The plan had been hatched a few weeks ago, to ride for 4 days in the Swiss Alps across to the Stelvio. As the departure date loomed large, I started to get concerned that the weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon. This morning it’s not too warm either as I set off to meet Andy at the La Cote motorway services on the Swiss autoroute. I arrived a little before the 08.00am meeting time and had just finished refuelling when Andy arrived on his GS Adventure.
Leaving the services with the idea of stopping at Brig for a coffee, I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to make it that far. Having recently just finished 3 days riding with the EuroKClub and another two days with Nadeem, the 1800kms and full days of riding and organisation have taken their toll on me, I’m knackered. I pull off the motorway at the Martigny services and explain the problem to Andy. The next half hour is spent refuelling my body; fresh orange juice, two Mars bars, an apple slice and a can of Red Bull do the trick, and soon I‘m ready to take on the world again.
Arriving at Gletsch we took the left turn up the Grimsel and a photo stop or two looking across to the Furka.
Top of the Furka
Painting on dam wall
Descending into Innerkirchen we stopped at a restaurant conveniently located at the foot of the Susten Pass which we are to ascend next. The weather forecast said rain at 14.00, and sure enough rain starts to fall, but only gently. Andy is super confident in the wet anyway, but on his S, will be interesting to see how he gets on with the GS and the semi offroad tyres.
The Susten is one of my favourite passes, great scenery, no ultra tight hairpins, and places to stop for pics, here’s a few on the way up.
Once near the top the cloud is so low it’s almost like riding in the fog. Speeds drop, and the normally fast descent is much more sedate, but we are rewarded with the amazing scene of clouds lifting behind Wassen to reveal part of the mountain behind it, the rest still hidden by cloud.I’ve ridden this pass many many times, but this time it’s almost surreal in the clouds.
Wassen to Andermatt takes you over a winding pass, and by now it’s turned 15.30pm. Andy has decided that it’s time to stop at the hotel, and forego continuing on round the Gotthard, Neufenen and Furka. I’m disappointed, but as he’s already ridden them before, and I’m suddenly very tired again, we agree to stop. The bikes are safely parked in the garage next door, and after a rest, a couple of beers in the bar, a shower, and an evening meal, the batteries are recharged and ready for tomorrows adventures.
Looking out of the window the next morning, the clouds are low and swirling round Andermatt. As the sun tries to heat up the temperature outside, in the distance we can see fresh snow on the Furka! The forecast said 5 degrees C at 08.00, and it was right! Leaving Andermatt you immediately climb out towards the Oberalp pass. Up here there is a lake and with the sun trying to heat the water we saw this spectacle of steaming water!
From the Oberalp it’s onto the Lokmanier, not a particularly exciting pass and strangely seems to be built with large paving slabs which give a bumpy ride. We’re making good time without riding too quickly and it’s still quite cool. We took the motorway from Biasca to Bellinzona and on round to the San Bernadino, where the wide sweeping bends that climb upwards allowed some good hanging off opportunities ( I know you’re not supposed to do that on a GT, and especially not at my age, but what the hell!). Turning onto the pass proper, Andy got stuck behind the traffic I was able to get past, and so got to enjoy a quick and unrestricted run to the restaurant at the top. It was windy and decidedly nippy here, so we didn’t stop long before starting the descent.
The first part is fun and then turns into a sequence of loads of tight hairpins. Having set off ahead I stopped at a hairpin in order to wait and film Andy arriving. Setting off after him I’m having to work hard to catch up, seeing him just ahead and down the next hairpin, I make a real push to suddenly find the brake lever coming back to the bar!!!!!!!! Holy cow! Last time that happened was on my ZX10-R at Hockenheim. Pumping the lever furiously I managed to restore some feel, but was shocked that this had happened, especially given the steel brake lines fitted as standard. I guess that stopping 260kg+ of man and machine down multiple hairpins at speed stresses the system, and no metter the fact I have the “magic” anti foam fitted, seems it was too much.
Onwards to Thusis, Tiefencastel and over the Julier. This is the best direction to ride it, with well surfaced sweeping bends leading up the “real”start of the pass.
Andy and GS Adventure
I’m frustrated by a German ahead on a smaller capacity bike who seems to be missing every apex and making it difficult to pass safely. Eventually I do get past and have a very spirited run to the top. Stopping for a coffee, the German arrives later and all is revealed, the male I assumed was riding turns out to be a 40 something year old woman, with her other half already waiting for her there on his 1100S. The Julier turns out to have other interests too. A Bugatti Veyron wafts past, and then at least 8 Triumphs roll up, later followed by a group of Moto Guzzi’s, Griso, Norge, Stelvio, and a very fetching pink Breva ridden by a woman.
Descending into Silvaplana and it’s lakes, we passed onto Surlej before turning towards Tirano and the Bernina Pass. En route an ambulance decides it’s fine to pull out in front of me and then proceeds to hassle other drivers ahead, pulling poor overtakes, until we see him again stopped at a petrol station, seems there was no hurry after all! A little further on Andy overtook me and a little further on pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, seemed the extra layer of clothes we had donned to combat the cold this morning was causing him to overheat. Stripping off to cool down I nipped over the road to a convenience store and bought us a couple of ice creams. Without a fixed hotel for tonight I’m aiming for a place I know which I estimate to be around 40 minutes away. As we arrive at the Italian border I’m stopped and asked if I’m Italian, checking the plates the border guard sees I’m on a French bike and waves me through.
The hotel is closer than I thought but there are no rooms free. The owner directs us to an alternative hotel in the town of Tovo, and we’re glad he did, as it’s at least as good, much quieter, and has beautifully finished rooms and furnishings. Another couple of beers, some Italian food, and sleep beckons and the lure of another day, and the Stelvio.
