One of the biggest concerns that we had when choosing a rental bike was its fuel range. Sure it would be nice to try an all singin’, all dancin’ big ole “dream bike”. But a gas-sipper that can still motor along the highway is where I was squarely focused.
With that in mind, Kenny and I both ended up on a pair of BMW F700GSs.
The little GS had friendly, predictable power – there were no abrupt surprises. I especially liked its low seat height and found it to be comfortable and nimble. It was an all around easy ride. On the downside, the brakes left a bit to be desired. And I did miss that punch of power on demand I get from my Tiger when passing while already hustling. But a person who likes to ride around on something like the Enfield can’t be too picky on that front.
While I didn’t fall in love with the bike – I would definitely rent one again.
On average, we saw gas priced at abouuuuuut €1.75 per liter. That put us in around $8.50 per gallon. OUCH. You can keep your big horsepower and your fancy working brakes! The F700GS was getting about 50mpg.
I get excited about things. It’s just my way. Quite often Kenny has to talk me down off the ledge when my enthusiasm overshadows my good sense. On Saturday I told him that I was committed to doing the Crotona again this year.
Naturally his first question was “what bike are you taking?” When I answered “the DRZ”, he kind of looked at me like, well,… like he looks at me a lot. With the “are you an idiot?” look.
Bless his blonde, little heart, he did have some good points against riding the DRZ. Points that I did already consider. Mainly that I wouldn’t be able to run a full suite of electrics. And of course there is that pesky slab ride to and from the starting line.
“Why don’t you take the GS?” he said in typical deadpan delivery.
In a moment of true luminescent brilliance, I replied :blink:blink: “Uh? I don’t know?”
The Big Bomber
The GS (which we call “The Big Bomber”) is like our red-headed stepchild bike. I sometimes forget that I even own it.
Simply put – I do not love the GS. It’s fine, it works, it’s a tank. It can eat up the miles and keep you comfortable at the same time. You can bolt/strap/tie a shit-ton of stuff on it and ride for a bajillion miles while powering electric underpants, a radar detector, 48 GPSs, a missile launcher and the WOPR.
Even though it looks like a hippo on roller skates – once rolling it is surprisingly light on it’s feet. BUT… eh. I don’t know. It never found it’s way into my heart and stayed there. Our love affair was brief.
So, Kenny absolutely did have a point. The GS is probably the right tool for the Crotona. I can wear all of my electrics. The highway ride to and from the start location will be a piece of cake. I’ll have plenty of room to attach a light and space to put my route sheet and I won’t have to fill up at the halfway mark to make sure I can get to the end of the ride.
Damn it! I hate it when he’s all sensible and stuff.
The first thing that I did when I woke up was open up the window and look out. To my dismay the roadway was damp. But… at least it wasn’t raining. I watched four little birds playing in the fountain outside as the chilly morning air crept in. I then padded around our little room, looking at postcards, receipts and stickers that I’d accumulated so far.
With Pimmie still sawing logs in the room next door, Kenny and I set off on foot for a walk through the little town of Wassen. Just a stones throw from our hotel was a small church; St. Gallus – perched on a hill that overlooked the valley. We stood there in the damp air listening to the trains going by on the tracks above and below us and watching children in the nearby school yard.
When we started walking down the serpentine footpath back to our hotel, the heavy sky opened up. The rain that we’d managed to dodge the day before had caught up to us. It was now time for us to pay the piper. It was pouring.
Back at the hotel, with Pimmie now awake, we sat looking at our maps over breakfast. My heart broke a little when we decided against riding the Furka and Gotthard passes in the pouring rain. Sometimes I just want to kick myself when I put things off for “later”. Especially when later doesn’t come. Instead of the 2 passes we’d skipped the day before, we’d head towards clear skies in the west. We set off over the Oberalppass and headed towards Austria.
For most of the trip, I didn’t sleep very well. Each night, I would wake up several times. One night I actually had some strange, upsetting dreams. I could probably count the number of times I’ve had a bad dream in the last 10 years on one hand, so that was pretty unusual. Between the rain, my lack of good sleep and “lazy” riding we were doing, I think it put me in a lull. This was the first day that I felt really tired on the bike.
Near the Swiss – Liechtenstein border, we crossed through what appeared to be a military post. I was a little bummed to not see a single guy opening a can of beans with his knife or something. Maybe they were all busy invading Liechtenstein again. *Point of note: Apparently aside from being a tax haven, 1/3 of the world’s false teeth are made in Liechtenstein.
When we crossed the Austrian border, we had to stop in a gas station to get a vignette sticker to put on our bikes. A vignette is a toll sticker. Apparently, you can be fined some serious Euros for failing to have one displayed. I guess that’s just one of those bits of information that is good to tuck in your back pocket, you know, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood.
Within a few miles of our last border crossing for the day, the clouds started to lift and the roads began to dry. It couldn’t have come soon enough. We were all tired and a little less enthusiastic than we’d been on the days before. Though riding through tree-lined valleys and along side streams was indeed beautiful, I think we were spoiled by the mountain riding. As luck would have it, we were heading towards the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse.
