Swapping the nine-to-five for a 924
Luke Bradley and his mate Tom, set out to drive a ‘classic’ Porsche to its birthplace in Stuttgart via a string of Europe’s best hidden riding spots.
Words and photos by Luke Bradley
It hasn’t started well. We’re only three miles into the continent for a tour of riding spots and I’m laying underneath our car with eyes and moustache full of metal and dirt whilst being surrounded by an angry DIY store manager and some security guards. My road trip companion, Tom, is trying to explain in broken French that the exhaust has dropped off and, while we are using their car park as a workshop, we did buy all the jubilee clips and bits of ducting we were trying to fix it with from them. It’s not working.
Rewind six months and I’m in a pub and we’re drunk enough to have decided that spending a thousand pounds on a luxury car for a grand tour of interesting places to ride and possibly some classic car races is a great idea. I am drunk enough to take this absolutely seriously. Two months later and I’m eyeing up the underside of a brown 1985 Porsche 924 that is slightly over budget but looks too exciting to ignore.
While it might not look like the ideal bike car it has a lot going for it. With a roof rack, it will take two bikes comfortably, the boot is enormous and because of the massive glass hatch you can thread a bike in without any issues at all. And the interior is exclusively brown so sitting in it whilst wearing muddy riding gear is no problem. Add in the fact that the interior is covered in luxurious carpet almost an inch thick and it has massive ground clearance for access to fireroads and there’s no reason not to. Well, not any that I could persuade myself were too good not to buy the thing.
After a few fettling sessions to get it in tip top condition (including new rear suspension to stop us feeling sea sick on any road rougher than a millpond) a plan was formulated – through Belgium to the Ardennes, conveniently home to the Spa Classic motor race at the time of our visit, before driving to the Mosel valley in Germany, on to Stuttgart and finally to the French Alsace before a mad dash to Paris for a flight. The final touch was a pile of eighties cycling kit, some offensive sunglasses and the growth of a revolting Magnum PI style moustache.
It all sounded so reasonable, but when the front of the exhaust detached itself before we’d even got past London things weren’t looking good. Fortunately, after blasting to Dover sounding like a Group B rally car and the application of some jubilee clips, metal pipe and some mastic for fixing wood burning stoves in a French B&Q car park we had no major incidents for the rest of the trip.
We rolled into Spa in the dark, our mishap meaning we’d missed the chance to ride that day. The following morning, we arrived at Spa for a day of high octane racing (watching, obviously- while the 924 claims to be a sports car we didn’t get over 70mph for the whole trip). Once we’d seen Michael Schumacher’s old Le Mans Mercedes blast past the paddock a few times we decided to use our bikes to get to the far end of the track. Met by the gate staff with the announcement “c’est interdit, it is forbidden” we headed on to the nearby town of Malmedy.
Belgium does not have a reputation for being a mountain bike paradise, despite Houffalize being a regular fixture on the World Cup circuit. Our experience of Malmedy’s local trails suggests this is unfair – following the route of a local marathon we weren’t holding out for anything exceptionally exciting but as we climbed it was impossible not to notice the severity of some of the slopes around us.
After a fairly spicy rocky and rooty traverse along the top of the hills we were fired down a descent made up of first big wooden steps then thrilling, whoop-inducing switchbacks all the way back to the valley floor. Someone round here clearly knew what they were doing when it came to building trails.
Going with the flow
We enjoyed an ice cream then popped the bikes back on the roof and started the long slog to Koblenz in Germany. Not a place on many UK riders’ radars, Koblenz is the home of Canyon bikes and it’s here where all their bikes are assembled. Daniel from Canyon very kindly agreed to show us around the local trail network, most of which is on the hills between the meeting of the Rhine and Mosel rivers.
A vibrant local riding scene has led to the creation of a network of what the Germans would call “flow trails” through the woods here, built for maximum satisfaction without necessarily being massively technical. It’s an area that could satisfy pretty much every type of rider – there are dirt jumps, steep and rooty trails, gentler flow trails and even some trails suitable for family rides. Daniel points out that ten years ago a lot of the trails here were being ridden on downhill bikes. While most of our ride was marked by grinding fireroad climbs there’s no reason why you couldn’t have an easy day of it climbing on the roads. It did mean we’d earned our beers from a pop-up bar in a park by the river Mosel, though.
