|09-22-2013, 07:25 PM||#1|
Joined: Aug 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Touring the Alps on one of the most unique bikes of past 20 years
Some background: A few months back, after reading an article about a bike rental spot in Austria, I shot off an email to our local riders mailing list (a wide ranging and experienced group of characters) inquiring about any experiences with rentals in Europe. One of those "wouldn't that be cool" sort of things. Among the responses that came in, one of the guys mentioned that they have a bike stashed away in Europe and depending on the circumstances, it might be available. Well, my wife and I had been planning a vacation and had airline miles stashed away....holy shit, we can do this. Oh and not just any old bike, but a Yamaha GTS1000, with a front swingarm, one of the most unique designs in motorcycling.
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago and we're in Milan, getting picked up by a gentleman from the GTS1000 club who is friends with the bike's owner and getting dropped off at a garage on the outskirts of the city where the bike is stored. Our initial plan was to ride from Milan to Andermatt, Switzerland, by way of Lake Como, but the reality of a red eye flight and severe jet lag had me aiming the GPS right for Andermatt in the most direct route possible. We were hot, sweaty, tired and giddy. After stopping at a Swiss border town to get some cash (not as easy as it sounds) and buying a vignette (40 franc sticker that gives you access to the highway system) we belined for Andermatt. Which was another hour and a half by highway. As you get close there are several options. Take a tunnel right into town, take a route over a mountain (one pass) or take another route over two mountains (two passes). I talked my wife into doing the one pass route, there was just no other way. So here was my first mountain pass, St. Gottard Pass:
All the travel weariness and exhaustion just sort of melted away. The first time the full scale and beauty of the Alps hits you, well it's a pretty special feeling.
I made it over the pass and into Andermatt. Time to settle into this neat little ski town.
Lots and lots of bikes staying in town and passing through. This is actually the beginning/end of another pass.
Not quite sure what this was about:
The plan was to spend two night in Andermatt and acclimate ourselves to the Alps while getting over the jet lag. Forecast for the next day called for rain in the afternoon, so I begged off for what turned out to be my only solo ride of the trip. And here's where we get to why we chose Andermatt as our initial destination.
Within an hour of the town, there at least 5 world class passes available for various loops (Gottard, Furka, Oberlap, Grimsel, and Susten). My plan was to do as many of them as possible, Oberlap being the first. Unfortunately I didn't get a good shot of the climb, but it was a great way to stretch your legs, as the pass had more flowing sweepers than tight hairpins.
Next, I made an attempt at Furka, which apparently has a reputation as one of the great passes of the Alps. Unfortunately, both days I tried to ride it, the pass was closed and I was not able to check it off my list. I had to alter my plan to do the reverse direction of the loops I initially intended and set off for Susten pass. Before I got there, I was confronted with this marvel of Swiss engineering.
A couple miles later I began my climb to Susten Pass.
I really enjoyed the Alps tradition of having a little outpost with a shop and a restaurant at the top of the major passes. You climbed all the way up here? Ok take a break, have some hot chocolate. Also makes for a cool shot:I really enjoyed the Alps tradition of having a little outpost with a shop and a restaurant at the top of the major passes. You climbed all the way up here? Ok take a break, have some hot chocolate. Also makes for a cool shot:
By the time I got to the other side of of Susten, the weather had begun to turn and I'd been out on the road for a couple hours, so it was time to hightail it back to Andermatt.
We managed to get a decent hike in, taking the gondola halfway up one of the ranges surrounding the town and called it a day as it really started to pour later. View from gondola:
The next day was time to say goodbye to Andermatt. Before heading out, we wanted to check out one of the smaller roads leading out from Oberlap pass that supposedly climbed to a pretty awesome view of the area. The road was tiny, but the scenery was fantastic:
But we didn't get too far. An older gent (smoking a pipe, naturally) flagged us down as we were coming down the road and politely but very firmly explained that you needed a special pass to drive down that road (12 franks a day apparently) and he could have us fined 200 franks for going down this road in such an illegal fashion. Bummer, but we just didn't have time to bother with the pass as we had some distance to cover to the next destination. After another futile attempt at Furka, a kindly cop and fellow rider told us we should go back over Gottard and then over Nufenen pass in order to get to the road currently blocked by Furka. Which is exactly what we did. This time we did the old/original Gottard pass which was even more scenic:
And eventually made it to Nufenen Pass, which was probably the scariest pass of the trip. Steep, tight, lots of hairpins...intense. My wife tells me she's got PTSD from that one.
