Dolomites June 2009: 18 Passes in a Day

Day 7: Fri 12th June 2009

Ride: 18 Passes in a Day – 236 miles

Since we started motorcycling in Europe in 2006, Phil has used John Hermann‘s excellent motorcycle touring book Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps & Beyond as a valuable resource in planning trips, and Kyle has since joined the Hermann fan club. Trip 52 (in the fourth edition) is entitled “I Dare You; 17 Passes in One Day”.

As soon as we’d decided that in 2009 we would tour the Dolomites, Kyle and Phil set trip 52 as a personal goal and Phil got to work planning it. He worked out that the ride as described by John Hermann would actually cover 18 passes – John hadn’t included a pass called Pramadiccio which sits just south of the Lavaze pass. According to Garmin’s MapSource mapping software the ride would cover about 230 miles. Although this doesn’t sound a lot the truth is your moving average on Alpine roads is about 30mph – quite realistic in our experience – and therefore it would take at least 8 hours to complete, without taking in to account rest and photo stops.

In order to get maximum enjoyment and minimum discomfort from the ride Kyle and Phil had spent a lot of time getting bike fit. As soon as Kyle’s GSX-R1000 and Phil’s HP2 Sport arrived in March they went out regularly for long rides of 250 miles plus. We’d also realised during the planning process that attempting this route whilst trying to keep 8 riders together wasn’t going to work so we split in two groups – we decided on food and non-food groups.

Why the strange designation? Well, stopping for food invariably takes 45 minutes to an hour and it also tends to make you lose concentration and momentum. Kyle and Phil had done their UK ride outs with just liquid stops – tea, coffee or water – and planned just a couple of coffee stops for this ride. The issue was who else would be able to survive without regular stops for carbohydrate loading. After some debate Bobby, Pete and Gaz decided they needed regular fodder so the food group was formed and the rest of us made up the non-food group.

18 Passes in a Day

#1 Passo di Campolongo -- Click to read about this pass #2 Passo di Valparola -- Click to read about this pass #3 Passo di Falzarego -- Click to read about this pass #4 Passo di Giau -- Click to read about this pass #5 Passo di Staulanza -- Click to read about this pass #6 Passo Duran -- Click to read about this pass #7 Forcella Aurine -- Click to read about this pass #8 Passo di Cereda -- Click to read about this pass #9 Passo di Rolle -- Click to read about this pass #10 Passo di Valles -- Click to read about this pass #11 Passo di San Pellegrino -- Click to read about this pass #12 Passo di Pramadiccio -- Click to read about this pass #13 Passo di Lavaze -- Click to read about this pass #14 Passo di Costalunga -- Click to read about this pass #15 Passo di Fedaia -- Click to read about this pass #16 Passo di Pordoi -- Click to read about this pass #17 Passo di Sella -- Click to read about this pass #18 Passo di Gardena -- Click to read about this pass

The 18 passes in order from top left to bottom right

We met for breakfast at 7.00am with the aim of being on the road by 8.00am. Over coffee and scrambled eggs we agreed that the food group would travel in the reverse direction to the non-food group – with any luck we’d all meet up for a coffee at the half way point. Amazingly we were all away at 8.00am and all went well, for about 20 minutes.

The non-food group outside Hotel Evaldo with 18 passes in front of them
(L-R) Phil, Mark’s Blackbird, Cat, Taj and Kyle

The non-food group set off over the Passo di Campolongo and through Corvara to La Villa and onto the Passo di Valparola, before turning right up the Passo di Falzarego, a nice pass. At the summit of the Valparola Kyle and Phil stopped to photo the pass sign before dropping the half mile or so to the bottom where the road joins the Falzarego, with a left turn to Cortina or a right turn back to Arabba.

As they approached the Falzarego pass junction Phil was a bit teed off to see Cat, Taj and Mark in the car park with their helmets off – waiting to take photos of Kyle and Phil coming down off the Valparola. However, because it had been agreed that the group would ride for at least an hour before stopping Phil sailed past them and turned left towards Cortina, closely followed by Kyle.

Kyle on the Valparola

Kyle riding past Cat, Taj and Mark (L) and the Falzarego where it all went wrong (R)

They trickled down the Falzarego assuming that the others would follow but of course they didn’t appear. After waiting for 5 minutes ½ mile or so down the road they realised something was a miss so Kyle rode back to the pass summit to see if he could find them. Another 5 minutes passed and Phil decided to join Kyle. A further 5 minutes passed at which point it became clear that Cat, Taj and Mark had gone right, back to Arabba, rather than left to Cortina! So then there were three groups. After a short discussion Kyle and Phil decided to continue in the hope that the others would realise their mistake and turn around.

It was here that Kyle experienced his motorcycling epiphany and joined the ranks of the riding gods as he sped off down the Falzarego at a speed which caught Phil by surprise – and which was to last the entire day. At the turn to Passo di Giau Phil caught up with Kyle, who promptly sped off again up the northern ramp. In Phil’s defence he was experiencing the same slipping tyre syndrome as he had on the way up the Falzarego the day before, so was exercising probably undue care. The run up the Giau is superb and the view from the summit is stunning – probably one of the best all round Alpine panoramas this side of the Galibier.

