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Touring the Alps with Frank & Helene

Thanks to another one of our fantastic Ottawa Goodtime Centre customers for giving us the green light to post about his trip, this time we are headed to the Alps!  Included in this blog (which has been adapted from a powerpoint presentation Frank did a few years back in the OGC store) are useful tips outlining what it’s like taking a trip with a little bit of pre planning VS using a tour company like Edelweiss Bike Travel  Tours (which I have done myself), how to budget for this type of trip, and what you can expect to see in the Apls!


Edelweiss

Edelweiss Bike Travel Tours – if you haven’t heard of them and are considering doing a bike trip, it’s worth taking a look through their website.  The company has been around for 36 years and has done 2,350 trips with more then 38,000 motorcycles!  You can choose from trips taken on a Vespa, to (if you are feeling ambitious) ones spanning 6 continents, appropriately named the “Around the World Expedition“.  The trip filter on their website allows you to search their database by Continent, Tour Category, Date and Even the Bike brand you would prefer to ride!  Impressive right?  I would say so!

When I went on my trip with Edelweiss, we spent 6 days travelling around Germany and Belgum (yes, I had waffles while I was there!), before heading to Cologne for Intermot, one of the biggest motorcycle shows in the world!  The guides for the tour were great, having a chase vehicle was essential (I am not known for packing light), and everything was pre-planned/booked which saves a lot of time pre-trip.  As with any one of their tours, the roads are the real highlight.  The routes they take have been ridden many times before and they are able to plan for good/bad weather days based on having taken these roads before.  They even broke us off into separate groups depending on skill level and how ambitious you were feeling that day.

The downside is you loose a little freedom.  Maybe you decide to you want to backtrack and go through a particularly fun twisty section, or you end up on a mini pub crawl with some locals and need a few extra hours of sleep, or you become transfixed by the history of the small town decide you want to stay an extra day. Not exactly an option on a preplanned trip.

But there is an alternative…


allround_logo

Frank and Helene, a couple for over 20 years, decided on the alternative.   Frank had been invited to speak at the IFZ International Motorcycle safety Conference in Cologne, Germany in early October and, because the couple had always wanted to take a trip through the Alps, they decided to plan their adventure independent of a pre-organized group.  They gave themselves a three week time frame and that is where their planning began.

Of the three weeks they planned to travel, it was decided that they would spend two weeks travelling on bikes before returning to Cologne for the pre-opening of Intermot.  Frank explained his impression of the show: “Cologne is considered to one of the top three industry shows in the world, and encompassed eight convention halls.   To appreciate the scale, one hall devoted just to tools and equipment was about twice the size of the show we had in Ottawa last year”.

 

But, before heading to the show, they had 14 days of riding through the Apls…. Their collective preplanning resulted in the following itinerary:

– 6 days riding the Alps

– 5 days riding in the Italian countryside

– 3 days on the German Autobahns

– 4000 km total

** More on costs and planning tips below **


 

After arriving in Germany, they picked up the rented bikes from All-round Motorcycle Rentals in Frankfurt Germany, another long standing motorcycle adventure company across the pond.  You can choose from all the big brands, and are given options for scooters, choppers, sport bikes and big touring bikes, preference dependent of course.  Frank and Helene picked a sporty pair of bikes for their excursion;

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“I (Frank) rode a 600 cc four cylinder Yamaha Diversion which was a semi-naked version of the FZ-6 sold here (in Canada); Helene had a Kawasaki ER-6F 650 cc twin, a/k/a the Ninja 650 in North America.  The choice of who took which bike came down to the fact that we couldn’t get the seat off the Ninja 650 to attach the lead for an electric vest, and Helene didn’t care but wimpy me did!   It turned out that there was no tool kit on the Yamaha, so we had to borrow a screwdriver from the hotel janitor before we left Frankfurt.   I wasn’t worried though, being Japanese bikes we had zero problems in the 4000 km we rode.  And they were perfect for the application; with so many “zero degree” turns in the Alps a big bike or one with clip-on style handlebars would be exhausting.”