08.45am. Ten minutes late starting, but never mind. Wiping the dew from the bikes I take advantage of the heated grips and seat, and we’re off to Bormio and the Stelvio. It’s Sunday,it’s early, and there’s very little traffic. Negotiating the many small tunnels I hope that nothing comes the other way, as the camper van in front of me is filling the entire tunnel! Upwards past the waterfall, the smoothly surfaced bends pass quickly and without the encumbrance of other traffic to slow us down, we are at the top within an hour of leaving the hotel. After a quick walk round and a a few pics, we decided to descend via the 48 hairpins rather than by the alternative Umbrail pass.48 hairpins sounds fun, but it really isn’t. Again, as it’s so early we can use the opposite side of the road to get round the hairpins. With cars, coaches, lorries, and bikes here, it must be a nightmare. I’m needing 1st gear in many places, and I see Andy has developed the motorcrosser, inside leg out technique to get round. He quickly pulls away from me as I get more and more frustrated. The brake lever starts to travel further again, and I’m really not enjoying the descent. Finally it’s over, but I don’t think either of us would say it was really enjoyable, and wouldn’t rush back to do it again.
After the frustration of the descent, we had the pleasure of passing through the beautiful towns of Tubre in Italy, and Moustair just over the Swisss border, as we started the Pass de Fuorn. This had been a specific road Andy had wanted to ride after seeing it featured on Top Gear. It is a great road, but one that needs to be treated with respect. Last year we spent an hour stuck on this road whilst a helicopter ambulance airlifted some unfortunate German sportsbike rider off the pass. Running through woods it twists and turns, but has some tight bends to catch you out if you get too cocky, and at one stage a massive depression in the road physically sent me heading towards the opposite side, if I’d been carrying another 10kph or so, I’d probably have been embedded in the banking on the other side! At Zernez we stopped again, and so far my calculated timings had been spot on. We had originally decided to aim for Interlakken that night, but as this was only 3 hours from home, Andy was now wondering if we could make it all the way round and back home.
Zernez to Susch, then over the Fluelapass. I had forgotten how good this pass was, having ridden it many years ago. Deciding that this was one to enjoy I sped off a great rate of knots, only to hear a loud exhaust behind me. It wasn’t Andy, and I did what all bikers do when someone appears behind them, went faster! I imagine the Trimph rider was shocked that a lumbering GT could be ridden this hard, but having made my point, I pulled over and let him past, chalking one up to the old guy on the heavy bike! Conveniently, pulling over allowed me to savour the scenery here which was truly great. The pass kept getting better though. The descent was a fabulous ribbon of well surfaced winding open bends, couldn’t be better!
In Davos we briefly headed the wrong way before figuring that Klosters was in completely the opposite direction. Another place on Andy’s wishlist we crossed the tiny Wolfgangpass , marvelled at the setting of the town, nestled in the valley, and later cursed I didn’t take any pictures. Lunch on this impressive looking hotel terrace, and off again.
In Landquart it’s motorway to Niederunen and the turn off for the Klausenpass, except the motorway signs didn’t show that the next 3 junctions were shut! Forced to ride an extra 20kms to get back to Niederunen, I was unhappy we had wasted time on this needless excursion.
The Klausenpass is another of my favourites. It starts with a paved bend and then cuts through tight twisty bends before opening up into a wonderful valley and climbing. Following an old British open topped sports car I worried that he was cutting too many corners and that any he would hit someone coming in the opposite direction. Getting past as quickly as possible I was soon being chased by a couple who had hounded Andy through all the small villages en route to the pass. The red mist dropped, and off I went. Soon the bike was gone, but I was pushing too hard, and as I slightly cut a bend, the road narrowed, and I saw the car coming towards me had also cut the same bend. With a mega counter steering effort, I manged to avoid my pannier missing the wing of his car, but it must have been by only millimetres. Annoyed with myself for being drawn into racing, I backed it off and let the other bike past.
One of the features of this trip has been the cows wandering in the fields. I usually ride earlier in the season, but now they have been brought down from the high pastures and are an integral part of the countryside with their gently chiming bells.
Another stop, but the place was packed, with music provided by three accordion players.
Waiting to get served we planned a return home, but it was showing over 4 hours, so we thought of stopping at Interlakken again. With so many people there, and no sign of being served, we left. Andy, clearly motivated by a desire to get home to his wife and kids suddenly seemed galvanised, and started to disappear off into the distance after I stopped for a couple of pictures. Only some really hard riding and quite a few risks taken on my part, finally hauled him back after what must have been at least 5 minutes.
In Altdorf he set off in the wrong direction,chasing him he told me that the GPS had a route which would get him back by 20.30, so off we went, and a few hours of motorway back home. The only memorable part of this journey was that the sun was so strong I was having trouble seeing without my dark visor or sunglasses. In stop start traffic I tried to take my Oakleys from the fairing compartment and transfer them to tank bag, but only managed to break off and lose one of the arms. Stopping at a rest stop I put them on with the one arm remaining, but at least I could see now! A final stop at 19.00 before the final push for home, and by 21.20pm I was back home and it was all over.
I’ve ridden these passes many times over the past 10 years, but each time, and especially this time, they threw up even greater enjoyment and pleasure. Andy was a great riding partner, and this was a great tour, one to look back on in years to come, smile, and bore your friends and family to death with tall stories of a great adventure. 1365kms, 12 passes, and 3 days, of which Andy described it as his “best trip EVER” , you had to be there, it was epic!!