Sense Of Adventure: Solo To Lake Garda

/ January 25, 2014
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For the first instalment of our new Sense of Adventure series we talk to Jim Kippen, who rode to Lake Garda in Italy on his GSX1250FA. He talks us through the trip, the route, and what his experiences along the way.

photo 1-1After spending a bit of time working there in the 1980s, making Italy the destination for his solo ride across Europe was an easy one for Jim Kippen. And after he picked up his GSX1250aFA, complete with luggage, he also had the bike to take him there, too.

Jim had been on a number of motorcycling trips before, albeit not on the scale of riding to Italy. But for this one, he also decided to go it alone and do his own thing.

“I had been thinking about doing this trip for a few years having had shorter trips in the UK; to Scarborough, Orkney, Scotland and the Western Isles,” Jim explains. “And when I got my GSX1250FA this gave me an ideal touring bike with a powerful engine and hard luggage. So I made up my mind to go to Italy the following year.

“I’d done a number of trips on my own and some of them with up to 10 others. But for my Italian trip I decided to go on my own, ride at my own pace, stop when I wanted and spend some time doing non-biking stuff. I also wanted the challenge of going it alone.”

While settling on a destination can sometimes be a tricky part of any trip planning, picking Italy came easy to Jim, having spent a bit of time out there in the past, and knowing the language and culture. However, he had never ridden there.

“I worked in Italy in the late 80s, in Milan and Bergamo, and had always wanted to visit Lake Garda and the Dolomites. Plus Lake Garda seemed like an ideal base to go riding from into the surrounding mountains.

“Since working in Italy I had been learning the language and about their culture ever since. I’ve also been to a number of places in Italy over the years too, including Turin, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Rome, Sicily and Sardinia, but I had never motorcycled in Italy. I am also always inspired by mountainous areas, I like the Italian culture and food, and being able to communicate also made it an attractive destination for me. All things combined made the decision quite easy.”

Settling on a destination for the trip was one thing, however, Jim next had to plan a route that would take him through The Netherlands and Germany, following the Rhine before heading to Italy via Austria.

photo 1“My route really started in Holland, as my stretch of riding in the UK was the run down to Newcastle to get the ferry to Ijmuiden. Looking at the map, the most direct route appeared to be to head East into Germany, then head South to cross the Alps into Italy from Austria. One of the main passes from Austria to Italy is the Brenner pass, and this put me right on course for Lake Garda.

“The benefit of the route I opted for was that there were no toll motorways in Holland or Germany, and I decided to cover the first half of the trip on motorways, to cover ground quickly. I picked up the 555 and then the 9 alongside the Rhine, which was a must for the scenery, but it did end up being a bit busy and slow moving.

“From looking at the distance I had to travel from Ijmuiden to Lake Garda, around 1,500 kilometres, the half-way point on the map was a German town called Heilbronn; this would be my overnight stop.”

While the bulk of Jim’s journey took place on motorways, the nearer he got to Italy, the more of the back roads he decided to pick up.

“After I left Heilbronn I spent a little more time on the Autobahn toward Stuttgart and Ulm, but from there I picked up some of the more rural routes, guided by the sat-nav, and headed on to Fussen on the Germany-Austria border. I took the Old Fern Pass through Austria and then the old roads to get to the Brenner Pass through the Alps. I must have been thousands of feet above sea level at this point and the Brenner Pass and roads into Italy were great. It was a fantastic stretch of the journey, avoiding tolled roads in Italy, taking country roads through small towns and tunnels through the mountains. And it was mostly traffic-free.

“I made it into Italy and on to Lake Garda and my hotel. I stayed at the Hotel Torresela in Nago and arrived just as it was getting dark. The hotel only did breakfast and not dinner, but within walking distance there were plenty of good restaurants and the hotel bar was full of German bikers with plenty of beer on tap. Breakfast was a really good buffet. The room was ideal with a good view and the wi-fi allowed me to send my photos home so my wife could see what I’d been up to.”

Using the hotel as a base, Jim spent five nights at the lake, going on different ride outs on his GSX1250FA to various locations.

“The hotel was close to the towns of Torbole, Riva del Garda and Arco and all were well worth a visit. They’re also very popular with cycling, mountain-biking and and wind surfing too. And the hotel made for an excellent base with a garage in the basement with a tool chest and power washer, and they also had some handy maps to help plan routes and destinations. Plus the receptionist had loads of advice to offer, being a biker himself.”

photo 3Over the five days, Jim took in the spectacular Dolomite Mountains and the countless hairpin bends they had to offer, visited a number of the small, local towns in the region, and visiting the out-of-season ski resorts. A wet day in the middle of the trip saw him take some time in the town of Torbole.

“The Dolomites were a huge highlight of the trip for me,” Jim explains. “I also took a cable car to the top of Monte Baldo on the day I went around the lake which great. Even better when I found a llama farm and restaurant at the top! I also really liked riding down the Rhine in Germany and the south of Germany looked like Telly-Tubby land! Loads of rolling green fields with winding strips of narrow tarmac.

“The bike was flawless, too. The seating position is comfortable and the fairing and screen allowed for comfortable, high speed touring, and being big enough and comfy enough for a pillion and luggage, it still handled well on the hairpin mountain passes. And even although the weather was hot, I didn’t get cooked by the engine. The air-flow seems to be well designed to dissipate the heat.

“One of the main reasons I bought the GSX1250FA too, was due to the Genuine hard luggage available and the fact that it offered such fantastic value for money.

“The hard luggage gave me more than enough space. It’s good not having to wear a ruck-sack, use a tank-bag or have to bungee things to the bike. The luggage didn’t cause any issue either, with no wobbling at high speed.

“Next in the pipeline is hopefully a trip to Norway this summer, and I’ve already started looking at making arrangements.”

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