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Riding Europe: Two Americans in the Alps

Oct 06, 2011 // Lady Riders //

Special guest post by Lori Taylor.

An AltRider supporter from the very beginning, Lori is “a friend of the family.” She’s active in the local riding community, which is how she met Jeremy and Brianna several years ago. Lori is an excellent rider, can make Jeremy feel slow, and is great about passing on her own hard-earned riding knowledge. When she and her husband Tom returned from their first riding trip through Europe, we asked her to share their story with everyone. Read on.

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Riding a motorcycle in the Alps was a big bucket list item for me and my husband, Tom.  Now that we’ve done it, we know it was worthy of such a list.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever done; slightly below marrying Mr. Tom Taylor and perhaps slightly above riding a dirt bike in the Cascade Mountains.  We did a guided tour with Edelweiss Bike Tours that took us through Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein over a period of six days.  The tour was all around top-notch: great route, very capable and helpful guides, high-end hotels, incredible food, new motorcycles, minimal stopping & screwing around.  The tour was focused first on riding and second on gawking at the scenery, just the way we like it. 

Lori Taylor

We were excited to see the van pull up to the hotel with a trailer stacked full of bikes the first day.  We had signed up to ride identical bikes, the BMW F650 GS, but it turns out they put me on a Triumph Tiger 800 while Tom got the promised GS. 

Lori Taylor 

Very similar bikes with 19” front tires and quite linear, mellow but capable engines -- they worked great for the riding that we did.  There were two guides and 23 tourists.  Five of the bikes were ridden two-up for a total of 20 bikes split into two groups each day.  The tourists were all from North & South America, the guides were from Austria & Germany.  All of the bikes were less than a year old, one BMW had just 8 km on the odo when the tour started. 

Lori Taylor

The first day of riding was began pretty mellow as we traveled through the countryside approaching the Alps.  What wasn’t mellow was learning the European roads and driving habits.  Motorcycles trump automobiles in this neck of the woods.  You never just ride along behind a car or truck.  Apparently, cars must be tail-gated and then passed as soon as possible.  Most roads do not have a center line, perhaps because the roads aren’t really wide enough for two full lanes.  Due to the topography there is rarely what we would consider a “good” place to pass, so you just go for it and oncoming traffic usually makes room for you.  Speed limits are not adhered to by anyone and the rarely seen police don’t care.  It almost felt like a video game, but with substantial consequences if you lose the game. 

Lori Taylor

Near the Germany-Austria border we started climbing into the mountains and things got really fun. 

Lori Taylor

The biggie of the day was Grossglockner Pass.  Of the several dozen mountain passes we did on this trip, this one was my favorite.  It was steep and flowed well, but also had lots of sharp switchbacks interspersed with ample space to pass (by Euro standards). 

Lori Taylor

Twisting it a little too hard exiting corners, I found the limits of traction offered by the Tourance on the back of theTiger.  YAHOO! 

Lori Taylor

At the top of the pass we visited “The Biker’s Nest” where the view of the road and surrounding mountains was breathtaking.  The switchbacks were all numbered from the bottom up on big blue signs that read Kehre #__ in the apex.  This numbering was done on the main road (which was paved) and up the spur road up to The Biker’s Nest (which was cobblestones).  We stayed in Lienz, Austria that night and had our first bidet sighting in our hotel room.  The bathrooms would sure be a lot roomier if they left those things out!

Lori Taylor

Day 2 of riding took us into northern Italy and the Dolomite Mountains.  This is ground zero for European sportbike riders.  Bikes are everywhere and for good reason, the roads there are built for bikes. 


Lori Taylor

We rode for two days in the Dolomites and I’m certain that motorcycles outnumbered cars and trucks.  Our van driver, Roberto, who transported our luggage between hotels each day for us, laid out a beautiful picnic near the top of Falzarego Pass for lunch.

Lori Taylor

About the time we finished eating, some Italian Army newbies walked out of the mountains from a multi-day training mission.  We offered up our leftovers to them, which they were very happy to get.  It’s a rare ride when you take a break to chow down with the Italian Army.  In early afternoon we did Passa de Gardena which was epic riding and scenery!  Tom and I went back and did it again and took some action shots while everyone else in our group stopped for coffee. 

