Remember Top Trumps? Finding you held the CB750 card while your mate could only offer a Honda Melody was always good news. It might be that many of us still play this game, and it got me thinking about the concept of B-road Top Trumps. In a society where more and more of our A-roads are being emasculated by blanket 50mph limits, many B-roads remain a source of motorcycling joy. But which ‘B’ is best? I decided to settle it by comparing two very different roads with the same number.
The British B500, or Charterhouse Street, is in the centre of London. It runs from Holborn to Farringdon Street and is less than a quarter of amile long. It has no bends, excellent visibility and an average city road surface. But it also has a 30 limit and a very limited horizon.
The Germans have their very own B500, and it couldn’t be more different. Running through the heart of the Black Forest, this has a largely excellent surface. It’s technically challenging, riddled with changes in gradient and lots of tricky corners, many with tightening radius and limited visibility. And it stretches for a reputed 40 miles. But which B500 is best? To settle the argument I very unselfishly gave up my summer holiday to find out.
A Road of Two Halves
A look at Michelin map 545 quickly revealed that the Black Forest B500 is far longer than most appreciate. It starts on the Franco/German border where the French D4 crosses the Rhine and is renamed B500. It then conveniently ducks under Baden-Baden through the Michaels tunnel to pop out into sunshine on the city’s eastern side. Most motorcyclists then follow it south to the junction with the B28 near Kniebis, where they turn east on the B28 to Freudenstadt.
To be fair, the junction is laid out as if the road to Freudenstadt is the B500, so it’s an easy trap to fall into. Not only that, but the B500 disappears at this junction, both on the ground and on the map.
But that’s not the end of it! It reappears about 40 miles south, at a lovely little town called Triberg. I took a country road to get there, through Holzwald and along the beautiful Wolfach valley to the town that gives it its name. In Wolfach a quick right-left dogleg gets you onto the B33 near Hausach, after which it’s about another 18 miles to Triberg. This is a beautiful old town, a wee bit touristy with a cobbled main street, which also makes it a decent coffee stop.
Now we’re officially back on the B500, which continues south for about 60 miles, much of it downhill, until it really ends at Waldshut and finally meets the Rhine again. Take all of this together, and the legendary B500 is more like 140 miles end to end, and while the northern part is indeed as excellent as all those biking websites suggest, the southern end is also very enjoyable. Here it is more open, less wooded but still runs through really spectacular scenery, somuch so that it is necessary to constantly remind yourself to either admire the view or the route.
So no prizes for guessing which B500–German or British – wins this particular game of B Road Top Trumps. However, by splitting their road into two parts have the Germans played within the rules? I’m not sure…
Barge vs Boat
On the same trip, I wanted to try out a few more variations on Top Trumps. Ferry vs Euro tunnel came out in favour of the boat (the train is fast and efficient, but I prefer some fresh air and a view). Nürburgring vs Cadwell Park was another, but Europe’s most famous and twistiest toll road was closed for maintenance, so that was that.
Not that it mattered too much, because I found plenty of scenic and fun roads. The ride down into the Mosel Valley at Cochem offered vineyard vista overload, followed by roads 421 and 270 – neither were especially memorable, but had fine surfaces, good signage plus alert drivers.
With the sat-nav’s guidance, getting through Kaiserslautern was easy, and the road from here through the Pfalzer Wald National Park was utterly fantastic. A coffee stop at what is clearly a bikers’ restaurant at Johanniskreuz brought one of those unexpected bonuses touring often throws our way. There I met Hans, a fellow motorcyclist who needed Marcel Marceau-esque mime to interpret his enthusiastic pointing at the map. His English was no better than my German, but the message was clear.
So a few days later I came back and spent an unplanned day riding where the roads took me, ending up doing a figure of eight route around Johanniskreuz. Hans was right, the roads here are fantastic, swooping and diving, twisting and turning with very little traffic, and great entertainment can be had at a non-licence threatening pace. This area of Germany doesn’t have the same reputation as the more famous Black Forest, but I reckon the riding is just as good.
Back in Baden-Baden, there was yet another Top Trumps opportunity; on the Rhine. Now British narrow boats have a certain Rosie and Jim charm, but they are tiddlers compared to the mighty continental barges. In cargo capacity, speed, motorcycle carrying ability and sheer size; I’m sorry, but the continentals are easy winners.
Having settled that, I eschewed the B500 this time in favour of a twisting valley road through Loffenau until meeting the B294 just north of Hofen. Going south, just after Bad Wildbad, I soon realised that trying to stay close to a German registered boxer twin that had just overtaken me was a rather silly idea. I had more cubes, but he clearly beat me on local knowledge. It was fun though, if only for a short time.
Easing back to a more sensible speed, a lunch stop and a walk about in Freundenstadt made perfect sense, followed by the B462, a great road all the way up to Raumunzach, where there’s a short connecting road to the B500 at Sand. Unfortunately low cloud and mist toward the summit meant that the views I am sure were lurking there were invisible.
Sand is one of the highest points on the B500, and a few kilometres further on I had descended out of the mist and back into bright sunshine. And the ride back to Baden-Baden was epic. While speeds may not have been exceptional because of a multitude of tight downhill hairpin bends, progress was made and a broad smile created.
I had one more day before needing to head home, and spent it taking in a four river loop from Heidelberg. Having crossed the Rhine, I rode northwest through Michelstadt tomeet the River Main at Miltenberg. At Wertheim I tuned right and followed the River Tauber to Tauberbischofsheim, across high ground on the 27 tomeet the River Neckar just past Mosbach. The road alongside the northern bank of the Necker, as it flows toward Heidelberg, is very picturesque.
The next day was a long slog home through Saarbrucken, northern France and then southeast England. All made bearable by the fact that I was closing on home, and I’d had a great few days of playing Top Trumps.