Ötztal Valley, Austria: The Story of Three Roads

Ötztal Valley, Austria: The Story of Three Roads

It is September and my wife and I are staying at a small apartment hotel on the outskirts of Sölden in Tyrol. This place serves as a base from which to explore the area by motorbike. Today’s plan is to ride over the Timmelsjoch, Austria’s highest international border crossing and one of its greatest motorcycling roads. Rising out of the Ötztal Valley in Tyrol, the mighty Timmelsjoch pass crosses the border at 8,200 feet before dropping through a series of 10 spectacular hairpin bends into the Passeier Valley in Italy.

But before we get to the pass, we will be taking a short detour along a winding valley to the picturesque village of Vent at the foot of the Wildspitze peak. It is actually not on our route over the Timmelsjoch, but we have been told it is a beautiful little valley and a great road for motorcycling.

We leave our apartment early in the morning and ride south along the Ötztaler Ache river. The morning sun is low in the sky, backlighting the dew on roadside plants and shimmering on the turbulent waters of this popular rafting river. We glide on the B186 through Sölden, which is almost traffic-free this early. Soon, we leave the town behind and pass the junction to the Ötztal glaciers on our right and proceed a bit over a mile until we come to the small town of Zwieselstein and the beginning of the Ventner Landestrasse.

These balconied, dark wooden farmhouses are a typical sight as you leave the hamlet of Zwieselstein and start the climb up to the Timmelsjoch pass.

This little road runs along the valley floor with the Venter Ache river on our left. We soon ride through some avalanche protection tunnels and come to a gently winding narrow strip of asphalt crossing a green forest with a view of the snow-covered Wildspitze ahead—wonderful. Shortly afterward, we ride through Heiligkreuz and past its pretty pink church with a red onion-shaped dome. An elegant S-curve bridge takes us across to the left side of the river. From here, there is another short bridge and four brief tunnels before the last mile-long, picturesque section of the road. The river is sparkling and the church tower of Vent is getting closer and closer against the backdrop of the snow-capped Wildspitze. It’s a great road and definitely worth a detour.

Motorcycles & Gear

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT
Honda NC750X

Helmet: Shoei Neotec
Jacket: Held Cool System Leather, Helite airbag vests
Pants: Probiker Textile
Boots: Alpinestars New Land GORE-TEX
Gloves: Vanucci Visco-Lab
Luggage: Givi XS307 tank bag
Comm System: Sena 20S Evo

The Climb to the Pass

Back on the B186, we turn south toward the Timmelsjoch pass. The sun is still low in the sky and adds golden fringes to the alpacas (originally from Peru but well suited for this climate) grazing on the wide grass pastures on both sides of the road as we drive through the village of Obergurgl at the lower lift station. A series of five hairpin bends leads us up through the wooded lower slopes of the mountain until we reach the Hochgurgl ski area and, shortly afterward, the toll station and the magnificent Top Mountain Crosspoint Motorcycle Museum at 7,100 feet. The museum tragically burned down almost completely a few months after our trip, but has since reopened.

The Timmelsjoch's high point sign is obliterated by bike club stickers. On the most popular passes, these signs are periodically replaced when they become unreadable – and the process begins again.

We pay 21 euros (about the same in dollars) each for our toll (there and back) and continue toward the Italian border. After a mere mile downhill, the road turns 90 degrees to the right and reveals one of the longest straight sections I have ever seen on this type of high mountain road—nearly two miles along the valley floor with the Timmelsbach creek as a bubbling companion. The trees have all but disappeared at this height, leaving behind grassy, ​​purple-strewn slopes with blooming heather on either side, dotted with stunted larches. In the distance, we can see the beginning of the hairpins that will lead us to the left and eventually to the border crossing. These turns are very comfortable to ride, with a good radius and long straights in between.

Shortly before the border, we break for coffee at the Rasthaus Timmelsjoch. A short hike up the hill behind the cafe offers great views of the switchbacks and the valley we have just traversed.