As published in MCN – Vanessa Ruck the high-mileage Harley-loving MCN blogger and Instagram addict
Some of the world’s most spectacular roads and stunning views are waiting just a short hop away across the Channel. Plunge deep into the Alps and you will soon lose count of how many times you mutter ‘wow’ to yourself as mountain passes, cyan lakes, endless switchbacks, aggressive climbs and plunging descents unfurl before you around every turn. It’s an addictive riding heaven of snow-peaked mountains, raging waterfalls, rolling highlands and epic skyscapes.
Boarding the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone and throttling across France, Belgium and Germany is hardly a dull schlep, either. The tour route takes you down the stunning B500 (itself an MCN Bucket List ride), and delivers you through endless ribbons of tarmac wrapped in stunning scenery. It’s the ultimate aperitif to a tarmac glutton’s main course.
But when you’re undertaking a 2000-mile-plus road trip like this it’s easy to get stressed out. Have I picked the best route? Are the roads going to be as good as I hoped? Will the hotels be alright? Can I handle the distances between stops? What if I miss the best passes? You can bypass all this though, and book a guided tour with Tour1 – as we did – allowing you to simply concentrate on the ride of your life instead.
The Tour1 guys recce everything for you, research all the best routes, test the hotels and pick the ultimate roads, restaurants and coffee stops to make your 13-day ride as perfect as possible. They’ve done the routes so many times that they take the stress out of contingency management, too. Say your Euro Tunnel is delayed by four hours (yup, that happened), they know how to get you back on time with the group. Or what if a landslide closes a mountain pass (yes, this happened too)? You can simply put your feet up with a coffee while they’re planning an equally impressive alternative route. The only variable no-one can plan for is the weather, but in the Alps that can change between passes, let alone days – meaning that the ever-changing landscape comes with equally changeable micro-climates.
In the UK you can get onto a beautiful road littered with sweeping turns and breath-taking scenery, but before you’ve really settled into the flow, the road runs out. Go to the Alps and you can have this all day, every day. If you pick the right tour route you’re going to be immersed in some technical and challenging riding, too. Take the Stelvio Pass, the third highest pass in the Alps. At 9045 feet, it offers 75 hair-raising hairpins and views that will make your stomach lurch. Or the Passo di Gavia – listed as one of the world’s most dangerous roads. It’s a single-track assent with oncoming cars, bikes and bicycles, potholes galore, gravel, rock slides and unpredictable weather. For some it’s the ultimate challenge, while for others it was a risk too far – but no-one is forcing you to tackle the climb. Then there’s the historic St Gotthard Pass in Switzerland. While it’s not a fast road it is both challenging and breath-taking with its cobblestone hairpin bends. Initially, I was wobbling around like a new-born Bambi, uneasy on the uneven surface, but after stringing just a few switchbacks together I started to realise how much grip was available, and it turned into one of the highlights of the tour. But there are many more passes that are just as good without having achieved such fame or notoriety, and even the roads that connect the passes are often gorgeous valley sweepers that ebb and flow through towns and lush lowlands, providing a welcome breather before the next dramatic ascent.
There’s confidence and safety in numbers, too. Our gang of 15 thudding Harley-Davidsons was pretty difficult for drivers to ignore, and the range of experience and skills in the group meant we always had a solution for every eventuality.
As you tick off legendary passes, you’ll also be racking up the countries. The tour threads its way through nine in total, and the transformation of cultures as you cross each border adds a subtly different flavour to each leg of the trip. From gorgeous Swiss mountain lodges, to chiming cow bells and lederhosen in Austria, and seemingly infinite local beers to enjoy after a day’s riding – traveling on a motorcycle gets you closer to every country you ride through.
Along with the incredible engineering of the mountain roads comes a refreshing exposure to the opportunity for natural selection to take control, too. High-altitude passes with sheer drop-offs and no guard-rails, totally exposed hairpins, and the occasional rockslide, herd of cattle or throng of Lycra-clad cyclists adding to the road surface challenges. It’s liberating riding in a place where your safety isn’t cocooned by the health and safety police. It’s sensory overload, too, as the potential for disaster spikes your pulse with adrenaline while your eyes struggle to drink in the scenery, and you try to ensure you don’t start fixating on the drops. It’s a riding nirvana that leaves you really feeling like you’re living on the edge. Quite literally.
Our tour was ‘Altitude with Attitude’, and is aimed at riding fantastic mountain passes the best bits of Switzerland, Italy and Austria. That means legendary passes such as the Stelvio and Grossglockner Pass, plus 33 others! The tour includes your route down to the Alps and back again, too – which is a great ride in itself. This is Tour1’s most dramatic tour, for experienced riders who want a real adventure on twisty roads on a Harley-Davidson.