Passo Dello Stelvio unicycle ascent


This was the second planned unicycle ride for me last month when Annie & I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Italy. First ride was in the spectacular Dolomites, Sella Ronda. We loved the drive out of the Dolomites to Prato Allo Stelvio; our little Fiat 500L was perfect for these tight Italian roads. I was incredibly anxious to ride Passo Stelvio; I had researched it quite a bit, only reading amazing things about it.
I started early from Prato with warm overcast skies, this made me happy as it was raining the previous night. I gave Annie an estimate on when to leave and to take her time and enjoy it, she would find me somewhere up the road. Within minutes of starting, I was blessed with a rainbow; I knew then that all would be ok. The deep alpine valley was narrowing as a pedaled my unicycle up the road. The glacier topped mtn range became closer with every kilometer pedaled. The first marked switchback, #48 came and passed, as I began to climb up higher from the valley floor.
The narrow road ramped up quickly, as my unicycle advanced its way into the thick forested canopy. Beautiful old growth forest layered with vibrant green ground cover was the predominant environment in this section. Every few switchbacks the road would pop out from under the canopy and provide me with world class views. The switchbacks numbered in the 30’s, were very steep, some in the 14%-16% range, which was a good mid ride test for me. I could look down from one switchback to the next, they appeared to be vertically stacked one on top of the other.
The ride up to this point was proving to be the beast it was told to be. I could feel that both the kilometers ridden, and the vertical gain were starting to add up. I felt strong though, and attributed most of that to the low elevation. Training in Aspen has its advantages for sure. I stopped occasionally to take it all in, this was such an amazing part of the world and I did not want to hurry through it.
Pushing the pedals with great force rounding a very steep, canted switchback, I was in total awe with what lay ahead of me. It was the first time that I could see the summit, and those beyond belief switchbacks that climb up that super steep mountainside. Multiple cantilevered switchbacks hanging in space helped carve this monumental road up to the summit.
The original road was built in 1820-25 by the Austrian Empire to connect the former Austrian province of Lombardia with the rest of Austria, covering a climb of 1871 m. Construction began in 1820, taking five years and more than two thousand builders to complete. Since then, the route has changed very little. Its seventy five hairpin turns, 48 of them on the side I am riding, numbered with stones, are a challenge to motorists and cyclists. I heard a honk and looked back to see Annie coming up in the Fiat. It was a good time to take a break.
The Berghotel Franzenshone which is completely surround by the high mountains had a nice café for espresso and a place to chill for Annie. I switched my cranks from 145mm to 170mm and headed up the road with only half of the switchbacks to ride.
The rest of the ride was in the most spectacular mountain pass setting that I have ever ridden. It was surreal, climbing higher and higher towards the sky. The colors were vivid and abstract. Inspiration hit me as an athletic women with only one leg, other had prosthesis, passed me while I was fixing my mechanical. She was on roller skis, and was hammering up this beast of Stelvio. Shortly behind her was a team of roller skiers, looked like the Italian XC ski team, also hammering hard up the mountain. I was back on the uni after a minor mechanical issue with only 3 kilometers to go. I stopped just a kilometer short of the summit to absorb Stelvio. The scenery on this Stelvio climb has the most spectacular “mountain pass” scenery of any climb I have ever accomplished.
Staring down into the valley that I just unicycled up, with those amazing engineered switchbacks; looking at those magnificent glaciated mountains, and feeling my strong heartbeat through my jersey, put me in a serene state of Nirvana. I felt complete happiness and internal peace; I was one spirit floating in this glorious magical moment. That moment turned to minutes, I tried to capture it all in pictures. I saw Annie driving up the steep switchbacks in the red Fiat, so I waited till she passed me. I captured her huge smile; I believe she was totally immersed in this magnificent place as well. It was time to summit this beast.
High fives were graciously given by everyone waiting for me on the summit, including the Italian XC ski team and super stud roller skier woman. Goosebumps filled my skin from head to toe; I had just finished unicycling up Passo Dello Stelvio. The obligatory photos were taken at the top; my favorites were with Richard’ls Wursttandl, the guy selling the most delicious bratwurst and sauerkraut at 2760 meters; even during the snow squall. He works outside at the summit so he has seen the greatest bicyclists in the world up there. I am not sure how many he has called “Champion”, but I took it with great respect. And Evelinda a very sweet women who rode her bicycle up the other side from Bormio. She of course could not believe that I rode the unicycle from Prato to the top. Congrats to her for accomplishing Stelvio! Annie and I celebrated at the summit as long as possible; the summit is a high energy place, with tons of great people having a great time.
The Stelvio Pass retains an importance for sport when it is open from June to September. Countless cyclists, runners, and motorcyclists struggle to get to the highest stretch of road in the Eastern Alps. It is the highest finish of any Grand Tour. The Giro d’Italia often crosses the Stelvio Pass. Stelvio’s first Giro appearance was 1953. The legendary Italian Fausto Coppi attacked the Pink Jersey holder the Swiss Hugo Koblet 11 kms from the summit to take the stage and ultimately the entire Giro. The last time Stelvio was used in the Giro was 2012.
Ride stats: 24 km’s/15 miles, 1871 meters ascent/6138’


