Making a pass at Stelvio

Today must be a rest day as it is absolutely throwing it down – so what a good opportunity to tell you about a pass or three that we’ve enjoyed over the last couple of days.

I’d been thinking that I should do an advanced cornerning course.  Phil did one at Mallory Park and raved about it.  I think I’ve just done one but this time it was a ‘learning on the job’ experience!

For those not aware, Stelvio is a mountain pass in northern Italy at 2 and a half thousand metres above sea level  It’s the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Apls.  The original road was built in 1820-25 and has changed very little since.  One report has it that there are 75 hairpin turns – trust me it felt like much more.

Now, 75 hairpin turns for a novice like me is a challenge enough, but lets throw in some heavy rain shall we just to spice it up a bit?  Mmmm.  We have made progress to the start of the pass having ridden from Ingolstadt to Seefeld.  All the roads are much more interesting and varied anyway so there were some good ‘preparation’ runs that reminded you about cornering after the long straight roads of Sweden and parts of Germany.  It has started wet in Ingolstadt but then it had brightened up and dried out so by the time we stopped for a quick coffee and sandwich just prior to the start of the pass, it was looking very positive.  Mind you, during the course of the pit stop there were some interesting observations that put just a little bit of pressure on…

  • two blokes having done the pass with mud up their suits – clearly having had a bit of time up close and personal with the road surface
  • one bloke dropping the bike just in the car park
  • the story from two Norwegian lads of a bloke who panicked on a hairpin when confronted with a car coming in the opposite direction who went over the front of his bike.  Luckily only a broken finger but the bike had to be shipped back to Germany as it was ‘broken’
  • gulp

Well, me thinks, we’ll just take our time and it will be fine – a least its dry.

Then a look up the mountain suggests a growing mass of cloud.  Maybe we should get a move on, I suggest, (after I’ve just been to the loo again).

Off we set.   Initially very scenic and fun but the roads soon get narrower and the bends get tighter.  Then it started to rain – a lot.  Great.  Ah well, this is where two items really came into their own – the new TKC70 tyres and the Sena intercomms really repaid the investment – thank goodness Tim had resolved the broken headset issue on the headset the week previously.  We soon got into a routine of Tim leading and being able to give confidence by letting me know when anything was coming so I could adjust speed, positioning or just wait accordingly.  Clearly, he wasn’t able to see all of the time himself so it wasn’t just about relying on that instruction, it was very much about learning to anticipate the corner, look through it but, most importantly of all, keep a good momentum.  Loads of corners needed first gear and were so close to each other you didn’t always get up into second – especially given the wet surface.

Finally the sumit was reached – and then it was down the other side.  On the descent into Bormio, you can see the road winding down for miles – one of the most amazing sights I can tell you – but quite daunting too.

Oh shit Stelvio Pass!!
Oh shit Stelvio Pass!!

Finally we made it down and it felt great!  Not a bad day at the office after all.

When you’ve done one pass…

Amazingly, Stelvio is probably the most talked about pass, but there are lots more (obviously) and we enjoyed a couple more the following day.  One, which was a lot more sweeping and perhaps more enjoyable as a result, was the Passo di Tonale  – only at a mere 1,800 m this time (yawn) – and then the Passo Gavia which we rewarded ourselves with a nice coffee afterwards – but only after enthusiastic photo taking by an Italian biker on a Aprilia who loved the fact that we were Brits abroad on our bikes.  There were photos of Tim and then him and Tim and then him, his wife and me with Tom – all very exciting clearly.

Passo Gavia
Passo Gavia

There was another pass to follow through the Dolomiti valley which was, by now, feeling almost easy (not) and that time, I needed a beer at the end, but thankfully only one as there was another pass to come before finally encountering the most gorgeous view of Lake Garda.  Not a bad set of learning exercises today – should sleep well tonight!

First glimpse of Lake Garda
First glimpse of Lake Garda

2 thoughts on “Making a pass at Stelvio

  1. Really enjoying this Helen. I am living life vicariously through your mountain pass descriptions which are definitely brightening up a dull, very rainy day in Cornwall. Love the expression on your face at the Stelvio Pass! Laura x


  2. Great to read about your experiences on the passes, sounded a great time (great fun on a push bike too). Hope you liked lake Garda as much as we did and look forward to your next instalments. Safe safe xxxx


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