The next chapter of my motorcycle adventures: I will make an attempt to complete an Iron Butt-Ride. The easiest challenge: to ride at least 1600 km (1000 miles) in 24 hours. By motorbike. Crazy, I know. But I’ve done it!
Phew, where do I even start ? I came across the Iron Butt Association two years ago when I was searching all kinds of motorcycle sites and blogs in preparation for the USA trip. It’s a kind of club of (almost exclusively male) motorcyclists who like to ride long distances and are looking for some additional challenges. The entry level exercise: Saddlesore 1000, i.e. 1000 miles in less than 24 hours.
In metric Europe it’s 1600 km, and in Germany there is a more interesting variant: Saddlesore 1600K 16-24, which means that in addition to the 1600 km in 24 hours, the rider must have been in all 16 German federal states and must document this with a fuel receipt. My interest was caught.
Some posts in the Iron Butt Forum inspired me to a route, it looks like this:
Start and finish in Schnaittach, north of Nuremberg. I chose Schnaittach because the way from Munich, where I live, to the borders of the next federal states is too far. We have family and friends close to Schnaittach, so we could spend a weekend there during the summer and I could go for a ride through Germany on my motorbike.
On August 10th, shortly before 6 am, I’m on my way to the Schnaittach Autobahn access shortly before dawn. I can’t believe that I’m really doing this. It was raining during the night, the road is still wet and it is not particularly warm either.
A short time later I am on the motorway, the tank is full and about 1700 km lie before me, almost exclusively on the Autobahn. Meanwhile it is daylight, little traffic, but still amazing how many people are on the road on a Saturday shortly after dawn.
I ride at about 140-150 km/h (around 85-90 mph), wind pressure and noise are not really annoying. I have uploaded the route to my Garmin, it patiently counts down the kilometers to the first fuel stop in Thuringia. Of course I have planned the fuel stops as well. It doesn’t look like me, but the plan looks something like this:
For this purpose I have to document every fuel stop, take o photo of the receipt together with the mileage of the motorcycle. This way I can prove that I have actually been there and done the ride.
The Autobahn A9 northbound towards Berlin is an old Reichsautobahn route from the late thirties of the 20th century. Although it was extended after the reunification and the routing was partly changed, it is still recognizable as a Reichsautobahn. The route over hills and dales, the curves designed as circle segments, that’s how motorways were built before the war. Today, curves are laid out in transition curves, so-called clothoids.
Soon I will reach the border, the former frontier line between West and East Germany, then I will be in Thuringia, the second fuel stop is due soon, check off the second federal state.
Fortunately the weather decides to get a little friendlier. The road is getting dry and it’s much warmer. I didn’t even take the thermal lining of my ixs-jacket with me and instead of the warmer pants belonging to the jacket I chose my Kevlar reinforced motorcycle jeans. After all, it is summer.
I pass other interesting Reichsautobahn spots, the rest stop at the Hermstorfer Kreuz and the Schkeuditzer Kreuz, the first cloverleaf motorway intersection in the world. There the third fuel stop is due: Saxony, check.
In the meantime, the traffic in the direction of Berlin has become much denser, a lot of road works and many annoying drivers. For the Saxony-Anhalt stop, I leave the Autobahn and drive to a gas station on the main road to Dessau. A quick gas station coffee, a few sips of water, and off I go.
Soon I turn onto the Autobahn A10, fuel stop Brandenburg, a few minutes later I am in Berlin, rolling down the Avus, another historical road monument. It was one of the first motorways worldwide and was used as a temporary race track from 1921 until 1998. In 1937 the streamlined Silver Arrows from Mercedes and Auto Union reached almost 250 mph on the long straights. But that’s another story.
For the Berlin gas stop I leave the urban motorway and ride a few meters into the Hubertusallee towards Grunewald. A small detour, I know, but at least this way I see a little bit of Berlin, not just a gas station on the Avus.
Heading northwest. And I am getting hungry. It’s only just before 11 a.m., but after all I’m on the road for almost five hours. And I have already checked off six federal states. The next one is coming soon. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is not so far from the northwest Berlin city limits. The motorway in the direction of Hamburg consists to a large extent of construction sites, and there is really a lot of traffic now.
I didn’t make a proper schedule before, I just would like to be back in Schnaittach not more than one hour after midnight. 100 km after Berlin, half past 11 a.m, still over 1000 km to go, time for a burger.
In this case I don’t follow the recommendations of the Iron Butt Association, which says: no sumptuous meals, no coffee. I stop at a Burger King. Meanwhile the sun is shining, but it is not so warm that it would be an inconvenience.
I take my Whopper outside. There’s already a group of motorcyclists sitting on the terrace, their bikes are parked in front of the restaurant. They have North German license plates, the riders don’t look up, keep talking to each other. That is a little bit different with us in the south or west: a short look, at least a nod, that would have been normal.
Well, the Whopper tastes the same. And I don’t want to settle down here either, so let’s move on. The Meck-Pom gas stop is quite unspectacularly at the motorway gas station Stolpe Nord.
Soon I come into known areas, to the right of the Autobahn is the biosphere area Schalsee. We tested cars there once, on the so-called Zarrentin circuit. That’s a few years ago now.
Then again zone border and directly after that the gas station for Schleswig-Holstein. Here the cars have RZ license plates (stands for Ratzeburg), and not too far away, I once lived for a year. The A24 was once called Reichsautobahn 44 Hamburg-Berlin. It starts at a roundabout a few kilometers further west in Hamburg-Horn. The big concrete sign with the inscription „Bundesautobahn“ was already there in 1940, only with slightly different lettering.
