From time to time folks will ask what the big deal is about riding in the Alps. After all, we've got some pretty great roads right here in California. We've got Yosemite and we've got Tioga Pass. We've got Big Sur and we've got the Sonoma coast. We've got Hwy 36 and we've got Hwy 25. We've got Mulholland and we've got teh (sic) 9. Hell, we can even lane split here in California, and if you get bored with that we can ride to Oregon, or Montana, or Alaska ferchissakes! So what the hell is the big deal?
Good question and good points! There is a wealth of great riding here in California, and even more in adjoining states. You could keep yourself busy riding new California roads every weekend for years. In fact, you should.
The great gift of riding in North America is space. Once you get out of the big cities, north or south, or across the valley, suddenly you have space. Even here in populous California you can easily find places that are empty. Riders coming here from Europe marvel at the distances you can travel in Nevada, or Utah, or Idaho where there is nothing for miles. It truly is a gift.
The Alps are different. The area has been densely populated for centuries, millennia really. And much of that time the tide of governments and cultures and armies have washed back and forth over them. It's the inverse of the space of the West. Not that it's what you'd call crowded, but it is developed. The benefit of this for motorcyclists is that all this development involved building roads, and those roads go nearly everywhere. Every river valley was a path for commerce. Every high cirque that didn't have a glacier became summer pasture. In between were countless farms and villages, and roads were needed to connect all of them. So today the place is positively cross-hatched with roads and trails, and many of those roads are paved. And most of those paved roads are positively brilliant on a motorcycle.
What it comes down to is sort of the inverse of space. It's road density. You can base around one town, and ride exciting, beautiful roads day after day, with very little repetition, and not much time spent on big busy roads or and big crowded cities. For example, one day in particular this year, Matt and I left the inn at Serre Chevalier, rode Izoard, Vars, Restefond, Bonette, Lombarde, Sampeyre, Agnel, and Izoard again in one day - and that's just the high passes! That does not include some of the really fun roads that connect them through the countryside. There is nowhere that I know of near where I live in California where you could ride so many amazing roads in just 400 kilometers (~240 miles).
There are other reasons to ride the Alps. The scenery is obviously spectacular. When little kids draw mountains, the mountains their crayons depict seem to be inspired by the Alps. The architecture is often nearly as breathtaking as the natural scenery. The food is great. And in my experience, the people are wonderful.
That said, for me there is at least one more reason to ride the Alps. If you're a baseball fan, and you love the game and all of its history and pageantry, if you love all the great games and players that have come before, you may feel the pull to make a pilgrimage to the sport's hallowed ground. Maybe for you it's Yankee Stadium, or Fenway, or Wrigley Field. A place where you can go to feel connected to all that has come before, and all that is yet to come. The Alps are like that for motorcyclists. I recall reading about alpine touring in Cycle World when I was a kid, seeing B&W photos of tourists on BMW R69's and Triumph T100's, gear lashed to the seat, layered up against the chill, with stunning mountainscapes in the background. I knew then at age twelve that this was where real riding happened. This was where a motorcyclist went for great riding and to meet great riders. This was hallowed ground.
Now after four trips I can say with all honesty that it has been everything I'd hoped it would be. That the roads, the scenery, the food, the people, the quality of the riders, and the quality of the riding I was inspired to do exceeded anything I could have reasonably expected, and often even exceeded what I'd unreasonable dreamed.