Great write up Mike and even greater achievement!

What a great write-up! Made me feel like I was there (and I wish I was)!
Congratulations on a fantastic adventure!

Man Oh Man

Oh Mike,

You’ve done it again – another fabulous inspirational ride. The scenery and colors looks stunning.

Thanks for sharing and congratulations – on the climb, on 25 years of marriage, and on getting out to ride some of the most amazing places on Earth.

You are an inspiration to us all!


Amazing as always

When I’m grown up, I want to be like aspenmike (not necessarily with the beard though).

Great work Mike, and I understand you as I felt similarly at Transfagarasan this year. Climbing is the way to go :slight_smile:

My jaw is dragging the ground

Soo Cool!

Everything about this is amazing! Great ride and great story!!!


now you can remplace :
unicycling albino


ALPINE unicycling albino :slight_smile:

Wow. Just wow.

And to think so many of us were near there last year – had I know about that road I would not have missed it for the world! In my trusty VW Touran rental car. :slight_smile:

I said to my wife: "I think I’ll have my tea now and look at pictures of Mike climbing a huge mountain :stuck_out_tongue:

So, what was harder, Mauna Kea or Passo Dello Stelvio?

Really nice job, I know about that climb from my road bike days, it’s a major piece of work, forty eight hair pins, sustained climbing, lots of exposure, truly an amazing feat.

So what’s left?

Oh, and where are the rest of your pics, cuz we know how you are with that camera :wink:

Do there is something impossible for you ?
It’s simply fabulous what you’ve done and a good inspiration for others what’s possible if we really want.

I’ll take the 'tash too, though it might look weird with my ginger hair…

Aspenmike - everytime I see a post by you it’s some unbelievably awesome mountain climb in some amazing scenery! You visit/live in the best places! :smiley:

But… Are you still in Italy?
Do you want to ride together? I like the uphills too…
I live in Verona and in Bologna (work in both cities)…
In case, mail me!!!


Mauna Kea is the hardest, lots left to climb, my hard drive crashed after I uploaded all the Italy pics. I finally got computer back online tonight :astonished:
@bungeejoe, rawcyclist, lanceb thank you thank you.

That is very kind of you, thank you. yes 25 years of marriage might have been the bigger challenge:) I do what I love, I am gifted to be able to have success with these big rides, I am honored to be an inspiration!
@ernst, vookash, knowuni, shmoligan, de gallus thank you thank you
@phileppe i like that, thank you
@foss good one - you would have so enjoyed driving up it

Thank you for the kind words, life is full of challenges, and the mind/body connection is amazing. Passion for life.
@piecemaker thank you thank you

Grazie, no I am back in the usa now. i will be back to italy someday and contact you so we can ride together. beautiful country, loved it!!