Part 1 - Innsbruck Austria to Torino Italy
Heading off a big bike tour is something Beattie and I have always talked about doing together. We had done several local bike tours, but bike touring overseas, with the added layers of changing scenery daily and the challenges of living on our bikes was an adventure that excited us both.
We had limited time to cover our planned route, plus a bunch of social commitments to weave in. So we chopped up our moving time into 3 sections consisting of 5 riding days, Monday to Friday, with rest days over the weekends to catch up with friends, charge the batteries and wash clothes. We planned our route close to towns that had train stations in case we needed them. In the end we were glad we did, as trains added great flexibility to our travels.
The route was created to incorporate some famous riding routes such as the Stelvio pass, connected to beautiful coastal areas though some experimental roads and tracks that at times took us off the beaten track were also fun. Whilst planning we were able to cross reference uncertain sections with Google Maps street view which helped visualise how bike friendly a certain stretch would be. We could check for bike lanes, shoulders and speed limits. In order to coordinate our timing with our weekend stop overs we planned to ride around 100km per day.
A brief summary of our bikes
The original part 1 route can be found below.
Adjustments were made to this route on the fly using our Garmin etrex 30 where needed.
When planning our route we remained realistic about how much ground we could cover taking into account the terrain, the weight of our bikes and our holiday priorities like regular beach swims. We also worked in enough time at each destination to enjoy the things we wanted to see. We had a pretty compact trip, so the pre-planning was really important. Spending hours connected to wifi researching sights along our journey was not how we wanted to roll.
Welcome to Europe
Ride test day 1 - Munich, Germany to Ammer Lake - 65kms/190vm
A few days before heading off on our journey we gave the bikes a test run to see if any issues or damage had arisen after their arduous journey in the cargo belly of an Airbus A380. The rebuild process was pretty straight forward having neatly boxed our bikes in standard cardboard bike boxes protected by our clothing and camping gear. No visible damage was obvious except a broken rear light which was easily replaced at a local store in Munich.
Ammer Lake was our destination. It is a very popular summer hangout spot for residence from and around Munich. Loads of bike friendly lanes, trails and roads were used to get out there. . . Gravel where possible!
Bikes seemed fine. Ready to roll.
Ride test day 2 - Munich, Germany to the Chiem Lake, Germany - 130kms/410vm
This was a solo ride as unfortunately Beattie had to attend the funeral of a beloved friend.
I embarked on this journey with the aim of becoming more familiar with my new Garmin etrex 30. I navigated using mainly this device, cross referencing where possible with my phone. I successfully got lost only once, maybe twice, but stumbled across some stunning forest roads in the process. I felt a bit like a mouse stuck in a maze for a few lost km's until I got sorted and back on track. I managed to stitch together a nice route that consisted of around 60% sealed bike trail, 25% sealed roads and 15% unsealed forest trail and roads. It was a long hot day and a good early reminder to apply sunscreen!
We spent the weekend at the Chiem Lake with good friends visiting King Ludwig's castle and drinking Weissbier!
*Train from Prien Am Chiemsee, Germany to Innsbruck main station, Austria.
Ride Day 1 - Innsbruck to Landeck Austria - 101km/1817vm
Accommodation - Hotel
Innsbruck is a gateway city just north of the Austrian alps. It sits at 587m above sea level.
We rode out of the train station at around 11am straight for a bike shop to pick up a few last second supplies before following the Inn river trail west. We meandered the bike trails out of the city towards the mountains. It was wet and about 15deg as we left, and kept raining for a solid 3 hours of our ride. As we knocked off the first handful of kms we started to realise what sort of pace we would settle into.
The track was a mixture of sealed and unsealed trails which showed glimpses of the Inn river. Once we got outside of town the magnitude of the mountains we were about to ride over became real.
In the end we fall well short of our initial target town of Nauders and even just short of our revised town of Fleiss and decided to settle for the night in Landeck hotel as we began to run out of daylight and the rain was still threatening. Following our decision to not press on to Fliess we learn that although just 9kms away, the climb to get there goes from 820m to 1073m. Upon closer inspection of the Garmin map we zoom in to see the road zigzag very densely just before the town. Would have been a tough way to end day 1, not to mention losing a few brownie points for being an unthoughtful route planner.
Ride Day 2 - Landeck, Austria to Laudes Italy - 88km/1388vm
Accommodation - Hotel
The ground was wet from some showers overnight as we left the hotel but the skies cleared quickly, making way for a beautiful day. We pulled over at the turn-off to Fliess to watch some vehicles negotiate the switchbacks as they climb the mountain. We laughed, pleased with ourselves for our first "good decision".
Beautiful forest bike trails follow the river through the valleys until we hit a town called Pfunds. From here we learnt that the pass we originally planned to take had a tunnel which prohibited bike entry. Plan B came from a local friendly mountain bike tour guide; ride to Martina in Switzerland then climb up Nauders. Heaps of extra vm's, a few extra km's and some wayward dirt trails were found. Turns out the trail is not yet finished and we have to firstly carry our loaded bikes around earth moving equipment then up some pinchy, slippery gravel track back to the sealed road.
Other than that hiccup, sections of the trail feel like Utopia. The bike paths are well maintained, there are regular water sources direct from the mountains and fruit trees all over the place.
As we crossed the border into Italy, the road quality changed immediately. The bike path was patchy at first but then we got onto a stunning section that run along the west side of Lago Di Resia Reschensee and Lago della Muta Haidersee.
Our target town was Prato Allo Stelvio at the base of the Stelvio pass. Due to the unpredictable weather we decided to get a hotel in Laudes before tackling the famous Stelvio pass. Both of us wanted a good night's sleep.
