From the get-go, I was in for a challenge. I rode close to 900 miles in a single adventure while straddling a Ducati 1098—it was a first for me. Was it visceral fun for a Ducatisti like me? Yes! Touring a Ducati superbike is comparable to using a 25-year Scotch as paint thinner, so why not? In my pre-departure glee, I surmised if you're going to crush hydrocarbons, then you got to get on with it with whatever you have in your garage. That's how I began my 72-hour Motorcycle Run to the Alps...
Eyes Bigger than my Stomach?
The Plan for my journey was simple: Friday morning depart Stuttgart with my chin on the tank and head south to Austria. I would wave and smile as I pass by Lichtenstein, and then arrive in Switzerland to complete the first leg of my route. Saturday morning, I would travel through the land of expensive watches and pocket knives—head east over the mountains into Italy and then down to lake Como and say hi to George Clooney. Sunday morning I would infiltrate back up into Germany, zooming through the Black Forest and onward to home base in Stuttgart, Germany. The plan also included no bike mounted GPS or high-speed touring set ups, and no extended range fuel tank to my disposal.
Armed with a strong back and wrists, I decided to do the trip in a three day weekend—only navigating off of an iPhone 5 that was stored in my side bags.
Il Primo Giorno
On Friday morning I spent 30 minutes installing some soft shell side bags to the 1098, however, in hindsight I would definitely suggest detailed preparation and planning before attempting to mount non-1098 specific touring bags (I didn’t).The process included bungee cords, several variations of Fastex buckles, and a colorful assortment of four letter words.I eventually found a way to get it all cobbled together with confidence, ensuring it wouldn’t fly off at 130 mph.
The last road trip I took was aboard a 2013 Hypermotard—so fun. Once on the autobahn with no speed restrictions, I ended up making out with my front tire to mitigate the rushing head winds. I figured on a 1098 I at least had a windscreen to ease the strain of any autobahn headwinds.
On Friday morning, the conditions were perfect—it's amazing how I managed to teleport to Lichtenstein by that afternoon. The German autobahn is just lovely, and when I reached Switzerland, the view was nothing short of breathtaking. After a few hours of taking in some nature, frequent fuel stops, and roadside photos, I reached the village of Davos. By this point, I was happy I reached my destination on time and without incident. The quaint little Swiss village I stayed at was cute, yet expensive, and the hostel had free WI-Fi and friendly service, but no garage—so I parked my bike within a locked gate at the main entrance. I enjoyed a “Mexican” pizza along with a few Corona's (by the way, seven Swiss Franc's for a Corona should be illegal) that first night in Davos.
Early Saturday morning, I woke up to a full plate. The day started with the route up to the Umbrail pass, riding through the Swiss National Park (it's a wonder that must be witnessed in person.) Eighteen kilometers north of the Italian border sits the village of Val Müstair. This village has only (give or take) 350 permanent residents since before the turn of the 20th century—it’s the definition of “in the middle of nowhere.” This really puts in context how remote the region is, especially for it being in central Europe.Coming from California I haven't felt so alone in the outdoors since my days of patrolling through the Nevada desert with a rucksack on my back. The roads through this region is amazing, and the grass is a green that I've never seen before (Note: I didn’t spot one speed camera in the area and I haven’t received any horsepower bills...yet.)
The Umbrail Pass at 2500 meters above sea level is the highest paved road in Switzerland and crosses the Italian border connecting to the west side of the Stelvio summit. The landscape was so amazing it was hard to concentrate on the road under me. Speaking of the road, it requires keen attention to the task at hand as there were many things to run into—looking through your turn has a new meaning here. Cyclist, tractors, cars and other motorcyclist were also everywhere on the twisting, narrow roads up to the summit.
Unbeknownst to me, the weekend I chose to ride up to the summit was a big day—all the local farmers were crossing the summit on their tractors. Fitting five people with funny hats on 50's era farm equipment, all while ascending 9,000 feet up and over a mountain road, was all the rage on Saturday. I also wasn't prepared for miles of dirt roads and following seas of cyclists, but it was an interesting ride nonetheless.
In this region of the world, there is steep grades and very few fueling opportunities, and since I had a thirsty diva between my legs, I made the point of stopping to get gas when I saw it. The route kept me engaged for the ascent—it had many hairpins along the way, and it also had various low speed turns mixed with on-coming vehicles. By 1400 on Saturday, I finally reached the Stelvio Summit and the incredibly small village that’s atop…CONTINUE READING
CONTINUE READING: For more photos and the rest of the Run to the Alps
The Dreisprachenspitze (aka the Three Language Peak) stands above the Stelvio National Park and the summit road. From this point, there were some fun options to choose from. I could ride down the north decent and enjoy 48 hairpin turns towards the village of Trafoi, Italy, or take the southern route down to Bormio. Initially riding both routes was not in the plan, but I had to get the experience. Looking from above, there were just too many twisty bits to pass up. I rode the northern route down and back, and by the afternoon, I was negotiating the amazing sweepers that lead south out of the pass to Bormio.
