7. Austrian Indian Tour 2017

Route des grandes Alpes, 29. August - 3.September 2017

When I founded A.I.R. in 2004, Austria seemed to be an endless playground for vintage motorcycling. When our rideouts were extended to 3 and 4 day events, I had to recognize that this wasn’t the case. We started to cross the boarders to neighbouring countries and I thought about taking the Austrian Indian Tour to other countries in Europe.


Planning a tour in the French alps was always on my mind since then and with the 7th Austrian Indian Tour I fulfilled my dream. After an extensive planning phase and the priceless help of Isabelle Bracquemond from the Indian Club France, we were ready for a new adventure.


With a small group we arrived at the first hotel, two days prior to the tour. As most of the villages of the region are laid out as skiing resorts, it was low season and we had the roads for ourselves. We used the time to ride up the nearby Col de l’Iseran and were deeply impressed from the first minute on. After a few curves the road led us about 10mls into the valley, passing the beautiful village Bonneval, then climbing up in challenging serpentines. This hillside was very steep and the sight down to the village we crossed minutes ago, reminded us on the height in which we were already. A second valley opened to the left, some more curves later and with passages were the road was just built into the mountain, a third valley was reached, even higher than the second one. Breathtaking views to all sides, dozens of summits around 4000 meters, glaciers and snowfields to the horizon. I have to admit, that in Austria a comparable sight can only be seen at the Mt. Grossglockner High Alpine road. Crossing the Col de l’Iseran and visiting Val d'Isère for a break, we returned to the hotel late that afternoon.


On the next day, all the riders of the tour arrived at the hotel. For me that’s always a great moment, to meet good old friends and greet new riders joining the group. In the afternoon last preparations were made for the ride. Later I used some time at our dinner to welcome everyone and hold a briefing about the next four days to come.


Early next morning we had breakfast and everyone was busy with the motorcycles. Some minutes later we started our ride…..or better to say: we tried to. The engine of Manfred Fetschers Chief sidecar outfit refused to start, fuel was purring out of the carburettor. As he had made the 1000 kilometres to meet us without any problems, I thought of something quick to fix and led the group up the southern side of Col de l’Iseran, in the hope that Manfred would catch up with us minutes later. As we reached the pass, we called the service truck that was with him and learned that the problem wasn’t solved. After over an hour of waiting at the mountain pass we decided to go on. Reaching one of the smaller villages after Val d’Isere and looking for a gas station, our new rider Christophe Devarennes had severe problems with his clutch. We tried to convince him that we could repair it in the evening, but he left the group. After refuelling, we made the way from Bourg Saint Maurice to Moûtiers and some miles later to the beginning of the Col de la Madeleine were I stopped the group for a short break, only to learn that two more motorcycles had broken down. Christian Dejoie had problems with the rear wheel and drivetrain, our second sidecar outfits gearbox was in pieces…. A look on my watch let me decide that we would use the lunch break for waiting on everyone to regroup. Meanwhile the sevicetruck had reached the broken down bikes and their riders and everyone was taken care of. As the Chiefs gearbox was definitely not repairable, we decided that it would be best to get it back to the first hotel, to which we would return on the last day. Also Christians bike was loaded to the truck to meet us in the evening. Even in this unpredictable situation with many failing motorcycles, our team and the servicetruck did great!


From there on, everything went fine. We made our way up to Col de la Madeleine where we met Andrew Blake and had another short break. After crossing Col du Glandon some miles later, we took a small detour to reach Col de la Croix de Fer and enjoyed the wonderful landscape. For the rest of the day, all the remaining motorcycles did well, as we descended down to Lac de Grand Maison. After the last uphill portions on this day, we conquered the breathtaking road between Villard Reculas and Huez, a very narrow road, several hundred meters above the valley, just built into the stoneformations of the mountain. After another twenty miles we reached our hotel in Venosc, Chateau de la Muzelle. Burkhard Schluens had done his best to get all the broken down motorcycles repaired. Christian Dejoie arrived on his Chief later that evening and we were reunited with our servicetruck.

