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Bicycle Tour of the Alps and Dolomites — 2007

20 Jun 2007 — San Francisco

Packed, checked rear wheel with Pardo's tensiometer, swapped in an 8 speed chain, and hooked bike computer up to new front wheel. I didn't swap in inner chainring that I'd bought thinking it was steel, since it turned out to be Aluminum. The old chainring held up for the trip though, but showed significant signs of wear.

  1. 1 Bike — orange
  2. Carradice Longflap Saddle Bag, 3 straps
  3. Banjo Bros. Handlebar Bag, 2 straps
  4. 2 Water Bottles
  5. Tools and Parts

  6. Bungies and cable ties
  7. Multitool - allens, screwdrivers, and sucky chain splitters and spoke wrenches
  8. Fat Allen for Pedals
  9. BB Tool w/ dingus
  10. NBT2 — lock ring remover
  11. 4 extra spokes
  12. spoke wrench (Park Tool Green)
  13. chain splitter
  14. 3 tire boots
  15. 1 extra tire - 700 x 25 (since the folding 28's suck)
  16. 3 spare tubes - 700 x 25-28/28-32
  17. Frame pump
  18. Lights
  19. Spare brake and shifter cables
  20. Patch kit
  21. Spare chain links (SRAM 8 speed)
  22. 2 Tire Levers (Steel core since folding spares are tight)
  23. 1 roll Rim Tape
  24. Jar proofide for leather saddles in rain
  25. Electronics

  26. European plug converter
  27. Camera
  28. 2 Mem Cards for Camera 2GB ea.
  29. 1 GSM phone
  30. Phone and Camera chargers
  31. Nutrition and Medicine

  32. Paper Towels & Plastic Bags
  33. Cytomax, Hammer Gel, Endurolytes, and some power bars
  34. Sunscreen
  35. Ear plugs
  36. Moleskin (a patch kit for your feet)
  37. Toothbrush
  38. Clothes

  39. Rain jacket
  40. Cycling Cap
  41. Helmet
  42. Sandals w/ cleats
  43. Extra cleat screws
  44. Sunglasses
  45. 1 pair gloves
  46. 3 pair padded shorts
  47. 3 jerseys
  48. 1 pair long pants, 2 shirts, underwear
  49. 1 pair arm warmers, 1 pair leg warmers, 2 pair socks
  50. One pair swim trunks
  51. Credentials

  52. Passport
  53. Ticket
  54. Wallet - Visa card and BART ticket
  55. Pocket sized German-English dictionary

Sy has chain lube (wet); Piaw is bringing maps, dictionaries, a combo pedal/headset wrench for pedals with flats, and cleaning wipes for glasses; Roberto has grease for when we reattach pedals at the airport, and some first-aid stuff.

21 Jun 2007 – 22 Jun 2007 — Flying San Francisco to Zürich

Biked to 16th&Mission BART and caught the train to SFO. I talked to a Swiss guy on the train who had been hiking and skiing around Tahoe and was heading back to Switzerland.

The train stopped at Daly city and told everyone to get off, but I was slow getting the bike of the train, and the doors closed on me. The train ended up headed to SFO anyway so I got an express ride. The Swiss guy left his goggles on the train, which I picked up but I couldn't find him in the airport.

Bring tape for bike boxes to US airports, and never put your saddle bags in the bike box as they are likely to be stolen unless they have their own tracking numbers.

I met Piaw and Roberto in the domestic terminal since US Airways had added a stopover in Philly to our flight. Piaw managed to get bike boxes from United after a lot of running around, and we packed our bikes — we needed a multi-tool with hex wrenches to turn handlebars, lower/remove seats; and large hex wrenches & pedal wrenches to remove pedals. I made the mistake of putting my saddle bag and handlebar bag in the box with the bike.

Roberto wrapped old inner tubes around his frame to protect it from scratches which turned out to be a good idea.

There was a storm in Philly and a lot of flights were backed up. We ran to the gate, but there was no need since we ended up just sitting on the tarmac for an hour waiting for other passengers' flights to arrive. The flight wasn't bad once we got moving. I spent most of it chatting with an abstract-geometrist from Raleigh who was going to Germany to talk about some work she'd done on Maple.

In Munich, we got booked on new flights pretty quickly, and I spent the flight listening to the Pimsleur German tapes. These tapes are good for pronunciation, and they do a good job starting off with phrases in German which are structurally similar to their English translation, and gradually introducing number/gender agreement. The phrases they do cover are not very useful unless you plan on getting lost, and asking women to dinner for awkward halting conversations. I'd much rather they cover something useful early like numbers, ordinals, distances, times, and relative and cardinal directions.