Daniel pointed us in the direction of the village of Boppard the next day. Boppard is home to a small bike park, which is accessed by a chairlift that made our Porsche look like a modern, high tech piece of equipment. We’d been told that it would be quicker to ride to the top but the upside of the crawling pace of the lift was that you had plenty of time to drink in views of Sonneneck – apparently the “bendiest bend on the Rhine”.
After a happy hour riding a lovely sinuous singletrack trail with doubles and tabletops through the woods that we thought constituted the bike park we realised we’d just been riding the access trail to the park itself. While we could have thrown down a few backflips (ahem…) on the huge jump set here we followed the downhill trail back to the valley floor ready for the next leg of our journey.
Heart of class
Our first proper twisty road experience in the 924 came here. Lacking power steering, or indeed any power of any sort, the mountain road to the autobahn to Stuttgart was exciting and left our arms sore as the car was wrestled around hairpin after hairpin, sometimes even daring to get up to the speed limit. Eventually we reached the main road and cruised south to the Porsche’s original home.
Stuttgart is where Porsche is based and thirty-two years ago our brown box rolled off the production line here. The 924 was Porsche’s attempt to break the mass market, a four-seater joint venture with VW that was supposed to save Porsche from bankruptcy. It managed this, but Porsche clearly didn’t regard it as their finest hour, not helped by the press being a bit scathing about its drivetrain also appearing in the VW LT van which was released a couple of years later. We visited the Porsche museum to find that the one 924 there had been bought from a customer as they didn’t see fit to save any for themselves. I met another pair of disappointed 924 owners in the gift shop and we decided to call it a day and get ourselves off to France.
While Porsche may not be especially keen on it, it seems that sticking two bikes on the roof of a 1980s sports car massively increases its appeal. As we drove towards Colmar people took photos of us, smiled at us and one elderly French gentleman leaned out of his van in a traffic jam to tell us “your Porsche, it has a touch of class!” It was the same for the entire journey- people wanted to talk to us about it and see it and find out just why on earth it was making such a noise.
The Alsace region spans Germany and France and has a distinct culture from the surrounding area. We’d been pointed here by a friend who grew up here, in particular the area around Mollau where the Cannondale Enduro Tour heads every year. Refreshed by a night drinking tiny French beers by a river at our campsite, and a breakfast of as many pastries from the boulangerie as we could cram in, we climbed for what felt like hours from Mollau village centre to the top of one of the trails that makes up a stage of the race.
The trails here had clearly been crafted by someone who really knows how to get every last ounce of satisfaction from a ride. Technical and steep with sudden changes from rock to huge roots, these trails would be brutal at race pace. The network of tracks is huge, we rode around fifteen miles but the races held here are around thirty and vary significantly every year, rarely using the same route twice. Because of this, despite it being a national holiday graced with glorious weather, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, seeing only two other riders all day.
It was somewhere on the drive back to our tent from Mollau that the heater fan in the 924 chose to stick on full blast. This was a blessing in the heat after several thousand metres of climbing but was significantly less effective than sticking our heads into a roadside water trough to cool down.
The final day of riding saw us head off towards the Col du Bonnehomme, a thousand metres up in the Vosges Mountains. These are home to the Lac Blanc bike park, with a whole network of chairlifts, but the natural trails descending back to the valley floor were what we were looking for. The climb tops out at Le Monument Du Galz, a towering statue of Jesus surveying the kingdom of singletrack below. From here is mile after mile of walker’s paths that have been lightly modified by local riders with swooping berms. These reach all the way back down to the plateau, where we rode through the vineyards of Ammerschwihr before loading the bikes onto the roof of the car one last time.
Now came the mad dash to Paris so Tom could make his flight. This was to be the hottest day of our trip, at 29 degrees. Despite the best efforts of our full-blast fan and open windows the drive was exceptionally hot. The fabric of the seats oozed brown dye into the back of my white shirt and, alarmingly, on the Paris peripherique the engine temperature started to get into the red. We were so close to our destination, I couldn’t believe the injustice of it- surviving almost 1,500 miles only to start cooking now. To dump some heat from the engine I turned the heater temperature up as warm as it would go, losing several stone in sweat as a result, until I reached our destination. A look under the bonnet revealed that the pipe connecting the radiator to the engine had worked loose- a mercifully simple solution.
A day later I arrived at the ferry at Caen, car mostly intact and legs sore from riding. It had been an extraordinary riding road trip, one where the journey between rides had been as exciting as the trails themselves. It hadn’t been without its mishaps but it had been constantly entertaining, even when we were being sent on our way by angry security guards.