64 Jahre Elefantentreffen
“Crazy, enduring and very cold! What a totally unforgettable experience. If you have heard about the Elefant rally and never been you need to get there next year. Tick it off your bucket list. Do it at least once in your lifetime. I will certainly go again… one day!”
See the BVDM website for details of 2021 65 Jahre Elefantentreffen https://bvdm.de
Have a read of the little Honda CRF250L preparation post https://greatfunonsmallbikes.com/2020/01/03/the-elefant-rally-2020/ Dave, unfortunately had a last minute change of heart and rode his Honda 650 Deauville as the MZ 250 had further electrical issues. I was gutted he couldn’t take “Olive” but in high and sight it may have been a different story if he had chanced it so he will just have to go again another time! https://greatfunonsmallbikes.com/2020/01/08/dont-let-me-down-olive/ At least he got there this time and completed his personal challenge of camping in the snow after his last attempt 20 years ago.
A 3 am start, excited as a kid on christmas morning! We set off on the Monday and took the ferry from Dover to Calais. Dave works on the boats and gets a discount, otherwise it would have been quicker to get the Euro tunnel and get munching into the days miles ahead more quickly. To be honest, I didn’t mind a chill out, and big P&O breaky to get me started for the week!
On the boat I was sweltering, in all the layers I was wearing and have to remove some. I was too keen and did not need heat packs in my pockets and boots just yet! The weather was quite mild and a 5-10 degrees still. The forecast for the day was wet and windy! My concerns were getting cold and wet on the first day knowing we had 380 miles to cover.
As we rolled off the ferry off we set off for the Elefant. The destination for the day was a small town called Steinback in Germany on the outskirts of Frankfurt. We booked the hotel before the trip. What governed our ride was my fuel stops. The CRF has a small 6.6l tank and I had 2l reserve tanks with me for emergencies. We soon worked out stopping every 60-70 miles was a safe option. Dave didn’t mind as he had a wee every time I filled up. He filled up every other time. We got into a nice little routine and managed to bring the pit stop times down. Once we entered Belgium, it was quicker to use my bank card at the pump rather than pay cash otherwise you had to go in and pay first, guessing how much fuel you were going to put in and correcting the payment after.
The rain was awful and the wind was head on and strong. I was concerned about riding nobbly tyres all this way in these conditions. See my review on the tyres here https://greatfunonsmallbikes.com/2020/01/17/honda-crf250l-michelin-tracker-tyre-review/
“2209 KM’s, 1373 miles, 23 fuel stops, 106.4 gallons of petrol”
By the afternoon we hit Germany and the fuel stops became easier. The signs for the next garage on the motorway were great so you could easily work out if you’d make it to the next services in 48k etc…
380 miles later as dark hit we arrived in the evening traffic and found the hotel. Above a noodle restaurant. This was quite funny in a way as the first European outbreak of the Corona virus was in the town we were heading and we were staying with the Chinese…
The family were friendly and the twin room was perfect. Secure bike parking and easy to find. All we needed was a shower and a good sleep. After sitting on the bikes all day a walk was needed and we found a little German sports bar. A few beers later and the aches and pains were gone! What a great little bar. Everyone smoking in there, just like a step back in time. We ate in a German kebab next door and went home for a couple for beers in the restaurant.
Fresh and raring to go. Day 2 was wet and windy still. The forecast was to get colder but still no snow. I was getting a bit grumpy as I was concerned the Elefant may just be a mud bath this year after all. To me the rally was about camping in the snow!
“I was beginning to question whether this was enjoyable or just a challenge“
Putting on our nice and dry clothing which was all warm from the radiators we set off again. Todays destination was Regansburg in Germany. We rode through Frankfurt centre and tried to stay off the motorways as much as we could but ended up back on them to make up time. Dave had booked us an IBIS. I had never stayed in an IBIS before but heard people say how good they were for European bike trips so I was interested to see!
260 miles later of rain but a bit less wind, the temperature was now dropping. There was talk of snow where we were staying overnight. I did think a few times today, this was maybe more of an endurance and a challenge rather than an enjoyable holiday. The motorway miles on the CRF were sometimes challenging in the weather. I wanted to get off the motorway and ride some smaller more scenic roads but Dave was right, we needed to cover the miles and get there by dark. It was not a summer day with long day light hours and warm weather, it was pretty awful riding conditions and after a snow shower on the motorway I soon agreed with him!
The regular fuel stops were perfect for me on the CRF. Despite the gel seat and Shaun the sheep seat cover, hour after hour my arse got sore! Getting on and off the bike got harder as you had to kick your leg up and over due to the luggage, but by now I had the back and wasn’t going to fall over!
Glad to see the IBIS sign! We locked the bikes up and got into the warm. The check in process was great, all automated. You checked in on a computer and got a key code to access the hotel and your room. Simple, cheap and just what we needed! This time we had a double and a bunk bed! I gave the double to the old man! Plus a bunk was more fun! The shower was amazing. We found a Burger King next door and a garage for a few strong “Elefant beers”.
