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Country: High Alpine Roads in Germany, Austria, and Italy
Roadtrip: God’s Racetrack | Man’s Super Machine
Distance: ~1,000 km
Route and Map:
Munich > Grossglockner Pass > Timmelsjoch Pass > Stelvio Pass > Munich
Ride on: Right Side
Metric System: Speed in km/h and fuel in litres
Machine: BMW S1000RR | 999cc | 193 bhp | 112 Nm
Generally, on the roadtrips page, you will read about our adventures in various countries. While contemplating about which country to put up next- and there are many- we thought let us not do a country this time. Let us do a place. A place that left a mark. We, at xBhp, have ridden a million miles combined in some of the best places in the world and on some of the best machines in the world.
Yet, there were a few times that we thought it cannot get better than this. And we stand by that statement despite those moments being usurped by others. This time, we want to talk about our time riding the Grossglockner, the Timmelsjoch Pass, and the Stelvio Pass on a then-newly-launched BMW S1000RR.
We took up this roadtrip in 2011, and it was published in the Dec’11-Jan’12 issue of the xBhp Magazine. We are telling you that because it was titled “God’s Racetrack. Man’s Supermachine”. We could not have said it any better.
I am sick and tired of the same thing as you are. Everyone rides the bike and everyone has to say that the bike is great. Yeah, we know that. So how are xBhp’s reviews different?
Well, we try to make it as experiential as possible on a flat medium, like paper. We do that by going out and riding ourselves, not on the racetracks (everyone does that!), but on racetracks built right in the middle of natural landscapes.
Breathtaking vistas make up our arenas and occupy our photographic compositions. We do this not just for the sake of getting a review in the magazine, but because we know that this is where you would like to ride a bike like this, and our photos and experience will inspire you to do it someday.
So here I was, in Munich. It was the start of the Garmisch BMW Motorrad Days 2011, and the BMW Motorrad press fleet hall was almost empty. It was inside a huge hangar-like grey metal auditorium. And there she was, a beautiful white and blue S1000RR standing in the far corner, trying too hard to look plain Jane, but failing at it miserably.
As I kept approaching it, the surprisingly beautiful asymmetry started coming into focus, from the headlights to the side fairings, BMW has often had its own way of making such designs acceptable amongst the masses.
One main reason would be their excellent engineering and ethos that outshine everything else. This is a great example of bold design yet being accepted by the masses. The front of the bike resembles an alien and they cleverly made a nice keychain resembling an alien as well! Design and Engineering at its best!
After visiting the Garmisch festival, I looked up the plethora of Alpine passes that are available to please any motorcyclist, no matter how much of a veteran he is. I chose the Timmelsjoch and Stelvio, the latter being made famous by Top Gear as its choice for the “greatest driving road in the world” even though the search was concentrated only in Europe.
The pass is located in Italy at 9045 ft and is the second-highest paved mountain pass in the Alps after Col de l’Iseran, which is located in France near the Italian border at 9088 ft above sea level.
The Stelvio has a total of 48 hairpin bends, making it a challenge for most motorcyclists. It means that no matter how hard you try unless you adopt a supermoto style or take a risk of locking your bars on a bike like S1000RR, you can’t go really fast. Nevertheless, snow, hairpin bends and a superbike are a heady mixture for anyone.
The Timmelsjoch pass is between the Austrian and Italian border and sits at 2509 metres. Most alpine roads that are built in Europe are engineered not only from a commuting viewpoint but deep thought and planning are applied in integrating them with the landscape and making it enjoyable for motorists.
Many will have the appendix ‘HochAlpenStrasse’, which means ‘High Alpine Road’, and most of these will also have a toll fee to remind you that it’s not just any other ordinary road. The S1000RR is a delight to ride on such passes that are no less than racetracks with a view. In fact, on the hairpins at the Stelvio, I could even test its unreal handling and traction control without really going fast.
By the end of it all, I could have led myself to believe that I actually learnt some more about real-world cornering. The biggest advantage of such passes, especially in Italy in the off-season, is that you can afford to crash without worrying about insurance not covering it (which is usually the case when you go on a track)! I am just saying! Once in a while bikes like the S1000RR are necessary to be injected into the market to avoid stagnancy in technology and promote healthy competition.
When I was taking the S1000RR out of the garage, I was told that I could take the bike around a wet corner and I could open the throttle mid-corner and accelerate out of it! I said sure! I had barely engaged the first gear and I was already being told to do stuff that a really ambitious rider would attempt to achieve greater glory.
Here I was just out to try out a bike to see what gave it its reputation. Accelerating out of a wet corner can wait! As I let the S1000RR warm up, it sounded like a typical inline-4 from any manufacturer. I tried to distinguish a typical “BMW sound”! But, there wasn’t any.
This is what I find about inline fours… They lack character. They are all the same. It is when you engage a gear, release the clutch and open the throttle that the character of the bike starts taking shape. That is where one realizes the true meaning of Will Guyana’s words as the S1000RR surges way ahead of the competition.
And here we are not only talking about hackneyed topics of just 0-100 acceleration and quarter-mile times. We are talking about the whole motorcycle as a composite package. However, the S1000RR incidentally also takes all other bikes out in both 0-100 and quarter-mile times!
First of all, Grossglockner. It is one of the most famous Alpine roads and it deserves to be. It is nearly 50 kilometres of pure riding nirvana. It was reserved for mountaineering before the famous road was built. Since its inauguration in 1935, it has been one of the most popular riding and driving routes in the region.
