We were looking forward to this, our third rally organised by IBA Germany, and set off with keen anticipation of a great weekend. We had been sent the waypoints in advance and, whilst we hadn’t attempted to plan a route yet as the points per waypoint hadn’t been distributed, we’d already had a look at the areas and were pleased to see lots of mountain passes figuring in the possible locations.
After an uneventful but very hot ride through France and Germany on our GSA we arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon ready to do all the pre-requisite activities (odometer check, sign our lives away, take the first picture etc.) and have a snooze before the riders’ meeting in the evening. We met Roland in the car park, being about 10 minutes behind him, and had a mutual moan about the terrible traffic on the A8. We were relieved to have got though the 10 miles or so of filtering without melting. Deb and Steve had already arrived, Steve was on a Pan European (lent to him by Thomas, one of the IBA Germany members) as the charging system on his V-Strom had just gone kaput, Deb wasn’t riding in the rally but was being a staunch supporter by bringing us welcome cold drinks, holding anything that needed holding and generally being a good egg. Gerald made up the final member of the UK contingent. The odometer check route was, yes you’ve guessed, back along the A8 so we had all that filtering to do again. Roland was following us and as we filtered through we lost him. We had an anxious wait of around 15 minutes for him to arrive back at the hotel after he’d called in for petrol.
The hotel we were staying at was on a steep hillside and full of stairs. We had parked on the lower parking area and trudged up about 50 steps to get to the hotel (the temperature was well into the 30’s). Once inside, the quaintly dressed (imagine Sound of Music) receptionist said there was a lift we could have used. Oh. We did have a few communication issues as we only speak English. Asking for three Jack Daniels and Coke resulted in them telling us they’d run out of “Jacky” so would we like something else…Jim Beam? Yes, they have that! When the drinks arrived the three men drinking the ‘JB and Cokes’ all pulled faces and practically spat it out. I tasted it and I think they’d used Amaretto instead! They were quickly replaced with something else.
After a lovely shower, a short snooze and a tasty meal, we were given the usual instructions from the Rally master and finally the bonus books. At last we could start to look at preparing a route.
It took longer than we thought it would as the bonus points and combination bonuses were very tricky. Well done IBA Germany for managing to put the kybosh on nearly every combination we thought of. Eventually, around midnight, we had a route we were happy with and settled down for our last sleep in a bed for a while.
The morning dawned far too early for my liking but like a true trooper I got out of my pit and prepared for the day ahead. We’d all agreed we would prefer something not quite as hot as yesterday and Frank promised us rain, hail, high winds and snow…let’s see what happens…so we dressed lightly and left most of our warmer clothes in the panniers.
The start time was between 5 and 6.15 and we aimed for around 5.30. As it turned out we left at 5.50. Deb, all bright and bubbly (at that time of the day!), came to see us all go. We nearly didn’t make it out of the car park as the front end was washing out really badly on the gravel. “Kevin!! Kevin!!” I shrieked, in case he hadn’t noticed. Laughing like a madman he had noticed and managed to keep the bike upright. We were off (on the rally, not the bike).
Our plan of action was to get some petrol first as we hadn’t got a full tank then ride swiftly down to the Alps and the playground of choice passes that Gerhard had selected for our delectation. We didn’t really know which countries we would be going into as the Alps are jointly ’owned’ by the Austrians, French, Germans, Italians and, of course, the Swiss and we didn’t know where the passes would take us. As we went into Austria we decided it would be wise to purchase a vignette to allow us on the motorways because we know from past experience it can be quite costly if you don't have one.
As we approached the mountains my brain did its usual “sing The Hills are Alive...” bit. What is it about mountains that brings out the Julie in me? Kevin responded by saying he couldn’t get the iPhone alarm tune out of his head. What a pair. Time for some real music.
The first stop of the day was at the Plansee ‘Maximillian’ monument (Austria). This was a bit of a deviation from our original plan but we’d had a good run so we took the detour and very lovely it was too. The road ran all the way alongside a very green lake which I’m sure would have been heaving with tourists a bit later on. At this early hour we had it to ourselves apart from waving to Gerald as he went past in the opposite direction.
Time moved on, we were getting caught up in the traffic and Kevin was getting a bit fed up. “If it carries on like this we might as well give up.” came over my headset at one point. Luckily though, as we turned off towards our first pass of the day, most of the other traffic stayed on the road we’d been on and conditions improved.
