Every year thousands of adventure bikers head over to Europe on their summer tours, and in particular to the Alps. The draw of spectacular scenery, usually good weather and the opportunity to ride some of the world’s best roads is just too much to resist.
But when you finally get there, the switchbacks of an Alpine pass can prove to be quite daunting if you’ve never conquered one before, especially if your bike is heavily laden. So what’s the best way to tackle these steep, twisty trails of tarmac that make their way up the mountain sides?
Mastering hairpin bends on your motorcycle
When approaching the bend, look around, look where you are going, and try timing your arrival at the bend when there is no one else negotiating it. This way you can avoid meeting a vehicle taking up a lot more space than you think they need, and you can maintain your chosen speed, which is ideal especially when going uphill. Timing your arrival in this way can also allow you to use more road safely if needed.
Target fixation is also incredibly important, particularly in the tightest bends. Keep your head up and your eyes fixed on where you’re intending to travel and that’s where you’ll end up. Looking elsewhere, whether it’s down at the ground or at oncoming traffic, is likely to result in issues.
Having a fully loaded bike, with full panniers and a top box, creates and exaggerates problems, so you have to learn to control that weight, not just from left to right but forwards and backwards as well.
The first thing to nail is your braking. Grabbing the front brake mid-corner is not the best thing to be doing on any bend, but on a tight twisty mountain pass it can be the difference between buying a round of drinks or buying them the whole evening to thank those who picked you up.
It may be necessary to slow a bit more than you would normally think for a very tight steep bend. When descending on a fully loaded bike, it is easy to pick up speed in the corner so allow for that. If you need to check your increasing speed, you can gently apply the back brake.
Set the bike up before the bend. Get your speed down on the straights and select the correct gear for the speed you’re travelling at. You want to be on the accelerator before you even start to lean the bike over. Not necessarily accelerating, but at least taking up the throttle slack to avoid any throttle snatch in the bend.
When it comes to descending a pass, it is easy to rely on your brakes all the way down, but you run the risk of overheating them, especially on a heavy bike. Use both your front and back brake (mostly the front) to get your speed down, then select a gear that will help you maintain that trajectory. On very steep hills it may be necessary to select first to stop the bike picking up speed. This stops your brakes from getting too hot. Staying in a low gear means you will only need to apply the brakes briefly.
Going uphill through a tight bend, make sure you have your gear sorted so you can maintain your momentum through the corner. Use the accelerator smoothly, some bends can be steep enough to cause the front end to go light on a fully packed bike.
Of course, one of the most important things to do when travelling on twisty mountain roads is to look at the view, you may never get the chance to ride that road again. So remember, look around, set up early and don’t rush. Enjoy it, you’re on holiday after all!
Check out every ABR masterclass
In each issue of Adventure Bike Rider magazine we feature a riding masterclass, showcasing the skills you need to handle your adventure bike both on the road and on the trails. You can read them all online by signing up to the digital library, which gives you access to the latest issue of ABR, as well as a decade’s worth of back issues.