Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

August 28, 1999 -- Day 100

The Transdanubia Ride
The ride for understanding

-- Story by Chris --


Produced by Richard Schalber GmbH since 1993 and starting from BMW AG headquarters in Munich, the Transdanubia Ride takes motorcyclists through 5 countries and over 2,700 kilometers of all types of enduro terrain to it's conclusion in Budapest, Hungary.  The ride is 6 days long and the route takes participants through parts of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

The Route

I first heard about the Transdanubia Ride in November of 1997, while in Budapest visiting relatives.  I went to the local BMW shop looking for a "BMW Hungary" t-shirt.  The shop didn't have any, and I was sent to see Zsolt Vertessy, president of the BMW Motorcycle Club of Hungary.  While picking up the shirt and other paraphernalia, I noticed Zsolt's R100GS, R1100GS, and 4x4 all showered in Transdanubia Ride stickers.  He explained that he was the Hungarian co-ordinator for the Transdanubia Ride, an annual enduro rally from Munich to Budapest along the Danube River.

Earlier this year, after registering Erin and I for training at BMW's Enduro Park (see chapter 9), we received our information packages which included a section for training for the Transdanubia, and another for a tour which accompanies the ride.  Hmmm, I thought to myself -- We would be in Germany in August, also heading to Budapest on our enduro bikes -- Let's check this out!

A few inquiries were made, and we decided that although the official accompanying ride would have us close to the action (including camping with the riders), it was just not in our budget.   We decided we would try to get a map of the route or at least the name of some towns along the way and follow along as best as we could.  We spoke to Mike Matzer, our new friend we met on the internet about 6 months ago.  Mike lives in Munich, rides an F650, is a member of the local BMW car and motorcycle club, the Chain Gang, and the MOA.  His local club helps with the Transdanubia registration, so he got the itinerary for the first day, and the 3 of us headed over to the BMW AG headquarters last Saturday morning (Aug. 21st) for the official check-in.  After a preview of the bikes, saying hello to friends and alumni from Enduro Park, and seeing Andrea Meyer's Paris-Dakar custom F650, we discovered to our dismay that it was not permitted to follow the event.

BMW F650 Chain Gang members Mike and Erin checking out the Ultimate Chain Drive!

With no other plans, we decided to make the best of the day and hung around the registration area, inspecting all the stock and modified rally-ready machines.  In the afternoon, I ran into Zsolt while strolling around.  He had just arrived with the Hungarian Zsolt also doubled as a the video manrepresentative rider, a motorcycle policeman named Joseph Pínter (= Joska -- pronounced Yoshka).  Joska would be riding a stock, orange, BMW F650 provided by BMW AG.  As Zsolt had much to do, and Joska only spoke Hungarian, I was asked to help out as a translator.   It was actually a pretty funny scene, Mike would translate the official instructions from German to English, and I would then translate into Hungarian for Joska.  At the end of the day, Zsolt told us if we came back in the morning, we could ride with he and Joska to the first event.

The Transdanubia Ride is a rally divided into 2 components: Roadbook Rides and Specials.  The rider with the fewest points wins.   Competitors can ride any 1 or 2 cylinder (4 stroke) motorcycle, sidecar rig, or quad.  They are divided into groups based on type of machines, and stock vs. modified machines.  All motorcycles must also be "street legal".

1)  Roadbook Rides:  Riders are sent along a specified route (provided the night before) onRoadbook diverse road and off-road surfaces.  To insure riders are following the roadbook, there are usually 6 unknown checkpoints along the way each day.  Although time is important, finding the checkpoints can be more critical than speed.

2)  Specials (SP):  These are strictly off-road events, either on a motorcross track or on a trail through the woods.  They are generally follow marked trails, but sometimes require a roadbook.  They range from 1-15 kms, based on difficulty, and here speed is critical.

The route between Specials on the first 2 days was Asphalt.  Later, the routes changed to mostly dirt/trail riding. 

We woke around 6:00am on Sunday morning, packed the bikes and rode over to BMW AG.   At 8:00am, we were in a convoy led escorted by the Munich police to the first event (prologue), a motorcross park just outside Munich.  There was a sense of excitement in the air, and we were caught up in it with everyone else.  We arrived at the event, parked the bikes, and rushed to a hilltop to get a good view.  At the suggestion of Court Fisher, BMW ON's global touring editor, we introduced ourselves to Wolfgang Marx, the Transdanubia course manager and Richard Schalber's #2 man.  It turns out, Wolfgang had not only received an email from Court announcing our arrival, but Court had also called Wolfgang to introduce us.  Once again, thank you Court.

Wolfgang gives us a warm welcome

After the prologue, we rode to the city of Linz in Austria.  From there, we followed Joska's road book to Schrems, where he had to locate a checkpoint, then ride to the first Special (SP1) at a local motorcross track.  It was about 7:00 pm when we crossed the border from Austria into the Czech Republic.  About 1 km past the border, we noticed girls standing by the side of the road in "hot pants" and tight tops -- a.k.a. prostitutes.   They lined the roadside like street lamps, and I was amazed at how young they all looked.  A few kilometers later we came to the first town, "Excalibur City" -- It looked like a scene out of a bad Mafia movie combining the gaudy neon lights, gambling, and sex of Las Vegas and New York's Time's Square.  It was immediately clear to all of us that these people were desperate to generate money, and they turned to the oldest profession without guilt or humiliation.

Night surrounded us as we meandered through the backroads towards the final checkpoint and campground, about 40 kms south of Brno.  The small towns along the way were mostly deserted, unkempt, and looked as they probably did a half a century before.  Although no one tried to stop us or approach us, we had the nervous feeling that if we broke down and left one of the bikes for a few minutes, it would be gone instantly.  That said, the kids hooted and hollered as we approached, and they were thrilled when we honked our horns and waved back to them. 

