Answer: BMW Motorrad Days, held annually in the gloriously quaint ski area of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host of the 1936 Winter Olympics.
Located in an idyllic location at the base of Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze, and within roosting distance of some of Austria’s grandest ranges, Motorrad Days is one of Europe’s largest rallies. Some 35,000-plus revelers from around the world came to celebrate the sixth annual event.
Unlike Sturgis, which has turned from a rootsy counter-culture event into a huge commercial happening, BMW Motorrad Days is a delightfully simple affair. BMW sponsorship means that there is no admission fee, even for riders who arrive on non-BMW bikes. The whole thing is really a giant marketing tool for the spinning-propeller brand.
“It’s our biggest customer event of the year,” said Boris, a BMW staffer who helped organize the event and for some reason didn’t want his last name used. “This is our possibility to get in contact with our customers, and we love it and they love it.”
Boris added that this year’s event was the largest yet, with an estimated 37,000 attendees. It began six years ago as the BMW Motorrad Biker Meeting when just 500 riders attended.
“It’s our biggest customer event of the year”
Now known as BMW Mottorad Days, Boris said it attracts riders from 45 countries and dozens of BMW clubs. Germans naturally make up the bulk of attendees, but there were also a few thousand Italians, a large group from Russia, and several Americans.
“As we had a big change in our brand over the last years, we just wanted to show in this event the customers as well,” Boris told Motorcycle.com. “I think it will always be free. We do that for our customers and we don’t want to charge (for) it. This is the way to give back to them.”
As part of BMW’s marketing efforts, the event grounds were filled with displays and demonstration areas for the various types of bikes BMW offers. Test rides on the GS family were available on an enduro course set up at the base of the ski hill. Attendees were also able to take a spin on BMW’s new X650 bikes on a motocross course, which also hosted top-ranked riders Joel Smets, Simo Kirssi and Sascha Eckert roosting around on the monstrous 1170cc HP2 and BMW’s 450cc enduro prototype. Other displays included a Sport section showcasing BMW’s racing activities, including the K1200R Sport that won its class at this year’s Le Mans endurance race.
But the most impressive display surely was the freestyle course where the recently crowned European Stuntriding champion, Chris Pfeiffer, performed seemingly impossible tricks on his F800S. Pfeiffer is an excellent ambassador for BMW’s recent focus on performance and youth.
Instead of relying on piercings, tattoos and short sleeves that give American stunt riders street cred, Pfeiffer radiates a cleaner image – fully geared up, model good looks and with a constant smile visible through his MX-style helmet. Tattoos or not, Pfeiffer proved he has the skills to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the business, performing incredible stunts within a tight enclosed area. And watching him ride a humongous HP2 Megamoto over the top a car was mind-blowing, even if the former trials rider nearly fell over while on its roof!
Like Harley-Davidsons – iconic motorcycle designs built around an equally iconic twin-cylinder engine design – BMW’s Boxer Twins are the de facto populist machines in Germany. But at Motorrad Days, the serene alpine air isn’t filled with the incessant blatting of open exhausts. European bikers seem much more serene than the typical hordes that crowd into Daytona and Sturgis, and there’s a lot less posturing in an attempt to be a bad-ass.
In Europe the prototypical uniform isn’t black leather, cut-off sleeves and tattoos. Instead, BMW Motorrad Days has on display more head-to-toe textile riding gear than you’ll find at a double-shot of Sturgis and Daytona. Riders in Europe put an emphasis on riding, not on posing.
“I enjoy very much sitting and talking with people at Motorrad Days,” said Rolf Schremmer, a 46-year-old R1200R rider. “But talking is not riding, so I like to go for a ride in daytime then come back for the party at night.”
Schremmer is in many ways typical of the riders at the event: male, mid-40s and a BMW fan. If he was more typical, he’d be riding a GS BMW, the most popular model ever from the German OEM.
"Our whole production last year was a little bit over 100,000, and one-third of that was just (Boxer) GSs."
The biggest number of customers is surely our enduro customers,” explained BMW’s Boris. “We sell something like 33,000 GSs per year (worldwide), so these are our main customers. Our whole production last year was a little bit over 100,000, and one-third of that was just (Boxer) GSs. Every third motorcycle we sold was a R1200GS or Adventure."
For riders like Markus Haeusel, a 39-year-old who came for his sixth time to Motorrad Days, his R1200GS is the perfect bike. He rode down from his home in Munich and was staying in the on-site camping grounds. He said he’ll be back again. “It’s lovely,” he said while overlooking the event grounds. “Good people, a good feeling, lovely countryside with the mountains and nice roads. The most important thing is meeting people and riding and having fun in the evening in the beer garden.”
When it’s time to eat, there were several hundred staffers and volunteers cranking out tasty grub that goes well beyond the typical burgers and hot dogs offered at most American motorcycle events. Instead, delicious salads commingled with savory pasta dishes, tasty meats and mouth-watering desserts.
And let’s not forget the endless steins of delectable German beer that flowed freely though the night when the Biergarten tent was jam-packed with revelers after their bikes were put away for the day. The live entertainment on stage was of a surprisingly high quality, cranking out hour after hour of mostly American-style rock ’n’ roll and funk tunes. The nightly parties lasted into the wee hours, with the well-behaved but party-lovin’ Euros dancing on tables in a display that would be strictly verboten in the U.S.
"If and when you do decide to go, you could do far worse than booking a trip that centers around BMW Motorrad Days."
During the day, while the rally grounds were full of event goers wandering around the many displays, there was also a steady stream of riders saddling up for rides into the surrounding majesty of mountain vistas and sinuous roads. Guided group rides were available, but the more solo-inclined riders could simply pick up a map with several fun routes earmarked to some of the best roads in the area. And there seemed to be hundreds to choose from in this amazing alpine region.
Deutschland is bordered by some of the most desirable alpine riding areas, as it is surrounded by Austria and Switzerland at its south end. If you’re a motorcyclist who has never ridden in and around the Alps, you’re really missing out on a visual and sensual treat. You owe it to yourself to get there one day.
If and when you do decide to go, you could do far worse than booking a trip that centers around BMW Motorrad Days. The event itself is bursting with things to do and see, but the riding locale itself is unparalleled and wonderfully enchanting for any motorcyclist.
I’d love to go back again next year. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
Make sure to check out the massive photo gallery for a deeper look inside what we found at the Motorrad Days event!