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.
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
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.
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 representative 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) on 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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
Over 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
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
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.