Never fly US Airways
They are wholly incompetent. They add legs to flights without notice; usually leave late; always arrived late; damaged, and stole our luggage; bump people from flights without telling them until it's too late to book the next flight; spring $80 charges to transport bikes on you once you've arrived at the airport; and I watched one of their service people abuse a customer to try to manufacture an incident to make the inevitable complaint look like the customer's fault.
Intercom: "If you smell burning oil, don't worry. Everything  is  O K."

We got into Zürich 4 hours late, to find that US Airways had lost all our bikes and Roberto's saddle bags. We bought Orange SIM cards for our phones at a kiosk outside the train to Zürich HB. It was a 25 minute walk from there to the office, and we managed to find Avieta to get keys.

We hopped a cab to Rehalpstrasse 61 which is a quiet pretty side street with a number of houses and apartments a bit NE of the city center. The houses are typical Zürich style and the one out back has a vegetable garden and goats. Some of us were missing clothes, so we sat around in towels and talked over plans in case we had to replace bikes & gear.

23 Jun 2007 — Zürich staging

Sy arrived from Dublin late around midnight and saw our bike boxes at the baggage claim, but the Fundbüro wouldn't let him take them. We called at 7am and they said they'd deliver around 11am calling an hour before. At 10:30am we called to find they hadn't been put on a truck so we went to the airport (40 CHF ea. since bikes require their own ticket) to get them. Piaw's bike was fine, Roberto's had a slightly bent rear derailleur, and my bike box was torn end-to-end and the saddlebag and handlebar bag were missing. My rear derailleur hanger was also bent, and the top tube was scratched in a few places. Roberto was still missing saddlebags. The Fundbüro was staffed by new hires and there was quite a long line, but the one old hand was very efficient and told me that the bags were most likely pilfered and that I was unlikely to ever recover them.

Stock up on food and essentials on Saturday since most stores in Europe close on Sunday. There are exceptions around ski resorts, but don't expect produce

Roberto and I spent the rest of the day running around bike shops since it was Saturday and most shops close on Sunday. We found Velofix at Birmensdorferstrasse 120 which did a good job fixing my derailleur, and sold Roberto some clipless pedals. They didn't have shoes in my size (48) but pointed me to a store near Langstrasse and Josefstrasse run by a nice Italian family where I got shoes, pedals, water bottles, and a multitool. I couldn't find anything that looked like saddlebags though, and the shoes looked pretty old (the only 48s in the store) and by the end of the trip had developed holes and a peeling sole.

Roberto and Sy lent me jerseys, bike shorts, and I carried some of their weight in my backpack.

24 Jun 2007 — Jobst's route: Sarnen to Grosse Scheidegg
75km, 2358m↑, 1½ passes

We caught the 7:04am train to Sarnen and started riding by 8:30am. The route starts climbing almost immediately at a moderate grade partly shaded. The weather was great, and the countryside beautiful. The middle of the climb was unshaded and both Roberto and I were sweating buckets and going through water quickly – the Singaporeans were completely unaffected.

We stopped in Melchsee-Frütt and bought salami, cheese, bread, and orange juice for lunch before finishing the last stretch to the top about 4000 ft above Sarnen. The top has a number of hiking trails, and Stefan had scouted it out for us and found an off-road section that drops down to Innertkirchen.

We got a bit lost trying to find the trail to Engstlenalp, twice trying to cut left up and past someone's house, but the locals set us straight.

The trail was pretty rough and though we walked large portions, Piaw still managed to cut his sidewall and ended up replacing his tire a few days later. I had it a bit easier since my weight was on my back so I didn't have to work to support the bike hiking downhill.

The descent to connect with Sustenspass was a bit hairy — we descended along a narrow one lane road, and the Swiss drivers who are otherwise very careful and patient don't beep coming around blind corners.

We stopped at Restaurant Lammi for ice cream to power us up Grosse Scheidegg. The proprieter speaks fluent English and claims to speak French, Italian, German, and Spanish as well, and the homemade sausage, which Piaw and I ate when we swung back at the end of the trip, is great.

Roberto's ankle had been tender ever since we did the Sequoia and was acting up a bit, so we took it slow on the climb past lots of traffic on a one lane road and past the Post buses which have the right of way. The climb wasn't bad and the scenery is gorgeous with views of surrounding mountains, sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and glaciers.

We stopped for the night at Hotel Rosenlaui at 5:30pm about 600m from the top. Dinner, breakfast, and room for 105 CHF ea. Dinner was four tasty courses, and breakfast was the usual bread, jam, and ham.

