Colorado Centopassi Ride - Catterson: The Accidental Tourist - Why We Ride

Colorado Centopassi: 1500 Miles, 50 Mountain Passes And No Brakes

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Deb Conroy, Joe Bonnello

It was an innocuous-looking corner, the fourth in a series of 15-mph switchbacks climbing uphill on U.S. Highway 550. And it would have been innocuous if it wasn't for the trucks that cut across the apron and tracked dirt onto the pavement. So when I leaned into the hairpin and dialed on the throttle, the rear tire stepped out, the right saddlebag touched down and the bike spun around, depositing me unceremoniously on my rump.

At first, the bike looked to be unscathed-some road rash on the saddlebag and a slightly bent handlebar. It was only when I lifted it back onto its wheels that I discovered the horrible truth: The front brake lever had snapped off. And the nearest dealer was hundreds of miles away.

I knew this was going to be one of those trips as soon as I spied the quality control tag inside the Moto Guzzi Breva 1100's tank-bag map window: "Inspected by #13." That was milliseconds before the zipper came off in my hand. It was all downhill from there.

And uphill, too, for four days and 1500-plus miles, on this, the inaugural Colorado Centopassi. I'd call it the "first annual," but my bipolar editor at Cycle News, Dr. Jack/Mr. Mangus, discouraged the use of that phrase in the event there wasn't a second such event. Which, as often as not, there wasn't.

The ride was the brainchild of Paul DiMarchi, owner of Northern Colorado BMW/Ducati, and his friend and riding companion John Metzger. Having read about the annual Centopassi Rally in Italy (the name means 100 passes in Italian), they thought, "We've got bikes, we've got passes-why not do a similar ride here?" I met the pair through my younger brother Paul, who after a painful divorce a few years ago moved from New Jersey to Colorado and took up motorcycling. Call it late-onset puberty.

We convened for a Tuesday evening rider's meeting at Lady Kramer's place, an expansive ranch (by suburban standards) on the north side of Boulder. I wondered what kind of redneck royalty went by Lady until I learned that's her real name. In a ritual that would be repeated every night of the trip, we consumed mass quantities of beer, wine and pizza and pored over maps dutifully highlighted by John, who knows the Rocky Mountains like Paris Hilton knows Rodeo Drive. John's stated goal for our outing was to ride every pass in the Colorado Rockies. And while there weren't 100, he had devised a route that would take us over no fewer than 50.

On Wednesday morning, we assembled at the shop in Loveland. There were nine of us in total, the balance made up of friends Deb Conroy, Brett Sawyer and Jon Simisky, plus Michael Lock of Ducati North America (DNA to insiders) and Photo Joe Bonnello on the Notorious CGC (Cagiva Gran Canyon). Everyone was astride either a BMW or a Ducati (or, in Bonnello's case, a Cagiva with a Ducati motor), except yours truly. I chose a Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 on the grounds that its transverse 90-degree V-twin was sort of halfway between a BMW boxer and a Ducati. So you could say I had a foot in each camp. Unbiased, non-partisan, that's me.

The group's enthusiasm was palpable as three shop employees led us north out of town through Fort Collins, where we passed the store's former location, now a Biker's Dream chopper shop. Sign of the times. We then headed west into the Roosevelt National Forest and up the Poudre River Canyon, sheer rock walls flanking a narrow valley, the sky and water bluer, the grass greener than I'd seen in...maybe ever.

We paused for a photo op atop our first summit, Cameron Pass (elevation 10,276 feet), after which we bade farewell to the shop guys and continued on to Walden. While the rest of us topped off our tanks, Deb shot ahead on her BMW R1100S and earned the first speeding ticket of the trip. Barely a half-hour later, as we threw snowballs at each other atop Rabbit Ears Pass (elev. 9426 ft.), Bonnello put his John Hancock on the second. If it continued at this rate, we'd all be signing autographs by day's end.

Between Rabbit Ears and Muddy Pass (elev. 8710 ft.), we crossed the Continental Divide for the first time. For those who didn't pay attention in science class, this means rain or snow falling on the eastern slope will eventually make its way to the Atlantic Ocean, while that falling on the western slope will flow to the Pacific. From there we headed south, making a brief detour up and down Gore Pass (elev. 9527 ft.), where fresh chip-seal had us riding on the wrong side of the road for miles. We continued on through Kremmling to Silverthorne, then veered southwest over Fremont Pass (elev. 11,318 ft.) en route to Leadville, whose welcome sign proclaims, "Great Living at 10,700 feet." For a while in the 1870s, this silver-mining town was the largest west of the Mississippi. All I could think was how cold it must be in winter.

We stopped for lunch at Twin Lakes, a site so idyllic I briefly considered becoming a professional fisherman. The caf was closed, so we strolled a block farther to the saloon, where the barmaid was serving fish tacos-and only fish tacos. "Fish tacos, then," we said, and were dismayed to learn the trout wasn't caught in either lake. Serving locally caught fish in restaurants is apparently a breach of health standards. Better to fly it in sealed in Styrofoam containers, eh?

After lunch, we rode over the breathtaking Independence Pass (elev. 12,093 ft.), which, contrary to popular belief, is named for a nearby mining town, not the fact the road is closed till around July Fourth each year. We then passed through the famed ski town of Aspen, where we encountered the only real traffic of the trip-though compared to L.A.'s, it was nothing.

Our destination that evening was Hotchkiss, a rural town on the fringes of the Gunnison National Forest in Colorado's wine country. We spent two nights at the charming Leroux Creek Inn, a bed and breakfast owned by the equally charming Joanna and Yvon, the former an expat New Yorker like me, the latter a chef trained in France. Come for the wine, stay for the muffins.

Thursday's itinerary started with a spirited sprint up and back over Grand Mesa (elev. 10,839 ft.), during which I diced with Paul D. on his ST4S and Jon on his Multistrada S. Both are exceptional riders, and Jon's a racer, too, having competed in the BMW Boxer Cup at Daytona the year after I did. Despite having maxed out the hydraulic shock spring preload adjuster on the Breva, I clanged its centerstand down a number of times in left-handers, and at the bottom of the hill Jon warned me the right saddlebag was getting dangerously close to the ground, too.

Not long after, on Highway 550 south of Ouray, I proved him right. Really, I couldn't have picked a better place to fall (as if I'd picked it), because most of this so-called Million Dollar Highway (it'd be a Billion now) is lined with dizzying drop-offs unprotected by guardrails. And now I had to ride it with no front brakes! Guzzi cruisers have traditionally been equipped with linked brakes, and boy how I wished the Breva had that setup now. But my luck could have been a lot worse: That same day, an artist who'd spent 13 years sculpting a 32-foot-tall rearing mustang for Denver International Airport had part of his work break off and crush him. Talk about a bad day at the office.

By Brian Catterson
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