Riding BMW’s K1600 GTL in Italy | Rediscovering the Dolomites

Time’s the Charm For Sun In the Italian Alps

By Bruce Hansen, Photography by Bruce Hansen, Sharon Hansen

Italian Alps

Dramatic, knife-edged monoliths jutting violently from the earth as if ejected from hell by mischievous devils, sweet flower-laden meadows watched over by lazy cows and pretty ponies, energetic pavement twisting up stunning passes. Yes, the Dolomites have always called out to me.

In 1980, my new bride, Sharon, and I took our VW camper bus into the giant stone Italian Alps for the first time. Unfortunately, our schedule pulled us away before we were able to fully satisfy our longing to dwell in the stillness and stunning power of these pale mountains.

What followed were years of raising kids and going to work in our mow-the-lawn, drive-the-minivan, run-the-kids-to-soccer lives. All the time, the Dolomites were still calling.

With the kids grown, we managed to book a BMW 1200 GSA to do an Italian Alps photo shoot in 2006. A dark and dense curtain of rain embraced the Dolomites at the time, so we photographed Switzerland instead. Later, Harley came up with a sparkling new Ultra Classic for the Dolomites, but like a nighttime toothache, the dreaded rain came back. We took the Harley to the sunny French Alps instead to take the photos.

When planning this trip, however, we arranged no back-up venue. If need be, we would just grimly stay in rainy Northern Italy for a week and hope for a sunny day. Sharon booked us an apartment in a pretty mountain town called Santa Cristina. This would not be another 4000-kilometer journey dodging rainstorms; it would be an exploring-from-a-base camp ride.

Let’s Get It On
Sharon picked the Italian village, Santa Cristina, as our base, not because of its reputation for skilled woodcarvers, but for its status as a sunshiny mountain village. We allowed ourselves to hope for good weather. The apartment would give us plenty of space, secure parking, and a chance to save money by preparing most of our own meals. Nearly every pass would be taken on a lightly loaded bike.

Sharon’s in charge of the photos and trip planning; I get to pick the bike. This time, we got the dream motorcycle for alpine two-up riding: a BMW K 1600 GTL. The six-cylinder, 160-horsepower rocket even has a setting for rain, so it would be a blast even if we had to ride through a waterfall.

I also selected serious rain gear for us. Sharon wore her trusty BMW Streetguard 3 suit that really does what it claims to do: keep her warm and dry in the rain and cool in the heat. My friend, Scott Russell at BMW of Western Oregon, warned me that the BMW Rallye 3 suit was fabulous, but not great in downpours. I disregarded his advice and picked up a black one. He was right—although it kept me completely dry, the waterproof parts are worn under the tough exterior panels, so water can collect at low points.

Since the K 1600 has heated seats, I now know what it’s like to ride in a warm puddle. Still, if I could buy any gear, I’d get the same suit. The fit is perfect, and it otherwise has all the right features for me. Besides, most of my riding is not in the rain.

Digging Into the Dolomites
We arrived at the BMW factory under Munich’s cloudy summer skies. After packing the luggage compartments, we looked at each other. Here we go again, about to launch ourselves into foreign traffic patterns on an unfamiliar bike. Are we crazy? After exchanging smiles, we agreed; we’re crazy.

Adrenaline pumping and hoping we didn’t wobble as we left the parking lot, we blasted off on the four-hour ride to Santa Cristina. We both expected the clouds to darken as we approached the Dolomites. Like getting your stomach muscles ready for a punch, we tightened up as we pulled onto the no-speed-limit German autobahn.

By Bruce Hansen
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