25 Jun 2007 — Grosse Scheidigg to Innertkirchen
98.5km, 1400m↑, 1½ passes

If you're the only fair-skinned whitey in the group, carry the sunscreen

The weather was overcast but clear, which was nice for the sunburn I'd got the day before on the palms of my hands since I'd lost my gloves with my luggage. We finished the 600m climb to Grosse Scheidigg quickly. The road past Hotel Rosenlaui is closed to cars, so the only others we saw were the Post buses. The climb was steepish, with great views. I saw the clouds descending towards us as we climbed, and was worried about descending from the other side inside a cloud, but once I got to the top, I saw that the other side of the mountain was sunny, with a few circular rainbows which Sy couldn't see because of his color-blindness, but which he let me photograph.

The descent was nice — windy and slow but no cars. We did see a few other cyclists climbing. Roberto used his gorillapod to mount his camera on his helmet, and got a movie of his descent.

Piaw knew of a bike shop in Grindelwald where I got a really crappy saddlebag with flimsy plastic mounts which allow it to rotate around the seat tube freely. It's better than nothing though, and I managed to get 3 pairs of bike shorts, spare tubes, and a cytomax style mix called Isotonic.

We spent a while exploring the Lauterbrunnen valley, which was very pretty — sheer, cliffs with waterfalls, around some nice towns crawling with German and Japanese tourists, and a stream that is the bright grey-blue of glacier melt silt. We stopped to hike up a set of stairs through rock behind one of the larger waterfalls.

We then climbed off-road a bit before dropping back down towards Restaurant Lammi but the Gasthaus was full. The clouds looked dark though so we descended to Innertkirchen and rolled into Hotel Alpina just before the clouds opened up with rain, thunder & lightning.

26 Jun 2007 — Over Grimsel and Furka to Hospental
64km, 2202m↑, 2 passes

It was overcast and windy most of the day but with good visibility.

We started at 8:48am and climbed 750m over 24km to Grimselpass at 2165m. The road was a well paved 2 lane road with a few tunnels and galleries. I'm really impressed by Swiss engineering and it looks like the civil engineers must cycle — most of the tunnels are at a lower grade than the surrounding road which makes them easier to sprint through, and some of the longer ones have off-road detours that let bikes avoid them entirely. There is a series of 3 dams at the top, and the views aren't great, but the second dam had some interesting striated rock with moss marking the path of the snowmelt.

The top was pretty deserted, but one restaurant was open, so we had a snack. It was cold at the top so we bundled up before descending, and Roberto got some catcalls from women bikers.

We descended only 400m through crosswinds before climbing 700m ti Furkapass. Furkapass is a lot prettier, with views of lakes and glaciers and views of the switchbacks winding down to the towns in the valley. We found a nice restaurant at the top which serves mostly tour bus arrivals, but that had good Spaghetti Bolognaise.

The descent from Furkapass was fun — long steep sections between hairpins that even out as the approach the turns. The descent was a bit cold, and the sunscreen had frozen.

We had a headwind into Hospental, and there was an even stronger headwind to St. Gotthard so we decided to stop early. There was a bit of construction by Piaw's favorite spot, Hotel Rossi, so we got a nice attic room for 4 at Hotel Pension Egg for 220 CHF including breakfast.

27 Jun 2007 — Oberalp to Chur
100.8km, 1038m↑, 1 pass

The sky was overcast, but there were a lot of other cyclist about. We chatted over breakfast with a French cyclist who was doing a bunch of single day loops unloaded, and met a bunch of Swiss high school students planning on doing Furka in the opposite direction on mountain bikes.

We had breakfast at 8am and decided to skip St. Gotthard and take Oberalp towards Chur which would let us drop South into Italy where the weather forecasts were better. As we approached Oberalp we passed the Swiss ski team on inline skates and they chased us up the first half of Oberalp before getting into vans to drive down and do it again. They were only a bit slower than us, probably about 12kph.

Oberalp is a short easy climb with a nice long descent followed by rollers into a headwind.

We had lunch in Ilanz where and took an OCD recommended detour to get off the main road, and we arrived in Chur around 3:15pm just as it started to rain. We headed towards the city center and stopped at Hotel Chur where we got 4 single rooms for 80 CHF ea.

We found a sports shop near the hotel that had bike chains and got Roberto a replacement since one of his links had been sticking all day.

28 Jun 2007 — Chur to Zernez
88km, 2372m↑, 2 passes

We headed due South from Chur and climbed up Lenzerheide for a gain of about 950m along a 2 lane road through woods. It was overcast and chilly, and I was feeling ill most of the day, so I didn't enjoy the climb, especially as there was a lot of traffic.

The descent was better though; a fast race to Bergün (Roberto broke 80kph) where we stopped for lunch, but Sy missed our parked bikes and continued up towards Albulapass.

