The route from Asolo in the north of Italy through South Tyrol and into Austria is biking heaven. Snaking through the scenic countryside, the roads are glorious; smooth, plenty of grip and a glorious mix of wide, fast, sweeping bends and tighter, technical, slower corners.
The temperature’s hot. Really hot. As I set off, the thermometer its a giddy 35, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the roads are empty. My bike, a 2006 Aprilia RSV-R Factory, feels good. It feels like it’s made for trips like this and is great at churning out the miles. It’s roomy, comfortable and has more than enough grunt to make each bend an occasion. The suspension feels plush and the noise from the engine is intoxicating, with the deep rumble that accompanies every downshift delivering a lot of smiles per mile. It really is all the bike I’ll ever need. Yes, I may be dripping sweat in my one-piece leather, but I’m grinning like a loon in my helmet, feeling at one with the bike and the road. Why would I possibly want or need something more modern? I look at the crude notes taped to the tank. This is old skull touring, and I love it.
Three hours of riding nirvana later and the bike starts misbehaving. There’s a slight delay in the throttle, followed by a surge when I overtake a car as we climb a valley. It’s nothing. I’m imagining it. And then reality hits home; the bike won’t rev above 6000rpm, in any gear. I pull over. In neutral the bike revs like a dream, under load it’s sticking at 6. I’m two hours from my destination, but four hours from home, It’s a Saturday, it’s 5.30pm and I’m in the middle of the Dolomites. I can either try and get where I’m going, or spin around. Fortune favours the brave.
The bike is getting worse. It now won’t rev above 5000rpm and it’s sounding rougher and rougher. I pull over for fuel and left the engine cool down, in the hope fresh juice will get the old girl singing again.
Unfortunately it doesn’t. The bike is getting worse, now refusing to rev above 4000rpm. It’s hesitant, and really struggles with town work. Then I pull up at a junction after sitting in road works for five minutes and the engine surges then dies. The engine’s still running, but it’s either all or nothing and there’s no response low down. I slip the clutch, pray there’s no massive power spike and pull left, quickly chasing into second in a bid to have some control over forward momentum.
I’m now just 45 minutes away from my digs for the night. I’m so close I can almost taste the beer. Yet I’m increasingly convinced I won’t make it. The bike now won’t rev above 3000rpm, and we’ve got to climb up to 1900m. As we leave the v alley floor and the main road, the asphalt up to the town where I’m staying narrows and become more sinuous. It’s a proper mountain road, and in normal circumstances this would be biking heaven. But it’s not. It’s hell. I’ve been passed by bike after bike after bike as I try and nurse it higher and higher, but the steeper the climb, the worse the problem becomes. And now I’m stuck behind a bus. I can’t use first, as the power keeps kicking in and then dying, and I can’t use second, as the bike won’t rev high enough to move forwards. It’s frustrating and scary in equal measure, and if it dies now, I’m literally in the middle of nowhere, with no phone signal.
I reach my hotel, just, get off the bike, take my helmet and sink to the floor. I’m overwhelmed with relief. But I’m also drained. I’ve coaxed the bike here but have no idea what’s wrong. Is it a throttle position sensor? An alternator? Fuel pump? How am I going to get it back? Where am I going to take it to get it fixed? So many questions…