Crete is pretty much the most Southern part of Europe, and is a particularly attractive proposition for those requiring a hit of summer in advance: everything is cheaper out of season, which doesn’t kick off until the end of May. An autumn visit will yield the same benefits, and direct low cost flights are plentiful from the UK. It is also a must do destination for anyone who wants a spot of real adventure riding. It is the largest Greek island, big enough and challenging enough for at least two weeks intensive biking while remaining conveniently self contained. Don’t be misled: those Aegean shores are fabulous, but the interior of the island contains mountains. Lots of them.
The big surprise is the roads. There are many dirt trails connecting well surfaced, EU funded passes. Think somewhere like Skerries or Oliver’s Mount transplanted to an alpine Col, but tighter – doubling back on itself again and again, with optional armco. It is intensive and technical: there is nothing as challenging as this in Northern Europe which is maybe why so many German riders make the trip. There is also a major East / West highway stretching for some 150 km with fabulous fast bends and demanding sections with no constant radius. Get over there and hire a bike: Bikerglory did just that, from Janis Michalakis of Eurodriver (they also do cars and ATVs). Janis gave us the low down on riding in Crete and generally made our visit trouble free. This is what he had to say about riding around the Island where Western civilisation began…
We’ve tried everything, but in Crete you need to go light. Forget Multistradas and GSs – they are simply too cumbersome. Crete has a great balance of dirt and tarmac roads, so it would be madness to hire something which couldn’t cope with both: this is adventure country. Honda’s CRF 250 is an excellent choice, but anything with more dirt focus would be wasted given the many opportunities offered by almost every surfaced road. Yamaha’s trusty XT variants (600 / 660 / 660Z) form the core of our bike business. They are tough, reliable and in their element over here, and well suited to prevailing conditions. If KTM finally sort that 690 Adventure I’d be interested….
The E75 shadows the North coast and is the fastest road on the island, with some steep descents and hairpins chucked in. There is an amazing, brilliantly surfaced and generally empty B road which drops down from the surrounding hills to join the E75 near a hamlet called Sisses. Going up is always easier than coming down… The roads through the White Mountains are spectacular and well surfaced. Agia Varvara to the Amani Damn is another good one, offering a variety of challenges and changing scenery. Pick a road, any road and you won’t go far wrong.
Are almost exclusively German. These are guys looking for a bit of a challenge. They’ve come to the right place.
Food: village Tavernas offer excellent, simple fare: a salad and omelette washed down with a glass of local wine will re-charge you: fresh fish and lamb are also recommended. The inevitable, gratis flask of Raki which appears at the end of your meal should be treated with caution if you’re planning on riding…. Do remember that on all tarmac bar the E75 local drivers have a penchant for the middle of the road, taking late avoiding action by default. On the plus side they are used to bikes and once off the beaten track it’s quiet by comparison with almost anywhere.
Hire of an XT 600 is going to be around 250 euros per week. We also supply any gear you’ll be needing. The bike will benefit from 100 octane fuel, readily available at around 1.60 eu/ltr; the more common 95 (at 1.50 eu / litre) is fine but we recommend using busier filling stations – fresher petrol. Very few riders visit the island on their own machine: anyone who has ridden down through Greece can get a ferry from the mainland for around 65 euros, bike included. But by that time you’ll have already spent a few quid, and direct flights from the UK to Heraklion can be had for around £120 return off season. Airbnb apartments can be found from 20 euros a night. Throw everything into the pot (flights, accommodation, bikes, food, fuel) and you could do a weeks riding in the sun for £500 – one that you wont forget. Swimming in the Aegean is free of charge….
We’d pretty much go along with Janis – we can think of far worse ways of doing your dosh, and you will not forget the Crete experience in a hurry. We had use of the two BMW GS650 singles pictured and found the later Sertao incredibly bulky compared to the earlier model (black bike in pics) despite both weighing in at nearly 200 kgs fuelled – in itself an issue for anything with off road pretensions. We suspect the reason the Sertao felt so unsuited to very demanding mountain roads was because the centre of gravity seemed high by comparison with its predecessor, making tight, slower stuff a tad sketchy on occasion, notably when riding two up. We’d definitely take the XT option if we were doing Crete again. And we’d like to do that – the combination of wild mountain rides, golden beaches and good food may prove hard to resist.