Albulapass was a pretty easy climb from about 1300m to 2300m with nice views of mountains and fields of wildflowers. We ended the day with another long fast descent sped by a tailwind reaching Zernez by 4:30pm.

I wanted to continue up Ofenpass to actually make it into Italy, but Sy and Roberto vetoed. We found a hotel near the train station for 55 CHF ea. incl. breakfast.

29 Jun 2007 — Over Ofenpass into Italy
79.8km, 2141m↑, 1½ passes

Sy decided he'd had enough and decided to hop a train to Zürich while before we left Switzerland. He swapped his saddlebag, handlebar bag, and tools for my backpack, and said goodbye.

Ofenpass was a pretty climb through one of Europe's first national parks. Roberto and I bought cowbells at a souvenir stand at the top which we attached to the bikes to warn off cows and pedestrians.

We descended through Sta. Maria into Italy where I saw an Italian border guard for the first time in my life. They waved us through and we descended into Glorenza for lunch. Glorenza is an old walled town with a lot of tourists. The restaurant was nothing special, but it adjoined a hotel with an architectural style somewhere between cool and Jetsons.

The climb up Stelvio was pretty and easy at the bottom with a good road surface and numbered switchbacks. It's Friday and there were a huge number of bikers and cars out. Some of the bikers cheered us on, and some buzzed us, but all of them were loud and smelly, and swarming as they were, they're loud enough to spoil the natural beauty of the Parco dello Stelvio.

We met 2 lady cyclists in Torfio near switchback 41 who were camping in the valley and taking day rides throughout the park. The hotel in town wanted 55€ per person and it was only 2:30pm so we kept climbing.

At switchback 22 there was another hotel Franzenshöhe which had rooms for 42€ a head including dinner & breakfast and a pool. The headwind above switchback 30 was pretty nasty, so we stopped there for the night. Dinner was really good.

Roberto has some bumps on his rear wheel which reseating the tire doesn't fix. Both he and I noticed that the hairs on our left arms have been blanched white, but not on our right arms.

30 Jun 2007 — Over Galvio into Ponte di Legno
74.6km, 1989m, 1½ passes

We finished Stelvio in the morning with my cowbell armed with a new clapper fashioned from one of Roberto's mini-carabiners. The last 22 switchbacks are almost all visible from the hotel so we saw it dropping away beneath. The headwind was much reduced from the day before, and we made it up before the bikers arrived in force. The views were gorgeous: mountains, glaciers, and the switchbacked road winding down into the valley below.

The descent was as windy as the climb and freezing, but it was a warm day by the time we reached the valley floor at 1300m above sea-level. We found a store in Bormio and stocked up on supplies since tomorrow is Sunday, I found a Cytomax substitute called "Multipower Active" which seems a bit better than the Isotonic.

Piaw wanted to avoid the weekend crush, so I went ahead over Passo Galvio to drop down into Ponte di Legno to book rooms. I climbed Galvio at an easy 11kph. The climb was pretty but the views at the top were forgettable and the road surface on the descent was pretty bad near the top — bumpy and narrow with half-invisible expansion joints. The bad part only lasted 5km or so, and after that it widened out into a well-surfaced 2 lane road. There were lots of cyclists and bikers on the far side, but not many on the Bormio side.

I rolled into Ponte di Legno around 3:15pm and went through the town center to the Tourist office where a lady pointed me at a number of hotels. We found a bike motel call Cervo on the main road a bit up from the Piazza. It was 29€ each including breakfast, but the rooms were pretty shabby and Piaw thinks they had bed bugs. Breakfast was awful.

1 Jul 2007 — Towards Bolzano
86.6km, 1620m↑, 2 baby passes

Passo del Tonale was a short easy climb over well-surfaced pavement to a ski-town at the top. I passed a few construction zones, all devoid of workmen on Sunday, but there were stores open at the top with packaged foods, but no produce.

The descent was nice — a bit of a crosswind, well-surfaced with wide turns instead of hairpins. It was warm enough that I descended without a jacket.

We found a bike path next to a river and pulled off on it. Piaw noticed a tear in his rear tire's sidewall which he blamed on our second day's off-roading. He replaced it with his folding spare.

The bike path was nicely shaded with picnic tables and map boards every few km. We stopped halfway to eat the food we bought yesterday, before the path dropped us on the main road to Fondo. We climbed over shallow rollers into Fondo, where an electronic sign said it was 1:30pm and 27°'C so we stopped for ice cream before starting up Passo Mendola.

Passo Mendola was another nice easy climb through pretty towns. The road surface is good and it's shaded in places. I was passed by an unloaded cyclist just before I saw a sign saying 5km to the top, so I chased him along most of the climb at a bit over 20kph catching him about shortly before the top.

The tourist office didn't open until 3:30pm so I fixed my seatpost and left front shifter which had been knocked off-kilter by the airline.

