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B is for Biking
B is also for B500, the fast and furious Black Forest High Road in Baden-Baden, Germany. Author Geoff Hill rides to find out if this is Europe’s best biking road.
I am, I confess, the slowest biker in the known universe. And having ridden a motorcycle around most of the world, I can say that with all confidence. Still, they say it is a wise man who accepts what he is, and I had long ago given up worrying about it.
Until I somehow found myself agreeing to ride the B500 in Baden-Baden. Bike magazine described this stretch as Europe’s craziest road; where bikers go when they get bored with drifting through the curves of Germany’s Nürburgring racetrack, highly regarded as one of the most challenging courses in the world.
Departure at Dawn
I was doomed, yet again, to make a fool of myself, I thought as I boarded a ferry in the early hours of the morning. Still, I drank in that glorious feeling of unlimited freedom that setting off on a bike adventure brings, heading east through rolling meadows of yellow and green with the burning blue above and the road to the horizon tempting me on.
By late afternoon, I was rattling through the ancient streets of Baden-Baden, the little spa town nestled in the wooded hills of southern Germany. Not long after, I was sitting down to a feast in the cozy Gasthaus Auerhahn, washed down by several steins of beer served by a waitress in traditional dress. As deeply satisfying clichés go, they don’t get much better.
I slept the sleep of the blessed in feather beds, and pulled back the curtains to reveal the best sight imaginable for a biker: blue skies above, and the machine sitting below the trees outside, with the sun slowly ghosting the morning dew off the tank.
And even better, the road was a whole five yards away, since the Auerhahn sits right at the start of the 37 miles of the B500, which climbs south all the way to the market town of Freudenstadt.
At first it teases you, turning and twisting coyly through the forest in a series of tight turns from which you emerge into the warm sun before plunging into the cold smack of shade. It reminds you of the words of Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: in a car, you’re separated from the environment, but on a bike, you’re part of it.
A Sensory Experience
In forest clearings here and there stood little inns and hotels, with maids on balconies pausing from dusting in their traditional garb to give me a cheery wave as I swept past. And then, bit by wonderful bit, the road opened out into a symphony of seductive curves.
I swept around them, with the smell of pine in my nostrils, the shifting feel of the bike beneath me, the soaring song of the engine filling my ears and my eyes fixed on the vanishing points of the corners, all of my senses filled to the brim as I drank in the morning.
Except on many of the bends, there was no vanishing point: since you could see all the way around them, all you had to do was keep your focus pinned to the apex as you opened the throttle and emerged onto the next straight with a grin on your face as wide as the Rhine. Still the road played with me, throwing in a few tight bends to keep me on my toes, then opening suddenly to reveal farms and meadows in the valleys thousands of feet below, and beyond, mountains tumbling to the horizon.
By now, I was actually getting faster - I even passed another biker once. It may have been only a retiree on a Vespa, but you have to start somewhere. It was the end of a perfect biking day.