Big Five celebrates in Prague

Chapter Organiser: 

  • International Event

H.O.G. BIG FIVE CHAPTER member’s experiences and compilation of photographs taken by members of the touring group.

Oskar Rottcher

It seemed like a good way to celebrate the end of my 69th year, and to herald in my 70th birthday, be it only in November. To attend the Harley-Davidson® 115th Anniversary celebration in Prague was ever only a bucket list item, which I never thought would be fulfilled – not even in my wildest dreams!  When the idea was first broached with me, the thought of the expense, and the organisation that goes into such a venture, seemed a daunting task. And it was, but not for me!My daughter in Canada started the ball rolling by paying my rally fee, and then Salome and my Harley family stepped in to keep travel plan and itinerary secrets from me all along the way.  It was an amazing experience, to say the least.  Being my 70th year, with my birthday coming up in November?  It seemed a good excuse to break the bank – and a trip like this – does just that!

I did keep the family on tender-hooks, as I was hedging all along about going, and somehow they had to convince me to go as they had all these secret plans behind the scenes, and my not going would have caused great consternation, it is only now after the fact, as I look back I realise the sense of relief that must have overcome them all when I agreed to get the Visas sorted out.  They knew I am sure, that once paying the exorbitant fee for the Visa, it would confirm that I would consent to going.  And so our trip began from Johannesburg to Dubai to Budapest – Hungary.

Suffice to say, picking up the bikes in Budapest, sorting out all the legalities and insurance, and getting on the road was an adrenaline rush.  A narrow highway, keeping right, passing left, and keeping out of the way of millions of trucks was an experience.  I rode a beautiful 2018 ROAD KING, and Salome a HERITAGE 2018 – 114ci displacement, the best of the Softail® motorcycles.  It did not take long before we settled in to the throb of these beautiful bikes, our phones and off-line maps showing the way.  Matt, our organiser of the trip and who did all the arrangements and bookings of bikes and accommodation was in the lead.  With 8 motorcycles in our Pack, I fell into the position of sweep.   
Our trip started in Hungary, then through days filled with mountain passes through Austria and Italy and roaming the Czech Republic.  It is near impossible to try and explain the countryside, the beauty, the mountains and lakes - ice and snow in the middle of summer at the highest point was extraordinary to see.  Sometimes the awesomeness of it all was difficult to comprehend.  Narrow mountain passes and dark long tunnels, cobblestone roads, rain at times, mountain villages and coffee shops.  An unforgettable experience.

Travelling through and an overnight in Salzburg, saw us entering Prague, it suddenly appeared as if the roads were being consumed by Harley-Davidson® motorcycles of every model and custom.  To try to describe the Rally is most difficult- extravagant, out of this world, magnificent, astoundingly beautiful only describes just a little of what it was like.  Chapter Rockers from all over Europe and far beyond same as us.  JR-Joao Rodrigues member of the Big Five Chapter residing half the year round in Portugal travelled a round trip of close to 6000km in total to join the rally... real staying power for him. 110,000 Rally attendees with an estimation of 67,000 bikes.  What a sight when the city came alive with the V-twin engines.  Cobble stone streets-centuries old, tram lines, buses, taxis, trains all fighting for the same space it seemed.  For future reference beware of riding between the tram lines you may just be seeing a tram in your mirror ... EISH! 

The Rally site was huge, with new and custom bikes on show, Harley-Davidson® dealership outlets to empty your pockets.. the average price of shirts €35 to 40.. One’s rand did not go far, but credit cards won the day!!!  Multiple stages, music, stunt shows, WW2 USA military parade with the original military Harley-Davidson® motorcycles on display..  Absolutely magnificent.  We could in no way see everything..  We had to pick and choose.  Walking, walking and walking!!!  According to Matt we did 147k’s over the trip period.

We ended the trip with Matt, Salome and I doing 245kms in torrential rain from Vienna to Budapest, in order to return our three motorcycles.  A frightening experience to say the least when neither trucks nor motorists gave us any leeway at all to manoeuvre the road.  Sometimes we were driven apart between trucks to give 180km/h cars and opportunity to pass.  We had to find gaps to move into all the time.  But we made it!