The view at the top wasn't too shabby. Yes, there's a theme here, you eventually get used to all this stunning scenery only to continuously remind yourself that all of this is pretty amazing and you should drink in every last milliliter (when in Europe...)
The rest of the day's ride was less eventful. We rode down a pretty heavily populated valley rode as we made it down to Aosta, Italy in order to avoid the front that was coming through most of Switzerland. I did venture off on a couple pretty spectacular side roads that paralleled the main road, but much as with views...you slowly start to get used to every road (other than the highways) being pretty awesome.
Aosta is a former Roman garrison town, with a population of around 25,000 situated in a valley in Italian Alps. The hotel we stayed at was connected to a Roman built bridge that is still in use. The town itself was quite nice, especially the historic core. Oh and we had some amazing pizza for dinner. Cliche, but for a reason.
The next day we set off for Chamonix-Mont Blanc.
No word on whether Jon Snow was on patrol that day.
Got a speeding ticket in the tunnel separating Italy and France. Not good times. Though if you pay cash, it was only 29 euros, as opposed to 40 something by credit card. No word on the quality of the steak ordered by the border control later that evening. Chamonix was kind of charming, in a major ski town destination sort of way. Lots of shops, lots of restaurants, pretty nice pedestrian mall. Had some fantastic hot chocolate while waited out the clouds to clear. Eventually, decided to go for it and take the gondola to the top of Aiguille du Midi, elevation 3842 meters. We did not regret this decision.
Once we got over all of this once in a lifetime amazingness, it was time to head for the next place stop. Since the plan was to eventually make it down to the Mediterranean coast, we needed to start heading south through France. The rest of the day was actually one of the less pleasant legs of the trip. Too much highway, not enough twisties, with some rain mixed in. Since we always tried to stop riding around 6, we eventually made it down to a strange little town called Brides les Bains which is apparently known for its thermal springs that attract a, shall we say, somewhat more mature clientele. Regardless, we were dog tired and pretty much crashed after dinner, but not before realizing that every restaurant in town had a "menu dietique"...so apparently the French do diet!
Next day, our goal was Barcelonnette, a reasonable 4 hours away according to the GPS. Upon reviewing the route, it seemed to take us down some very much local roads through a national forrest. I was stoked. At first, the road, while quite narrow and technical, took us through some alpine lovely French villages and rewarded us with some beautiful vistas.
Although I was starting to have some doubts about where it was exactly that the (not so) trusty GPS was taking us.
Eventually, the road that was so confidently suggested by the map, turned into a dirt trail leading to what I can only assume was a lovely hike through Alpine countryside.
Much cursing and gesticulating later, we hauled ass back the way we came from, having lost two hours in our futile quest to cut through the national park, having to ride around it instead.
Once back on our way, the awesome roads and sites like this began to calm me down.
Eventually, without really intending to, we stumbled upon the tallest (or second tallest, depending on source) paved Alpine pass, Col de L'Iseran. The climb was pretty awesome.
The dancing hippo was handling it with aplomb.
It was pretty cold at the top
Again with the views!!
And thus ended our fourth day on the road. Never made it to Barcelonette though. Those two lost hour kind of killed any chance of that happening. Ended up spending the night a lovely little village called Guillestre, though our accommodations were kind of so so.
Tell me more about this hotdog...
Ok I swear I will finish this tomorrow. Feeling a bit under the weather at the moment...
roma258 screwed with this post 09-23-2013 at 09:00 PM
|09-22-2013, 07:26 PM||#2|
Joined: Aug 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
The next day's riding plan was clear. Make it down to Ventimiglia, Italy (where we had already booked a room on Airbnb) via the Verdon Gorge. The GPS was once again trying to send me down some highways, but this being our last day in the Alps, there was simply no way I was going to spend it slabbing.
Instead we ended up on route D900C, the last letter probably having to do with pavement quality, which was awful with huge patches of gravel. But the actual road was breathtaking:
There were sections literally carved through rocks. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. I knew I should stop and take more pics, but I really didn't want to.
The road did have a few smaller passes, which were sketchy as hell (steep hairpins+gravel= sketch), but eventually we made our way to the Verdon Gorge, which was absolutely stunning... not sure the pics can fully capture its beauty. Also the road along the gorge did not suck, though it was Saturday and the weekend traffic was quite heavy.
