Featured Riding: The San Boldo Pass is the perfect test of rider and machine

Discussion in 'Touring' started by Simon, Oct 28, 2019.

  1. Simon

    Simon Professional storyteller
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    Mar 25, 2015
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    The roads in Veneto are motorbiking heaven, and the mountains and hills of the Dolomites are the ultimate playground. They’re the perfect mixture of fast, flowing, open bends together with tight, technical and challenging tighter corners. And the best bit? Base yourself somewhere central like Asolo and you’ll have a myriad of great roads and riding just 30 minutes from your doorstep.

    A round-trip from Asolo to the San Boldo Pass and back is a perfect four-hour test of rider and machine. The back roads heading out from Asolo are great for warming up tyres and getting your eye in; there’s nothing too technical here, but there’s some nice riding as the road rises and falls as it cuts its way between the hills, then the speed increases considerably when you pick up the main toad to Feltre. It’s fast and grippy, with flowing bends carving their way through the valley floor. The tarmac is bumpy in places, enough to keep you on your toes, and the occasional rut in the road is deep enough to suck tyres in and take you off line, but never enough to feel out of control.

    And then the fun really starts when you leave the main road and follow the ancient ‘Prosecco Road’ as it snakes it way from vineyard to vineyard. There’s a mixture of all kinds of bends, from really tight and slow hairpins to kneedown fast sweepers, though the higher up the valley you go, the more the road narrows, the surface becomes more agricultural and the amount of traffic increases considerably; there are cyclists and fellow riders everywhere, making it hard to find a rhythm and any sense of flow.

    I’m riding my RSV-R Aprilia Factory R with another RSV-R for company, mine running open Akras and the other running open one-off Termis, and the noise of our Twins booming off the rockface next to the narrow road we’re racing along is intoxicating, especially the banging, crackling and popping as we downshift in unison. But that’s nothing compared to the sound we make as we attack the San Boldo Pass from the Tovena side.

    The San Boldo Pass is nothing short of invigorating. It may only be 11 miles long, but it’s very challenging, with hairpin after hairpin to test you as the road snakes its way up the side of the mountain range. Every hairpin is first gear, and as soon as you exit and snick up to second, maybe third, you’ll find yourself hard on the brakes as you bang down the box and tip the bike in ready to double back on yourself. Boom, braaaaaaap, boom, cackle, pop, boom, braaaaaaaap, boom, cackle, pop. Over and over and over again.

    The highlight of this section of tarmac is undoubtedly the Mountain Pass, the SP 635, which consists of five tunnels with hairpin turns, and six bridges. Yes, hairpin turns within tunnels. This part of the road is narrow, really narrow, and is one-direction only, controlled by traffic lights. As we approach the lights, they’re red and as we filter to the front of the queue we kill our engines. All we can hear is the feral wail of a big-twin attacking the climb we’ve just done ourselves, followed by the high pitch whine of an inline four. It sounds like victory. After a couple of minutes, a Ducati Multistrada and a Kawasaki Z1000 join us at the head of the queue as we wait for the lights to go green.

    And after another two minutes, the lights change and it’s our turn to complete the San Bolo Pass. The noise as our small ragtag army of four bikes tackles the tunnels is loud, so, so loud. It’s amazing. The tunnels themselves are really narrow, and the first gear hairpins are really, really tight, with very little room for error. Then it’s a quick blast into the open air, over a bridge before banging down through the box, darting into another tunnel and turning back on yourself.

    It’s hard work. Fun yes, but really hard work, and by the time we get to the top, and pull into the Guesthouse at Genziana, the bikes’ engines are pinging and the brakes and rubber feel red hot. A beer has never been so well deserved. It’s 28 degrees, I’m knackered and I’m smiling like an idiot. Why? Because I know I’ve got to do it all again to get home. Bring it on…

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