Thank you to Salome, Matt and Renee, Marc and Teresa from Canada, Dick and Juliette from Holland, and William and Kerstin, who showed us the way through mountains, lavished food and love on us as we stayed in their town in Austria, and to Mike and Margie WC who entertained us by finding a toilet wherever we were.  Thank you to good friends and family that made the beginning of this 70th year, indeed, one to remember.

 

Renee Comins

Do you ever need a reason a travel?  If you love to travel, a reason to do so is seldom needed.  But if you insist, then the Harley-Davidson® 115th Anniversary Rally in Prague, Czech Republic is reason enough.  2018 welcomed the 115th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.  Only two official celebratory rallies are planned in Prague - Czech Republic and Milwaukee with the USA playing host.  And we decided that Prague was the place to go.

What an event it turned out to be.  Six chapter members from the Harley Owners Group Chapter Big Five decided to make a party of it… and what a party it turned out to be.  From Hungary, via the crazy mountains of the Austrian and Italian Alps to the Czech Republic!  What an awesome adventure.

We hired Harley-Davidson® motorcycles in Budapest (Hungary) and Vienna (Austria) – which are 250kms apart - with the 2 groups eventually meeting at some “Ultra-City” equivalent alongside an Austrian autobahn.

We met up with ex-Chapter Director William and Kerstin Bruntnell and they shared the magic of the Alps with us.  What a phenomenal 2-days of alpine mountain passes with switchbacks and cobblestones and tunnels galore!  Awesome.

Perhaps the riding highlight of the trip was riding the Grossglockner in Austria.  It traverses some of the highest alpine passes in Austria and travelling on a short cobblestoned road you are brought to the highest point in Austria.  It was one of the scariest ascents we made … with the descent no less terrifying.  (The experience on the Sani Pass, Lesotho, South Africa prepared us well).  An unexpected and awe-inspiring glacier with snow-capped peaks (3798m) and incredible waterfalls; what absolutely stunning sights… if you dared look … but it was safer to ride and stop and enjoy the view!  Otherwise, those hair-pin bends came fast and furiously.
So to Matthew and his side-kicks …. 

Thank you for an unforgettable trip.  Till the next one … Let’s ride!

 

Marc & Teresa Varty

What started out as a conversation between sisters about upcoming, possible vacations turned into an unforgettable experience!  We live on different continents, so getting together is not just a matter of ‘popping over for coffee’…!  This took deliberate planning, saving and scheming.  The comment from Renee (my eldest sister) was “We are joining with Dad (Oskar), Salome Rottcher and a group of friends from Harley Owners Group Chapter Big Five (Nelspruit, South Africa Chapter) to attend the Harley-Davidson® 115th  Anniversary celebrations in Prague, Czech Republic, want to join us?”  Well, who could resist?!  My husband Marc rides a Harley-Davidson® Rocker motorcycle and we belong to the Vancouver, BC, Harley Owners Group Chapter, so, on paper we looked like the perfect addition to this growing group.  The best part of this whole enterprise was going to be surprising Dad with our presence for the entire 12 days as an early 70th birthday celebration.  Thus between myself, Marc (Canada) Renee, Matthew, Mike, Margie, Salome (South Africa), William, Kerstin (Austria), Dick and Juliette (Netherlands) the trip planning was underway.  Keeping Dad in the dark to our shenanigans would have made Pinocchio proud.  Matthew was the trip planning guru!  I’m sure he could tell you all about the countless emails, the thousands of Trip Advisor reviews, the offline map downloading and all the nitty-gritty details that go into planning a trip of this magnitude. 

