Tag: Italy

A Sunday Ride Through the Swiss and Italian Alps

A Sunday Ride Through the Swiss and Italian Alps

On Sunday, we started our day with a bang, leaving our Bormio hotel and heading straight up and over the Stelvio pass. Winding our way along it’s delicious serpentine hairpins, I wondered if my day was figuratively all down hill from there. As we motored on, I quickly found out that it had just begun.

The passes that we covered on Sunday were:  Stelvio pass, Ofen pass, Flüela pass, Julier pass, Moloja pass

From the northern foot of the Stelvio pass we went on to the Swiss border and headed towards the Ofen pass. This pass was generally fast and loose with good tarmac. It had more sweepers and few (if any) hairpins. The biggest difference with this pass was that the roadway ran through a forest, whereas the other passes moved up and over the treeline. It reminded me of riding in California.

Say hi to Pimmie everyone! Heading toward Ofen pass Ofen Pass in Switzerland Heading towards Vicosoprano Switzerland
Julier pass Switzerland On the Julier pass Switzerland Bikes parked in Switzerland

The sheer number of motorcycles and maxi-scooters that were out riding this loop on a sunny Sunday afternoon was just staggering. There were bikes everywhere! Some observations:

  • It was nice to see nearly everyone was dressed in full gear.
  • Most bikes were toting some type of storage luggage on them.
  • Naked bikes and the big BMW GS’s were the most popular bikes on the roads.
  • We saw very few fully faired sportbikes in the mountains.
  • I saw a few other women riders but not nearly as many as I expected to.
  • The majority of road surfaces were very good!

It seemed too that the competence and skill level of the majority of riders we encountered was really quite excellent.  But, I suppose if you spend your life riding those roads, you just have to get good at it. The roads aren’t forgiving.

Don’t Wait Up!

My two traveling companions, Kenny and Pimmie are quite a bit more speedy than I am. I’m not slow but I am just unwilling to take what I see as unnecessary risks anymore. I’ve come to realize that my ability to enjoy a ride isn’t always directly proportional to how fast I’m moving.  My riding throughout this trip would definitely be classified as “conservative.” There were times when I felt a little bit like an anchor as I watched them fade out of my view. Though neither one said anything negative about it, I did wonder if they were fed up with my dawdling.

Until we got into a comfortable rhythm of riding together, I could see them checking mirrors for me, pulling off and waiting, wondering what the heck was taking me so long to turn up. I tried to be clear that they needed to stop babysitting me and to just wait for me at the next turn off.  I’m not a new rider or someone who has no skill, for crying out loud. I contended that there were plenty of people around if I should find myself in trouble or in need of help.

Shortly after my speech, on the Flüela pass I saw Pimmie had actually doubled back to look for me. I will admit it bothered me to think that he would have spent any time worried about my riding. The irony was of course that not 3 minutes before I came literally inches from busting my ass pulling onto a pea gravel shoulder to take some photos. The front tire just washed out sideways while I was slowing to a stop. I managed to catch it at the last second. Of course, I kept that to myself until now ;o)

I absolutely loved the stark landscape of the Flüela pass.

Fluela pass in Switzerland
The Flüela Pass - Switzerland

Julier Pass Switzerland
The Julier Pass - Switzerland

Sportbike-shmortbike. Run What Ya Brung!

The last pass that we took for the day was the Maloja pass, which is about 30 miles south of St. Mortiz, Switzerland. It is a tall, terraced, hairpin turn pass. The view from the top looking down over the roadway was amazing but unfortunately there was no room to stop for a photo. When we reached the bottom of the pass, I found a spot to pull over and was hoping I could get a view from the bottom up.

Group of BMWs heading up the Maloja Pass

As I sat on the side of the road a group of guys on GSs came motoring towards me on their way up. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom they rounded the bend by me with the last guy sending sparks up as he dragged his sidebags through the hairpin. I laughed in spite of myself. It was just so freakin’ awesome to see this train of bikes rail through the turn. I’m so goofy, I clapped. The last guy smiled as he righted himself and rode away.