 


** All picture’s/comments were provided by Frank **

And they were off!  The destinations were as follows….

 

  • Frankfurt, Germany

 

  • Lucerne, Switzerland

 

a picture of a country road on the outskirts of town where we stayed, the long autumn dusk combined with the high Alpine peaks make for some interesting shots of which I am an unworthy photographer.

A picture of a country road in Lucerne on the outskirts of town where we stayed, the long autumn dusk combined with the high Alpine peaks make for some interesting shots of which I am an unworthy photographer

 

 

  • Andermaat (Gateway to the Alps)

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  • “A view of part of the St. Gotthard Pass just outside Andermatt; in 1980 they built a 17 km tunnel goes under this road and Andermaat itself, hence only motorcyclists and serious car drivers use it – a riders’ paradise in other words.   The structure in the distance is a “show shed” to protect the road and its users.    The pass follows a route that has been used for millennia; it was the only route from southern to northern Europe until the industrial revolution.  You can still see parts of still older roads, right down to a stone and cobblestone path.  There is also a train tunnel built in the 19th century and another currently under construction, each the world’s longest at the time of completion.”

Wikipedia – Gotthard Pass

 

 

 

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At the very top of the pass; even at the very end of the growing season there is almost no vegetation.

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Another view from the pass, this is almost at the highest point; in the valley in the distance is the south entrance to the tunnel.

Yet another view from the pass, again you can see the south exit of the tunnel; the E35 passes through the tunnel on the way to Bellinzona.

Yet another view from the pass, again you can see the south exit of the tunnel; the E35 passes through the tunnel on the way to Bellinzona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bobsleigh track was initially created for winter guests from Great Britain who created bobsleigh. In 1897, the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club was created. More from Wikipedia here.

OBR_Bob_Run_Plan

2 St. Moritz

The funicular that I believe leads to the bobsleigh run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Close to the summit of Passo del Stelvio – Italy

The pass is located in the Ortler Alps in Italy between Stilfs (“Stelvio” in Italian) in South Tyrol and Bormio in the province of Sondrio. It is about 75 km (47 mi) from Bolzano and a mere 200 m from the Swiss border. The Umbrail Pass runs northwards from the Stelvio’s western ramp, and the “Three Languages Peak” (Dreisprachenspitze) above the pass is so named because this is where the Italian, German, and Romansh languages meet.

The road connects the Valtellina with the mid Venosta valley.

 

 

 

Closer still!

Closer still!

At the summit there is a refugio, several cafes, and the usual souvenir shop where you can get a memento of your conquest of this most famous of roads.

At the summit there is a refugio, several cafes, and the usual souvenir shop where you can get a memento of your conquest of this most famous of roads.

A picture of my bike, not of the stylish woman who just stepped off her classic Ducati in her classic Dainese leathers.

A picture of my bike, not of the stylish woman who just stepped off her classic Ducati in her classic Dainese leathers

 

  • Riva di Garda, Italy

 

A picture taken from our room of Lago di Garda; the road leading north along the west (left) coastline seemed familiar somehow; it turns out the opening car chase sequence in the Bond film “Quantum of Solace” was filmed there.

  • Ancona for 2 nights
    Taken from the balcony of our room overlooking the ancient port on the Adriatic; the "Gran Passetto" is a four-star hotel and quite reasonable in the off-season. Of course anywhere in Europe you can walk into the lobby of a four-star hotel in full motorcycle gear and be treated as a normal guest.

    Taken from the balcony of our room overlooking the ancient port on the Adriatic; the “Gran Passetto” is a four-star hotel and quite reasonable in the off-season. Of course anywhere in Europe you can walk into the lobby of a four-star hotel in full motorcycle gear and be treated as a normal guest.

     

     

    Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Moro River Canadian War Cemetery contains 1,615 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, including 1315 Canadians and fifty unidentified soldiers.