We found a nice hotel, Gran Baita, a short distance back the way we'd come, and the tourist office told us that the far side of Mendola was in a different county with much higher rates. It had really nice rooms for 50€ per person and good dinner and breakfast.

2 Jul 2007 — Towards Canazei interrupted by rain
63.4km, 1571m↑, 1 pass

The descent from Passo Mendola was eerie — fog obscured everything past the next turn and where it parted, we could see distant hills capped by clouds trailing tendrils of fog through stands of trees, and the motorcycles weren't out yet, so the descent was almost silent save for the wind.

The fog cooked off as we followed bike paths and roads over rollers into Bolzano and we got some great views of the countryside and a castle outside Bolzano.

The Torelli Master rims are a pain to seat tires on. I managed to get it configured so that the front and both sides on the rear use the same length spokes by playing with the cross, but Roberto's Velocity Synergy are much easier to deal with, and have only a 1mm difference in spoke length on the rear.
You can spend a lot longer changing tubes than you do threading spokes if you have difficult rims, and the time you spend with tubes is usually with people waiting for you.

Pardo says,
IITC, Torelli master rims also have much thicker sidewalls than Velocity rims, so should be more durable — so Velocity rims are not a hands-down win. The tire type and thickness of the rim strip also play roles in how easy/hard it is to get the tires on/off.
For reference, I mount Avocet 28s with a wire bead.
Many of the road signs in Italy and Switzerland are color coded — green is for cars only, and blue is minor roads and arterials for cars and bikes. Red signs are walking paths.

I got a rear flat and was having trouble reseating the tire, so Piaw offered to help and broke another steel core lever leaving the tip inside the tire. Roberto and I reseated the tire. The cause of the flat was probably a manufacturing defect — no punctures, snakebites, and the rimtape is fine.

We got a bit lost in Bolzano despite the city's network of well marked bike lanes and map boards, but finally made it out by dancing around Autostrade onramps and rode along a heavily trafficed access road to the base of Passo di Costalunga, a 1500m climb that should drop us down into the Dolomites.

The climb starts with a long lit tunnel and then a moderate climb through forest and towns with views of the barren tops of the Dolomites in the distance. Our maps showed a second long tunnel, so we took a longer detour to avoid it, following signs towards the observatory and then turning towards Nova Levanté. We reached Nova Levanté around 1:30pm and decided to stop for lunch. Everything was closed until 3:30pm but we finally found a restaurant open across from Café Panorama.

As we were leaving it started to drizzle with flashes of lightning quickly followed by thunder. The rain only got worse, and we were looking for places to shelter and wait out the rain when Piaw was waved down by a nice lady who let us into her home and made us tea. Sylvia and her German speaking family, Valentin, ?, and Carmen, live in Bolzano most of the year and this was their summer house. Her husband is a cyclist, so she took pity on us. They'd visited San Diego and other parts of southern CA, so she wasn't too put out when we made the classic California faux-pas: "How long have you lived in Bolzano?" They've been there for generations and she fully expects to die there too.

We continued the climb when the rain let up, and there were nice views of most rising from the forests and hills, but we hadn't gotten far before rain started coming down in sheets again. We ducked into a parking lot where busloads of Japanese tourists stretch their legs and snap pictures. There was a food stand that sold us hot chocolate and pretzels, and we huddled under their awning. It was still raining when they were closing up shop at 4pm so we debated going downhill to Nova Levanté and stopping at the first hotel, but we decided against, wrapped our gear in plastic, and started climbing again.

When we got a gap, we sprinted up and found Residence Laurin where we got a nice room for 3 with a mini-kitchen for 25€ per person and 42.10€ for 3 dinners.

3 Jul 2007 — Into Canazei and trying the Sella circuit unloaded
60km, 1500m↑, 2 passes

It was dry in the morning but the forecast predicted rain in the afternoon so we skipped breakfast and descended into Canazei where we found a hotel, Hotel Oswald. We planned on doing the 4 pass Sella circuit unloaded tomorrow, before grabbing our gear and doing a fifth loaded pass, Passo Fedaia out of Canazei.

It was only 10am by the time we'd sorted out lodging so Piaw and I headed off to figure out the best direction to do the circuit. We climbed to Passo di Pordoi at 2238m along numbered switchbacks with minimal traffic. We ate lunch at a restaurant at the top and descended the way we'd come and climbed up Passo di Sella. When we got to the top of Sella, the clouds were looking dark so we dropped back into Canazei. The descent from both was well-surfaced except for a few km just outside Canazei, but still fun. There were a lot of cyclists, even outnumbering bikers.

