A tale from 2013…..

The Stella Alpina is like any other bike meet; several hundred motorcycle enthusiasts sharing their love of two wheeled travel. But, the lure of The Stella runs deeper. It’s part right of passage, part pilgrimage.

In 1966, the Italian Mario Artusio rode his unmodified BMW up a mountain track to the snowline in the Alps.  This set a challenge to other riders.  From then, the Stella Motocilistica Internazionale, (or Stella) was born.  Every year since, Mario rides up the same untarmaced road and sets the bar.  Others ride to match him.

Riders gather in the Alpine town of Bardonecchia (Bokki for short). The Railway Station Cafe is the hub of activity.

Outside the cafe a row of bikes are parked with their front tyres nudging the curb, leisurely leaning left on their prop stands. An eclectic, dusty outdoor showroom.

Inside the cafe, riders fall into two categories.  Those contemplating the ride over a coffee and those celebrating reaching the snowline with a beer.

Coffee drained, it was time to go. I backed the Apprillia away from the curb and the Tigers, GSs, Africa Twins and other more appropriate off road machines. At least I was staying true to the ‘unmodified off road’ bike ethos.  Thousands of tarmac miles under my belt, zero off road miles. Under-biked and under-experienced, I set off.

The track introduced us gradually. Tarmac, tarmac with potholes, potholes with gravel, potholes and gravel with tarmac islands.  Then, gravel of all sizes and depths.

Hairpins become more challenging. As the gradient increased, the outside of each hairpin becomes a ridge of gravel. Beautiful views of Italy are fatally distracting.  The temperature drops and mountain streams grow icy edges.

There is consideration amongst riders. Slower riders giving way to faster ones.  More experienced riders giving spaces to the less experienced on more technical sections.

After 13km and with the snow line in sight, the gradient steepens again  and part frozen streams cross the track. Finally,  I’m looking for somewhere to leave my bike at the Col De Sommelier.

The t-shirt van was almost empty one small T-shirt was duct taped to the inside of the van.  I bought it. The last T-shirt for the last rider!