Silvretta High Alpine Road was a fantastic ride. It starts low in a valley and weaves it’s way up along nearly perfect pavement. Once you get above the treeline you are in a rocky and barren landscape. Snow-capped mountains and glaciers surround you as you approach the reservoir at the road summit. This alpine pass was just what the doctor ordered. Silvretta was the silver lining of our otherwise dark, cloudy day.
It was getting to be late in the afternoon. For all intents and purposes we were a hop, skip and a jump from Innsbruck. So, I used my executive powers and decided that’s where we would stay for the night. So, with no plan whatsoever we went to the beautiful city of Innsbruck, Austria.
When we climbed down from the top of the San Bernardino pass, we had the rain on our heels. If we were going to make the most of our plans for the day we were going to have to get on the gas and hightail it out of there. We were heading towards an area in Switzerland just above the northeastern border of Italy.
When you head north along the Novena/Neufenen Pass it brings you to the intersection of the Furka and the Grimsel passes. Having to make a choice, we opted to stay left and take the Grimsel and would try to hit the Furka the following day. So up we went along the terraced switchbacks into the mountains.
The view as you were climbing higher was spectacular. I pulled off to take some photos and I could hear the echoing sounds of 2 people on sportbikes coming down the neighboring Furka pass. I watched the 2 little dots making their way along the mountain road as their song echoed through the valley.
All through our trip I never got over the feeling of just how small we are as people here on the earth. The magnitude and scale of the mountains was incredible. This photo of me riding on the Grimsel pass personifies that to me. I was nothing more than a speck traveling along on the road of life.
We made our last gas stop of the day in Innertkirchen. With the late hour, the waning daylight and the ever present threat of rain we decided it was time to pack it in. We would ride the length of the Susten pass and grab a room in the town of Wassen.
The Susten pass didn’t seem to climb in the same way the other passes had throughout the day. It seemed to run more like a canyon road along the length of the valley instead of just up and over. The last 15 or 20 miles of the pass, Kenny and I spent some time riding together which was nice since I’d been kind of floating solo as I poked along looking at things and stopping for pictures.
Even with our late start we managed to get in some fabulous riding. On our third day of traveling we’d been through the Splugen pass, the San Bernardino pass and now the Novena pass, Grimsel pass and the Susten pass. Not too shabby, really.
We took rooms at the Gasthof Alte Post in Wassen and had dinner outside in what was left of the fading light of the day. Our rooms had no TVs, no Wifi and no clocks. The three of us spent the night looking at the highlighted routes on our map, watching videos from the day’s riding and making plans for what we were going to do the next day. Those plans included contingencies for pouring rain which as the night wore on, came calling.
Though it has been in use since Roman times, the San Bernardino pass was first made known to me from the first episode of Top Gear season 10. In it, Clarkson, Hammond and May set off to Europe to find the world’s best driving roads. Watching that show on DVD in the dead of winter as 3 feet of snow piled up outside lit a fire in me. One of the best driving roads? If that isn’t enticing, I don’t know what is. It was only logical to add this switchbacked beauty to our ever growing To Do list.
Leaving the town of Splügen, Switzerland we headed west towards the northern foot of the San Bernardino pass. Like the Splugen pass coming from Chiavenna, the San Bernardino pass began it’s ascent up the mountain like a terraced ribbon candy, zig-zagging its way up many switchbacks into mountains.
When the pavement unclenched it’s teeth and we rose above the treeline, the road opened up into a few kinder, gentler turns. I was able to catch glimpses of partially obscured, smooth tarmac on the left and right. I thought to myself how could those sections of roadway actually be connected to one another?
When the team of engineers began talking about paving the pass and asked “What is the shortest distance between two points?” the answer must have been “WHO CARES?!”
At the summit of the pass there is a restaurant at the San Bernardino hostel. It sits alone in the stark landscape overlooking Lago Moesola. Even though the sky was threatening to open up on us, there were many people out enjoying the day there.
While there taking in the view, we spotted a pair of new Ducati Multistradas that were stickered with IXS logo stickers. The bikes were surrounded by 4 guys dressed in identical textile suits and matching helmets, and a man driving what I assume was a support car. With more guys than bikes they must have been either riding 2-up or were swapping riding duties.
They went through the motions of the standard magazine photos – you know like the ole side of the helmet shot. The one that catches the guys eyes with his visor flipped open while he contemplatively looks off at the scenery and pretends to not notice a giant camera lens next to his head. I wonder where those images will appear.
We were already riding on borrowed sunshine-time trying to beat the rain that was forecast earlier in the morning. It was looking quite gray and a little threatening, so we didn’t dilly-dally for too long. We set off heading south to continue along the pass.
Not long after riding past the lake another roller coaster of sidewinders was waiting for us. The view of the racetrack-like road was enough to send you into fits of excited giggles. Kenny and Pimmie dashed off ahead and I pulled off. I was able to watch them making their way around some of the curves like watching my own personal roadrace.
Around the web many people include the San Bernardino Pass in their listing of the best driving, cycling or motorcycling roads in the world. Now I can see why. The diverse scenery, the road condition, the road layout – they all combine to make this pass an absolute joy to ride. It is not to be missed.