Iberian Moto Tour’s Bandolero, Spain Tour
Remember the passage often associated with the beloved postal courier, or postman? “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” For the members of the Bandolero Tour of the Andalucia region of southern Spain, held in February 2005, Scott Moreno became our courier, our “postman.” The American-born Spanish resident and head of Iberian Moto Tours and his two assistants, Martin Martinez and Chano Lorenzo, worked non-stop during this tour, as would any competent tour leaders. Yet it could have turned into a nonevent due to extremely difficult weather conditions. Long established weather records were being broken throughout much of Europe and especially southern Spain, and the Andalucia region’s normally mild weather was replaced by an amalgamation of rain, sleet, snow and ice during much of our tour.
Along with my wife, Jackie, who acts as bike passenger, navigator and director of shopping and sightseeing, I signed on for the early season IMT Bandolero Tour, comprised of six riding days plus a scheduled rest day on a big loop through the southern mountains and coastal Mediterranean environs of Spain. For the past few years, it has been billed not only as a great riding experience but also an opportunity for some “spring training” by none other than Rider magazine’s safe riding guru, Larry Grodsky. In cooperation with IMT, Grodsky provides tour guests two half-day training sessions during the course of the tour (see sidebar).
Jackie and I flew to Seville early for an extra three days of sightseeing and gastronomic adventure. This is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that—as with many European cities—is full of history. Even with the currently unfavorable exchange rate, Seville is a fun place to visit and explore the central city’s narrow streets lined with little shops, galleries, bars and intriguing eateries. Among the chief tourist draws are the massive Cathedral of Spain, the Giralda bell tower and nearby Moorish fortress, Real Alcazar. Built in the 12th century, the Christian cathedral is the world’s third largest. Be sure to take the time to climb the towers’ ramps (there are 34) to the top of the Giralda’s imposing belfry for a fantastic view of the city’s environs.
The 15 tour guests were each given the choice of a current-year BMW F650 or boxer model—we chose the new R1200GS. While tall in the saddle, it affords a riding position perfect for long days on the road and provides a very comfortable passenger platform. The tour’s assorted guests were all from the United States except for the last-minute addition of two riders from Israel. Riding experience within the group ranged from nearly 40 years to a recent MSF RiderCourse graduate with less than six months of actual riding. Yet all of the riders on this tour displayed level-headed riding discipline, which produced an accident-free ride packed with a lot of sightseeing and many wonderful adventures in spite of the weather. Several of the riders had previous training and riding experience with professor Grodsky and jumped on the chance for more.
The night before the start of the tour, Moreno gave us a briefing on local traffic laws, highway idiosyncrasies and other vital logistics. Grodsky also delivered a video presentation of safe riding tips. Then it was off to a welcome dinner where the IMT crew further educated us by ordering up a variety of succulent regional dishes shared by all.
After Jackie and I had enjoyed picture-perfect weather during our advance stay in Seville, the morning of the first day’s ride was marked by a hard, steady rain. Fortunately, most guests came with proper raingear. Not far from Seville on the way to our first night’s stop, the village of Arcos de la Frontera, the rain intensified and was soon joined by ferocious side winds. Not exactly the most fun-filled riding conditions.
As part of the first day’s experience, we were given a tour of the famous sherry producer, Tio Pepe. Sherry is a big deal in Spain and this place is billed as the epicenter of the fermented beverage. The ancient Tio Pepe warehouses are filled with aging casks used over and over for more than 150 years. To keep the local population of mice from chewing on the precious casks, each room of the warehouse complex contains a small dish of the finest sherry presented so that the resident mice can sip the liquid. This keeps them just a bit blitzed, reducing their penchant for gnawing.
Country roads in Spain are generally very good—often better than the stuff we ride on at home. Traffic circles are used to efficiently filter traffic through many urban intersections. These can be intimidating the first few times you enter one, but that apprehension quickly goes away. Spanish drivers—not unlike those in many regions of Europe—are respectful of motorcycles, but they do drive in a high-spirited manner.
The rest of our first day’s ride included a series of fantastic roads traversing the coastal range. The mountains in this part of Spain are not astoundingly high, but tend to be very, very steep, some appearing to jut straight up out of the valleys. Due to the unstable weather that day, we could not see the tops of most peaks because they were shrouded in clouds. Yet even with the funky weather, the sights through the high country were dazzling and the riding even more so. Chief guide Martin threw in some detours during the afternoon to keep our group out of some of the higher passes because of reports of snow and ice patches. In spite of the conditions, we all arrived safely at our first night’s stop. All of the riders claimed to have enjoyed the challenging riding experience.
In advance of the tour, Iberian Moto Tours supplies handy little route books, maps and other information to help guests navigate the countryside. IMT provides a luggage and rescue van with trailer into which all the guest luggage is loaded and transported to the next day’s venue. On this tour, while Moreno did not discourage guests from adventuring out on their own, he did not encourage it either. Because of the uncertain weather, all the guests stayed with one of the two guided groups most of the time.
