Seeking the Rough Stuff Seeking the Rough Stuff

Seeking the Rough Stuff

Alle Storys
Freitag, Oktober 26, 2018

This August, my Mercredi 650b adventure bike and I joined the crew from Pannier.cc to ride off road from hut to hut in the Italian Alps. Inspired by the book ‘Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps’, the plan was to trace some of the book’s routes and take in some high mountain refuges along the way—stopping for plenty of coffee, of course.

Rough stuff riding by definition takes you to the more remote and isolated corners of the Alps - that is its appeal - and this demands more from the rider.

Photo by Dave Sear for Pannier

Our merry bunch of true Rough Stuff aficionados wanted to follow in Fred’s tyre tracks, ultimately seeking more ways to get off busy and overcrowded roads and take in more of the quiet ways by bike. Stef from Pannier calls it ‘slow travel’. It’s the no pressure enjoyment of your surroundings, with plenty of time to travel short distances—allowing for coffee stops and a photo or two, of course.

Photo by Jordan Gibbons for Pannier

We met in Bormio, a beautiful alpine town in Lombardy, Italy. A quick doppio espresso was had in the piazza before setting off to ride over the mighty Stelvio pass at sunset—the perfect time with no traffic and the thrill of the descent in the dark. That set us up for a lovely few days of testing some sections of Fred’s routes whilst discovering some of our own. Over three days we travelled around the three sides of the Ortler mountain range, taking in the main star of the show, the ‘Gran Zebru’, a mighty mountain that stands at a height of 3,851m (12,634ft). We stayed in huts each night that are usually favoured by walkers and climbers due to their lofty locations, and we were quite the curiosity as we arrived in cycling shoes with cleats rather than hiking boots. That settled down after we bought a few rounds of the traditional local herbal liqueur for our fellow refuge residents. Refuges have been a massive part of mountaineering and alpine history since the 1800’s, offering shelter and food for those who enjoy the high-altitude life. Staying in these huts not only saved us from carrying camping equipment but also guaranteed us some pretty good food each night—and Italian wine, of course.

Photo by Dave Sear for Pannier

Riding off road in the Alps can be super challenging and requires a bit of hiking at points. We had to leave our bikes stashed in amongst the trees in one section to save a very slow push up a steep track to one refuge. But getting this high is so rewarding, even if it’s not 100% rideable 100% of the time. None of us were looking for the perfect, fine grain gravel roads.

Photo by Jordan Gibbons for Pannier

We wanted true adventure and a mix of being able to actually get to a location with a good peppering of challenge thrown in. Surfaces encountered included sealed roads over cols and into villages, mountain service roads that might turn into ski piste in the winter, rutted rocky Land Rover-width doubletrack and snaking, often more vertical than not, singletrack.

Photo by Dave Sear for Pannier

Loaded bikepacking over this sort of terrain requires a little bit of patience, but the rewards come by having time to look around whilst going up and then letting the bike take the strain whilst going down the loose and rutted mountain tracks. Using the Zipp 303 Firecrest 650b wheels with WTB Byways was an incredible set up that coped with all types of terrain. Run the pressures right in the tyres and they soak up everything, and are especially comfortable paired with the steel frame of the Mercredi.

Photo by Dave Sear for Pannier

It’s always an anti-climax getting back to the car after a few days of being high in the hills, removing bags from bikes and pulling on some fresh clothes. No matter how long or short the trip was, the inevitable chatter about what the next trip will be has begun already, no doubt inspired by another section of Fred’s book.

Fred Wright

Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps reached its current reprinted form thanks to a kickstarter campaign led by Max Leonard of Isola Press. James Olsen, founder and race director of the Torino Nice Gravel Rally, along with friend Paul Errington, of Dirty Reiver and Grinduro originally found the self published version, and Stefan Amato of Pannier.cc backed the entire project with his drawings and support and of course not forgetting the blessing of the original Rough Stuff master, the now 82-year-old Fred Wright. You can find a copy here: www.roughstuffalps.com

Photo by Jordan Gibbons for Pannier

Alle Storys