When I took to it with the S1000RR, it was in pristine condition. What makes it better for us motorcyclists is that the endpoint is further, as in, motorcycles can go higher than cars. More than that, it is the special material used to provide more grip to motorcyclists.
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a 48-km run with 36 bends. It takes one up to the Franz-Josefs-Höhe where one can get a full view of the Grossglockner. Austria’s highest mountain at 3,798m. The highest point of the road itself also sits at 2,572m in terms of elevation.
This is one of the roads where everything dissipates. The start point, the destination, the itinerary, and the list of places to visit- there is nothing other than simply experiencing the majestic sights and riding to your heart’s content. When you have a motorcycle as adept as the BMW S1000RR was… I just hope that all of you reading get to experience it firsthand.
Another great thing about the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the ease. The bends, though tight, are progressive and the road is mostly wide. The journey up to the Grossglockner Pass is one of the most enjoyable ones you can experience.
As I rode on, I realized what the BMW S1000RR did to the onlookers. The looks of the motorcycle were initially received with a mixed response, mostly by the people who were not used to the asymmetrical looks of a BMW.
There was intense thought and research done even for the looks and exterior design of the motorcycle, with lots of rumours doing the rounds to the tune of varying headlights to reduce weight, to making looks clearly distinctive from other manufacturers.
I liked the looks. And we all know that with time, looks grow on you. And the S1000RR grew rapidly on us, not just with its stunning avant-garde looks but with performance that left every other superbike gasping on the wayside!
About the ride, The initial feeling that I had of the stance being very aggressive when I sat on the bike disappeared as the bike started to roll on the streets. I blended into the machine and I settled in snuggly and became part of the machine as if the machine had been built for me. The S1000RR felt compact, light, easy, quick, nimble, and manoeuvrable… the last time I felt anything close to this kind of handling was when I rode the 1198S.
And the S1000RR does it better and takes it to a different level. Does this then feel like a 600? Heck yes. Once in motion, it feels even better than a 600 and even nimbler! They have redefined handling by developing in-house a BMW proprietary Dynamic Traction Control which is a $1000 add-on option which is worth every cent of the money invested.
The BMW S1000RR impressed me a lot in the city. It could deal with traffic, it could do highway miles unlike anything I had ridden before and all that with zero vibrations or turbulence at high speeds. But I was curious to test it out in the bends, I was dying to see how it would hold up.
The Grossglockner bit was the first. The S1000RR felt so precise that I could ride up to the pass and back down and keep doing that for an eternity. And I did end up repeating some corners. Timidly first, and then with progressively more confidence. There was one corner, in particular, a long flowing one. The first time I did it, I did it at 80 kays, then as I put more and more faith in the dynamics and electronics of the S1000RR, I went over 100 through the same corner easily.
I felt like a pro rider but I knew in my heart that it was the motorcycle doing its bit. I am no Troy Corser but with the kind of feelings and feedback I had from the motorcycle, a seasoned racer would easily slash through the same corner at over 150 kays. But as I said, Grossglockner is relatively easier as compared to where I was heading- Stelvio.
The Passo Dello Stelvio in Italy has long been regarded as one of the most enjoyable and rewarding riding and driving experiences. More so, if you are looking for a challenge. Stelvio rose to the fame it enjoys today because of Top Gear announcing it as one of the best driving roads in the world.
It is located in the Ortler Alps in Italy with the Swiss Engadine in the north. It was more of a skiing destination than anything else before the formidable trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May took three sports cars In Search of Driving Heaven. And they found it at Stelvio! Once Jeremy Clarkson declared it the best driving road in the world, it instantly shot to international fame.
With an elevation of 2,757m above sea level, it is the highest paved mountain road in the Eastern Alps, and the second-highest in the Alps, just 7m below the Col de L’Iseran in France. Now, all of that might paint a rosy picture but the Stelvio is a much more challenging and rugged bit of the whole High Alpine Road experience.
The roads are narrower and the hairpin bends are serious hairpin bends. One must always take it slow unless they are familiar with the road or have absolute and utter faith in themselves and their machine. It requires your utmost attention and all of your ability to enjoy it fully. But once you do, there aren’t a lot of things that come close in terms of the satisfaction that you have after conquering it!
Having the right machine is important too. A big bland cruiser that shivers at the thought of turning may not be the best way to enjoy this particular road. The BMW S1000RR though… well, it was more than ready and more than eager. Another word of warning- since it is popular, it can get really crowded too sometimes. So make sure that you are there in the early hours of the day to make the most of it.
Anyway, coming back to the ride, I had a blast. I had spent ample time with the motorcycle to know exactly what it was about and therefore, I could push it hard. Be it the small fast kinks or full-monte hairpins, I had excellent feedback from the front and I was always in the know in terms of how much I could push. If I am being honest though, the S1000RR saturated my own skills really quickly.
To say that it is a wonderful handler would be a gross understatement. But, like all the other inline-4s, the meat of its powerband is found higher up in the rev range. So you have to keep the revs high and carry a decent bit of that through the corners so that you can really bolt out of them.
Regardless of that, this is one motorcycle that can be easily ridden hard by anyone. All thanks to the plethora of tech it possesses; variable-length intake manifolds, ABS, DTC, Wheelie control, chassis geometry, and clear and distinctly mapped riding modes, all of which can be changed while riding.
The BMW S1000RR is a dream motorcycle for every rider. But being able to ride it hard on roads like the one I covered on this trip- it is nirvana in every sense of the word. That is why we do what we do at xBhp. Riding this machine on a racetrack would have been more apt. But riding it where we did; that’s more real and comes with dollops more fun.