By 9:00pm we thought we were close, but it was dark and we pulled into a gas station to verify our location as the (known) checkpoint would close soon.  There was a police car parked in the station and I approached an officer who was getting into his car.  I asked him if he spoke English.  Frowning, elbows bent, palms up like he was a waiter holding two trays, he gave me the international shrug indicating "I'm sorry, I have no idea what your saying, please don't ask me anything else."

As this has happened to us many times on this journey, I asked him in a combination of English and primitive sign language if there was a campground to the north, but his reply was vague.  Erin understood the situation, so I turned to Zsolt and Joska and told them in Hungarian that the policeman didn't speak English, and we were on our own.  The policeman overheard me and replied, "Well why didn't you say you could speak Hungarian, where do you want to go?"  Who would have thought my (limited) Hungarian would come in so handy on this trip?!

Early Monday morning we were assembled at the entrance to the campground, complete with police and other officials to escort us to the first special of the day, SP2.  About 100 racers, some support vehicles, 25 riders from the accompanying tour, and the American contingent (Erin & I) rode in staggered formation about 20kms to a quarry.

This here's a convoy And they're off

Here, Transdanubia officials had set up a long course through the sand and trees.   The riders were required to do 2 laps, and on average it took them 30 minutes to complete the event. 

After the special, the 4 of us mounted up with about 8 other guys and negotiated our way southeast into Slovakia, and the second special of the day, SP3.  This event was a 7km course set up entirely in the woods.  As we were left on the roadside to wait, we didn't get to see much of this special.  The riders appeared after about 10 minutes, claiming the course was not too sandy/muddy, but the small gaps through the trees made it difficult to maintain a high speed.  We got on the road again and headed south to Bratislava, a very beautiful city that we would like to visit again some day. 

Just below Bratislava, we approached the border into Hungary, and the long line of people waiting to enter.  As Joska was riding in uniform, we jumped the line and were waved through without delay -- cool!  It was about 6:00pm and we still had about 200kms to go.  Since we were now on Hungarian soil, riding with a Hungarian police officer, we cranked up the speed a bit as we rumbled through the backroads to the campground and staging point south of Budapest.

It was dark about an hour before we reached our destination.  We normally don't like to ride at night, especially on country roads, but this was a rally and we had to get to our destination.  The difficulty was that the farm roads, which although paved, were in such bad shape we had to stand on our foot pegs just to keep from getting bounced out of the saddle.   We reached Camp Sarlöspuszta, a horse farm/hotel, where rally participants set up camp and organizers occupied the few rooms.  We broke out the flashlights, set up our tent and went to the gathering area to see what was happening.  From the campground the primarily off-road events for the next 4 days would begin and end there (similar to the Tour du France).

Sarlospuszta from a helicopter

Up until this point, we were "tolerated" because we knew a few key people and were doing a special round-the-world m/c trip, but we still felt like outsiders.  Later that night, Zsolt approached me, said he was short a team, and asked if Erin and I could help out.   We said "sure, what can we do?!".  We were given our own road book, local map, and told we would be running Check Point #6 the following day.   We were thrilled!

Tuesday morning, we rose early with everyone else and went to breakfast.  The participants sat in the main area, the VIP's and Organizers sat off to the side.  As we were now officials, we sat with the latter group.  We were told where on the map to go, and to take the asphalt to a certain point, and pick up the road book instructions from there.  Our checkpoint was to be open from 2:30 to 5:30, and we left the campground in order to arrive before 2:00pm.  Most of the way was barely asphalt, but when we got to our turnoff, it was a mixture of packed sand and mud.

We struggled for the 3.5 kms to our location, a small trail off the main trail.  It was unknown to the riders, and chosen since it was easily missed if the rider wasn't paying close attention to the roadbook details.  Because Zsolt had specifically told me what to look for, it was only a little difficult for us to find.  We were parallel to the main trail, hidden by a narrow row of loose forest.  We heard many riders stop at the turn-off 20 meters away, confer with team members or turn back to recalculate distances.  Of the 96 starters that day, we signed 76 rally cards.  A few who drove past us on the main trail even spotted us but assumed we were just out for a picnic, and Erin wanted desperately to call out to them.  But, that's what a rally/roadbook is all about.

He would go on to win the BMW classOver the course of the remainder of the week, we got to know most of the riders, and they were all terrific people.  The checkpoints we were assigned were easier to find, and many riders took the opportunity to catch their breath and chat with us a bit.  In the evenings, we would eat delicious meals served up by the catering staff, discussed the days events, and developed new friendships.

Thursday would be the hardest day for the riders.  They woke early, rode many hours following the roadbook, and had 2 very sandy and difficult Specials (one was called "dancing handlebars").  They returned to the campground around 6:00pm for a lite dinner before the 3rd Special of the day.   At 8:00pm it was starting to get dark, and we lined up for another convoy to a motorcross track in a neighboring town.  The course was mostly deep sand, the only lights were from cars and bikes set up around the course and the bright moon overhead.  Over 200 (mostly local townspeople) spectators came for the show, and it was great fun.  Many riders had difficulty, and the spectators cheered them on, or helped pickup/push the bikes in the deep sand.


Go, Go, Go!

After 2 more Specials on Friday, the finale was a checkpoint set up at a museum in Budapest.   Riders were both happy to have finished and thoroughly exhausted.  When we watched them earlier in the week at the prologue in Munich, it looked like an event I could handle (slowly).  After watching the progressivly harder events as the week unfolded, I realized it would take a lot more off-road experience and fitness for me to just finish the event.  This was a great way to spend a week of our summer!  We will have lasting friendships and wonderful memories from this event.

It's been a long week for Jos, a policeman from Holland.

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