Transalp: crossing the Alps with road bikes and the BMW iX

10 min reading time
Is cycling over the Alps at the top of your bike tour bucket list? Then you need to keep reading. We will take you on a day trip over the main ridge of the Alps and tell you everything you need to know about biking in the mountains. Most importantly, you will learn why the BMW iX is the ideal support vehicle for a transalp road trip.

24 June 2021

After around 135 kilometers, the fun comes to an end. With a gradient of over 12%, a cold headwind and an unpleasant mix of rain, sleet and snow, we think: this is not the most comfortable way to spend the day. Well, at least I’m thinking that. Maria, relaxed and beating out a steady rhythm next to me on her road bike as she heads toward the top of the Jaufen Pass, just smiles. She knows that the reward for this ordeal lies just a couple of minutes ahead of us.

The protagonists

  • The BMW iX is the latest BMW i model and the technology flagship of the brand. The fully electric BMW iX xDrive50 has a range of up to 630 km on a single charge.
  • Maria Wilke (@maryywilke on Instagram), 31 years old, lives to ride her bike. She calls the Black Forest in Germany home and happily rides over 300 km a day – just for the fun of it.

  • Nils Arnold, editor, combines his passion for cars, biking and writing on this transalp cycling tour. Can also ride over 200 km – with charging.
Electric range (WLTP) in km: 372-631  
Electricity consumption in kWh/100 km (WLTP): 23,0-19,3  

Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, Olympiaschanze (2,323 feet above sea level), 0 km

- BMW iX battery: 98% charged.
- Maria Wilke and editor: relaxed.

Let’s start a few hours earlier though. Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies in the middle of the Bavarian Alps at the foot of the Olympiaschanze, a ski jumping venue built and previously used for the Winter Olympics. At 6:06 a.m. one May morning, some time after sunup, rain showers loom on the western horizon. Maria smiles her happy smile, while the editor has a look of more forced optimism. The BMW iX is ready to go. It at least has a relaxing trip ahead of it. (➜ Read more: Road trip through the mountains). On this scenic bike trip, it’s a great advantage having an electric SAV serve as our support vehicle. The BMW iX is hauling our grub, gear and additional clothing. It also provides us with moral support as we go cycling in the Alps. The driver can kick back and enjoy a comfortable ride in this spacious vehicle.

German/Austrian border where the Leutasch Valley begins (3,333 feet), 17 km

- BMW iX battery: still well over 90%.
- Maria Wilke and editor: not yet at operating temperature.

After a brief initial climb from Mittenwald to the Leutasch Valley, we cross the border into Austria. While the air remains cool, our muscles are finally starting to warm up. Inside the BMW iX, the driver can enjoy the scenery, surrounded by low-lying clouds which suddenly separate to reveal a stunning view of the Wetterstein range. The EV purrs along behind us at 35 km/h (➜ Read more: All types of EVs) and uses hardly a kilowatt of power.

Telfs (2,109 feet), 43 km

- BMW iX battery: unchanged thanks to recuperation.
- Maria Wilke and editor: intoxicated with speed.

After a warm-up ride through the Leutasch Valley across mostly flat terrain, the first ascent is now ahead of us. Maria smiles briefly and then is off. Leaning far over her top bar, she hurls her carbon bike toward Inntal. Following along leisurely behind is the BMW iX SAV, which is able to recover energy as it goes down inclines with a gradient of 10% or more. Once we reach Telfs, the temperature rises and we head east for a bit. The road is often dead straight and completely flat. Apart from the discreet but distinctive singing of our carbon fiber tires, there is not a sound to be heard – especially not from the BMW iX. We’re rolling through the Inntal Valley at well over 40 km/h. Our support vehicle distributes snacks and water when we need them and grabs our top layer of clothes when we shed them.

Innsbruck, Bergisel (2,447 feet), 70 km

- BMW iX battery: hardly gone down at all.
- Maria Wilke and editor: brief build-up of lactic acid.