Our next stop was at the beautiful viewpoint of the ‘Gacher Blick’ sign. On the photo in the rally book the sign looked a lot larger than the 5” by 3” it was in reality but we managed to notice it and a German biker couple obliged us by taking our photo. They were very interested in what we were doing and we explained as quickly as we could, time is points and all that. I hope they didn’t think we were rude. At this point I should tell you that Gerhard had introduced a new rule. Every time the book said ‘Take a photo of you …’ (in our case that meant both Kevin and I had to be in the picture) we had to take our helmets off. Luckily the weather was glorious and it was quite nice, this first time.
Most of the photos required in the passes were of the pass sign itself and our next stop was no different - ‘take a photo of you and the official Alpine Pass sign’ at the Reschenpass (Austria and Italy). We found a sign but it didn’t look like the one in the book so we continued up the road looking. It was obvious we’d missed it so we turned round. As we entered the village again I spotted the sign, on the opposite side of the road so facing away from us when we’d first looked. We were once again helped by another biker, this time a lady, to get the photo with both of us in (sans helmets).
One of the reasons we love doing these rallies is it gets you out to places you never knew existed or, if you did, didn't know enough about them to find them. This rally was no exception. We must have ridden over a dozen passes through at least three different countries. We have to admit we were not always aware of being on a particular pass or even which country we were in until we came across a sign but no matter where we were the scenery was stunning and the roads interesting to ride. I haven’t looked at the elevation profile yet but I know we were up high and down low many times – especially if my ears popping was anything to go by.
An anticipated excitement for the weekend was having the opportunity to ride on the famous Stelvio Pass which we’d been planning to ride for quite some time but just never got around to. Our next bonus was in the eponymous village. We followed the SatNav’s instructions up a very narrow, bumpy road that petered out into a steep track. We knew the bonus photo at the other end was of a 40% incline sign so we decided to take an alternative route. Stelvio village is picturesque and the streets narrow; car drivers have to be very polite to let one another through.
The bike has a deformed front tyre unfortunately and the effect of this on the handling has to be seen to be believed. Below 25 Kevin says it feels like the front tyre is flat, between 25 and 40 I can see the handlebars shaking a lot so riding these bends when in traffic was a taxing experience for Kevin but it was much better than the motorway boredom on the way down. By the time we'd realised the problem was the tyre it was too late to change it before we left but a FOC replacement has been authorised by the importer.
At the start of the Stelvio Pass (also called the Stilfser Joch - we noticed that this area had most town names and road instructions in German and Italian) the weather was fine. As we traversed the hairpins and climbed ever higher it deteriorated, culminating in very heavy rain and thunder. It made negotiating the tight hairpins tricky but I helped as much as I could by looking up the other side of the hairpin to see if there was anything coming down.
The Stelvio Pass was the highest pass we went on at 2757 m and, as we discovered later, the higher the pass the more points it generated. It’s the highest paved mountain pass in the eastern alps (2nd highest in the Alps) and was made famous in England when Top Gear pronounced it to be the 'greatest driving road in the world'. Having seen their video again it was obvious they didn’t have the multitude of other cars, bikes and vans to contend with having arranged to have the road to themselves. We weren’t disappointed although it would have been better if it had been dry.
Coming up the pass the mountains were spectacular and very different. There was clearly ice and snow on the top but it was grey and difficult to distinguish from the rocks. In the rain it was very atmospheric. By the time we reached the town at the top of the pass, Bormio, to take a picture of its sticker-infested sign we were very wet. Luckily there was a nice Italian lady sheltering nearby who was happy to take our photo (even though she managed to get it out of focus somehow). We later learned they replace all the pass signs every year as they become unreadable with all the stickers.
I couldn’t believe the number of cyclists riding around. Sometimes you could hear the (motor) bike struggling to go up the steep hills but could guarantee that round the next bend the sight of buttocks straining through practically see-through lycra shorts would greet you and you’d be overtaking another cyclist, or two. Sometimes they came in packs and you’d have to fight to get past them as they bunched up and took up the entire width of the road. On the way down we nearly got overtaken once by a chap on a bike who was clearly enjoying the exhilaration of the downhill section. We take our hats off (no Gerhard, not the helmets!) to anyone fit enough to be up on those passes on a push bike, especially in the rain.
Five minutes down the road was the next photo in the Umbrail Pass (Switzerland). This one was nearly a disaster. The rain was torrential, the wind was gusting quite strongly and we were calling the rally masters all sorts of names (in a light-hearted way) as we removed our helmets for the photo. I dropped our Rally ‘flag’ but luckily managed to catch it before it blew away, then I spotted Kevin’s glove had blown off the bike. In retrieving that for him one of my gloves fell off. It was a comedy of errors but everything survived. We quickly replaced our helmets – not pleasant when your hair’s wet – and gloves and hoped the really black clouds were only a local phenomenon.