 

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The mouth of the Moro River where it empties into the Adriatic. The river valley was the scene of several days of ferocious fighting in the prelude to the battle of Ortona in December 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pieve St. Stefano
  • Venice (just for a lunch stop)
  • Cortina d’Ampezzo for 2 nights
  • Innsbruck, Austria

 

On dead reckoning from a previous trip in 1985 I found this hotel with a parking spot in front. This was another four-star, and it had a room available for a very good price a fifteen minute walk from the Oktoberfest grounds!

On dead reckoning from a previous trip in 1985 I found this hotel with a parking spot in front. This was another four-star, and it had a room available for a very good price a fifteen minute walk from the Oktoberfest grounds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Munich (for the Oktoberfest!)

 

  • Cologne
- Cologne - the magnificent cathedral which somehow survived the destruction of most of the city during the war.

– Cologne – the magnificent cathedral which somehow survived the destruction of most of the city during the war.

  • Frankfurt
7 Frankfurt

Taken from our hotel room, the massive building across the street with the Dainese logo is the motorcycle rental shop – can’t get more convenient than that!

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Finally, there is a mention of "See following examples of tank bag route finders", in the presentation that referred to the scrawls I would write and put on my tank bag to indicate the names of the towns we that were on our route, which I found to be the best way to stay on course in Italy; there is a sample here if you think it appropriate:

Finally, there is a mention of “See following examples of tank bag route finders”, in the presentation that referred to the scrawls I would write and put on my tank bag to indicate the names of the towns we that were on our route, which I found to be the best way to stay on course in Italy; there is a sample here if you think it appropriate:

 


 

 

Frank on the use of a GPS:

  • Not mandatory
    • German, Swiss, Austrian roads are very well-signed
  • Would be handy in Italy:
    • Not many signs
    • Few route markers, NEVER a direction indicator (i.e. North or South)
    • Changing destination markers
    • All roads DO lead to Rome!
  • If you try it the old fashioned way, best to mark many towns/cities in the direction you want to go – some of them are so small you will miss them and/or they may be on some of the direction signs, but not all of them.
  • See following examples of tank bag route finders

Cost Breakdown for the Trip (2 People and 2 Bikes)

  • Hotels $2273 ($152/day)
  • Food $1558 ($104)
  • Rental $3716 ($248, based on 15 days)
  • Fuel $714 ($48)
  • Misc $475 ($32)
  • Total $8736 ($584)

Bike Costs per KM

  • Rental 55.7/56.4 cents/km (4k total)
    • Fuel average $1.90/l, min 91 at all pumps
  • Personal Bike 32.4 (1998 ZX-9R, 105k)
    • Fuel + Oil 5.6
    • Tires 3.8
    • PM 3.4
    • License/Ins 7.1
    • Purchase   12.5

(Alternative) Using the Edelweiss Tours

  • Edelweiss “Alps Extreme” 2011 $2,080 per person per bike for 8 day vacation, 6 days riding = $4160 USD
  • Our comparable cost for 7 days riding = $3516
  • All exclusive of airfare

 

Good Things to Know

  • Roads are almost universally in perfect condition (compared to ON/QC)
  • They are not difficult to ride vs. Smokey Mountains or even Vermont, there are just very long stretches of challenging stuff
    • Rent a 600 – 750 cc bike with straight bars
  • The road is a valuable resource, don’t waste it
    • There isn’t “road rage” as we know it
    • Everyone gets along, but follow local driving customs

 


 

A Few Final Words from Frank:

For anyone considering planning their own trip I highly recommend the book “Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps and Beyond”, by John Hermann, available through Whitehorse Press.   We had the fourth edition published in 2008; I now have the fifth edition which came out in 2014.   The book carries this warning:

“Alpine roads and scenery and culture are known to cause Alpinitis, a disease that causes an almost uncontrollable urge to return.  There is no cure. The only relief is more Alpine riding, which results in re-infection”.

I am currently planning a return trip for this September.

 

** Quick Update: Frank has booked his flights for his return trip this upcoming September!

 


 

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