After grabbing a quick lunch, it was time to press on to Ventimiglia. It turns out that the road connecting Verdon Gorge to the Mediterranean coast was a chunk of Rue de Napoleon and it might have been the best riding road I've ever ridden. As the somewhat smashed British chap told me at the Verdon Gorge out look- "Rue de Napoleon is better without luggage...of all kinds." Alright then. But he was probably right. It was probably the only part of the trip that I was wishing for my Tuono. Didn't take any pics either. Was just enjoying the riding too much. Here's the route. Do it if you ever get the chance.
And just like that, we were into the foothills, with a big blue see visible on the horizon.
But before I could kick my riding boots off and enjoy a cold beverage on the beach, the GPS decided to exact one last bit of revenge, sending us down the steep, tight and crowded streets of Mougins on the way to the highway that would take us to Ventimiglia. One of those streets had an insanely tight right turn (like a 270 degree turn) coming down a steep street and as I went to put my foot down I found nothing but air and down we went. The damage was minimal, just scratches, but the ego is still recovering.
At long last we finally made it to Ventimiglia and our Alps adventure was over.
Ventimiglia is a lovely beach town just southeast of the French border and did not appear to be overrun by tourists. Highly recommended. Just bring watershoes for the pebble beaches, they hurt like a motherfucker!
The next day we were off the bike, and took a train to Monaco. It had expensive cars and stuff.
And that was pretty much it. The next day we slabbed it back to Milan. Dropped the bike off and spent on more day hanging out there. Milan was a nice change of pace, as much as we enjoyed the Alps and the small towns, we are city folks at heart.
Just to give perspective of how close Milan is to the Alps:
First Benelli I've seen in the wild
New fork seals, and this thing's a peach
Alright, that's all. It was an amazing, memorable, exhausting, exhilarating, fantastic trip. Hope youse got a little taste of that.
roma258 screwed with this post 09-24-2013 at 07:43 AM
|09-23-2013, 05:01 AM||#3|
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Love the RR, seems that you had an really enjoyable adventure.
How was the GTS1000? I bet it left some wonderful memories?
My 2012 trip to the Dolomites with a dip into Lago di Garda
|09-24-2013, 08:43 AM||#4|
Joined: Aug 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
The negatives I feel have mostly to do with the weight. Even without the hardbags and passenger, it's close to 600 pounds. It's very awkward to move around at slow speed in parking lots and town (that's my excuse for dropping it and I'm sticking with it). Your inputs on the bars have to be really exaggerated to make it turn in and especially change directions. Had a couple moments on S turns where it really wanted to hold the line instead of swapping sides... Probably wouldn't be as bad if not fully loaded.
Overall, tremendously impressive for a 20 year old machine. By day two, I had enough confidence to be scratching pegs, fully loaded. Wish Yamaha hadn't dumped the concept so quickly and continued to develop it, though I understand they sold like crap back in the day.
|09-26-2013, 09:36 PM||#5|
Joined: Nov 2005
Milan is fantastic.
And to do it on the GTS - memorable indeed.
You are lucky
|09-30-2013, 05:49 AM||#6|
Joined: Jul 2003
Location: Sterling, Virginia, USA
La Bonnette is the highest paved road in the Alps, but it isn't a pass.
Sounds like you had an absolutely great ride. Riding the Alps absolutely spoils me for riding other roads.
But it's worth it
|09-30-2013, 06:15 AM||#8|
Lost and Proud!
Joined: Jul 2006
Location: Plech, Germany
Wonderful R&R. I've had one of my GTS-1000 up in the Alps and can't wait to get the other on up there. It is a heavy pig but a real treat to ride. Somewhat like my senior prom date.
|09-30-2013, 09:50 AM||#9|
Joined: Sep 2013
Location: French Alps
Nice report. My hunting grounds
The "bärenstarke Töff-Treff" : Yes, the bear is in the coat of arms of Andermatt. "bärenstark" = strong like a bear => great, super ! Töff (motorcycle)-Treff (meet) is a biker pub.
BTW its Oberalp, not Oberlap :)
The route D(epartemenale) 900C used to be the route N(ationale) 100C, so a main connecting road to the south. It got down-sized only in 1972. You can imagine that before 1972 it was filled with cars every summer to get tourists to the sea-side (like the famous RN7 from Paris to Ventimiglia).
Interesting to keep a bike on US plates. Still he should be careful. If the bike gets "flashed" too often (owner or any other rider) by fixed radar boxes, it will end up on the black-list.
It happened to a guy in Italy, he parked the bike in Florence and it good confiscated by the police. When I went to collect it they had a long list of unpaid fines.
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