The next ski jumping hill: from Innsbruck we head directly uphill to Bergisel. As the BMW iX slowly wends its way up the sweeping curves to the start of the Wipp Valley on the way to Brenner, our GPS comes up with a shortcut. It sounds good, but is painful. Even if it’s only a little over 150 feet, the 20% gradient means our thigh muscles are on fire. Word to the wise: the special gear for mountains makes biking up such steep inclines a whole lot more enjoyable. We power on through for a little while and are now thoroughly awake. The BMW iX on the other hand has used hardly any energy, while the driver has enjoyed the highly relaxing ride.

Matrei am Brenner (3,254 feet), 88 km

- BMW iX battery: well above 80%.
- Maria Wilke and editor: ready to go again.

Neither the cyclists nor the BMW iX need a break, so we push on. The road from Innsbruck to the Brenner Pass is 35 km long and climbs a good 2,600 feet. For the most part, it’s a relaxed ride to our destination as we draft off one another. As the sun makes several appearances over the state capital of Tyrol, we feel confident that we will see some summer weather once we reach the Italian border.

Brenner Pass, Austrian/Italian border (4,494 feet), 104 km

- BMW iX battery: still in the 80s.
- Maria Wilke and editor: need to recharge

The windbreakers, scarves and arm and leg warmers that we took off shortly after Bergisel need to be put back on at Brennero. The summer weather we had been hoping for is still farther south. A light rain begins. We reward ourselves with a ten-minute break on an old stone that served to mark the border and refill our water bottles, stretch and check our route. Otherwise nothing to report. Maria smiles as the driver of the BMW iX gets out of the car and looks like he’s had a hard day at the spa. I’m thinking of a nice hot bath this evening when Maria states that it’s time to go and sets the pace.

Sterzing (3,110 feet), 118 km

- BMW iX battery: still around 80% thanks to regenerative braking.
- Maria Wilke and editor: motivated for the ascent.

At Sterzing we just let our bikes roll, which allows us to save energy. This goes for the BMW iX too. Especially since in Sterzing the way from Wipptal heads directly up to the Jaufen Pass. But first we must once again adjust our clothing. We take off the outer layer and chuck the equipment into the backseat of the BMW iX. It takes us a few kilometers on our way up toward the Jaufen Pass to pace ourselves and find our rhythm. We’ve got a good hour and a half of climbing ahead of us. Maria, as always, has a smile on her face. The EV continues on behind in our slipstream.

Take a breath, recharge the batteries: The BMW iX and the two protagonists pause for a short break. The 21-inch BMW aerodynamic wheel Star-spoke 1011 Jet Black can be seen at the front.

Jaufen Pass (6,870 feet), 137 km

- BMW iX battery: used some juice going up the mountain, but is still good.
- Maria Wilke and editor: cold shock.

The eastern ramp from Wipptal to the Jaufen Pass is a rewarding climb. The 3,772 feet of altitude are evenly distributed over 15 kilometers up to the top of the pass, corresponding to an average gradient of 7.6%. For cyclists this is somewhat challenging, while for the BMW iX it’s child’s play (➜ Read more: Torque explained). We are still deep in the forest but are approaching the tree line. The weather is putting on quite a show: showers, sun, sleet, wind, and everything in between. Typical weather for the Alps. For this reason, we take just a quick break at the top of the pass and put on every last stitch of clothing we have. And now we have reached that glorious moment of reward we’ve suffered for – the one mentioned at the beginning of this article. The longer the climb up, the more fun it is to go back down – for both us bikers and the driver in the BMW iX. Along luxuriously long curves and steep straight stretches we fly down towards the Passeier Valley. With every turn it becomes warmer. And our smiles grow wider.

St. Leonhard in Passeier (2,260 feet), 155 km

- BMW iX battery: recharging thanks to regenerative braking.
- Maria Wilke and editor: rolling along.