We decided to try the circuit starting with Sella. Sella is a bit steeper than Pordoi, but Pordoi is higher, and Piaw wants to keep Pordoi in front to break any headwinds.

4 Jul 2007 — Defeated by rain and hail
14.5km, 453m↑

It rained heavily almost all day except for a few hours around noon which was enough to lure us out. We started climbing Sella but just before the top it started to hail so I headed down and found Piaw and Roberto planning on bailing too. The descent was slow and slippery, and I stuttered my brakes to make sure the rims were dry, and managed to lose feeling in my right (front-brake) hand. The hail was small and turned into freezing rain by the time we reached the junction of the roads from Sella & Pordoi where I skidded my rear wheel. Luckily, most of the motorcycles were off the road sheltering under trees, and I made it into Canazei without incident. Later in the day, we saw there was fresh snowfall on the surrounding peaks.

5 Jul 2007 — Around the Dolomites
86.7km, 2623m↑, 5 passes

The weather looked good so we started early and did the Sella circuit unloaded, rode back to Canazei, collected our packs, and climbed Fedaia on our way through the Dolomites towards Toblach and Austria.

We started with Passo di Sella which I'd already climbed twice. Roberto dropped out to talk to his girlfriend, but I waited at the top for an hour before dropping down Gardena to chase Piaw. The descent was nice, but slow since I was behind a tour bus the whole way. These buses are huge, and go much more slowly around corners than a bike, and not much faster down straightaways. I almost missed the right turn towards Gardena.

Gardena was an easy climb as was Campolongo. Both are well surfaced and not very steep. I caught up with Piaw at the base of Pordoi and since the sky looked dark, we decided to stop for lunch. There had only been occasional drizzle thus far, but it started to rain seriously as we ate.

It drizzled a bit up Pordoi, and Piaw insisted we wait, but I think he was reading the clouds wrong, and that we only wasted time.

We finished the climb up Pordoi, and had a fun descent into Canazei except for the last stretch which was again blocked by a bus and rolled in about 3pm where we found Roberto waiting for us.

Check your hotel receipts in Europe and carry cash. It's still very much a cash economy and mistakes on bills are common.

I think the hotelier overcharged us: 180€ for 3 people by 2 nights. We'd agreed with one hotelier that we'd leave our saddlebags, but the other manager charged us for part of the day.

Once we'd gotten our saddlebags back, we climbed Passo di Fedaia out of Canazei. It was snowy/rainy in parts but nothing beyond a drizzle. We went very slowly since Piaw's knees are hurting. The climb was otherwise pleasant over a well-surfaced 2 lane road with few and short tunnels, and the views were pretty.

There's a hotel just above the base, and a town with hotels right at the top. We didn't stop though since there are larger towns on the descent. Jobst calls this the fastest road in the Dolomites since it's a 13% grade with widely spaced turns. Roberto did 89.78kph but said his brakes were just barely holding him around one turn.

We stopped at a nice hotel to the left just before Sottoguta, chosen for its flower boxes. 39€ ea. for half-board and the food was good.

6 Jul 2007 — to Toblach, train to Sterzing
81km, 1813m↑, 3 passes

We descended into Col di Rocca and climbed Passo di Falzarego before descending into Cortina d'Ampezzo where we had lunch. We then climbed Tre Croci which was almost a false summit for a Col St. Angelo which dropped us into Toblach.

Then we caught a train from Toblach to Sterzing via Fortezza which let us avoid 120km of flats and a headwind, and put us in position to do Jaufenpass and Timmelsjoch which will drop us into Austria.

We climbed slowly but easily up Falzarego and Tre Croci due to Piaw's knees. The climbs were pretty with nice views of mountains, the odd castle, and the valleys below. The descents were fast and the surfaces patchy but decent, and we got stuck behind tour buses halfway down both.

We talked to a rock climber from Florida in Cortina who is travelling through Italy and headed towards Spain. She is moving to Colorado soon to do the same kind of acupuncture classes as Piaw's girlfriend, Lisa. She says the Dolomites are mostly limestone which suprised us, and that the stuff that looks like sand just above the treeline might be a combination of bare rock and rockfall from WWII bombing.

7 Jul 2007 — over Jaufenpass and Timmelsjoch into Austria
96.2km, 3019m↑, 2 passes

We had a good breakfast at the otherwise shabby hotel we stayed at in Sterzing.

We climbed 1400m↑ to Jaufenpass. The road winds between stands of trees so there was no view until we were close to the top, but it was a hot sunny day so the shade was welcome.

I crashed on the descent from Jaufenpass — a pinch flat on the front which suddenly deflated the tire and flipped my fully-loaded touring bike. My helmet is a bit cracked, and my leather saddle badly scuffed, but the bike is rideable. I tucked, so got out with only a bit of road rash on my left elbow, hip, and shoulder which Roberto and Piaw dressed while I fixed the wheel.