I turn onto the A1, construction sites, traffic jam, holiday return traffic from the Elbe tunnel, Stop&Go, I sneak through lane splitting to the Stillhorn gas station, Hamburg, check. Soon after I’m on the A1 towards Bremen, from here on I’m heading south, but I still have more than half the distance ahead of me.
So far, apart from the Burger King break, I’ve only stopped for the obligatory fuel stops, visited nine German states, but still barely more than eight hours have passed since the start in Schnaittach.
The good weather has also been taken care of, a short and cold rain shower sweeps over the Autobahn A1, I get a little wet, water runs down my jeans. No problem, after a few sunny kilometers I am dry again. And the boots are still dry on the inside.
In Bremen I also have to get off the motorway, federal state number ten. After the fuel stop more worksites, traffic jam. And on the oncoming lane a rather bizarre scene: In the narrow construction site an older Audi A6 (for the insiders: a C6) is pushed by the driver and a uniformed policeman, a patrol car with blue lights secures to the rear, while behind it a mile-long traffic jam is forming.
The next rain shower, fortunately also a short one, it will be the last for this day. At the Damer Berge gas station I stop for my Lower Saxony stop. It’s after 4 pm, so I have to check the soccer app on my phone for the intermediate standings in the DFB Cup. Fortuna Düsseldorf plays in Villingen, 0:1 behind. Playing a fifth league club!
This is what keeps me busy on the rather boring kilometres through Lower Saxony, past Osnabrück, Münster, then Dortmund-Lichtendorf, Northrhine-Westfalia. In Villingen the game goes into extra time, and Düsseldorf wins in the end.
Before the journey, I had thought that if I could get tired in the afternoon, I could relax on a sofa for an hour or so with relatives in Münster or friends in Cologne. Nope, no need, I’m driving past Münster, and Cologne too.
At an Autobahn overpass called Westerwälder Tor I take a short photo stop. I know the overpass, originial from the late thirties, since my school days in Düsseldorf. We called it the „Gateway to the South“, because passing the bridge was usually the prelude to a trip south. You might get to Cologne or Bonn, but once you’ve passed through here, you usually continue your journey. To the further south.
The shadows are getting longer, the Rhineland-Pfalz stop is also due soon. And Hessen is near as well, Autobahn gas station Medenbach, I’ve passed there at least one hundred times. Now only two states are missing on my list, Saarland in the extreme west of Germany and Baden-Wuerttemberg. Via Mainz I’m heading west, following the setting sun. Across the Rhine, into the vineyards, as I reach Kaiserlautern it’s dark. At Ramstein the highway turns around the air base. During the war the Autobahn was used as an airfield here. The US Army took over the german base, the new roadway was built around the runway. On Google Maps the old Autobahn route thru the runway of the US Airbase is still clearly visible.
The gas station in Saarland is conveniently located, you take the first exit after the Saarland-sign, get back on the eastbound runway, then the gas station is already there. In the meantime it is half past nine, the last meal was the the burger in Mecklenburg over 800 km ago
Bockwurst with mustard and baked roll in Saarland
I fetch a Bockwurst from the gas station, known as truck driver’s wurst, it tastes better than it looks, the bread roll doesn’t. It helps to wash it down with a bottle of Nestea. In three hours I want to be at the starting point, that should be possible.
The Autobahn is almost empty now, I ride at 140 to 160 km/h thru the night. One more gas stop near Sinsheim, then there’s only another 200 km left. The exit from the Pfälzer Wald-Hills into the Rhine Valley looks quite spectacular at night. I don’t really have a good sense for it, try to keep the speed up on the descent and pass a few cars that brake before the long sweeping curves.
Soon after, turn onto the A61, Rhine Bridge, Hockenheim, A6, I could almost drive that with my eyes closed now. Last fuel stop close to Sinsheim and a last and short stretch break on a dark, a bit scary parking lot east of Crailsheim. Then I’m back in the Nuremberg area. A bit tired, tense, my head is slightly buzzing, but it was still a good idea to put the earplugs in. I start to shiver, I took the emergency sweater from the topcase in Saarland already.
Exit Schnaittach, filling up the tank for the last time. Mileage on the clock: 9032 km, it is quarter to 1 a.m. I was on the road for 18.5 hours, the Africa Twin burned an average of 6.5 litres, for those not familiar with the metric system: around 36 mpg. I had two litres of water, two coffees, two muesli bars, a bottle of Nestea, a double Whopper with 0.5 litres of diet coke and a large serving of fries. And of course the Truck Driver’s Wurst.
I ride the few more kilometres to Weißenohe to the house of our friends, turn off the motorbike. My feet and hands are prickling a bit. I don’t feel particularly tired, and it takes an hour until my systems are slowly shuting down and I can to go to sleep.
I leave the gas receipts in the top case. If I have done everything right now, it should be enough for a Saddle Sore 1000 and the 16/24- 16 States of Germany.
A few days later I compile the documentation and mail everything to the Iron Butt Association, pay the fee and soon after I am a full member of the Iron Butt Association.
Two certificates and a sticker, which meanwhile decorats the Hepco&Becker case on my Africa Twin
Conclusion? The journey was long, strenuous, but less tiring than I had anticipated. I enjoyed every kilometer, there is something hypnotic about it: riding, refuelling, taking photos of the receipts. Of course, I could have easily driven a round through Germany without counting miles and hours and fuel stops. But it would not have been the same.
For next year I have registered for a little IBA rally. Let’s see, maybe I get used to it!