On the second day of our tour we were headed for the popular tourist town of Ronda. Again, to avoid unacceptable weather conditions, we got onto some alternative routes that seemed just fine to us. Ronda (40,000 population)
was not scheduled as a two-night rest stop but it turned out that way. Moreno, after hearing of yet more grim weather ahead, put us up for an extra night in Ronda’s parador—a modern hotel built inside an ancient castle. Paradors are located throughout Spain, and the Ronda venue is said to be one of the better examples. Indeed, one would be hardpressed to find a more elegant hotel and setting. During our first night’s stay, we had dinner in the hotel’s main dining room and that, too, proved a memorable experience. Adjacent to the hotel is the central core of Ronda, which is divided into two sections, one on each side of sheer cliffs. Crossing a narrow but spectacular gap separating the rock cliffs is the town’s picturesque “new bridge” built nearly 400 years ago.
Leaving Ronda we encountered some leftover snow on the road, but it soon gave way to nice weather and delicious riding down to the Mediterranean coast. At a beach-side restaurant frequented by the tour, we were treated to a robust lunch of paella. Then it was back through yet another series of mountain passes to the city of Granada. That night we dined at a fine restaurant in a historic home perched high on a hill overlooking the famed Alhambra, a Moorish fortress of massive stone walls that dates back to the 12th century.
Flying to Europe and coughing up the tariff required to participate in a bike tour through exotic lands is arguably an upscale activity. The Bandolero Tour, depending on which bike you select, will set you back about $3,000 plus airfare, bike gas, some meals and incidentals. At these prices, guests expect a lot of service and convenience while they focus their energies on high-quality motorcycle riding, great scenery, fascinating culture, stunning architecture and fine cuisine. Yet to put these costs into perspective, at about $375 per day, the Bandolero Tour seems cheap compared to currently advertised 10-day bus tours of this area that run about $543 per day, plus airfare and incidentals.
Next stop was the city of Jaén (100,000 population) where we spent the last night on the road ensconced in another parador, the 800-year-old Castillo de Santa Catalina. The castle-turned-hotel is perched on the very top of the highest peak overlooking this olive-growing center of Spain. Here again, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner in the parador’s huge dining room.
We were up early the next morning for a long ride back to Seville. I pulled open the curtain only to see a blanket of snow covering the landscape and the bikes, with lots more flakes still falling from the dark-gray sky. To our amazement, Moreno and company did not freak out at this development, but set about loading the bikes on the trailer and hauling them down the mountain to an area where the snow gave way to a slushy rain. This cost us a couple of hours of road time, but no one was eager to set out on snow-covered roads in 30-degree temperatures. Things finally cleared enough for us to get going, and I was most happy to be riding a bike with heated grips.
On the way back to Seville, our lunch stop in Cordoba with a chance to visit another famed mosque was cut short due to the unexpected late start to our day. We did get to ride a wide assortment of roads that ranged from half-paved farm trails to a long series of exceptionally fine rolling twisties, finally followed by highspeed sections through farmlands
resembling Kansas as we wound our way back to Seville.
Iberian Moto Tours has been in business since 1997. A midsize tour operation with 19 tours per year (five in Morocco and 15 in Spain), their most popular tours are in northern Spain through the French Pyrenees Mountains. Recently the company announced the establishment of an Andalucia Tour Center, giving riders the option of taking day rides out of a base camp hotel or resort.
Back in Seville, we were treated to a final dinner gathering before everyone split for home the next morning. After dinner I had a chance to talk with some of the other riders about their impressions of the Bandolero Tour. While everyone thought the extraordinary weather was a bummer, nearly every other comment I heard was positive. Most said that in spite of the circumstances, the tour was both fun and educational. At the end of each riding day, the first talk among the guests was always about the day’s riding experiences. It seemed that it was only after those discussions were played out that the conversations turned to the scenery along the route.
Folks who sign up for motorcycle tours seem to do so because they are motorcycle enthusiasts first but also have a real interest in the geography, history and culture of the areas visited. Like the proverbial postman, Scott Moreno and company delivered a balanced tour that will no doubt earn him some repeat business in the future.
For more information about Iberian Moto Tours call (800) 255-7451 or visit www.imt-bike.com.
Read World Riding Lessons
Half a dozen years ago, Iberian Moto Tours head honcho Scott Moreno tried a bold experiment. He signed on none other than long-time Rider magazine columnist Larry Grodsky to accompany the guests on what has become the spring training edition of his Bandolero Tour. Grodsky’s popular monthly articles and tips on safe riding are a first read for many Rider subscribers. Grodsky also runs his own on-the-road safe riding school based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Moreno’s experiment has been a success. This year, several of the tour’s patrons were either past Grodsky students or avid readers of his published works. Each day of the tour, Grodsky would team up with two or more riders for half-day tutoring sessions. Riders were hooked up with small radio receivers with in-helmet earpieces, allowing Grodsky to comment on each student’s lane position, braking points and other riding styles. He also equips his bike with a small video camera and mounting system that provides riders with a visual review of the real-world instruction.
The cool thing about Grodsky’s on-bike instruction is that even if you are doing something terribly wrong, his calming explanations make you feel good. So any concerns that the training sessions might cut into the enjoyment of the day’s ride proved unfounded. Every rider, no matter how skilled or experienced, came away with new ways to make his riding a bit more enjoyable and a lot safer. You can find out more about Larry Grodsky’s Stayin’ Safe Motorcycle Training at www.stayinsafe.com. IMT/Stayin Safe will also offer another Bandolero Spring Training tour March 11-18, 2006.