We had the best luck finding watering spots near gas stations, restaurants, and near storage yards for construction equipment. Italy and Switzerland are not like France — every town does not have a central fountain.

We decided to skip lunch to make up time since Timmelsjoch is a long 1500m climb over 22km under a brutal sun. The climb was gorgeous though, easily one of the prettiest so far, but there's a 12km stretch without any water from about the 9km mark until just before the end. Piaw and I were climbing together and between us had no trouble finding water stops at the beginning, but Roberto was bringing up the rear and missed the fountains. He was bonking and dehydrated by the time he reached a food stand just before the tunnel at the top where he chugged 2 iced teas and 2 orange sodas. I passed a couple of cyclists who were obviously bonking and one who looked heat stricken but they all, with typical Italian machismo, insisted they were ok.

The top has great views of the surrounding peaks and a nice café where I waited for the others. Piaw arrived after 20 minutes, and we ate some spaghetti before he headed down to secure lodging in Sölden.

When Roberto arrived, we descended. I had a slow front leak from a poorly patched tube, and I was still ginger from the crash, and Roberto was kind enough to descend at a slow pace. I stopped every 5km or so to check my front tire, and Roberto was pretty worn out and cursed every retrograde, but the views were nice on the descent — there was a photoshoot with a very impatient model at an overlook just before the toll gates.

We missed Piaw's parked bike in Sölden, but he yelled after us and we found him at a grocery store stocking up for Sunday — bananas and lots of chocolate.

The only hotels with rooms free were the pricier ones, so we splurged on an 80€ per person suite at the Castello Faulkner meant for romantic getaways. They served a really good dinner and breakfast though, so we left happy.

8 Jul 2007 — over Silvretta towards Switzerland
172.2km, 1679m↑, 1 pass

We left Sölden well fed and headed towards Silvretta on our way back towards Switzerland. Silvretta is a shallow 1000m rise over 48km, and the forecast called for rain in the evening so we planned to get as much distance in as possible.

We started with a dash along a slight downhill for 50-60km. We took a bike path to avoid a 3km long tunnel. It was a bit hard to find — ride towards Imst, follow the Bahnhof sign and take a gravel path through the staging area for a river rafting company. Follow the River Inn bike route, and when you reach the ventilation system for the tunnel, look for a small gravel path downhill to the right which drops onto another bikepath that skirts the tunnel.

We ate at a Pizza/Pasta shop in Landek before starting Silvretta. Silvretta was nice, starting with a very easy grade winding through towns and farmland, including a field of miniature-ponies, with only a short steepish stretch of real climbing at the end. It was sunny but there was no shortage of water, and Piaw and I stuck together for most of it making good time.

I reached the restaurant and café at the top just as it was starting to rain. I checked on rooms just in case, and waited for the others, but missed Piaw when he went past.

Roberto arrived about the same time Piaw circled back from the café and we decided to descend to avoid being trapped by weather. It had started raining hard, and the descent was a cold, wet, white-knuckled slog. It looks like it might be really nice with better weather, but I couldn't appreciate it.

We descended past the rain though, and after rolling through 3 or 4 towns we caught a bike path towards Bludenz. Piaw's favorite B&B from when he did this area on a tandem was closed, but we found rooms at a gym/hotel called Val-Blu that looks like it was built out of legos. The place is whacky. It's very futuristic with weird chairs and lots of primary colors, but some things just haven't been thought through. Doors don't close and a person can look from outside through the window in the side of the shower through the window between the shower and the toilet. It wasn't bad otherwise and they did a load of laundry for us. 172€: 117€ for lodging for 3, 50€ for dinner, and 5€ for laundry.

9-11 Jul 2007 — Sat out rain in Zürich office

It was raining heavily in the morning so we decided to save a few vacation days. We hopped a train to Zürich and worked out of the Freigutstrasse office which also gave Roberto a chance to see whether he'd like to transfer to Switzerland.

Stefan very graciously let us twist his arm into giving us a place to crash.

No riding except for a couple commutes from Richterswil to the office which is 25km ea. in an almost straight line.

12 Jul 2007 — Prager & Klausen
121km, 2736m↑, 2 passes

It was dry in the morning, so we decided to ride. Roberto seems to want a chance to explore Zürich in good weather, but Piaw convinced Stefan to join us for Pragerpass in the morning, so we hopped a train from Richterswil to Schwyz and left our luggage in lockers there so that we could do Pragerpass unloaded.

Pragerpass is a steepish 900m climb with nice views. Both sides are somewhat bumpy single lanes access roads. The top had grass growing out of some red slate-like rocks.