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Fast forward in time through Sondrio, Tirano and Bellano and onto a ferry from Varenna. I then arrived at Bellagio—with my rear end asleep and my helmet looked like the bottom of a bug zapper. By 1600 I was gassing up in Como, needed a gelato with some ice water, and bubbles to celebrate a great day of riding. The next stop was a night stay south of the Gotthard pass and the final run into the Black Forest.
Stelvio and the Alps
Stelvio pass at Bormio sits 2,757 (9,045 ft.) above sea level. Some history: The original tarmac was laid between 1820 and 1825 by the once great and powerful Habsburg empire-of Austria. The road was built to connect Northern Italy with the old border of Austria. World War I’s “White War” was fought through out the topography in and around Stelvio, pitting the Italian Alpini against the Austrian Kaiserschützen. Four years of fierce battle ensued at altitudes above 7,000 feet. Due to Switzerland's neutrality and proximity to the summit, gunfire and artillery shells were thrown back and forth through the pass. Today, the road is basically the same as it was in the early 1900's—there are 75 hairpin turns total, with 48 on the northern route and 27 on the southern route. The best months to go by motorcycle through the pass—well, the only months that are available—are from May to September. The central European winters aren't that fun to challenge on two wheels and each year the snowfall varies (weather is a key-planning factor.)
Giorno Tre Culo dolente, Un Sacco di Caffè
At nine the next morning, I entered the 10.5-mile Gotthard tunnel. It’s the third longest road tunnel on earth and it's also deceivingly long. At the southern entrance people speak Italiano, and north of the exit, it’s back to sprechen German. In an effort to save time, I modified my originally intended route and hopped on the A2 to Basel, taking the scenic route up to Zurich. I crossed the Rhine at around noon and left Basel with plenty of time to horseplay in the Black Forest. The route I took that afternoon is one of hundreds available—I rode the 317 to Titisee-Neustadt to the Bundesstrasse 500. The Black Forest holds so many amazing roads that it would take years to ride them all. The tarmac condition is better than anything I've seen in the U.S. and speed limits seem to be suggestive. The countryside in southern Germany is simply magic—winding roads flow through rolling hills speckled with tiny villages. Mix this with dense, dark forests and sweeping high-speed corners and you have a little of everything to ride.
The Black Forest High Road was built in 1930 and the nefarious Germans of the time had plans for it in the war, but luckily after things calmed down by 1952, it was further developed to connect Baden Baden to Freudenstadt. The B500 high road is a weekend destination for motorcyclists in and around Stuttgart, and during the summer weekends it looks more like a track day at Oschersleben than a country road. On busy weekends, police are waiting with the radar guns and the ADAC rescue helicopter can be spotted flying above. The optimum times to visit are during the week and it was at this time I chose to ride.
Blitzing Durch Deutschland
Somewhere near Todtnau, just south of the Titisee, I met two German guys who were as lost as I was. Like most German motor heads, they knew a thing or two about going fast: Trail braking to the apex of blind corners made our ride the most exciting during my three day adventure. We ended up making it to Freundenstadt by way of roads I didn’t even know existed and will definitely visit again. We parted ways with handshakes and poor attempts of English and German and I was off to ride the Schwarzwald Hoch Strasse—better known as the Black Forest High Road. I reached the Mummelsee by mid afternoon, and it was also the half way point on the trek to Baden Baden. As I crawled off my bike drenched in sweat, my wrists felt like rubber and my rump was still vibrating to the tune of my Termignoni’s. Mummelsee looks like a tiny asteroid crater filled with water, but it's charming and worth the visit. Unlike the entrance parking lot to the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife, it’s a who’s who in the zoo with exotic cars and motorcycles everywhere. It also had tour buses opening doors to hundreds of gawking tourists.
The Home Stretch
After throwing some food down my hatch, I collected myself, zipped up my leathers and mounted my trusty steed for the last stretch of pavement home. Usually the visits to the B500 entail multiple runs over my favorite sections of road, but by this point I could smell the barn and wanted to get home. I reached the autobahn east of Baden Baden, and by 1700 I was back into Stuttgart with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Not only was the three-day adventure amazing and fun, but I also learned a great deal about my little 1098S. Like everyone who owns one knows: The faster you go the better it feels. I found, on average, I made a little over 100 miles per tank on 98 octane fuel during my adventure. The Metzler K3’s I had mounted worked quite well even in the dirt and rain.
What's better than touring Switzerland, Italy and the Black Forest on a sportbike? Nothing that requires clothes.
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