Elefantentreffen

Life is short and everyone endeavours to live their life as best they can, given their circumstances, their background, genetic makeup and the experiences they have along the way. From ordinary folk to the most learned; manual worker to intellectual, scientist to spiritualist, everyone has in them the gift and power to try to mould their individual circumstances.

Our particular passion is of course motorcycle rallies. A passion that disregards human differences of race, creed, social status and age, and which for those of us less active participants nowadays, enables us to rekindle our shared experiences through recollections of past rallies. In fact, this passion for rallies is still alive today, with dedicated bands of followers continuing this passion for motorcycle tourism.

This common denominator knows no bounds, bringing together under the umbrella of this site, internet followers worldwide, keen to dip into the fascinating mine of information and testimonials collected and curated here with passion and enthusiasm.

This devotion of course must be applauded, perhaps doubly I would say, when it is done without reward, simply to share experiences and give pleasure to others.

Maintaining and improving the website requires many hours of work as well as ongoing enthusiasm and dedication to continue its expansion and keep its readership entertained.

The organisation of a rally motorcyclist is similar in many respects. Its creation, from the germ of an idea requires a lot of effort to bring it to fruition. The organisation of a rally calls for a variety of approaches and a lot of work, either by the members of the organising club or from a strong leader assisted by a willing team of volunteers.

The most famous motorcycle rallies carry the name of their creators in their DNA. The winter rally of the Millevaches, is inextricably linked with the late Michel Perdrix. Similarly we associate the Stella Alpina with Mario Artusio; the Chamois with Jean Murit, the Steel Horse with Jean Blanckaert, the Lion with Paul Lammerant, and the Krystall rally with Maarten Mager and Leif Arnesen.

Ernst Leverkus 'Klacks'

As a motorcycle journalist and author, Ernst Leverkus has been writing about motorbike history in Germany since the 1950s. He was born on 21 December 1922 in Essen and passed away on 19 May 1998 in Althutte.

In the list of legendary characters behind the most famous European motorcycling reunions, Ernst Leverkus 'aka Klacks' must certainly be one of the finest. He is remarkably also the founder and mentor behind one of the greatest winter gatherings in rallyists calendar: the Elefantentreffen. That classic meeting would never have happened without his brilliant vision.

Throughout the 1950s and well into the 1970s Klacks tested almost every new motorcycle that came on the German market. Together with his partner Inge Rogge he developed motorcycle test methods as an integral part of the countless laps in the 'Green Hell', the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and many test reports benefitted from his skilful writing.

His work contributed greatly to the success of the then only German motorcycle magazine "Das Motorrad", without ever having been its editor-in-chief.

Klacks had a particular talent for narrating small motorcycle anecdotes in an inimitable way, with his incorrigible style and enigmatic views.

In his later professional life, he became the editor-in-chief of the motorcycle magazine 'PS', which he championed as an alternative to Das Motorrad.

His professional reviews, always critical but equally fair and objective, were highly valued and influenced very many motorcyclists from 1955 until 1985.

He was also a filmmaker and the author of several motorcycle books exemplifying the joy of travel and touring. He also founded the Federal Association of Motorcyclists (BVDM) and shaped it decisively for many years.

Klacks was a true dedicated fan of classic British bikes too. A true anglophile he was infatuated with British machines, which he nicknamed the 'English Ladies'. His dream machine was a road-customised Norton Manx.

The 'Green Elephant'

It is well known that the name of the Elefantentreffen rally was inspired by the Zundapp KS 601, or the 'Green Elephant', that used to make an appearance at the event in its early years.

In the post-war Germany of 1951, the fastest production motorcycle was the Zundapp KS601. The KS stood for Kardan Sport, a reference to the U-joint used on the shaft drive and the sport motor itself. The KS601 had a tubular steel frame rather than the pressed steel of the 600, with telescopic forks and plunger rear suspension. It also had a 597cc horizontally opposed overhead valve engine, fed by two Bing carburettors. That engine was connected to a four-speed gearbox with foot shifter that was in turn connected via shaft drive to the rear wheel. All of this gave it more than a passing resemblance to the BMW. To distinguish itself though the Zundapp used colour, and the most prevalent was a lime green. The appearance and the colour earned it the nickname of the Green Elephant.

In contrast to its name, the 28hp motor, (more than a VW Beetle of the day), allowed it to reach a top speed of 140kph which outpaced everything on the road at the time. It also sported other innovative features like interchangeable front and rear wheels to balance tyre wear.

The production version of the KS601 hit the markets in 1951 to enthusiastic press reviews. The motorcycle buying public liked them for their reliability and suitability for their sidecar compatibility. However, as solo machines they were constantly overshadowed by the more popular BMWs.

Cars at this time were becoming more affordable and the sidecar business naturally declined. The Green Elephant fell on hard times. Production of the KS601 ended in 1958 with just over 5000 motorcycles produced in all.

Birth of the Elefantentreffen

It is said that the origin of the Elefantentreffen goes back to 1953. Klaks, who then rode a Zundapp KS601 invited three of his biker friends who owned machines of the same brand, for a winter meeting and it's on the founding principles of that first meeting that Klaks based the spirit of the gatherings, including the very first official meeting in 1956. No commemorative badge, no medal, no souvenir. Everyone had to face the winter frost for the simple pleasure of being among bikers and nothing was really organised.

Elefantentreffen 1956

In 1955 when the German automobile industry was booming there was a significant increase in insurance premiums for big motorcycles. Around this time, Klaks had written a provocative article in the magazine 'Das Motorrad' on vital issues concerning motorcycling and its future. The effect of this had been brief though rather quickly forgotten.

The visionary Klaks then had the brilliant idea of a gathering that would publicise the popularity for many bikers of winter riding, whilst at the same time gathering together German motorcyclists themselves. A few months later, he took the initiative and invited 'Green Elephant' owners to meet at the Kurhaus Glemseck hotel close to the Solitude circuit near Stutggart.

The Kurhaus Glemseck hotel

He then published three ads in "Das Motorrad". One of them saying:

"Attention! Elephant riders in the Stutggart area! On January 7th, 1956, something of interest is happening! Watch out for the announcement in the Mottorad issue number 25!"

The date of the meeting was chosen at random and the success of the event was never certain.

On January 7th, 1956, twenty Zundapp KS601 owners met up at the designated rally spot and the first official meeting of the 'Green Elephants' took place. Many more meetings would follow.

The Elefantentreffen gathering, conceived from scratch and born from the imagination of its genial creator, Ernst Leverkus
, would become in the years that followed a legendary event and one of the most famous motorcycle rallies in the world.

- Jean-Francois Helias