“It would have been nice to avoid the motorways and enjoy scenic routes but short winter days and poor weather, we needed to cover the miles to reach the destination each day.”
Snow! I was extatic, it was finally zero degree and snowing. The forecast was to snow again in the night and after checking the webcam at the Rally, they had just got a load too, with a forecast of a further 15cm overnight! I was like a kid in a sweet shop at this point and enjoying the trip once again! Dave was not! Concerned about the hazards of riding in the snow which I was yet to experience properly!
As I whipped the blind up in the morning hurrying Dave out of bed, there was a little covering of snow. The all you can eat breakfast at the IBIS was spot on for a few euros and the coffee was good.
Today we had less miles todo. My plan was to continue past Solla, the rally town and ride into Prachatice, Czech Republic and stay the night there, then return to Solla, Germany on the Thursday as I was told this was the best day to arrive. We set off, the white scenery was getting prettier as we rode.
At the next fuel stop, Dave pointed out load of bikes with the most outrageous luggage you’d ever seen! Barrels and all sorts of contraptions strapped to the bikes. I suddenly felt under prepared with my little yellow bag and top box. This was our first experience of the craziness of Elefant rally! The group of Germans appeared from the shop, said hello, offering us some sort of alcoholic drink out of a clear bottle! God knows what that was, but it looked strong! I was amazed at a services they were drinking already! What were we letting ourselves in for? A friendly lorry driver warned us of lots of snow ahead and the motorway being closed due to a crash. Dave became concerned about driving conditions, I became ecstatic and seeing as all this lot were off there now we agreed to arrive at the Rally today (on the Wednesday). I didn’t mind the detour as the snow had arrived!
Finally we pulled off the motorway onto the local smaller roads and the fun really started. This is what it was all about! Beautiful Bavarian villages and lots of snow. Snow ploughs, tractors, people digging out their driveways, kids building snow men in their front gardens. Maybe it was the first snowfall of the year here?
We rode cautiously but the roads were pretty well cleared I thought compared to the UK! At least until we met a steep hill where maybe recent snowfall hadn’t been cleared and was now compacted to ice. Cars and trailers were stranded. A guy was fitting snow chains to his lorry. A local tractor was helping people get moving. Dave began struggling on the big old Deauville. If he stopped he couldn’t get going again. If he braked he slid back down the hill. It was funny to watch but I could see him getting grumpy. We both had our ups and downs and today was his! He slid backward and fell off. A German and I helped him upright the bike and with lots of pushing and wheel spinning we eventually got his up the hill to the better road surface. My CRF nobblies suddenly were worth every penny. I was loving routing along in the snow! The grip was fantastic and I wanted to go and play in the snow.
By now loads of weird and wonderful bike outfits were rolling along the same roads, all with the same thing in mind! To drink German beer and camp in the sub zero temperatures and snow.
I enjoyed the winter wonderland scenery. Mile after mile of untouched snow and white trees, it was like the scene from a Christmas card! I hadn’t seen snow like this for years.
A woman came out and cheered us as we rode past her house. The locals seemed to love the bikes. Eventually we rocked up into the village of Solla and past a wooden make shift bar at the side of the road. Bikes parked and people having a beer outside. This was crazy! We reached the gates to the rally site. Hundreds of tents already pitched. Big, small, loads of colours in the white mountain scenery. Camp fire smoke drifted through the valley. The sound of bike engines and drunk people in silly hats walking about! The atmosphere was amazing. Thousands of people expected to arrive over the coming days to camp in the snow.
Dave left his bike outside the rally site with all the other road bias bikes. The rally site was proper snow and off road tyres required! I rode in and parked up for the obligatory photo in front of the 64th Elefententreffen sign! So pleased to have made it on the little 250.
We signed in and paid our 30 euros. This entitled us to camp for the whole rally. We got our bags and stickers etc. Bargain really. People had been here for days already. Most were staying until the Sunday. Glad to have arrived early now seeing the bikes flowing in we needed to quickly find a good spot to pitch the tents.
The site was in a huge bowl. Imagine mountains or hills and the preffered camping spots up on the higher more level areas. We found a nice little spot next to some friendly Germans. They were interested in the Honda and impressed that it came from the UK. We were given a beer each as we started putting our tents up. 5 euros bought us a bale of straw. The Germans lent us their shovel to dig out the snow before we laid the straw for insulation under the tents. We set up our camp and enjoyed a well deserved drink!
“I believe in fate. If I had have packed my shovel, it wouldn’t have snowed…”
Groups of bikers from all over Europe stood around fires drinking beer and talking of their adventures. Some were already hammered and being carried by others back to their tent! Trike outfits, three up, raced around the site sliding about in the snow. Pretty dangerous combination really! Lots wore Elefant hats and big animal skin furry long coats to keep warm.
A scooter towing a trailer jack knifed infant of my tent in the snow, resulting in a cheers from all who witnessed it. Theres something you don’t see every day!
