KTM 500 EXCMulti-Day Bike TripsRoad Trips & HolidaysTravel

The Alps Trip

The bike was ready. All consumables were replaced. Fresh tyres, pads, filters, bearings, you name it – it was done. All that was left to do was to go ride the actual trip that was planned. And hope to not make a complete balls of it.

Day 1.

My Ryanair flight got in at around 4pm, and it being mid-september I figured I had a good 3 hours to get where I was going before dark, and I was only going 70 or so km today, so no hurry, right?… wrong.  Between finding the bike storage location, talking shite with some other adventurers, pulling the bikes out and getting into my gear , I probably wasn’t ready to go till 5pm, and as soon as I went to go, what do you think happened? The god damned bike wouldn’t start. I pushed the starter button and nothing. Not a thing. Nada. No click. No whirr of the fuel pump. Just nothing. Is the battery dead? Did I leave the nav-tower plug connected? turned on? No. Easily checked. I connected it up and the voltmeter read 12.7v. That should easily start her up? Right?

Time to get out the right foot and kick start her. The first few kicks I was only finding my rythm but after 3 or 4 she purred to life. Crisis averted, but jesus I don’t want to have to kickstart her every time I throw the leg over for the next two weeks. So off with the headlight unit and I got stuck into the wiring. After a few mins of tracing cables I finally pulled the 4pin (starter button to loom) block connector apart and found that one of the pins had corroded itself into an early grave. This exact issue happened before on the TE300 so I know how to fix it. I’d rather have a spare starter button assembly handy but I mean, come on. I stripped and joined two wires to bypass the block connector and voilla!! We have e-start again. Wrap it up in a little duct tape and it seems secure.

I finally hit the road at around 6pm, with about 75km ahead of me, and of course started following the GPS track I’d preloaded for today. Straight into a public park. Fuck. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but if I didn’t stop and turn around that’s where it was taking me. Tried a different way. No, got lost again. After the third cock up within 2 km of the airport I was cursing this town and my GPS in equal measure. What kind of a think can’t find his way out of Memmingen? Eventually I just stopped the bike, dismissed the navigation, and told my phone to take me to a point about half way out the road, at least in the general direction of where I want to go. Just go south west. Take me south west. Thank fuck for e-start.

By the time I got 20km out the road and had filled my fuel tank up, the first signs of twilight were showing. Anyone who’s ever needed to use a KTM EXC headlight at night already knows how shit they are, so lets add that shittyness to the fire iridium prism lenses on the Oakleys, and riding on the wrong side of the road, in an unfamiliar country, solo, and you’ll see it was starting to get uncomfortable for me.

With darkness fully set in by 8, the goggles were beyond useless so they had to be removed completelty. This led to every insect in southern Germany incorrectly thinking that EXC headlights are actually amazingly bright and they all came out to have a good look. So now, idiot features here is down to 60km/h, afraid to go any faster without the goggles for fear of losing an eye. Oh and then there were roadworks. My road was closed. As in, completely. Another 10km of a detour around and I eventually got to my campsite in Aach after 9pm. Absolutely wrecked. And it was still only day 1. 85km down and only about 1,915km to go (or at least I thought so at the time, it would end up being more, I just didn’t know it yet).

I know – it was pathetic

Today’s Distance: 85 km

Day 2.

Morning came quickly, in my head at least. The Austrian beers the previous night were equal parts of both amazing and unexpected, as was the free pizza. Travelers in this campsite look after each other, and the guys in Aach were so sound. By 8am I was wide awake, showered, dressed, and back at the tent re-packing my bags. This was a job I’d half intended to do at the airport yesterday, but I thought time might be a little tight so would it leave till today. By 8:30 I was fully kitted out for the bike, bill settled, tent packed, and on the road. Today’s destination was Brig in Switzerland, with a few optional highlights along the way if I’m feeling it. No pressure.

After a brief stop for coffee, water and a nutella filled croissant, the first set of roadworks swas encountered. The L41 was closed and I was going to have to find another way through Lustenau. After yesterday’s re-routing lessons with the GPS, today’s detours were a better learning experience and I became more comfortable ignoring instructions and just keeping moving. The North indicator on the Garmin came in handy and I used it to make sure I was heading in a West or South-Westerly direction for a while, and just ignore the phone’s efforts to get me back on track. Eventually I responded to one of the phones instructions and we were back on track.

The route was all asphalt today and the bike was performing well. As always on these trips, it takes a day or two to get completely comfortable with the added weight of the luggage, as 20kg strapped onto a 110kg bike has a much greater effect on handling than the same 20kg strapped to a 200kg bike… but as the miles ticked by the comfort factor was getting there, slowly but surely. Every bend made it feel a little more balanced, the bike leaned more readily, flowed a little smoother. By the time I got to Sattelegg I was comfortable enough to brake a little harder and push that bit more. Which is a good thing to have there as I’d never ridden Sattelegg before, or even heard of it – but what a gem of a road, to find completely by chance.

Once the cattle had passed I had a clear run of Sattelegg

As the day went on there would be more fabulous roads and passes, including Ibergeregg, Axenstrasse, Sustenpass, and Grimselpass. On the way up the Sustenpass in particular I started to get a good feel for the brakes and felt that the new pads had fully bedded in, and as such could be used to their full potential. This led to some moderately heavy braking on occassion, and sometimes dabbing or dragging the rear if I needed to shave a few more kms off mid-corner. I was also developing a feel for these Michelin Trackers, and I was liking them. More than I should. I really should not have been feeling this comfortable hammering mountain passes on a dirtbike, with full knobblie tyres, on 21″ & 18″ wheels, with rimlocks. I just shouldn’t.