Views from the top of the Giau, looking to the north (R) and to the south (R)

The one confusing thing was that the pass was signposted Colle Santa Lucia when in fact that pass is a few miles further on. There was no doubt however that this was the Giau, and so 4 down, 14 to go.

Although the signpost reads Colle Santa Lucia
this is in fact the top of Passo di Giau

Meanwhile Cat, Taj and Mark had realised their mistake and stopped to consult their map and figure out a new route that would salvage something from the day. Needless to say lessons were learnt from this episode. Phil should have waited at the junction, Kyle should have ignored Phil and waited regardless, Cat, Taj and Mark shouldn’t have stopped and taken their helmets off in the first place, and finally they should also have paid some attention to the map when the route was being discussed – an intercom system would also have been useful.

Mark tries to figure out where it all went wrong (L) while Cat picks up Phil’s missed calls (R)

By now this was all water under the bridge so after a short stop at the top of the Giau Kyle and Phil decided to continue with the planned route and rode on, passing the right turn to the correct Colle Santa Lucia on the way down. After a quick splash ‘n dash fuel stop at the bottom they kept on for the Forcella Staulanza. This was a nice road but it rose gradually and if it wasn’t for the refugio at the summit you wouldn’t have known that you had crossed a pass.

The refugio at the top of the Forcella Staulanza…

From the Staulanza they dropped down to Dont and took the right turn, signposted Passo Duran. There’s a refugio at the summit of the Duran and the plan was to make this their first coffee stop of the day. Kyle liked this pass but Phil couldn’t see anything of merit in it – although John Hermann does rate it as one of his “special little roads”. A poor road surface, largely single track and plenty of blind bends weren’t to Phil’s liking though.

The final section of the Duran (L) and the refugio at the top – the first coffee stop of the day (R)

After a short coffee break it was back on the bikes and a run down to Agordo where they picked up the SP347 for the Forcella Aurine and the Passo di Cereda. Both the next two passes were nice rides and the lowest two covered that day. Both stayed below the tree line but neither was much to write home about.

The Forcella Aurine (L) and the Passo di Cereda (R)

From the Cereda it was a short run down into Fiera di Primiero and a right turn towards Passo di Rolle. There are a lot of busy little towns with narrow roads and side turnings on the lower reaches of the pass. It was here that Kyle encountered a women emerging from a side street who didn’t seem to paying any attention to what she was doing. Unfortunately for Phil she proved she wasn’t when she pulled out in front of him less than a minute later, oblivious that he was even there.

The road from Fiera di Primiero was well surfaced and there’s a gentle climb until you reach San Martina di Castrozza where the pass proper starts. Same good road surface but this was a major north/south road so a fair bit of traffic, not all of which appeared to recognise that in Italy you drive on the right. Riding through San Martina di Castrozza Phil came round one corner to find two bikes heading for him on his side of the road – it wasn’t the last time that day either and Kyle had similar experiences.

You really need to keep your wits about you riding these pass roads and this was emphasised when they came round a hairpin near the summit to find 30 or more bikes parked up, an ambulance in the middle of the road, and bikers waving them to slow down through the throng. They could see a couple of concerned looking bikers peering into the ambulance so could only hope that the biker was still breathing. They couldn’t see his or her bike and have no idea what happened.

Passo di Rolle and the halfway point – 9 of the 18 passes completed

Up to the summit and this marked the halfway point, not in mileage but in passes completed. A quick breather and comfort break, then it was straight on and a right turn onto Passo di Valles. This minor road, which takes you to Falcade Alto, was a delight. Not long but the first few miles of the ascent take you alongside an Alpine stream running down in the opposite direction, on a nice fairly open well surfaced albeit narrow road. They then dropped down and at the bottom and rather than turn right into Falcade, kept on the road which would take them over the Passo di San Pellegrino.

The lower reaches of the San Pellegrino are tree lined and the road is fairly twisty but never tight. However, about 2 miles from the summit it opens out into a really fast road. Well worth the ride. The rest of the group also rode these two passes, the other way round, and everyone agreed that whichever way round they were ridden they were good roads. At the summit there were a few ski resorts and as was common we found that the road up to the resort was wide and reasonably straight – to allow the coaches to get up quickly.

Phil crossing the Passo di Valles (L) and the Passo di San Pellegrino (R)

At the bottom they turned left on the SS48 past Predazzo to Tesera where the turn up to the Passo di Pramadiccio was. As it turned out only the Passo di Lavaze was signposted in the town, but this took them up over (if you could call it that) the Pramadiccio to the T junction where they turned right for the Lavaze. A really nice flowing road all the way up to the summit of, and over, the Lavaze. Likewise on the way down through the forest the road flowed nicely until they reached Ponta Nova where they turned right on the SS241 towards the Costalunga.

