelations, but I decided to chance it.
I rode the Monster about three hours back to Modena, as you do. I can tell you right now having that bike was an awesome feeling – being able to take off and go wherever I wanted.
No tour bus. No stinking hire car.
When I arrived there I wondered if I would even get the AirBnb room.
Sure enough, the phone answered. $44 a night in the centre of historic Modena in one of the coolest apartments I had stayed in. I think it is the most bogan Aussie I have ever felt, amongst the sprawling history of Italy. The buildings were amazing and the people so friendly.
The next few days involved more cool apartments, some more bike testing (this time an electric superbike by Energica) and some tasty, tasty roads.
Someone told me not to get offended if I couldn’t get service at any shops in the middle of the day.
Here I was trekking northern Italy on a tight Monster where everyone likes to just chill out and eat good food. Offended? This was just my style.
The days were spent plotting on the GPS, picking out the next town – then going for a bit of AirBnb action to find a room for the night. To my surprise, everything was working out fine.
I guess the riders among you will know that not all bikes are created equal – even when they are the same model. Riding up and down the coast through Cinque Terra, about to make my way towards the Stelvio Pass, I was well aware the Monster I was on had been prepared really well. Just another tick in the box for HP Motorrad really.
For the second half of my trip I switched to the big BMW K1600 GT. It is an impressive machine with every creature comfort – this time the GPS was built into the dash.
It’s worth noting the importance of the GPS, all the bikes at HP Motorrad have one available and I wouldn’t travel without it.
They say Italians go crazy at Formula One time so I decided to head to Monza and take a look. I was a little behind schedule so I needed to use the freeway.
It is easy enough to do and saves a lot of time, but like all freeways it is pretty boring – not to mention expensive. Make sure you select the right lane to pay with your credit card and all should be fine. Plus, it’s a good excuse to wind out the K1600 (the sound is amazing).
It was a long day watching Daniel Ricciardo and co scream through the forest track – like any circuit there is always a lot of walking involved, but the energy of the crowd kept me going. I decided to stay in Monza that night and lucked out yet again, right in the historic part of town in yet another cool apartment.
The next day, I met up with the hosts in Lake Como where they were visiting their father.
That’s the way it seems to work out with AirBnb – I just couldn’t imagine what it might have been like if I had just stayed in hotels. The locals really seem to take you in – everybody was so incredibly friendly.
From there it was back into Milan to drop off the K1600 at HP Motorrad – and just for good measure I took out a Vespa for the day to explore the city.
An experience to remember
This trip started threw up random experiences every day – all thanks to chancing it and hiring some very cool bikes.
I really do have to thank the crew at KTM for their hospitality (and a great bike in the RC-390), Harley-Davidson (for the scheduling conflict), Nige and Picko at Cycle Torque and of course, the HP Motorrad crew.
If you are thinking of touring Italy, there is nothing better than doing it on two wheels.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ducati Monster from $140 / day
Ducati Hyperstrada from $120 / day
BMW R1200GS Adventure from $200 / day
BMW K1600 GT & GTL from $200 / day
* Better rates for longer rental periods
– Luggage storage available
– Hire of helmets, GPS and all other gear
– Rental stations all over Italy including Milan, Rome & Bologna