On the whole the roads were pretty good – nice surfaces, few potholes - except the nasty mile or so as we descended the South side of the Umbrail Pass where some muddy gravel had washed down and covered the road. Not nice.
The rain had stopped a bit at the Ofen Pass (Switzerland) where we bumped into a fellow competitor. He had been trying to balance his camera on the adjacent rock but it looked like it wouldn’t stay put so we helped him take his picture and he took ours. He went one way and we went the other…you always have a moment of “What does he know that we don’t?” when that happens!
We rode through the Munt la Schera tunnel between Switzerland and Italy to get to our next bonus, the Passo Eira, and by the time we got to the Passo Foscagno the sun had won over the rain and blue sky was once again beginning to show. We were now firmly in Italy as we rode the Gavia and Tonale passes, the Forcella di Brez (aka Brezer Joch) and finally the Gampen Pass where we stopped for a bite to eat and to earn our Additional Rest Break bonus which was another of Gerhard’s changes for this year’s rally. As well as the regular mandatory Sleep Bonus (which had been doubled) there were opportunities to earn bonus points for sitting around doing nothing! It was really nice to be able to spend time having a proper meal rather than feeling we should be riding around gathering bonus points. I say proper meal but while we had ordered omelette and chips what actually turned up was pancake and chips. I can tell you something for free - cheese pancake is weird!
Our last pass of the day was the Timmelsjoch (Austria) where we took one of our fastest photos yet of the official pass sign. The photo was taken at 19:57. At the top of the pass, near the Obergurgl glacier, a toll needs to be paid to get down the other side. The toll booth is supposed to close at 20:00 and it was about 5 miles from the pass sign. If it was closed we’d have to retrace our steps a long way down a steep and windy road and could kiss goodbye to a lot of points.
As it got darker the local cows retook control of the roads and you had to look really carefully to see the dark animals in the increasing gloom. At one point we came round a sharp bend and Kevin practically had to do an emergency stop as the road was totally blocked by a herd of the beasts. At 20:06 we were very relieved to see the booth was still open but not quite as relieved as Robert who came though there at 20:16. At least one other competitor wasn’t so lucky. To celebrate we spent a few moments looking at the view from a rather impressive viewing platform that was suspended over the valley just past the toll booth.
By now it was dark as we made our way to a couple of bonuses that were only a few miles apart. At the Dortmund Hütte we took some time out to put some warmer clothes on as it was definitely getting chilly and our clothes were still a bit damp from the earlier wetting they had suffered. As we stood there we heard the melodious chiming of cow bells and at the next stop we were met by about 20 cows milling round the sign. They didn’t look particularly menacing but they did have horns so we were careful not to upset them. There was a low bellow from the other side of the road, a call to arms, and they slowly started to move off, one getting rather frisky with another and I hoped that it didn’t see me watching!
Earlier Kevin had been concerned that we had messed up our rally as we appeared to be ahead of our plan and he thought we should have gone back to do a couple more passes. In the dark, low cloud and rain it was another matter and it took us over an hour to ride the 30 miles to the sign for the Hahntennjoch pass in Austria which was next bonus point. At the top, in the middle of nowhere, there were lots of cars parked. We didn’t look too closely and had an interesting muse as to what they were all doing there (and had some even more interesting theories given to us at lunch the next day!).
We continued with our route via Bergbarbeiter where we took a photo with a beautifully crafted miner’s statue, and onto the horrendous road that had been left dug up by the roadmen for the 16% incline sign and the Riedbergpass bonuses. We couldn’t find the 16% sign where we were expecting it and drove up and down the road a couple of times before deciding to use the one at the bottom of the road (which proved to be the correct one). I nearly had us off the bike trying to remount. It’s not as bad as it had been when we did the Wales SS1000 as we’ve had the bike lowered a little but after so many mounts and dismounts the old knees stop working so well.
We’d been looking for somewhere to take our sleep bonus for some time and needed somewhere we could get timed receipts to prove we’d stopped for the requisite time. We hadn’t even seen an ATM for hours let alone an open service station where we could have something to eat and a more comfortable rest. Time was moving on quickly, the sleep bonus window was closing and we really didn’t want problems with a sleep bonus again (see our Brit Butt Rally 2012 report). The best plan we could come up with was to find and get on a motorway then gas it until we found a service station. We were very grateful to roll up to a petrol pump 15 minutes before the Sleep Bonus time window closed. We were slightly ahead of our schedule but our motorway detour meant we were too far away to use our planned extra-waypoints-route. A quick re-plan was executed then Kevin had a sleep and I kept an eye on things, reorganised our tank bag and wrote the list of waypoints ready for the next stage.
