Riding the Nurburgring Nordschleife

by Craig Littlefield 

     One race track we have all heard about is the famous Nurburgring’s Nordschleife. It has been used for testing high performance cars, BMW motorcycle introductions and many famous races. Each time I read about it brings back some great memories.

     The Ring is, quite simply, the ultimate driving experience. Thirteen miles and at least 73 bends add up to what racing drivers describe as the most demanding circuit in the world. It's hard to describe just how good it is until you've been there, but if you can imagine your favorite mountain road and your favorite racetrack, and combine the best bits of the two, you'll get the general idea.

     From 1958 to 1960, I was stationed in southern Germany with the Army Security Agency. It was a good assignment as we were very isolated from the normal army groups and from army procedures. With a car, a motorcycle, a permanent class A pass to all the European countries and a lot of time off, we were limited mostly by a lack of money.

     We all drove 250cc NSU Max motorcycles. There were a lot of them available, they were relatively cheap, and their 250cc overhead valve engines ran pretty good. This was a time when Germany was still recovering from WW II and many people couldn’t afford a car. There were a lot of little mopeds and many small cars. Most of the autobahn traffic was VWs with the occasional “big” car like a MB 220D. On and off the autobahn we were not real fast but we were among the fastest. We could cruise at 110 to 120 KPH. The NSUs were nice bikes as long as you could keep them together. The motors were bulletproof but parts seemed to fall off regularly. The worst were the accessories like luggage racks, tool boxes, side covers, fenders, headlights, etc. All had to be checked and tightened regularly.

     In August of 1958, four of us decided that we wanted to go to the German Grand Prix auto race. This was the day of the large front engine Ferraris, Maseratis, BRMs, Coopers, and Lotus.  The famous drivers that were to be there included Juan Fangio, Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Jack Brabbam, Jean Behra and others. It was about a 300 mile ride from our base.

     We loaded the bikes up with all our gear. We had the little skidlid helmets with leather sides. Our riding gear came right out of the army footlockers: army boots, pants, field jackets and maybe an occasional leather coat.

     We had no saddlebags. Things went in whatever bag we could find and were tied on the racks with rope. We are all spoiled now with bongee cords and nets. Ropes do not hold anything down for more than a few minutes so it was a constant battle, stopping to see what has been lost and tightening up everything that was still with us. We set out west and north on the autobahn.

     The wind blew and we got cold and wet. This is usually the case in Germany. Army ponchos helped but we all got soaking wet and cold. In those days many of the Germans camped out. They had what we thought were wonderful camping trailers and tents. As GIs, we all were issued one half of a tent and a sleeping bag. The half tent required that you have a friend with another half. We would button them together down the peak of the tent. This was also where all the water came in. Our olive drab miniature tents stood out in contrast to the nice colorful tents of the locals.

     When the Grand Prix cars were not practicing they would open up the track for the public to try. For a German Mark, about a quarter, anyone, driving anything, could take a lap of the course. We thought we were pretty fast. The course was full of little cars, mopeds, and even buses. However, just when we thought we were passing everyone a Porsche or some other fast car would blow by us. On the long straightaway we tucked in, screaming past other vehicles when some car would fly by. There was even a Grand Prix car on the circuit and some sport racing cars from other classes out there trying to check out something that was not completed during normal practice.

     The track was fabulous. It is thirteen miles of curves winding up through the mountains. There are tight curves, fast curves and long straight-aways. The track rises and falls as you encounter every imaginable type of curve. This was before Armco so many spots were very dangerous.

     Nurburgring remains to this day one of the greatest tracks in the world. The Nordschleife, or North Ring, is no longer used for Grand Prix races as they have opened up a new south circuit that is shorter and safer. The north track is still used for testing and for some races including some for motorcycles. You can still circle the north track in your own vehicle but under more controlled conditions and for a lot more money. The factory introduction of the K1200S on this track would have been a real experience.

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