2013 Austria Ural Winter Ride
When sitting in sunny South Africa in November, with the average day temperature hovering around the mid thirties, an invite to a Ural Winter Weekend in Austria proved a temptation too great to withstand.
And so it happened that Ryno and I decided this was something we had to do! We’ve never experienced lots of snow or a European winter and riding a sidecar with a bunch of other enthusiasts in a white winter landscape sounded magical.
The logistics of getting Visas etc etc is so boring it’ll put you to sleep so I’ll just jump almost straight to Friday morning the 1st of Feb 2013, the start of the First Winter Ride.
We arrived in Austria the Tuesday before to be greeted by snow most places we looked. Maybe it was our sunny SA disposition or maybe it is just climate change but the temp rapidly started climbing and with the help of some rain most of the snow was gone by Friday morning. Most people agreed that this was unseasonal and unusual. Coming from Africa we’re used to unusual so this didn’t dampen our spirits one little bit.
We left the Ural offices on the outskirts of Linz with our hosts Hari and Birgit after wriggling and wrestling into some serious winter wear. I was a monkey covered in sheepskin – a riding ‘bag’ is the only way I can explain it. The ‘bag’ is made of 6 sheepskins in total and one gets into it like a sleeping bag. This was designed and made specifically for a sidecar trip Hari and Birgit did to Norway! Now the monkey was in the bag - I felt like I should be on a sleigh with dogs!
No matter where in the world you are it seems every sidecar adventure starts the same – the slog to get out of the city. So after spending some time on the highways and byways around Linz, the landscape finally changed and we were riding through woods and the mountains were now closer and whiter and our little hearts sang. Ryno was dressed in Hari’s winter riding suit – this is no average overall. This suit can cause heat exhaustion in 5 minutes flat if worn indoors! I’m sure Felix Baumgartner, the out of space free faller would also want this suit! The suit and the big fitted handlebar gloves that look like velcro oven mits were all new to my rider and it took a bit of getting used to, or so I thought. But hey what do I know I’m just a monkey in sheepskin… hehee.
I felt like shouting 'mush mush!'
We arrived at the beautiful castle ruin Prandegg – our base for the next 2 days. During the afternoon more sidecars arrived, much like our own convention where old friends arrive and everyone is very happy to see each other regardless of the weather. Apart from the Soviet and other steel steeds, I spotted an Austrian Wooden Horse
One of the first couples we met is Ingrid and Peter, also from Austria. What characters! Ingrid is a hunter. She’s tiny and minute and it was hard to imagine her shooting anything. They told us the story of her having shot a wild pig, like a boar, earlier in the week and she couldn’t manage to get it in the car by herself. She called Peter who came with his Ural Gear-Up and they loaded the hog in the sidecar! Perfect fit – I kid you not and this in the land of Mozart and chocolates!
A wooden Austrian snow horse with the Castle ruin Prandegg in the background.
From right to left - Peter and Ingrid, Hari, Monica and Hans and the rest of us in a festive mood
Franz the inn keeper took us on a tour of his establishment at Prandegg and explained his mega cool heating system that works with wood pellets – can something that generates heat be cool?? Cool or not this was impressive.
After dark some very wet Englishmen arrived. They had been riding 2 days to get there. They had gone via the Elefantentreffen – a winter motorcycle rally held annually near Salzburg. In fact they had gotten so wet on their ride to Prandegg that their bike was spluttering water out the pistons the next morning!
One of the very wet Englismen had proceeded to light the very wet fire outside in the rain and after a whole long while and some help from a few fire enthusiasts we had a roaring bonfire outside. Odd the picture of bikers dressed for the North Pole under a beach umbrella round a big fire, but I have to be real honest… I felt right at home.
Clearly everyone is having a grand time
It was good to know the more things change the more it stays the same – different country but same singular individualistic approach to life.
Saturday morning dawned wet with no sign of the promised snow that everyone gave Hari such a hard time about. Not an opportunity went by without someone reminding Hari that he had promised us snow and all we got were puddles, mud and rain! He took it all in his stride and once everyone had gotten together at Taverne Prandegg and the English Ural had stopped sputtering, we set off on our much anticipated route for the day.
What was I saying about rain, mud n puddles?
Hari and Birgit looking less than impressed with the rain
Now before we hit the track I just have to tell you about this most splendid and magnificent German couple I met. He is a giant of a man and she looks like she could be a fairy. They are not young but they look like they walked straight out of a fairy tale. I commented on his coat which I liked a lot and they proceeded to tell me that it was a Swiss army coat. However seeing as none of the existent sizes fit him, they bought 2 coats and she sewed him a coat that fits from the 2. I loved it and then they told me about the time she knit one half of a jersey on the way to a bike rally in the sidecar and the other half of it back! Waste not want not – this was inspirational. Also got told that their boots, which I also commented on as I thought they were very beautiful, were hunting boots. They have tried every kind of boot, even plug in boots to keep your feet warm in the icy winters and hunting boots work best! I’ve always liked how people use gear from another activity or hobby or sport to suit their own purposes – clever. They told me their favourite bike destination is Scotland and the people are real friendly.