A guy walked past in wooden clogs. How he could stand up in the snow and not have freezing cold feet I have no idea!
“You see the most random things at the Elefant”
The snow started again. It was perfect! The tent was white and everyone was happy. We drank beers from the bar, only 3 euro’s each. I had my first Bratwurst of the trip. Perfect! Just as I imagined. Standing there in the snow drinking beer and watching the chaos unfold. Vikings walked past, people dressed in animal fur coats to keep warm. As night came the music and noise got louder! People become more drunk! All friendly and fun though, not like drunk people at home in the UK who feel the urge to fight everyone. Fireworks like you have never heard echoed through the valley. Some guy played a tune I recognised on a trumpet for most of the night and shouted the same line a song repeatedly. I don’t think I really slept!
We were freezing cold and got into our tents pretty early compared to most! It was the first night and we had days of this to experience. No chance of sleep though! It was so cold my breath was turning to condensation on the inside of the tent and dripping all over me. My sleeping bag was wet and cold. Not so great fun in small tents! However I was still warm inside. The noise carried on all night. Don’t expect to sleep well at this rally! Motorbikes racing past your tent most of the night, the sound of crunching snow outside as people stagger about near their tents.
I must have nodded off as I awoke to a load thumping on the ground next to my head. Unzipping the wet tent, all the snow slid down to the floor. I peered around the door “Morning” a German chopping firewood with an axe! He was already drinking beer and cooking his breakfast which was balanced on the back of his bike.
Dave was still sparko and had the gas for the stove so I went off in search of coffee. The snow was deeper and the scenery was amazing. We later found a well for fresh water for the kettle.
The Germans the other side of us were now awake and let us sit around their fire and we boiled our kettle and joined them for morning coffee.
Dave and I agreed we were ill prepared for the camping! My tent was too small. We had no decent cooking facilities and there was loads we could have done better. Another time we would be much better prepared. But to be fair we had travelled 700 miles or so and all these lot were on big trikes and things with lots of luggage and admittedly had not travelled far.
We spoke with many friendly people and saw some fascinating bike outfits. I spotted a British registered MZ roll in. We pursued the bike to speak with the rider. A veteran Elefefant rally hero! Harry, who is well known and respected in the MZ circle back at home. His badges on his hat were the evidence of attending the harsh winter rallies of the past years. He told us of the Elefant rally history and stories of previous years. He was straight off to the Dragon Rally in Wales after this. His bike was perfect for the job and I have upmost respect for him riding that all the way here! My Honda seemed easy now after chatting with Harry. What had I worried about really? A modern reliable Honda 250. Was it really a challenge? Not for the bike but it was for me!
The rally today was getting busy. Bikes were pouring in. Glad we arrived the day before we watched people building some amazing camp set ups! Some had been there for a while, most had wood burners inside and fantastic cooking facilities and were there for a whole week or more!
Ironically the UK left the EU, whilst we were in Europe, so it seemed symbolic to cross out a star! The journey home through customs. Would it be any different? Not at all! Just the same.
The return journey home was much the same as before. Cold wet and very windy! Happy we made the winter rally and saw lots of snow we chose not to continue into Czech Republic or Austria as planned but slowly head in the direction of home and detour staying overnight in Luxembourg. We took our time, each country becoming warmer until we finally reached some sunshine in France. The trip was all about the rally. If it were a summer rally I’d plan on touring and doing more sight seeing long the way. If we had more time we could have taken much more in but the weather (which was expected for January!) was pretty bleak for motorbike travel.
See my YouTube video of the trip here https://youtu.be/4pSKVDSITKQ
Top tips if your planning to go.
My advice is, and I am sure Dave would agree… Arrive on the Wednesday or Thursday to get a good spot on the campsite. It fills up quickly and you will end up right at the bottom or on the hill pitching your tent on a slope! Take cash for – wood (20 euros), bales of straw (5 euros), beer and food at the bars (reasonable prices really… 3 euros a beer, a coffee 3-4 euros and a Bratwurst about 4 euros), entrance fee incl badge and sticker etc (30 euros), hat and other merchandise (approx 25 euros). Buy the straw to insulate your tent from the cold ground. Take or borrow a shovel to dig out the snow. Bring some beers and food from the super market in the town you pass on the way to the rally site. If your neighbours offer you to sit around their fire like we did, offer them some wood or beer in return and you will be friends for the week!
I hope this persuades just one person to go (on a small bike even more so!) and makes their experience as enjoyable as mine! I’d love to hear about your trip if you do go in 2021. I plan on attending the Dragon Rally in 2021 to see how that compares!
If you like the sound of fun and adventure such as this on small bikes. Follow the GFOSB facebook group or subscribe and see my other posts below.
- Is winter riding for you?
- Elefant Rally on a Honda CRF250L
- Happy 1st birthday GFOSB!
- Honda CRF250L Michelin Tracker tyre review…
- Monkey business