It is a sunny day in late May and Austria has lifted the pandemic riding restrictions for those of us who live here. What better way to celebrate our long-awaited freedom than by tackling the highest pass in Styria—the wonderful Sölkpass between Stein an der Enns on the north side of the Alps and Schöder in the south.
The planned return route goes through the Radstadt Tauern Pass in the province of Salzburg. This pass was part of the famous Tauernrennen motorcycle race of the 1920s.
Sölkpass is one of several ancient trade routes that straddle the alpine barrier. As far back as the Bronze Age, traders traversed it by mule and, since 1593, a horse and cart road. They brought oil, wine, and spices up from the south and returned with salt, leather, and minerals.
These passes were of vital importance to the cultural and economic exchange between southern and northern Europe.
The Sölkpass is closed in winter and the opening times (normally between mid-May and October) depend entirely on the snow conditions. Sometimes it will open and close several times in response to fresh snowfall at either end of the season. Luckily for us, it is open today but should still have some snow on the top.
Sweeping to the Pass
There are six of us in our group on five bikes as we leave our starting point at Trautenfels Castle and head toward Stein an der Enns and the start of the pass. We soon get out of the main road traffic and enjoy the wonderful sweeping bends of the L734, which snakes along the Enns valley with the imposing limestone mass of the Grimming to our right—an invigorating start to the day ahead.
We make a left turn in the quaint village of Stein an der Enns and the climb begins. A sign indicates that the pass is open today and we are soon alone on the road and at one with the scenery.
Sölk is one of the high passes in Austria that is toll free. However, there are several signs warning motorcyclists of breaking the speed limit—otherwise they may close the pass to motorbiking completely.
Motorcycles & Gear
On the north side, the road follows the valley floor and the Sölkbach River, climbing steadily past several small villages on a patchwork quilt of a tarmac road. There are so many differently colored asphalt patches to repair the annual winter erosion that, at times, it is like riding over a randomized chessboard.
After several sweeps and turns, we eventually pass a small reservoir on our right. Soon, we find ourselves passing through the village of St. Nikolai im Sölktal and the real start of the pass. This is the point where the barrier goes down at closure times.