Henry Cole rides the Balkans on his Steve McQueen Desert Racer

20 years after he visited as a war cameraman, the straight-talking presenter of World's Greatest Motorcycle Rides is back on the road in Eastern Europe

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Last time RadioTimes.com spoke to Henry Cole, he was just back from a 3,000-mile odyssey across South Africa. Unfortunately, his steed – a Steve McQueen Desert Racer – hadn’t enjoyed the trip as much as its owner, and had to be abandoned midway.

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Not one to let a good bike rust, Cole – who’s the CEO of luxury motorbiking company Gladstone Motorcycles when he’s not on the road – lovingly restored the bike. It makes its return to TV in the latest series of World’s Greatest Motorcycles, carrying him through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

It’s the first time he’s returned to this Bosnia and Serbia since he was a cameraman in the Bosnian War.


How did it feel going back to the Balkans after all this time?

What I saw in the war in the Balkans in 1995 will stay with me for the rest of my life. I was very emotional in Bosnia. I couldn’t stop myself crying. I met so many people out there who lived through that war, whereas I just dipped in and dipped out again. My respect for those people and the hardship I saw them endure, and interviewed them about this time round, was emotionally very difficult for me to handle.

What was the biggest change?

What was incredible for me was to see how Sarajevo had changed. A huge amount of money has been spent rejuvenating the city – but not only was it rejuvenated architecturally with incredible glass buildings; the spirit of the people was also rejuvenated. There is a real feeling that the city is going places now and everyone has a lust for life. 

Sarajevo today

Did you have a favourite country? 

For me, the highlight was all those countries as a ride altogether. So Slovenia was like Austria but basked in beautiful sunshine with very little traffic. Croatia was like Italy but with perfect Mediterranean riding and island-hopping, again with no traffic and amazing roads. Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria were a true adventure. Bring all those elements together and you have everything you need for the perfect ride.


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What are you riding this time round? 

My Steve McQueen Desert Racer – a replica of the motorbike that Steve McQueen used to ride in the deserts of America in the 60s. I tried to get across South Africa on it and failed because it broke, so I was determined to prove to everyone that you could actually ride an old British bike 3000km if you prepared it correctly – and happy days, it made it!

Henry’s Steve McQueen Metisse Desert Racer

Which has been your greatest ride to date?

Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, which I have ridden twice. You’re riding through a movie set and through American history and the beginning of pop culture as we know it today. Route 66 was the first mechanised migration of a population trying to escape the dust bowl and the stock market crash of the 20s. It really is the definitive ride where you can ride the America dream, and it really does feel that every morning you are riding in a movie.

Where’s still on your to-do list?

South America, particularly The Motorcycle Diaries [Che Guevara’s 5,000 mile, nine-month odyssey around Latin America when he 23-year-old medical student in 1952]. But the one I really want to do is coast-to-coast Canada, which I will do whether there is a camera there or not!

Pitt stop on Route 66

And where would you point novices who want to follow in your tracks? 

Why don’t you try the UK? There are the most incredible rides in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Lincolnshire Wolds. If you want to try going on a bike tour, do it in your own backyard. You won’t be disappointed.

World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides begins on Tuesday 3rd November on the Travel Channel at 9pm


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