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WHEN BIKES MEET ALPS - James Cove, Ischgl
Monday July 10, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Riding a motorbike in the mountains has much in common with skiing in the mountains. PlanetSKI reports from the tarmac of the Tirol.

Ischgl seems an appropriate venue for a bit of summer motorbike riding.

The two have many similarities and I ended my 2016/17 ski season here at the beginning of May.

There were some of the best skiing conditions of the winter:

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And this is what the same spot looks like now with summer in full swing:

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See below for my end of season reports from Ischgl.

Lets hope the summer motorbiking conditions are as good.

As I arrived to collect my Ducati Diavel from the High Bike Test Centre in the Austrian resort of Ischgl I tried hard not to grin from ear to ear.

I failed.

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I started riding motorbikes at 18-years old and four decades on I still have the same passion.

Ten years earlier, aged 8, I started skiing and I have been hooked on both ever since - some say to the point of addiction, but hey, if you have a passion for something then follow it.

And what a selection of motorbikes are on offer at the High Bike Test Centre:

As always I had made no plans of where to go or for how long.

"You should head up to the Silvretta Pass and then maybe dip down in Voralberg, but watch out there are some very tight hairpin bends with big drops," said the mechanic as he handed over the keys.

Like in skiing it is best to go where a local advises and I set off to find the Silvretta Pass.

There were some tightish bends on the way up so the way down the other side must be in a different league.

And so it turned out to be.

In some ways the scenery on the way up reminded me of the Scottish Highlands.

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And 40-minutes later I was at the top at over 2,000m.

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At the summit there were dozens of like-minded souls.

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One had come up from the other side of the pass - from Voralberg.

"You must ride that road as it has some of the steepest hairpins in the Alps," he said to me. "But be careful'.

The route is part of the infamous, Hochalpinstrasse.

The Ducati Diavel is 1,200cc of raw power and is the latest machine on offer from the Ducati factory in Bologna, Italy.

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Riding a motorbike is remarkable similar to skiing and gives the same sensations of speed and excitement.

As with carving skiing the idea is to accelerate out of the turn - on skis you do it by downward pressure while on a bike you use the accelerator.

If you put too much pressure on the ski or overdo the acclerator on a bike the outcome is the same - you will skid.

Instead of putting the ski on its edge you put the bike on its edge by leaning into the curve and like skiing you need to be looking ahead.

The Ducati Diavel it is more of a bike for long corners - think of an off piste or all-mountain ski.

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For the hairpin bends I was about to encounter a Sports bike (think slalom ski) would likely be better.

The first section of descent saw some chocolate box alpine scenery - complete with alpine wildlife.

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And then some very tight corners.

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And it wasn't just bikers out for the ride.

I felt like I was in an episode of Top Gear.

The High Bike Test Centre is the only one of its kind in the Alps.

"When we opened 7-years ago we hoped for 500 tests but we actually had 800. Last summer there were 2,500 and in June this year we had 620 tests compared to 420 in 2016," said the manager of the Test Centre, Thomas Sailer.

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"We have 33 bikes at the moment and quite frankly we need double the amount," he added.


More than 50% of the people that use it are from Germany with around 10% of the rest from the UK.

Michael Breu and Tobias Kappl had been out on some bikes yesterday and today were back for more.

"We come from Munich and are here for a few days testing out the bikes. It is our first time and we cannot recommend it highly enough to experienced and passionate bikers," said Michael as we chatted bikes.

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Motorcycling has become big business in the Alps over the summer.

Decades ago bikers were likely be dirty and drunk, with little money to spend.

Many hotels and bars didn't want anything to do with them.

That has changed.

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Forget one type of MAMIL - Middle Aged Men in Lycra.

There is an altogether faster and richer breed in the Alps - Middle Aged Men in Leathers.

"I am a motorcyclist and I love bikes but I had the idea for the High Bike Test Centre to bring in extra summer visitors to Ischgl first and foremost and I knew motorbikes would do this," said the head of the Ischgl tourist office, Andreas Steibl, to me.

"We have thousands come each summer and they stay in our hotels and spend money in the village and is very, very good for summer tourism," he added.

Many come for a few days and try out a different motorbike each day.

There is a discount if you stay in local accommodation.

And after the Silvretta Pass I headed down to Landeck in the valley and decided togive the Ducati a blast along the motorway.

Lets just say it was quick.

I had no plan and ended up in the Oeztal Valley half way to Innsbruck which is home to the ski resorts on Obergurgl and Soelden.

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There is also a motorcycle connection.

In Hochgurgl, the village above Obergurgl, there is a motorcycle museum and I was lucky enough to be invited to its opening back in December 2015.

And I was here in the summer of 2012 with my then 12-year old son, Max.

I may be loving my Ducati Day but there are plenty of other things to do in the Tirol in Austria in the summer months.

And with that it was time to head back to Ischgl.

But riding a motorbike is not all glamour and excitement.

Mountain weather changes quickly.

I needed to get the bike back by 7 O'clock and arrived back in Ischgl just after 6.

There was only one thing to do - head back to the Silvretta pass for a final flourish.

And I needed to be quick. Cool

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It was like the last ski run of the day before the lifts closed and I savoured every single second.

I handed the bike back on time (just) and had clocked up 229kms.

I doubt I will have a better day in the mountains this summer.

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PAPERWORK:  You need a valid motorbike license for bikes 800cc and beyond. All bikes have 3rd party vehicle insurance and comprehensive insurance.

PRICES: Bikes 800cc to 1,000cc are €80 per day. Over 1,000cc its €100. If you are staying in accommodation without the Silvretta card it is €20 more. If you want a full set of clothing: helmet, gloves, jacket and trousers it is another €50, and they can be hired separately. See here for full details.

RENTAL: The bike can be picked up between 8AM and 10.30AM and need to be returned between 4.30PM and 7PM.

THE AREA: The High Bike Territory covers some 30 alpine passes and thousands fo hairpin bends across Austria, Switzerland, Sud Tirol and Bavaria

And just in case you haven't had enough photos of motorbikes in the mountains here are a few more I took along the way... Wink

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See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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