Stefan took off for work and Piaw and I ate lunch in Schwenden before heading over Klausenpass towards Altsdorf. Klausenpass climbs from 662m to 1948m along a well surfaced 2 lane road with a few tunnels and galleries. The climb was pretty easy and the views on the descent were great. Piaw and I descended into Fluelen since Altsdorf doesn't have a train station and hopped a train back to Schwyz to grab our luggage and another train to Göschenen to put us in position to do Sustenspass. We found a hotel/restaurant for 168CHF for dinner, lodging, and breakfast for 2.

13 Jul 2007 — Sustens and Brunig
118km, 1937m↑, 2 passes

We climbed Sustens in the morning. It was a pleasant climb with gorgeous weather, and since we started early, no motorcycles. We did see quite a few cyclists though.

The top is nice and there's still standing snow at 2224m. The descent was gorgeous, one of the best on the tip, and we rolled into Restaurant Lammi for a tasty lunch.

We descended into Meringen and climbed Brunigpass which was 1 gravel lane for 2km but paved after that for a 450m gain over 5km. The gravel portion was no problem on 28s and Piaw seemed to do ok on 25s. It was shaded at the bottom with very little traffic, and we only ran into one other cyclist, descending on a mtn bike.

We descended and rode over rollers to Sarnen and grabbed a train to Zürich, and although we missed Roberto's talk, we made it in time for Friday beers.

14 Jul 2007 — Richterswil

Stefan showed us one of his favorite rides around Zürich which climbs up to an overlook and includes a couple 12-14% grades and one unrideable one that's probably almost 30%.

Stefan and I then rode to Pfäffikon and took a train to Veloplus in Wetzikon which is the only bike store that sells the NBT2, a portable lockring remover. I also got a few flaming Swiss jerseys, and then Roberto and I wandered around and spent our last Swiss francs on chocolate for gifts.

15 Jul 2007

At least oil your pedals at the airport if you don't have grease. We carried grease on the trip out, but I didn't have any on the return. The first thing I did on getting home was to take the seatpost and pedals out to grease them, but I found one pedal had already locked.

The flight back was marked by similar incompetence on US Airways's part, but packaging our bikes for flight was much easier. There's a booth in the terminal where they resell boxes used to ship new bikes to Switzerland for 20CHF, and the proprieter will help you close everything down. You can also get your bags wrapped in plastic for 9 CHF. We were much more careful about packing this time, and the bikes arrived at SFO rideable.

1510km, 32.5km↑

We did about the same amount of climbing but less distance than last trip. From fitting the chart below, most of the climbing days were about 6.25% grade on average, which is a bit steeper than France, and quite a lot steeper than the 3.75% in the bay area. We were also doing less distance than the 80 miles per day in France, but the more people, the less distance you do.

scatter plot distance vs climb by day

My bike, a 68 cm Rivendell Rambouillet frame with mountain bike drivetrain and wide gearing, did really well. The steel frame and leather saddle make for a really comfortable ride. The aluminum Cannondale frame and plastic saddle I used in France never caused me enough pain to stop me from riding but they made the end of each day a drag ; I had no such problems with the Rambouillet.

I rode 28mm tires and felt fine on all the descents. I manage to get more life out of tires than most people, even when I was riding 25s, so I'm not inclined to change. Roberto swears that he handles better on 32s though and I'm slightly heavier than he is, so I might try them.

The Carradice bags, which I used for both tours, are really good. Roberto found some shrink wrap (Sea-to-Summit) bags, which he used to separate things within the saddle&handlebar bags, which made it alot easier to pack a lot of stuff, but still be able to get at the one tool or spare part you need quickly. The bags are also waterproof, but since the carradice bag is made of duck cotton that's only really important for stuff in the handlebar bag.

I really appreciated the Carbon Campy Record levers. My hands froze much less on long descents. It's the only piece of carbon on the bike, and they're expensive, but worth it.

The bike computer, a Sigma Sport, does not start up by itself. Maybe I should have gotten a spiffier model, but I don't care about things like heartrate or pedal rate monitoring. I really just want an odometer so I can plan a route and know when to look out for the next turn. That said, the fact that it shuts off if you stop for any time, means that if you wait for people, you frequently undercount distance.

I spent a lot of time in the small chainring in the alps, and the 7075 Aluminum chainring I have shows noticable wear after only 2500km of use. I'm going to swap it for steel.

The food was better in France, but Switzerland is prettier. Italy is a nice change of pace, but the drivers are super aggressive, and the food isn't anything to write home about.


See Piaw's report. He'd done Switzerland on a tandem before, and did most of the navigating, so especially see his Appendix D.

Roberto's photos I | Roberto's photos II | Piaw's photos