For us riders, Alps often end up on TOP 5 ‘do before die’ lists. Even though there’s a chance of hitting snow in the peak of summer; even though wearing two rain suits sometimes wouldn’t keep us dry, we still hope for that picturesque ride through amazing curves and hairpins. So, we prepared a guide for motorcycling in the Alps- which will help you quickly conquer the basic of riding in the Alps; from understanding the territory, to preparing and packing for your Alps motorcycling trip!
Alpine countries for riders?
As this is a motorcyclist’s blog, we’ll mention those that offer the best riding: Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, France and Slovenia. With exception of Switzerland, all countries are members of European Union which means you won’t even notice crossing the borders. Have in mind that Alpine scenery doesn’t change with each country’s border lines, so many times you’ll ask yourself ‘’is this Italy, or Austria, or…’’. That’s normal. Scenery changes dramatically depending on the region and also, altitude.
On the map of Europe, Alps are the highlighted area:
When to plan motorcycling in the Alps?
It’s often written that Alps are at their best in early spring or late autumn. No cyclists, no caravans, no tourist rush. That’s true, and we do recommend the ‘late May – June’ and ‘September – early October’ timeframe to most of riders living in Europe; specially the ones living close by. They consider the Alps as their backyard and it’s easy to get there in one day’s ride. If it’s raining, it’s much easier to cancel the trip and re-schedule for a week or two later.
But what if you’re arriving from across ocean(s)? Would you risk your vacation arriving in May or June, when July delivers much nicer and more stable weather? That brings up the most common question (when to plan motorcycling in the Alps?). Our answer is: June 15 – September 15 timeframe. If possible, plan your Alps motorcycle trip between June 15 and September 15. Of course, the closer you are to the timeframe limit, higher the chances to hit rain and cold(er) weather. Even if you ride in heated gear, have in mind that highest mountain passes like Passo di Stelvio, Grossglockner, Col d’Izoard etc., officially open on June 1st. So if your Alps tour itinerary takes you to any of these passes above 2.000m (6.500ft), be sure to plan accordingly. Sometimes it happens those are opened week or two earlier/later than stated.
We in MotoTrip, scheduled our AlpsTastic motorcycle trip to start on the first week of July. The timing allows for an optional visit to the famous BMW Motorrad days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen which are known as the biggest BMW Motorrad days in the world. Additionally, early July is still not as busy as 2nd half of July or August, so with carefully planned itinerary, we ensured great riding, still low traffic and best chances great weather for riding. Sounds just about right!
What to bring on an Alps motorcycle trip?
We already wrote about preparing for a motorcycle tour and you can find the post HERE. As an add-on, we do recommend to double-check your rain gear; get a few Ziploc bags and some duct tape.
We’ll again note that ‘International Drivers License’ is required by law for all non-EU riders/drivers. Usually no one asks for it, but ordering it online seems so much easier than explaining the reason of not having it to officer. Plus, it’s cheaper too.
Layered clothing and a good fleece sweater are more than welcome; two pairs of riding gloves too. For the ones afraid of cold, heated gear could come in handy.
Alps = hairpins? How’s the riding?
We’ve all seen the most famous picture of the Alps, picture of ‘Passo di Stelvio’ in Italy. Yes, there are many hairpins out there (87 of which only throughout that one pass) and there will be a lot of technical riding, tight corners and ascents/descents. But is that all to it? Of course not. For us in MotoTrip, perfect motorcycling in the Alps means a good combination of famous motorcycling roads like mentioned (Stelvio in Italy, Grossglockner in Austria, Furka in Switzerland) AND small, almost hidden backroads we often use to connect/bypass in between. It’s not about riding all highlights. Highlight is often the ride in between.That’s true motorcycling in the Alps.
So, if you’ll be planning a trip on your own, be sure to put a lot of attention to the less known mountain passes; and combining those will make a fantastic Alps tour. That’s why, we named our tour- AlpsTastic. Makes sense, right?
Numbers: talk in days, hours, miles.
It’s the Alps. It’s not an interstate where we do 600 miles a day. For what its worth, we’ve been riding in the Alps very extensively last 10 years, and came to conclusion that 250km/160mi per day, allows for great riding with enough time for picture stops, quick lunch and a few attractions along the ride. You could go for 350km/220mi too, but that would put you on a very tight schedule and most likely, worn you out in few days. While planning, also have in mind potential rain and that reaching your daily destination could take more when the roads are wet and slippery.
Our daily rides on the AlpsTastic tour count around 250km/160 miles a day; we spend approx. 9 hours on the road (including all stops too). 9AM to 6PM.
Number of days. Two weeks is great. It’ll allow motorcycling across all Alpine countries with daily average of 250km/160mi. Of course, there will still be plenty roads left for the next visit. In a month, you could almost grab it all.
If having a week or less, good planning is the key. Don’t overestimate yourself and don’t try to cover too much ground. Depending on your start, you could easily stay within the same country for a week. Italy has Dolomites, Austria has Berchtesgaden /Grossglockner; France has Route de Napoleon and Switzerland area around Andermatt. All of them are simply amazing and picking one will make a great tour. Pushing will make it too intense and you’ll easily miss that Alps feeling.
Attractions along Alpine roads
War museums, waterfalls, cable car viewpoints, lakes- you name it. Depending on your personal preference, there’s so much to choose from. If you’re interested in high altitude viewpoints, the Aiguille du Midi Skywalk (Step into the Void) in Chamonix should be on your list. Jungfraujoch in Switzerland as well as Zugspitze in Germany too. A view of Matterhorn mountain from Zermatt in Switzerland will leave you breathless in terms of natural beauty; while a ride (better to write ‘slide’) on one of many Alpine slides (like the one in Kandersted, Switzerland) will literally leave you breathless! If you’d like to add a rest day while motorcycling the Alps, consider making your way to Lago di Como or Lago di Garda in Italy; both touristy and glamorous, but the environment is very charming. If you find yourself in the area of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, you may visit one of great WWI museums. So even when motorcycling the Alps, day can be filled with many additional attractions that will often give a you a wider view of the Alps.
At MotoTrip, we organize both 15 days Alps motorcycle trips (AlpsTastic tour mentioned above); AND a shorter, 9 days versions called ‘Alpine Discovery’. We ride in small groups, know the area extremely well and have great fun every single time! For more pictures from motorcycling the Alps, visit our Facebook page, or browse through this Blog. Feel free to contact us about joining, or helping you plan your tour.