The best time to sweep into Porto is at sunset. Little lights begin to flicker on the city’s hills that lure you into its heart along narrow cobbled streets bordered by cafes and wine lodges. “Wow!” screamed Hanna Johansson as she eased her Speed Twin over the Dom Luis I Bridge spanning the River Douro into a mystical World Heritage city of fun and flowers.
The dusk arrival in Porto was the highlight of a slow, leisurely ride through Portugal. Europe’s “forgotten motorcycle jewel”, Hanna had begun the trip in Lisbon, travelled north along the coast before heading inland to rejoin Spain.
Lisbon – a city built for bikes
For Triumph world traveller Hanna, it was a country of continuous surprises. And none greater than Portugal’s vibrant motorcycle culture.
“I’ve travelled Europe but had never been to Portugal so it was a new and incredible experience for me. The attitude is unique… it’s like a little bit of Brazil has been dropped on the western side of Europe,” she says. “The attitude towards motorcycles is different to anywhere else, too. There’s a really strong community and everyone is very active, always looking to do things with their bikes as well as just commuting and travelling.”
Her start point was the capital Lisbon, a city Hanna says could have been built with riders in mind “with places to park without worrying, everywhere you go”. And with the 2019 Speed Twin – she nicknamed it Thor after the God of thunder – as her companion, this was the start of the ultimate easy coastal and inland ride.
“So much fun… composed, nimble and controlled”
Hanna says: “It was so much fun to ride. Composed and nimble but also very controlled. It’s a bike that lets you get on with riding without having to think too much. Perfect when you’re in a country like Portugal, where there’s so much to see and enjoy.”
Bridges are a passion for Hanna, “there’s something special about riding over water”. This meant Lisbon’s diverse shopping, cafe, bar and restaurant scenes took a pillion seat as she explored the Ponte de 25 Abril, a suspension bridge connecting the city to the left bank of the Tagus river. She says: “The company that made it in 1966 also made the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco so it’s a fascinating piece of history away from all the other exciting parts of Lisbon.”
Cold cuts, cheese and contemplation
After the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, she basked in the serenity of Cabo Da Roca, mainland Europe’s most westerly point. This was at the end of a 30-minute curve-fest of super-smooth roads that rewards with a 250-year-old working lighthouse – the first ever built in Portugal.
Getting there is hardly painful either. Riders weave through the stunning Parque Nacional de Sintra-Cascais to the end of the 30km coastal stretch known as the Portuguese Riviera.
“It was a complete contrast to the city and such a fantastic ride to get there through green forests. And then suddenly the azure blue sea leaps up on you. I sat there with some cold cuts and cheese, breathed in the salty air and contemplated North America in the distance,” says Hanna.
Portuguese biker lifestyle
“Portugal is small enough to discover properly and you can take your time doing it. That’s the best way because its people are so open and friendly. Also, they love their motorcycles and enjoy racing them, showing them off. That made me a bit of a celebrity on the Speed Twin because people were really curious and wanted to know where they could get one.”
“Everyone’s busy… doing track days or just going places”
North then through picturesque towns littered with ancient buildings and greenery – “so much greenery” – to meet Anna, an Instagram friend from girl rider group Backbone Babes, on the outskirts of Porto. “She got in touch and introduced me to a motorcycle scene where everyone’s busy, either doing track days or just going places. They are living their lives through their bikes rather than waiting for the weekend to do it,” says Hanna.
“The bike culture here is completely different and the emphasis is much more on out and out fun with your bike an extension of you. It’s unlike anywhere else in Europe, maybe because of that Brazilian influence.”
Leaving Porto and its port, wine and flamboyant nightlife, was tough but this was just the first leg of a trip north back to her native Sweden.
She says: “It’s strange though because most people like riding the coasts and being able to see the sea, but the north of Portugal as you head inland is something special. It’s verdant and green, peaceful and with some good roads (N108 or N222).
“You can tell when you’re getting closer to Spain as it feels more European. Maybe it’s that south American feeling that Portugal brings that made it such a dream destination and will make sure I return.”