GS dragging sidebags through hairpin maloja pass

The three of us pulled into a small guesthouse hotel at the foot of the pass in the town of Vicosoprano for the night. Though we didn’t turn a lot of miles in the grandest sense, they were quality miles.  None of us drank enough throughout the day and it had started to show. We were all tired and unfortunately, Pimmie wasn’t feeling very well.

We sat on our balcony and listened to sound of the church bells ringing in the town below. Nestled in amongst the trees, the only sound other sound we heard was occasional high rpms approaching the corner until the sun went down.

Our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland

The view from our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland Our balcony Vicosoprano cable car going into the clouds Vicsoprano Switzerland

This was one of the most amazing days of riding of my entire life.

Cross One Off The Bucket List: Riding the Stelvio Pass in Italy

Cross One Off The Bucket List: Riding the Stelvio Pass in Italy

In realm of people who are passionate about pursuits that involve wheels; cars, motorcycles, bicycles – it seems that everyone knows the name Stelvio. We’ve seen it in photos around the internet, zig-zagging it’s way up and down through the Italian Alps. It has become a legend, a holy grail road.

Before having seen it with my own eyes, I too held the Stelvio Pass as the pinnacle of my road riding desires. I made a deal with myself that I would ride it one day. Sunday September 5, 2010 was that day.

Pimmie and I looking north towards the Stelvio pass

60 Tornante
Stelvio holds in it’s grip 60 hairpin turns. Yes… 60. From the Bormio side heading north as you begin your ascent, you turn, turn, turn your way up thinking – “wow, this is amazing! I can’t believe all of these hairpin turns!”

That is of course until we crested the summit and began our descent. There are 48 hairpins on the way down, each marked with numbered stones. Winding down those terraced turns broke us in right for the rest of the trip.

You learn quickly that even though it may feel alien to you, at times you have to use the both lanes. There is no staying only on “your side”. It was a trial by fire and I felt like I was prepared for anything the trip would throw at us after that.
The North side of the Stelvio Pass Italy

Up we go on the stelvio pass Tibet building stelvio pass Bormio Stelvio Pass Elevation Sign at Summit
Passo Dello Stelvio - party at 9,000 feet Kenny parked atop stelvio pass The Stelvio Pass

The summit of Stelvio is like a party at 9,000 feet up. There are people from all over the world laughing, taking photos and enjoying the kinship of like-minded people who also came to behold such an awesome spectacle.

Milling around up there at the summit, watching all of the bikes and people was a moment in time that I felt like I wanted to hold on to as tightly as I could. I’d waited so long to see this thing. I never want to forget what I was seeing, what the air felt like, what it took for us to get there. As with everything though, you have to let it go and move on. So onward we went, down, down, down the Stelvio pass.

Pimmie, Me & Kenny on the Stelvio Pass
Sometimes I look at my life and think... Damn! I'm lucky.
Visiting Italy: Motorcycling from Lake Como to Bormio

Visiting Italy: Motorcycling from Lake Como to Bormio

We awoke long before the revelers of the night before and departed Como heading towards the town of Bellagio. The picturesque town sits at the tip of Lake Como’s peninsula. From there you can catch ferry boats to different points on the lake. Since we were heading northwest to Bormio, we hopped the ferry to Verenna.

Bikes on Bellagio to Verenna Ferry

The view from the ferry Bellagio to Verenna Heading to Bellagio Italy Bellagio Italy from the Verenna Ferry

During this leg of our travels, we would be exposed to many things for the first time. It was the first time we saw the little white signs with the word “tornante” on them. That’s Italian for a hairpin turn. In my travels here on the Northeast coast, the hairpin turn is like seeing a bear in the wild. Sure, they are out there somewhere but you only see them once in a blue moon.

Your Papers, Please

We also experience our first of many border crossings going from Italy to Switzerland. In my mind I suppose I had built the process up to be something a little more complex than just having a man in uniform wave at me and send me through. I guess I figured there would be some passport stamping or something.

