Friday, 27 January 2012

The Alps, UKRM style - part 2

Day 4 - Italy to Austria

The route to Austria was going to take us along the shores of lakes Maggiore and Como, up into the mountains again and past St Moritz, then into Austria. Two hundred odd miles of the most glorious roads in the world, but with a 50mph limit almost all the way. Only the Swiss...

The Italian lakes are wonderfully scenic, but from a riding perspective the blanket 30mph limit along their shores makes for slow going and the heavy traffic doesn't help. By the time we got away from the lake I think we were all absolutely roasted and not a little bored, but looking forward to the fun to come. So, fully fuelled, we headed toward the mountains in search of adventure. If the ride down had been fun, this was going to be where it all came together.

The road from Como to St Moritz is as twisty, winding and hairpin-laden as any road I've ever seen in my life. On large sportsbikes with very limited steering lock they were, in a word, challenging. At times I had to take bends like an articulated lorry, using the full width of the road, on full lock, praying nothing would be coming downhill towards me. The camber of the road meant that I could practically get my elbow down on one side while my foot dangled several feet above the road on the other. I exaggerate, but it was no surprise when a couple on a BMW RGS went past me and shot off into the distance while I wrestled with the gixer.

Once at the top it was a different story. The road from the border to Zernez is a fast, flowing tarmac ribbon that just screams faster! faster! faster! in stark contrast to its 50mph limit. Not that any bike I saw paid much attention to the limit and at times even we may have exceeded it by a small margin. Somewhere near St Moritz I recognised Wessie as we flew past. He'd catch up soon.

From Zernez to the border the road changed to something far more challenging. We were in our element, at times pushing the Swiss equivalent of the 10%+2 allowance over the speed limit, and before too long we arrived at the border post marking our departure from Switzerland. Spying an opportunity for a tank of cheap fuel, we pulled up next to the single pump and took turns filling up. While fuelling, a cop walked over from the border post.

"You guys are English, yeah?"
"OK, fill up, but don't go anywhere. When you're done, come over to the border post, we need to have a chat and sort a few  things out."

Cue worried looks all round as we tried to work out what might be up. It turned out we'd overtaken him in an unmarked car about a km from the border and the two in front had perhaps been a little liberal with their interpretation of double white lines. As we came to an arrangement, and two went inside to fill in some paperwork and make an initial 800 euro donation to the local campaign against minarets, Wessie rode past the border post, shoulders rocking as he laughed at our predicament. The fucker. 

Eventually we were allowed to head for Austria. Our next stop was the Hotel Enzian in Landeck, just a few miles inside the border. This is one of a loose affiliation of hotels geared up to cater for motorcyclists in the summer and Klaus, the owner, has pretty much every point covered. With a fully equipped workshop available in the yard, a marquee full of the latest BMW bikes available to hire by the day, and a book of touring routes available at reception, they leave few points uncovered where a biking holiday is concerned.

Klaus does a guided tour once a week and I suggested it might be an idea, given the day's events, if we tried that the next day. At worst it'd be rubbish and we'd split off and do our own thing. At best it would show us some amazing roads we didn't even know existed. Most likely it'd calm us down a bit and we'd avoid having our collars felt for a day or so. But that would be the next day, and first we had to meet up with Colin, Pat and the rest of the group as they trickled into town. It'd been another tiring day and after an evening of beer, booze and stories we called it a night.

Day 5 - Landeck and Bavaria

Up bright and early, Team Reprobate gathered with a motley crew of other guests in the yard to see what the guided tour would be all about. The rest of the party had opted to do other things, Andy in particular needing to unwind a bit after his rather tortured journey out. Klaus ran through where we'd be going, bikes were warmed up, and we headed out for a ride in the sun.

I'll say this - Klaus knows his patch. The route he'd picked, one of the many in the book at reception, took in some gobsmackingly good traffic-free roads through amazing scenery. For the first half of the day we rode in convoy through the mountains, up into Bavaria, and just enjoyed the ride. Every so often Klaus would stop for a few photos. Sometimes he'd just hold the camera up, pointing backwards, and take a few action shots of whatever was behind him at the time.

By lunchtime we were well into Bavaria and looping round some of the local lakes. The roads round the lakes mostly seem to be private toll roads and full of tourists. They're busy, but there's no point going balls-out all the time so we were content to take it easy. Eventually we rocked up at a restaurant where schnitzels, sausages and (most importantly) beer made their appearance and we all refuelled for an afternoon of dicking about in two-wheeled paradise.

By lunchtime we'd started to get to know some of the other hotel guests along for the ride. These divided quite clearly into four groups. Besides us there were the other Brits, all piloting modern Beemers and all quite content to trundle along as a sensible pace in line with their old riders vs bold riders maxim. Then there were the Germans, one on a crusty old VFR750, another on a Blackbird-based sidecar outfit that spent a good third of the trip with the third wheel at least a foot off the ground, to whom all respect is due. Then there were the Italians. Three lads on their summer holiday - Marco, Carlo and Luca - with two Z750s and a RSV Mille between them. They were as enthusiastic for the ride as we were and their company turned a good day out into a great one.

By mid afternoon we were starting to get a little frustrated with the sedate pace imposed by the size of the group, and with such stunning roads and fruity bikes we were itching to have some proper fun. We had a chat with Klaus and asked what the rest of the route would be, as we were thinking of shooting off ahead to do it at our own pace. At the same time, the other Brits in the group were having the opposite idea, thinking the pace already too quick for them and preferring to hang back. Klaus had the ideal solution - he'd find us a mountain pass, let us loose, and we'd all meet up at the other side. Meanwhile he'd get busy with the video camera and get some footage to show in the hotel bar that evening. Gauntlet thrown, we went off to play.

The road back to Imst was, without doubt, one of the great biking roads. The ride up was fast, flowing and gave us the chance to really make the most of the litrebike power. The ride down the other side was a tight, sinuous journey down a road clinging to a cliff face, with rock to one side and a sheer drop to the other. By the time we got to the bottom my brake fluid was starting to boil, my touring tyres starting to get squidgy, and the top of my head at risk of falling off if my grin got any bigger. All doubts about the tour were dispelled - without Klaus as a guide we'd never have found the roads we did that day, and it all came together better than we'd hoped.

Back at the hotel Klaus had laid on a complimentary beer to round off the day. I got the impression he'd enjoyed himself - he summed things up well, saying "that was a great ride, but if the police had caught us..." and making handcuff gestures! From there it was back to the usual routine - shower, bar, dinner and tall stories. The evening saw a slideshow and some videos from the day out and after that it was off to bed. We had another day in Austria and we were going to make the most of it. The Enzian is a cracking little hotel and the way they package things for bikers makes it a near-perfect place to stay in the area if you're on two wheels. Highly recommended, and it's not far from Lech, as mentioned in previous posts. Austria, frankly, rocks.

Want more? Here's part 3.


  1. Feel free to grab or link to some of these if you want