Ride Day 3 - Laudes, Italy to Bormio, Italy - 64km/1907vm
Accommodation - Hotel
Day 3 began with a less than awesome night at our lodging - the owner was a dick but we experienced an immediate mood change as we emerged from our dark room to find the sun out and a hundred meters down the road find rows of perfect apples trees for a quick nibble. The short commute stage was a pleasant 16km riverside bike trail scattered with many bike groups all likely tackling the same summit. We began to prepare ourselves for the first real mountain pass. . . The infamous Stelvio Pass! For some riders this would have been cycling heaven. But on a loaded Grovel we were unsure of how arduous the task of passing this mountain would be. I was confident Beattie would make it safely but unsure if I should have positioned myself ahead out of earshot to avoid hearing any cries of terror.
Most substantial mountain passes are signposted, counting back the number of tornantes or corners you will encounter before you summit. I pulled over to snap a pic of corner 48 being aware of its meaning. At this stage Beattie had no idea what was in store for her for the next couple of hours. The sun was out, the sky clear and it was a comfortable 17deg. By the time we reached corner 30 we needed a coffee stop with a mandatory Cafe Corretto. By corner 15 the clouds had surrounded us. At the summit we sat under shelter of a German Wurst stand, eating bread and sausage in 3deg wintery conditions. It was quite an emotional day :)
After a few hot chocolates we realised we didn't really have enough protection against this weather, especially for the long steep down hill section coming up. I purchased some useless gloves, Beattie was prepared with her winter gloves from Melbourne. Needless to say my hands did not function well heading down and few photos were taken. Many moods were grumpy.
However, arriving in bike friendly Bormio fixed everything immediately. Bormio is the perfect base for any cycling holiday in Italy.Though beware, it's a little on the pricey side!
After a tough day we decided the full gourmet buffet was in order. For 30euro we had the most amazing three course meal ever featuring fried brie wrapped in prosciutto and a dessert table to die for. Amazingly we ate more calories than we had burnt during the day!
Ride day 4 - Bormio, Italy to Edolo Italy - 74km/1602vm
Accommodation - Hotel
We began the day with some steep sealed bike tracks out of the village, following the signs marked on the garmin route. Not long after we cleared the village outskirts, we continued down an unsealed track that quickly turned into an MTB track. These tracks are not that fun on a fully loaded touring bike! As Beattie turned to look at me with disapproval some MTB riders luckily offered some assistance. In Italian they pretty much said “You tourists are stupid.. those bike are not suitable”. Luckily Beattie speaks Italian and they generously decided to ride us back down the hill and set us in the right direction for the Gavia pass.
The Gavia Pass was an awesome experience. The weather was great, the roads were quiet and the descent was spectacular. It was exhilarating to descend on such tiny roads with little trouble from passing cars, surrounded by such breathtaking mountains that rode to tower over us on one side and quickly dropped on the other.
From the base of the descent, Ponte de Legno all the way down to Edolo was a fast flowy 20km run much to our delight. Beattie sure started to build some down hill confidence!.
*Train from Edolo to Milan, then onto Vercelli to avoid riding through some underwhelming urban parts of northern Italy.
Ride day 5 - Vercelli Italy to Torino Italy - 62km/622vm
Accommodation - Friend's place in Turin.
Under the suggestion of some good friends, we disembarked at Vercelli to ride along the new bike trail that ran along the river Po. Turns out this well advertised planned bike path is just that, a plan! So after realizing that the trail head signs with maps and wildlife info were indicating what was to come (in the mid-day sun), we took to the main road and rode a quick face into Turin. We were blessed with a tail wind on this flat section and were able to coast along at up to 32km/ph riding through many towns that will be lost in the next few generations due to the economic downturn.
As we got closer to Turin, it was nice to see a thriving road riding scene with a few strips not unlike the Yarra Boulevard that had many road cyclists enjoying their mid afternoon.
Rest day 1 - MTB trails in the foothills above Turin, Italy - 35km/920vm
While Beattie picked figs and caught up with old friends, I spent my rest day riding with our Italian hosts Mario, Drore and Adam on a little MTB spin around the local trails. These guys are lucky enough to have a trail network within minutes ride from their doorsteps. The trails are quite different to what we are used to here in Australia. . . Less fast flowing single track. More tight pinchy ups and downs that never stop. We racked up nearly 1000vm in our short ride. There is also lots of river pebble terrain that can be tricky to negotiate as you fight for traction. Lucky for me I had a 2015 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 2 at my disposal. Also a Fat Bike for the first time.
This is Mario. He is part mountain goat. He generously handed me one of the sweetest loan bikes I've ever ridden. We have already been talking about an off road Dolomites tour. Stay tuned.
I rode the Scalpel for most of the session which was seriously fun. Fast and predictable! The Fat bike. Well they are different. Also fun. A different kind of fun. I was aiming for head sized obstacles just to feel the bouncy castle feeling the tyres provide. Climbing was a breeze. Descending though, I had a near miss as the first few turns something didn’t feel right. The steering was dull and slow. As I entered some tighter trail I tried one last time to push the front tyre down to rail this little left hander and the bike didn’t point in the direction I was looking and I lost the front wheel off the drive side slope. As I unclipped trying to spot a safe landing place and bracing myself for the worst, the rear tyre hooked onto a tree branch which helped slow down my fall. The tyre gripped so hard that it gave me the leverage to steady myself mid fall and amazingly land on my feet some 6ft down the slope. Like a ninja! I scrambled back up the hill to find mountain goat Mario and inspect what may be the issue. Turns out the front tyre was running flat. It had dropped to about 4-5psi.
That evening we drank lots of beer and grilled pork ribs. It was awesome!
Rest day 2
It was a rest day after all. So a trip to Eataly for some delicious pizza and the most amazing watermelon gelati was in order. Everyone slept well that night!