But here is our top-ten list; it was a difficult choice but here goes:

 

  • 10) Our incredible accommodation at each stop!  Airbnb in Budapest (don’t judge a book by its cover!) Castle grounds in Austria, functional but small in Salzburg, Apartment Hotel on Embassy Row in Prague, the world’s first zero-energy balance hotel in an urban area in Vienna (with their own beehives on the roof!) all so different, but perfect.
  • 9) Pack riding with 8 HD® motorcycles through Hungary, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic.
  • 8) The H-D® 115th Anniversary Rally, 3 days of incredible Harley atmosphere, joining with thousands of other Harley® owners from around the world.
  • 7) Managing the cobblestone streets and tram lines of Eastern Europe.
  • 6) Riding the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Austria, one of the most famous and highest Alpine Alps pass road.
  • 5) Eating and Drinking our way through Europe.
  • 4) ‘Watching’ a bunch of South Africans navigate the ‘wrong’ side of the road (according to them), especially the ‘roundabouts’ on Harley® motorcycles.
  • 3) Enjoying not just our Harleys, but trams, busses, trains, horse-drawn carriages, boats, planes and miles upon miles of walking (on average 10.5km / day) and an unforgettable beer bike!
  • 2) The excitement of surprising Dad in Budapest.
  • 1) The incredible camaraderie that owning a Harley-Davidson® offers. The strangers, who became friends and whom are now family!  Thank you so much to Oskar, Salome, Matthew, Renee, William, Kerstin, Mike and Margie and my hubby Marc for an incredible once in a life time opportunity!

 

Mike & Margie Decroizille

When you want a Yamaha you buy a Yamaha and you get a Yamaha.  When you want a BMW you buy a BMW, you get a BMW.  However when you want a Harley-Davidson®, you purchase a Harley® and you inherit a family. Family is not only flesh and blood, it’s those who know your faults and accept you warts & all.

It’s with THIS family that we spent 10 days going to Harley-Davidson® 115th Anniversary Rally Prague.

What an epic adventure.  En route we were, driving on the wrong side of the road through picture perfect countryside.  The alpine routes through southern Austria and Northern Italy were breathtakingly beautiful, and the mountain passes technically challenging, more so when you have a tour bus going in opposite direction around the same hairpin bend!!  The Glossglockner Pass was stunningly beautiful, and the first glacier I’ve seen to date.

At one stage in the Czech Republic, Renee exchanged wide eyed glances and the top layer of paint with a Fiat Uno on one of the very narrow country roads.  She was right in front of me and the incident even left skid marks in my undies.

We rode through some tunnels that seemed endless, with the drone of 8 Harley® motorcycles ringing in our ears.  One of the tunnels was paved with cobblestones dating back to the pre 1900’s and when wet wasn’t the nicest to traverse.  But we managed the passes and tunnels, on motorcycles that were not our own and without incident.  An accomplishment in its own right.

With 110,000 people and 67,000 bikes Prague was renamed Harley® town. With all shapes and sizes appearing in every alley and side street, even the H-D® motorcycles were a treat to look at.

I took a picture of an H-D® trike with a wheelchair carrier rack on the back.  First of a kind I’ve seen.  One thing that was very noticeable though was the friendliness of all the bikers.  Every single biker we passed en route, regardless of what motorcycles they rode greeted with the “two finger salute”.  That’s one thing our SA bikers should adopt!!

We did the touristy things in all the cities we visited, Budapest, Saltsburg, Vienna and Prague.  However the best way to see the city of Prague is via a “Beer Bike”.  This 10 Man pedal powered bike, winding its way through the old streets of Prague was a ride not to be missed.  Pedalling hard and drinking draught beer together is a co-ordinated effort.

Mealtimes specifically were a joyous occasion.  With much consumption of the amber liquid and the local fare, the only reason we didn’t pick up lots of weight was the fact that we walked extensively everywhere we went.  Matt clocked up 147Kms in 10 days on his Apple Watch, which is a testimony to this fact.

We lunched at a street side cafe in Budapest, called Toscana Club.  It was run by two young Italian folk.  We all proceeded to eat his entire stock of ciabatta and cold meats, polished off even the display wines and flattened all the deserts.  I think when we left the pair closed shop for the day as their inventory was down to zero.