In the following night the weather changed drastically. When we met for breakfast, it was raining heavily. After talking with the riders, we decided that we would shorten the ride at two sections of the route. We left the hotel and began the day riding in pouring rain. After passing Lake Chambon we made our way up to Col de Lauteret. With reaching higher altitudes the temperature sank rapidly and on some portions of the way we fought against freezing rain. On top of Col de Lauteret we rode through dense fog. Our boots and clothes were wet to the bone and everyone was freezing. To my astonishment all the riders were in a good mood and no one complained about the conditions or wanted to quit. Some thirty miles later we took a well deserved midday break in Briancon and waited for the servicetruck, to change some of our clothes for dry ones.


My hardest decision on that tour was to cancel the crossing of Col de Izoard, the Nr.1 rated mountainpass of the French Alps, for safety reasons. We had rain in Briacon and the pass reached up to 2360m. We would definitely experience snow at the pass. Nothing is more important to me, than the safety of our riders and for that reason a changed the route for the coming afternoon.

We left the city and headed directly to lake Serre – Poncon. Weather on the following route was better than some hours before and we got an idea of how beautiful the road and landscape right over the lake would have been with sunny weather. So many beautiful curves and corners, sights down to the lake and far across to the other shore. Passing some smaller towns and villages a little later, the road went on to our destination for that day. It had stopped raining and as we arrived at the breathtakingly beautiful art deco hotel Villa Morelia, we were somewhat proud to have made it through the day. The great service of the hotel began right away as we were invited to have some sandwiches, fruits and drinks on the terrace of the hotel as a little refreshment. After taking our luxurious rooms and putting on some dry cloth, we were ready for the evening. Not typical for a motorcycle event, but on my wishlist for that particular tour, was a french 4 course haute cuisine dinner on each of the two evenings we would stay at this hotel. And I wasn’t disappointed… Scallops, foie gras, roasted duck, filet mignon….. accompanied by different red and white wines, followed by varieties of delicious desserts, served in a dinning room built in 1906. I was in heaven.






After a rich breakfast, a sight out of the window was proof enough that we would have beautiful weather that day. A little later we started our engines and after refuelling at the village, we flew our Indians over open roads direction Col de la Cayolle. Leaving Barcelonnette the road went narrower each mile. A wonderful winding road along a river, through a valley with steep granite walls. The air was fresh and crisp, you could smell the turf and the pine trees along the way. Every two miles we crossed a bridge to the other side of the valley, just to climb further on. That particular road was magical, a beautiful place, perfect terrain for our motorcycles. As we reached the highest point of the pass, several hundred sheep rushed away from the road and the nearby meadow, as they heard our engines stomping their way up the path. Everything was just perfect. We stopped at the pass and inhaled the moment, not knowing that this was just the beginning of a unforgettable day.


While we descended down to the valley, we were just enjoying the ride. Olivier overtook me with his 1916 Powerplus to save his breaks and I followed him with my Gopro camera on, capturing us both swinging curve after curve, his beautiful blue Indian just meters ahead of mine. The road meandered through the dense woods above the valley, passing village after village, as we approached another highlight. While planning the tour, one area caught my special attention. A deep canyon of bright, red sandstone. We entered the valley and continued our ride through narrow passages and tunnels. The walls around us were all red and seemed to touch the sky. The road opened up and we had to descent further down to the river. I had expected a small bridge across the river, but was amazed to find it with only 5ft of  width, just enough for a very small car or motorcycle. The following road was just the same. In endless curves we climbed up on the narrow path. By the climbing temperature we were reminded, that this was the most southern point of our rideout, just 70 miles to Nice at the Mediterranean Sea. Tall tufts of grass followed the road and the landscape went dryer each mile. Just around the next curve I couldn’t believe my eyes… I village, built on the very top of a steep hill right in front of us. The church and the surrounding houses using every inch of space, not further apart from each other then to let someone pass between them. What a sight to see a village like that, in an remote area, not a single house within the next few miles. At the first houses we stopped our machines and everyone was just amazed by that little village. After descending to the valley, we were in desperate need of a fuelstation. The Scouts had to be refuelled with our canisters, before we headed north. Some 20 more miles we found a gas station and were ready to conquer our major challenge that day: Col de la Bonette. We left the last village and began the ride up to Cime de la Bonette, the second highest paved road in the Alps. The road was not very steep and the climb was mild, but the landscape and flora besides the road changed drastically with every minute. From the rich green plantlife at the valley, we went through all zones of vegetation, up to an area that reminded me of a dessert like landscape from a distant planet. Formations of black and grey rocks, not a single plant or tree. The weak performance of my engine reminded me of the height and that I was coming closer to the top of the pass. Passing the remains of an abandoned military village from world war one, the highest point of the road was in sight. Most of the Chiefs in our group overtook me and I enjoyed the sound of their engines, stomping up the mountain at low revs. I little later I had the feeling of finishing the last few meters of a marathon, running through the crowds of spectators … the road went flat and at the highest point the road was packed with cars and motorcycles left and right. We had made it…. Cime de la Bonette! One of those special places in the Alps, just magical! 2802m or 9191ft. We knew that we had not only reached the highest point of the French Alps, but also one of the most spectacular ones. After enjoying the moment, the views and taking some pictures at the landmarkstone at Cime de la Bonette, we descended down and back to our hotel, Villa Morelia in Jausiers, the first village of the valley.