The couple with the beautiful boots
Now back to the ride.
The world was wet - not a little wet, a lot wet! Not only had it been raining constantly for more than 12 hours the snow was also melting to add to the sodden earth. So to say I was a little apprehensive when we moved off is no understatement. For the first 2 kilometers my heart jumped into my throat about 15 times. Once I realised that contrary to my expectations of the scenario i.e. mud, ice, rain, old snow, etc. my rider actually had it all under total control like a real man, I relaxed enough for the Ural magic to kick in.
I think another saving grace for me was the fact that my visor was so fogged up the first part of the ride that I just didn’t see what it was I should have worried about! No, jokes aside, it was good fun with 14 sidecars trundling along paths in the woods – and it was hardly ever straight or level.
Fogged up visor vision!
Just when managing the rain water collecting on my cover and becoming preoccupied with moving my toes to keep them from going numb could get tedious, we stopped for lunch at a tavern in Gutau.
Sidecars parked outside the tavern in Gutau where we ate lunch
Something we really aren’t accustomed to is the time it takes to take off one’s outer layer of clothing and finding spaces to hang wet stuff. The inside of the tavern was so cosy that I could happily have gone right to sleep after the mammoth schnitzel I had for lunch. Everywhere I looked people were chatting and laughing and the word that came to mind was ‘gemutlichkeit’! And would you believe while we were all inside being ‘gemutlich’ it started snowing outside!
The rain had stopped and driving back through the woods was just wonderful.
The snow might have been a little late in showing up but we had a wonderful afternoon and evening. On our return Franz showed us the museum they are getting ready at Castle Prandegg and he showed us his traditional bakery.
South Africans in the snow
This was also a good time to take photos of the South Africans in the snow! So it did not take much encouragement to get Ryno to drive into a pile of snow. The funny thing is Ry thought he was going to drive over it and ended up just stuck in it! Snow is nothing like sand! No worries, in no time a Ural had rushed to his rescue and he was towed out no problem. Not sure who enjoyed that one most – Hari whose idea it was, Ryno who executed the getting stuck or the rider who pulled him out?
After being the entertainment we were enjoying the beer and the scenery and shooting the breeze a white car pulled up that came from another political dispensation! Out stepped a gentleman who only wanted to know where Hari and Birgit were. Long after we had finished our ride, Pavel still made the effort to come and say hello – a mere 5 hour drive by car! Found out that it’s a Volga (now a classic) he drives and he came all the way from Czecho- Slovakia where he is the Ural agent. We were thrilled to learn that this is the man responsible for the boxes, amongst other the First Aid boxes with the Vodka and the fish! He laughed when we told him we loved drinking our Vodka but to date no one has had the courage to try the fish. We had a good laugh and a chat – he speaks Czecho-Slovakian, Russian, English and some German – I was most impressed.
This time the huge bonfire was lit while snowflakes floated down on us and we had a very festive time.
Ry and I eventually called it a night. We had about 2 kms to drive to get to Onkla Peda’s where we were staying. Getting dressed to go and ride in the cold or snow can be like a work out in a gym! Finally had everything on and buttoned and zipped up and Velcroed shut etc – we had learnt by watching the locals. You put everything on indoors and every zip, button and Velcro strip gets done up plus your gloves get pulled on before you open the door and step out. By then I usually had to restrain myself from running out as the clothing work well and staying indoors, which is heated very efficiently everywhere we went, could cause heat stroke in a very short time!
We had to ride through a little part of wooded road, through Pehersdorf, a minute village and then turn right to Onkla Peda. All was going very well and it was incredibly beautiful and quiet – I couldn’t believe how quiet snow is, until we had to do our 90 degree right turn. We just kept going merrily straight without the slightest hint that Ry had tried to turn right. This could prove very entertaining. Luckily we slid to a standstill and just reversed and did it slower – bingo!
As per usual the day everyone heads home the weather was perfect. It had snowed through the night and the world was white and crisp and beautiful. We went to say our goodbyes and head back to Marchtrenk with Hari and Birgit and I just could not believe it was over.
I was left with the following two observations or realisations – one: who needs anti-depressants when you have snowflakes and two: no matter where in the world you are or what the weather conditions are, riding your Ural is always a fantastic idea!