We were awake and back on the road by 4 and looking for an overgrown plaque in the middle of the countryside. Thanks to Gerhard’s good directions we found it easily and moved to the next monument which was a lump of stone in the middle of a field somewhere down a track. By the time we were near that bonus point the sun was rising and it was quickly found after only one wrong turn. The track led into a field but there were no landmarks. I remembered the monument was the other side of a railway line but we couldn’t see one. In desperation we decided to go back to the main road and start again. As we neared the road the map of the tracks on the SatNav started to make sense and the stone was just where it was advertised to be.
We were now close to ‘home’ and one of my favourite stops at the Steiff factory in Giengen an Der Brenz. My Mum has just bought me one of these delightful teddy bears and it was great to see where he came from.
The last bonus we were planning was one specially put in for John ‘Triumph-through-the-middle’ Young – ‘At the intersection of Main Street/Fuchsberg you will see a giant picture showing a Triumph model…the ruins of the castle Rosenstein … must also be seen very clearly on the photo’. Well we got to the co-ordinates but there was no bike in sight and no castle. We rode round the block and had another look. As we retraced our steps we saw a rider (another one of ‘us’) and he was waving. We rode over and saw he was standing in front of a huge picture of a beautiful woman in Triumph underwear! Then we saw the castle, disguised as a lump of rock, up on the hill behind. Job done.
We had a bit of a bumpy ride as we rode towards our next bonus. There was a barrier half-way across a road we went into which we ignored (as you do) and carried on. A bit further on, as the road went across some rather nice countryside, there was another barrier – this time perhaps ¾ of the way across. Oh dear, did that mean the road was closed? We assumed not as we were able to wiggle through and didn’t understand the German writing on the sign! As we traversed the road the surface had been scraped away and in places left as little piles of gravel. Luckily there was nothing the GSA couldn’t handle and we made it all the way through to the other end where we were able to get out at the side of the final barrier which crossed nearly the entire road. Our rally might have had a different outcome if we’d had to detour.
We were planning to take an extra hour’s rest bonus when we got to the end point but Kevin realised that going to the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgart to have our picture taken with Juan Manuel Fangio would be possible and more points-effective so that was our last bonus photo…except for the whopping 5000 points obtained by taking a photo of Gerhard’s right-hand-man, Frank, with us as our last photo and the end of our rally.
So, the rally was done, paperwork submitted – no points lost at the table – friends caught up with and stories exchanged. Then came the final reckoning. To cut a long story short we IBA UK’ers did well. Roland had a few problems (but that’s his story to tell) and was chuffed to get into the ‘top 22’, Gerald and Steve gained 9th & 8th places respectively and we returned to our now traditional German rally position of 4th (that’s three times in a row). Well done to Robert Koeber for his blistering first place. He had a great rally despite having to ride the Stelvio pass more than once to recover the flag he left at the bottom. You may remember we've mentioned a German competitor in previous reports who was doing really well despite not having a SatNav. Well Marc had one this year and came second. We may have to confiscate it next year!
Once again, a huge thanks to Gerhard, Frank and the rally team for putting on yet another excellent rally and for producing the best rally book we've seen. We’re looking forward to next year.
Here's our route - yellow is what we did, black is what was planned
|Our Bonus locations:
53 – Plansee
26 – Piller Höhe (1558 m)
13 – Reschenpass (1455 m)
54 – Stelvio
09 – Stelvio Pass (2758 m)
06 – Umbrail Pass (2503 m)
05 – Ofen Pass (2149 m)
44 – Lago Di Livignio
11 – Eira Pass (2208 m)
07 – Foscagno Pass (2291 m)
34 – Santa Catarina Valfurva
08 – Gavia Pass (2652 m)
15 – Tonale Pass (1884 m)
16 – Brezer Joch (1397 m)
12 – Gampen Pass (1518 m)
24 – Timmelsjoch (2509 m)
35 – Hochgurgl / Timmelsjoch
58 – Dortmunder Hütte
20 - Kühtai Sattel (2020 m)
22 – Hahntennjoch (1894 m)
56 – Burgberg
27 – Riedbergpass
19 – Riedbergpass
61 – Roggenburg
60 – Unterglauheim
39 – Giengen an der Brenz
29 – Heubach
57 – Stuttgart
66 – Frank!
Click here for more photos of this beautiful area.