I was just overwhelmed by the riders comments about that day! The beautiful morning at Col de la Cayolle, the mediterranean weather at the remote roads of the most southern point of our route or the grand finale with Col de la Bonette… Everyone was talking about his personal highlights that afternoon. Erwin Gorczyca, who had travelled about 2000 kilometres from eastern Poland to be with us and is a known long distance rider told me, that he had one of the most beautiful days ever since being a motorcyclist. Enjoying the warm sun and the garden of the hotel, we had some cocktails in the afternoon and later on we celebrated our previous days with our second four course dinner. The service of the hotel was once again outstanding.









After leaving the hotel in the morning, we stopped at a local gas station. While everyone was refuelling, Olivier parked his motorcycle and walked away. In that moment the Powerplus rolled off from its mainstand and fell to the ground. Olivier rushed to his Indian and picked it up, but the oilreservoir was cracked and the fueltank had a dent. Nevertheless he decided to go on. We left the parkinglot and started our ride. The route to Col de Vars was easy. A lush valley with lots of green and a riverbed that followed the road. Olivier held his own speed, but it was obvious that the oilleak was a serious issue. Not only that the oil was dripping on the hot rear cylinder, the loss of oil was substantial and it was in question if the engine would get enough oil. Olivier insisted to go on… I told the other riders to overtake us and to wait at the pass. Olivier was making his way up, followed by a dense blue cloud. I was short behind him all the way up and finally he made it to the top of Col de Vars. We stopped our machines and the decision was made to finally load the Powerplus to the servicetruck. The morning air was fresh and cold and we enjoyed the moment with some photos of our motorcycles and the passes roadmarker.


Most of the route that day was easy riding on flat roads down at the valley, as we would cross three passes short before the end of this day. All motorcycles were running perfectly, weather was fine and we maintained good speed, clearing some distance easily. 25 miles before Col de Lautaret I noticed dark clouds in front of us and we stopped to put on our raincloth. Short after, we felt the first raindrops and the temperature sank rapidly, as we were climbing up to the first pass. Right at the highest point of Col de Lauteret the road divided in to two directions and led as to our last big challenge, Col de Galibier! The road went up steep and narrow and the rain transformed to snow with the height we gained. Riding this famous high alpine road in harsh conditions was something special and to be honest I have always dreamed of some mild snowfall on one of our rideouts. As we had reached about two thirds of the pass, we were forced to use a shortcut tunnel and were not able to cross Col the Lautaret at its highest point. A little bit of a setback, but on the other hand I was really happy that we had seen the pass with snow and under demanding conditions. Weather wasn’t really inviting and we continued riding. Maintaining a sporty speed down through the curves we reached the treeline and enjoyed some sharp turns. A little latter we reached the main road down in the valley and I just realized that we had flown through Col du Telegraphe, the forth pass of that day! The rest of the route was just getting us home. An easy route through villages, following the valley and after about one more hour, we reached our hotel early.


As on every tour I organized before, I was happy that everything had worked out. We had a wonderful time and with the ride through the French Alps, a dream came true. After celebrating the end of the tour that evening and a good night of sleep, everyone headed home the next morning.


I am looking forward to the 8th Austrian Indian Tour in 2019, when we meet again to ride the most beautiful roads in Slovenia and southern Austria.