On the climb just before reaching the Jaufen Pass it felt like winter, but now we’ve arrived in spring. We stop to take our last break of the day to quickly shed as much of our clothing as possible. We’re now on a gradual descent that takes us past fruit orchards and vineyards heading toward the Etsch Valley. Knowing that we have no more climbing to do today and that we’re almost there, we kick it up a notch. There’s no worry about the BMW iX eating up too much energy either (➜ Read more: Busting electric car myths). Once we’re in the Etsch Valley, our GPS guides us to the biking path in the middle of the valley. We head off to Castle Sigmundskron, and then it’s five more kilometers heading north to downtown Bolzano, Italy. We did it!

Bolzano, charging station downtown (860 feet), 210 km

- BMW iX battery: shows less than 70% for the first time.
- Maria Wilke and editor: ready to recharge their batteries.

When we reach the charging station (➜ Read more: How to charge an EV) in Bolzano, we take a look at the odometer: 8.5 hours of pure driving time over a good 210 kilometers and about a 3,000 foot climb for our transalp bicycle trip. Most important of all, no one, not even the BMW iX, was pushed to their limits. The charge display says that we could make it back to Germany the next day without charging at all. But who wants to tempt fate? And tomorrow the car is going to be carrying both of us and our bikes back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The 135 kilometers tomorrow will be a very different trip for us.

The perfect equipment ensures a comfortable journey. The bikes are strapped onto the BMW Rear cycle carrier Pro 2.0, while Maria Wilke also wears a lightweight down jacket from the BMW Lifestyle collection.

Three tips for traveling in the mountains with an EV

  1. Fully charge your battery before you leave.

  2. Plan your route ahead of time. The GPS in the BMW iX can help you (➜ Read more: Top EV hacks).

  3. In case of emergencies, you should have an app to pay for recharging plus a charging card.



Why EVs are the perfect vehicle for a trip to the mountains

  • EVs do not produce local emissions.
  • EVs are very quiet, which reduces noise pollution.

  • The instant torque and related acceleration make driving uphill safe and fun.

  • Driving downhill recharges the battery quickly – the brakes are hardly needed, which makes them last longer.

  • If you want to take your racing bike, mountain bike or e-bike along, the optional trailer hitch for the BMW iX is ideal for bike carriers.

Seven tips for traveling by bike in the Alps

  • Season: Midsummer is the best time for a tour of the Alps on a bike. The days are long, it’s not too cold over 6,500 feet and the passes are free of snow.
  • Route: The route you choose should be based on the following factors: fitness level, time of year, weather and, of course, what you are interested in doing. A leisurely ride? Then take the Brenner route. Endurance climbing? Then go over the Timmelsjoch. You want to put a lot of miles behind you? Then start from Munich. You have an endless number of choices from there (➜ Read more: European tours with a bike and a BMW).

  • Physical fitness: It’s neither fun nor wise to go on a bike tour if you don’t train first. Biking over 125 miles in one day at high altitudes is extremely physically demanding. There is only one way to get in shape for this: training.

  • Your road bike must be in perfect condition. If you’re 5,000 feet up in the mountains and you want to go down in 30 minutes, you have to be able to rely on your brakes. A perfectly tuned bike will also save you muscle power.

  • Bike gear: without going into too much detail, you should focus on good biking pants because you’re going to be sitting for eight hours or more on your bike. When you reach 6,500 feet and you’re completely sweaty, it’s not a good idea to start your descent like that. You should bring along wind and rain jackets, arm and leg warmers and gloves. To be safe, you should pack a clip-on light for going through tunnels and in case the weather turns nasty.

  • Food and drink: You should absolutely try out in advance what you can eat while you’re biking. And more importantly, what you can’t. You need to make sure you‘re getting enough calories, salt (because you sweat it out) and water, water and more water.

  • Weather: It can change in an instant in the mountains. If it starts hailing or there’s a thunderstorm, don’t be ashamed to get off your bike and take a break. Safety should always be your first priority on a cycling trip through the Alps.

Photos: Yannick Wolff; Author: Nils Arnold