Lori Taylor

Day 3 was shown on the schedule as a “rest day” in Bolzano, Italy.  About ½ of the people in the group elected to ride anyway, including us, but we were the only ones to head out without a guide.  While the others pointed north, Tom and I went for a great ride by ourselves in the Dolomites, hitting five more passes.  It was really fun exploring and navigating in this region.  We went into a couple little villages in the mountains and saw some great stuff from every day Bavarian life where any grouping of more than about five homes requires a village name and a church. 

Lori Taylor

The roads winding between buildings are a pretty tight squeeze sometimes, with someone having to stop if two cars approach at the same time.  Every home and business has flower boxes on the front of it and a massive stash of firewood.  We saw a couple logging operations in swing and log trucks carrying logs that were 14 feet long; can’t haul anything longer due to the tight, twisty roads.  The whole area is very motorcycle-friendly.  On Passo di Rolle, which is a seriously fun ride, we saw roadsigns encouraging safe motorcycle riding so that you can continue to “live the life”.  Those made me smile.

Lori Taylor

Leaving Bolzano on day 4 we headed west with the first stop at a town called Glurns.  Shortly after being destroyed in the Engadin War, Glurn was rebuilt in the 16th century including a 30 foot high wall all around it. 

Lori Taylor

It is a crowded yet charming little medieval town all paved with square stones in a cool pattern.  Visiting Glurns allowed us to stretch and get ready for Passo del Stelvio (a.k.a. Stilfserjoch).  It was built in the early 1800’s with 48 switchbacks up the eastern side that work you over!  This was pretty technical riding, all of it in 1st & 2nd gear.  Bummer deal, one of the riders in our group crashed on a switchback headed up the pass.  He got whiskey throttle exiting a switchback and hucked his 1200 Beemer over the side.  The rider was bumped & bruised; the BMW had to be returned due to a cracked valve cover hemmoraging oil.  After that drama, I enjoyed a very spirited ride to the top of the pass with lots of “yahooing” going on.  Riding down the west side of Stelvio we were passed by a bright red Ferrari that was hauling ass!  It was really cool to see a car like that doing what it was built for. 

Lori Taylor

After Stelvio we rode over Passo de Gavia, which is basically a paved trail.  I loved it!  If they paved the Teanaway trail system in the Cascades, it would look like this road.  The day ended in Pontresina, Switzerland at a beautiful hotel with an amazing mountain view.

On the 5th day of this trip of a lifetime we knocked out a few more fun mountain passes in Switzerland.  We saw a Lambourghini tearing up one of those passes, what a beautiful sound that was!  We left that country for a quick ride through Liechtenstein.  The most entertaining thing that happened in Liechtenstein was that two riders in our group got pulled over for running a red light.  A couple of former police officers in our group circled back and traded some California police patches to the cops for allowing them to ride away without a ticket.  Good stuff!  We ate lunch in a really cool old fort and finally this extremely hot day of riding ended in Warth, Austria at a little ski resort.  The post-ride swim in the hotel pool and several semi-cold beers were well deserved.

On our final day of the tour I managed to drag up out of bed early, hike up the mountain and catch a sunrise.  Kind of a big deal since I started at 5000’ elevation, the road/trail was so steep that my heels weren’t even touching the ground and I was wearing a leather jacket.  It was worth it though. 

Lori Taylor

Pretty casual day of riding, as we dropped out of the mountains to flatter ground.  We got another fantastic picnic that day and then stopped at a small ski resort to ride the luge.  It scared me, but Tom and most everyone else enjoyed the hell out of it.  Late in the afternoon we visited the rather obnoxious Castle Linderhof (I think they probably are all obnoxious) built by King Ludwig II in the late 19th century.  Next up was a stretch of the Autobahn.  We all rode as fast as our bikes or common sense would allow.  For Tom and me it was the bikes limiting us.  The Tiger did 200 kmh (125 mph) and the BMW 196 kmh (121 mph) for as long as we were willing to hold it.  A couple cars passed on in the midst of this craziness, including a Lotus - never seen one of those before.  We ended back near Munich for a very nice final dinner with the group and then flew to Rome in the morning for a motorcycle-free week of site-seeing.

The weather for our ride was fantastic, running in the 80’s and 90’s every day.  Got pretty sweaty most days, but it was just a warm-up for Rome and certainly worth it to see such amazing scenery and experience what I’m calling the best motorcycling roads in the world.

Lori Taylor

A week later we flew home from Rome via Berlin.  Flying over the Alps we saw fresh snow where there was none while we were riding there just a week earlier.  Timing is everything!