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

You’ll probably think I’m a wimp for not taking the big bike up to redline in sixth gear, since such a thing isn’t legal at home. I must confess that I let the opportunity slip, as I kept the speed under 150 kph (about 90 mph). The silky-smooth K 1600 seemed to regard 150 as a mere warm-up.

We began our ascent to the bowl of peaks generally known as the Dolomites. As we approached Italy, the weather improved. It was as if a beautiful kept sister was brought out for us to meet. Those 1980 feelings came rushing back as ideal weather welcomed us. Perfect weather. Perfect roads. Perfect bike. Our non-stop chatter, through our Bluetooth headsets, faded to a quiet awe as we ascended.

Dwelling in the kind of euphoria that only bikers know, we pulled up to our pretty, painfully clean apartment. It had covered parking, Wi-Fi, full kitchen and far more space than we needed for just us. We dumped our gear and blasted off to explore the passes with our unloaded bike.

Pass roads usually have two faces; a steep side with tight switchbacks and a more gentle slope that allows a rider to maintain more speed through the turns. The tight switchbacks get the drama prize, but as riders, we like the speedier possibilities on the more relaxed turns. Some of the switchback turns are so tight, that, even on the nimble K 1600, we needed to slow to a walking speed to maintain lane position. Our favorite passes on this trip included: Pourdoi, Niger, Stella, Campolongo Pass, and Gardena Pass. On weekends, the tiny roads are often flooded with tour busses, bicycle riders and families in cars, so we prefer to ride early in the morning and hike or relax on the weekend afternoons.

Even If It Rains
You might think that a week in one place would get boring. Not so. There are 18 peaks over 10,000 feet in these Italian Alps. Sixteen motorcycle-friendly passes run through these magnificent mountains, and the northern Italians and visiting bikers are friendly.

In previous Alps trips, we worked to “bag” as many passes as possible. We checked them off like pilots doing a preflight list. Now we regard that kind of behavior as the equivalent of running through a museum with just a glance at each piece of artwork. Checking off passes is perfect for some Alpine bikers, but we like to linger, take a peek under the fig leaves, and try a second run at our favorite mountain routes.

This part of Italy, called Südtirol, swept back and forth between the Italian-speaking south and the Germanic north. Today, the locals regard themselves as Italian, but speak German and prefer Germanic foods and culture with a few spicy Italian influences. The kids study both Italian and German in school. English is the universal language for tourists, so it’s easy for monolingual Americans to tour in this region.

As the day to leave Italy approached, the sun began to show itself less and less, as if mischievous mountain spirits were teasing us. Clouds hugged the massive stone peaks near our apartment on departure day. I set the K 1600 to RAIN, turned on the seat heaters, pulled out of the garage into a downpour and pointed the bike back to Munich. Did we finally have our perfect Dolomite trip? Yes. Was it everything we thought it might be? Yes. Do we want to come back? Yes—even if it rains.

Bruce Hansen is author of Motorcycle Journeys Through the Pacific Northwest, Second Edition.

Planning for The Dolomites
Many bike-for-hire places offer gear rental. If there’s one piece of gear you want to fit perfectly, it’s your helmet. For that reason we took our own Shoei Quest helmets as carry-ons and checked a duffle with our riding gear.

Our bike had a navigation system, but, unless you plan to tour major cities, it’s really not necessary. What works best in the Alps is a list of towns through which you want to travel. Sharon and I used our Cardo G4 Bluetooth communication units to help each other navigate.

By Bruce Hansen
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