The trip was truly epic, not for any other reason than the people involved.  Spending long days with the same crew can sometimes be tiresome, but at no stage did we feel left out or pressurised into doing any activity we were not comfortable with.  There were no clashes of personalities except when we passed the same lunch stop 3 times in 5 minutes.  Matt’s GPS had a glitch that was soon sorted by the sweeps constant chirp.
Several ticks on my bucket list; and I would go the same route with the same “family’ in a heartbeat.

Thank you to H-D® 115th for the opportunity of seeing a part of Europe through different eyes.

 

William & Kirsten Bruntnell

It’s been 2 years since we moved to Austria and left our friends and family in South Africa.  It’s difficult to explain how hard it is not to be able to ride out on weekends, breakfast runs or rallies with our very special group of biker friends at Big Five Chapter Harley Owners Group.  After months of planning (most credit here has to go to Matt Comins), our biker family was coming to Europe and we were beside ourselves with excitement - finally an opportunity to show them our new backyard.

After a couple of days in Budapest, rental Harley-Davidson® motorcycles were picked up in Budapest and Vienna and the awaited group were on their way to join us in Carinthia.  We met them on the way and raced home to get everyone checked in and ready for a traditional Austrian dinner with “Saure Suppe” (a traditional soup served at our summer festivals) and an Austrian “Jause”, served with a copious amount of local Wine and Beer.  What an awesome evening and the beginning of what we knew was going to be a trip to remember.

The next day we were all up and rearing to go.  A quick breakfast and on the bikes we got.  Kerstin’s outride for the day involved 3 mountain passes (S-bend paradise and views to die for), lakes, villages and lots of tunnels.  After 20 minutes we hit Italy and had our first of many truly Italian coffees.  We rode through incredible landscapes, gorges and mountains and finally stopped for an Italian Prosciutto tasting and of course a little of what the locals had to offer.  Half way up the last pass the rain hit, but this could not damper our spirits as we were pumped and loving the ride.  That evening we had dinner at an Alpine restaurant in the Italian mountains.  The food was incredible but sadly we could only get through the starters, as the portions were way too big.

The next day – was THE day… Yes, we were going to do the legendary Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse.  The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria (3798m) and the pass takes us from Carinthia to the neighbouring province of Salzburg.  The route did not disappoint us.  There is a reason it is considered one of the best rides in the world.  The scenery, the peaks and turns, all put our senses into overdrive as we tried to take it all in (WOW).  An evening in the city of Salzburg was not complete without a visit to the Monk Brewery and some local cuisine.

Next stop was Prague - but first a scenic ride through the Czechoslovakian country side and a quick stop over for some awesome chow a-la-medieval style.  Our arrival in Prague was met with incredible architecture and lots of cobble stone roads (not so nice to ride on though…).  We dropped our bags and raced to the Rally site for the grand opening and of course shopping (been there, done that, and got the T Shirt).  Over the next three days highlights included an out-ride to Karlštejn Castle (a large Gothic castle founded in 1348), the Rally site and a walk through Prague's old city centre including a visit to the Hard Rock Café (yummy cocktails), the Absintherie for some Absinth tasting (twice, just to make sure) and Hooters for some great buffalo chicken wings.  The Beer Bike tour, Matt had organized, was great fun. Rather challenging to drink, laugh and drive all at the same time.

After 3 days we said good-bye to Prague and headed to Vienna, where the group would spend another three nights.  We however sadly had to go our separate ways the next day.  But first a night out in Vienna would not be complete without a visit to the Vienna Prater (it’s history reaching as far back as 1765) - a fantastic old school fun fair, where kickass pork knuckles is served.  Stuffed and tired we headed back to the hotel.

The next day it was time to say good-bye to our bestest of friends from Big Five (Oskar & Salome, Matt & Renee, Mike & Margie) and our new friends from Canada (Marc & Theresa – you are a blast!).  What a trip…. And what a privilege to have had this opportunity to ride with such incredible people.  There’s a saying that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family – I guess in this case we are blessed that our friends are our family (…biker family).  What we are trying to say is that without Harley- Davidson and H.O.G. Big Five Chapter we might never have met.  But we thank the good Lord every day that we did.

Until next time – clear skies, open roads and Blessings…