Crossing the border from Italy to Switzerland

When I pulled up to the first guard booth and stopped, I looked at the guard he gave a lazy wave. I wasn’t sure if he was saying “hi” or sending me through. So in my amazingly awkward and jerky way, I was like “uhhh, am I okay to go?” I couldn’t hear him very well but I think he said “yah.” Seriously, who wants to assume you’re okay to cross a border if you really aren’t? So, I questioned him again by asking “ok?” and gesturing the universal symbol for moving forward. He gave me an exasperated “ok” and then pointedly said “go!” Fine, fine, I’ll go then. Sheesh! I know he must have thought I was a moron. And well, he just might be right. But that’s part of my charm.

Near the Berninapass heading to Livigno Italy

When we made our way towards St. Moritz and on to Livigno, the mountains began to show us their amazing grandeur. We cut along the roadway that was carved through the rock, gradually rising above the treeline. It is in these moments that you feel so tiny in the world. The beauty that nature presents to you can be so incredibly humbling.

Heading to Livigno Italy Heading towards Livigno Italy Heading towards Livigno

Leaving Livigno heading towards Bormio

We were scheduled to meet Pimmie in the town of Bormio. He was riding down from the Netherlands to spend the week riding with us. It had been over a year since we last saw him, so Kenny and I were both bubbling with excitement.

Heading into Bormio Italy Riding in Bormio Italy Pimmie arrived in Bormio after riding all night

Now we were three.

Kenny and I arrived first at the hotel with enough time to shower and clean ourselves up from the days ride. About an hour later, Pims turned up safely. It was so great to see him again. It felt like no time at all had passed.

Albergo San Lorenzo in Bormio Italy

We spent the rest of the night getting caught up, laughing, relaxing and planning for the following day’s ride. There was a lot to be excited about. From this point on, we would be flying by the seat of our pants; going wherever the sky looked sunniest and the roads were winding.

Motorcycle at Bormio Hotel Hotel Stelvio Bormio Italy Piazza in Bormio Italy

We chose to meet in the town of Bormio because it was the foot of one of the most legendary mountain passes and one of my bucket list items – Stelvio. That’s where we were headed the very next morning…

Visiting Italy: Lake Como and a Case of Jet Lag

Visiting Italy: Lake Como and a Case of Jet Lag

We touched down in Milan at about 8:30am local time. Looking out the window of our taxi at the big blue sky was in direct conflict with what time my body said it was. Even when you’re excited and running on adrenaline, you can really feel a 6 hour time difference. Especially when you’ve been up for 20 hours already.

Knowing that we’d be tired, we scheduled our first day in Italy to be a day of rest. We picked up our rental BMW’s and traveled just a quick hop, skip and a jump up the autostrada to Lake Como where we’d made a reservation at the Hotel Metropole & Suisse.

Lake Como Italy Hotel Metropole and Suisse
Our Hotel Room at Metropole and Suisse lake Como

Though check in time wasn’t until mid-afternoon, they were kind enough to allow us to enter our room early. It was a sweet and clean little room with a double balcony looking out over the lake.  We immediately dropped our gear and threw open the doors to get a view of our place for the night.

After my excited ooh-ing and ahhh-ing, we cleaned ourselves up and set of to explore the city on foot.  We ambled down the stone streets, looking down small corridors. We ducked in to the beautiful and centuries old Duomo. We sat and sipped beer at a piazza cafe and did a tall piece of people watching. People are basically the same everywhere but as my man Vincent Vega would say, “…it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.” Like – European men sit with their legs crossed in a way that American men just do not.

Motos, Motos, Everywhere!

To say that Italy is a motorcycle friendly country would be the understatement of the century. Motorcycles and scooters are part of the very fabric of everyday living. Everyone is zipping around on two wheels, with luggage boxes mounted on everything. There is no “you don’t put a topbox on a sportbike,” foolishness going on.

Scooters and bikes park in moto-specific stalls, sidewalks or wherever they fit. They are discouraged from taking up car spaces. Riders pass leapfrogging around cars in traffic and up to the front of traffic lines at stoplights and no one blinks an eye. No one gives you the finger, no one honks. If you can fit your two-wheels somewhere ahead of where you are now, put them there! It was a lot to get used to because it goes against the grain of what I know in my daily life.
Scooter parking in Lake Como Italy

In one of my strokes of brilliance, I pushed for us to take a tour of the lake by boat. In the warm sun. After being awake for more than 24 hours at this point. On a gently rocking boat. I’m sure the tour was lovely. Hopefully I didn’t keep anyone else awake with my snoring.