Grimselpass, with the tyres still looking quite new

Eventually, after 10hours in the saddle and 400kms behind me, I arrived in Brig. Long days make you earn your pints.

Today’s Distance: 400 km – Total Distance: 485 km

Day 3.

Oh no. I could hear the rain from the bed. You know the ratatata-ratatata sound of heavy rain on a hotel balcony.. it just wouldn’t stop, and I had 285 kms to do today.

After breakfast I checked the weather app ont the phone and there was no ambiguity there. 100% chance of rain, all day.

I mulled it over, and made a cup of tea in my room. Even a normal hotel feels like a luxury suite when the previous night was spent in a tent. Would it really be so bad to stay another night? I have camping again later in La Rosiere, France, and it’s already booked and paid for.

So I checked the weather in La Rosiere. 1°C. One Degree. And tonight? 2°C, rising to a balmy high of 4°C. A quick run down to reception to enquire about staying another night was completed, and I was back before the tea was cold.

I mean, it is a holiday after all.

Today’s Distance: 0 km – Total Distance: 485 km

Day 4.

The problem with taking an unplanned rest day on a roadtrip, is that the distance still has to be covered. Yesterday I had 285 km to cover, and today I should have had a comparatively easy 204 km. But I didn’t do any of my distance yesterday so…, am I seriosly considering doing nearly 500 kms today? Am I right int he head?

Whichever way it goes, there’s serious distance to cover today. I have to get to Bardonecchia in Italy by this evening, and between now and then I’ve to transit through Italy and France before re-entering Italy again. The chances of rain are reasonably high today too, which doesn’t bode well for the optimism, but as we learned in the Army, any fool can be uncomfortable. I can have a hot shower in Bardonecchia, but between now and then there’s a mission to complete, and that’s to get there. So lets go.

At 8:30 we’re on the way, leaving Brig behind. By 9am it’s raining and I’m stood beside the bike, on the side of the road, trying to manouvre my clumsy oafish Gaerne clad feet into a pair of waterproof over-pants without falling over. I am not looking forward to the next many hundreds of kms. Not one bit.

Back on the trusty EXC the GPS was saying to head up nearly every side street I passed, but I successfully ignored it, preferring instead to continue on this normal secondary road heading West. Eventually I would get close to Martigny and have to head South and I’m fine with that, but for now we’re just trying to eat the miles. We pass Martigny and the road starts to climb, with every km passed and every foot of evelation gained the cold is biting harder against my face. Soon it’s bad enough to require another stop, this time to don the neck warmer and velcro every seam closed tight.

30km South of Martigny and we reach the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the seemingly innocent sign that wants me to choose between ‘Le Col’ and ‘Le Tunnel’? Seriously? I genuinely said to myself ‘I’m going to regret this’ as I followed the sign for ‘Le Col’. The turn off to the right led me out of my temporary tunnel shelter and straight into the elements. The read was narrow and winding, with little traffic, and the cold was immediate.

Passing the top and starting the long descent into Italy brought with it an almost immediate change of weather, as can be the case in mountainous regions. There was the occaisonal dry patch on the ground, noticably less actual rain, and, dare I say it, a little warmth.. Not enough to reduce the amount of insulation I was wearing, but any improvement was appreciated.

As the day went on we descended in towards Aosta and out to Pre-Saint-Didier. Le Thuile, and the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard came in sequence, as they do, and eventually I arrived into the sleepy wee ski resort of La Rosiere in France. It’s actually a fab little town and the Col between Italy and France to get into it was one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden. What I wouldn’t give for some 17″ wheels and a pair of slicks. And some sunshine.

The only negative aspect of being in La Rosiere was that I should have slept here last night. It was the middle of the afternoon, I had by now recovered the mileage from taking the rest day, but I still had today to do..

Tignes. Val D’isere. Col d’Iseran. Bonneval-Sur-Arc. Lac du Mont-Cenis. Susa and then up the hill to Meana Di Susa.

Was I really going to go off roading today? Was I really going to have to tell myself ‘I’m going to regret this’ for the 2nd time today? I was, and I did. The track wound uphill, switchback after switchback, through farmyards and across bridges, and eventually down into Chiomonte.

By this stage I was starting to feel the effects of my double shift and it was time to roll on into Bardonecchia, which is exactly what I did. It was twilight by the time I refueled the bike, rolled into town, and found the apartment. By the time the bike was unloaded it was completely dark. My chothes were rank, and muscles were stiff, but the apartment was fab, and the hot shower was even fabber!!

Today’s Distance: 429 km – Total Distance: 914 km

Day 5.

The smell of absolute benji off me last night was not funny. Well, it might have been a little funny. Until you smelled it and realised that it was actually not funny. Last night I had just about enough energy to go for a pizza and a beer in a local trattoria and that was about it. I slept like the dead and was up early. After putting on the washing machine (with no detergent, but with some fabric softener I found in the apartment) I found myself heading to the local Carrefour Express for groceries by 8:30am. I could already feel it in my bones that today was going to be a productive day, especially when I seen the 66cl bottles of Peroni for €1 each – I bought six. In Ireland they probably wouldn’t even let you buy beer at 8:30am.


By 10am my laundry was hanging on the balcony, and I was gone on the bike, heading for some off road trails South of Bardonecchia, to Punta de la Mulattiera, Beaulard, Oulx, and along the Strada dell’Assiette.

I returned back to my apartment at a reasonable enough time and cooked up a nice chicked arrabiata tagliatelle, with lots of garlic and chilli, and Peroni.

Today’s Distance: 136 km – Total Distance: 1051 km

Day 6.


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