By this point they were both potentially low on fuel so stopped at 2.25pm to fill up. The only person to be seen at the petrol station was a scooter rider who explained that the garage was shut until 2.30pm for lunch. On being asked about the hordes of scooters we’d all seen the previous day he explained that there was a major scooter convention in Salzburg. He was just doing his own thing though and it turned out that with his 125cc 2 stroke engine he had been over just about every major European pass including the Stelvio – it just took him a little more time than the average motorbike.

Passo di Pramadiccio (L) and Kyle at the summit of the Passo di Lavaze (R)

Once refuelled they continued up the Passo di Costalunga – or Karerpass – past the Karersee, a very beautiful lake, and up towards the summit. Just before the summit they parked up for their second and final coffee stop of the day. Phil’s BMW HP2 Sport is a relatively rare bike and as such sometimes attracts a bit of attention. On this occasion a German biker was having a good look, then came over and asked where Kyle and Phil were from. On being told Bewdley, England he asked, “…what about the BMW?”. Phil’s bike has a plate with a “CYM” designation on it for Cymru or Wales and this seemed to confuse just about everyone that looked at it. The guess this time was the Cayman Islands! Most original yet.

Last coffee stop done and they were 13 down, with 5 to go.

Passo di Costalunga, just after the second and final coffee stop of the day

The road down from the Costalunga towards Canazei was very busy and they became aware of the huge volume of traffic on a Friday afternoon. When planning this ride the thought was to avoid doing it on a Saturday or Sunday because it would be too busy. As it transpired the weekend traffic was no worse, if not better, than the traffic this afternoon. So after dodging coaches, campervans and other riders who couldn’t keep to their side of the road, Kyle and Phil were through Canazei and on the road up to the Passo di Fedaia – or Marmolada.

Yet aother signpost photo, this time with Kyle at the top of the Fedia (L) and Phil by the lake (R)

If you like open roads with fast flowing bends you’ll enjoy this pass, there are only a few bends that tighten up on you. When you get to the top the views are spectacular and we stopped to admire the view across the lake (in fact a reservoir). There’s a museum here dedicated to the WWI conflict between Italy and Austria. The valley itself was the scene of some very fierce fighting. And to the south is the Marmolada massif, the highest point in the Dolomites at 3,343m.

Another view of the lake (L) and a view of the Marmolada massif (R)

Remounting they ran past the lake and then down towards Cortina before taking a left just after Rocca Pietore and rejoining the Arabba/Cortina road near Livinallongo. Turning left they ran through Arabba, past the hotel, where they caught a glimpse of Gaz sitting outside nursing a beer – the food group clearly hadn’t made all 18 passes! – and then off up the Passo di Pordoi to start the final stretch that forms a loop around the Sella Massif.

The final stretch that loops around the Sella Massif
starting with the Passo di Pordoi

Dropping down the Pordoi, and then up and over the Passo di Sella they came up behind two Harley riders. The first was on a relatively conventional H-D but the second had “apehanger” bars. How on earth he managed to get round corners was beyond Kyle and Phil but they were quickly past them – until Kyle’s sophisticated sonar system played up and he missed the right hand turn off the Sella that takes you up and over the Gardena.

Leaving the Sella heading towards the Gardena (L) and a view looking back from the Sella to the Pordoi (R)

So with 17 down and only Passo di Gardena – or Grodner Joch – remaining they began their final climb of the day and headed for the final reaches of the pass and the summit – after retaking the two Harley riders for a second time. Again, this is a pass that carries a lot of ski traffic so the road, unsurprisingly, is relatively wide and open. There’s a lovely long run up the side of the mountain before the final stretch up to the summit. In fact whichever way you choose to ride this road you’ll enjoy it, and the landscape is spectacular.

Phil on the Gardena, the final pass of the day (L) and a view looking back from the Gardena to the Sella (R)

From the top of the Gardena it was just a gentle descent down to Corvara, a right turn over the Campolongo – for a second time – and back into Arabba and Hotel Evaldo. Actually 19 passes in all but 18 in truth. An absolutely fantastic day’s riding.

Crossing the Passo di Campolongo – for a second time

Click to read the Dolomites tour summary report Click to read the Bewdley to Etreaupont report for Sat 6th June Click to read the Etreaupont to Belfort report for Sun 7th June Click to read the Belfort to Andermatt report for Mon 8th June Click to read the Swiss Alpine Passes report for Tue 9th June Click to read the Brescia (Montechiari) to Arabba & Andermatt to Arabba reports for Wed 10th June Click to read the Grossglockner Hoch Tor report for Thur 11th June Click to read the 18 Passes in a Day report for Fri 12th June Click to read the Sella Massif report for Sat 13th June Click to read the Arabba to Livigno via Timmels Joch & via Stelvio report for Sun 14th June Click to read the Stelvio, Umbrail, Ofen & Bernina & Ofen, Umbrail & Stelvio reports for Mon 15th June Click to read the Gavia, Mortirolo, Bernina, Julier & Albula report for Tue 16th June Click to read the Livigno to Brescia (Montechiari) report for Wed 17th June Click to see all the photos taken during the tour

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