Lake Como from our Hotel Balcony Walking through the city of Lake Como Italy Lake Como Italy Old Church
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni Lake Como Italy Le Mani - Massimi Clerici - Hands Statue at Lake Como Train Station Lake Como Doorway Statues

As the sun began to set, we really started to run out of gas.  Though it felt like a defeat, I just had to take a quick snooze. Back to the hotel we went and slipped in a nap for a few hours. By the time we awoke it was dark and everything but the very crowded cafes was closed.

Drinking beer at Cafe Monti Lake Como Dumo Como Italy Interior Duomo in Como Italy
Looking at Como from a boat ride Piazza in Como Italy The view from our balcony in Como Italy

We again set off on foot strolling through the old walled city. It was now past 11pm. Our bellies were growling and in a strange turn of events the last remaining thing open for us to grab a quick bite to eat in the beautiful Italian city of Lake Como was… McDonalds.

It could have been the power and wonder of travel, of this gorgeous city, of Italy itself but I will tell you this~ sitting next to the lake eating that flimsy McDonalds cheeseburger at 11:30 at night was pretty romantic.

Lake Como from our balcony at night

Fly and Ride: Renting Motorcycles Away From Home

Fly and Ride: Renting Motorcycles Away From Home

Given the obvious hardship of riding our motorcycles from Long Island to Italy, doing a “Fly and Ride” was our only option. In order to take our Alpine trip Kenny and I needed to rent motorcycles.

What Did We Look for in a Rental?

  • Unlimited Mileage
    This was a big one. Miles accumulate quickly and therefore so can the cost.
  • Luggage
    Are side cases, a top box, a tank bag available or standard on the rental? This helps you determine if you need to bring some of your own luggage. The less stuff you need to pack and bring on the airplane, the better.
  • Miles per Gallon/Kilometers per Liter
    What kind of fuel efficiency do the bikes offered get? Fuel in Europe, which is bought by the liter, is considerably more expensive than in the US. You might end up spending the equivalent of $6 – $7 per gallon. Watching your wallet drain with the gas gauge is no fun. Unless money is no object, try to pick something fairly fuel efficient.
  • Insurance
    Be clear on the insurance offered or what you would be required to pay should an unfortunate accident occur.

What Did We Rent?

We came away with a pair of BMW F 650 GSs; a 2009 & a 2010.

They offered plenty of usable power on the motorways and climbing through the mountains. They were fully outfitted with Touratech tank bags, 46 liter Givi top cases, Givi side cases and Garmin ZUMO GPS power cables. The bike had a low seat height, wide bars and my favorite part… sipped gas.

2010 BMW F650 GS on Grimselpass in Switzerland

The GS had plenty of zippy power and did everything it was asked to do with no complaints. In the past, I’d heard chatter that the prior generation 650GS single felt like it would kind of peter out especially on the highway. I’m happy to report that this 798cc twin showed no signs of that.

In hindsight I preferred it hands down over the BMW R1150Rs we’d rented in California in 2008.

Kenny on the BMW F 650 GS

How Do You Find a Motorcycle Rental Outfit?

To find a rental outfit, we used the same locator we used when looking for a rental in California; AdMo Tours. With a network of rental stations all over the world, we knew they’d have something for us.

Due Ruote BMW Rent-A-Dream Motorcycle Rental Milan Italy

The company AdMo hooked us up with was Rent-a-Dream, based out of Milan. We had such a great experience with their service I would confidently recommend them. Diego, the gent in charge was a pleasure. You could absolutely tell how much he himself loves riding motorcycles. He is fluent in English and is a wealth of information should you need suggestions for area riding or tours.

Renting motorcycles can open up many opportunities to ride in places you could never otherwise ride to. If you do your homework and choose wisely new adventures await!

Do you have any tips for potential motorcycle renters? Comment Below!

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