If Bond did bike museums: Why you should head up an Austrian summit to the amazing Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum
Austria’s highest border crossing is also one of its greatest motorcycle roads. The mighty Timmelsjoch pass climbs from the Ötztal valley in the Austrian Tyrol and crosses the border at 2474m before descending through a series of ten spectacular cliffside hairpins into the Passeier valley in Italy.
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The last thing most motorcyclists are thinking about when riding a road like this is making a visit to a museum. But in April 2016 a new space-age toll booth and cable car base station was opened at Hochgurgl on the Austrian side of the pass just below the border crossing.
Twin brothers Alban and Atilla Scheiber, who own the complex as well as the road itself, also made it home to one of the most impressive motorcycle museums in the world – and the highest in Europe.
The opening ceremony included a visit from Giacomo Agostini on his racing MV Agusta, a flyby by Red Bull and world-class cuisine. It looks more like the film set for the latest Bond villain’s head of operations than a repository of legendary machinery.
If you take the time to dismount and enter the museum a €10 entry fee will see you inside the personal motorcycle collection of the Scheiber brothers.
Their lives have been driven by their passion for two wheels. "We got our first moped when we were six years old, at eight we were sitting on our first motocross bike, we haven’t gotten off our bikes again since," recounts Alban Scheiber.
They have been collecting motorcycles for many years, buying them from friends, online or at auctions in Europe and the USA.
"The old toll station from the 1950s had to be restored," says Alban, "which gave us the idea to integrate a motorcycle museum into the new building at the same time and open our collection."
Ten years before the building opened they started to add more and more bikes to their collection and the current display has 350 bikes, 70% of which are owned by the family, the rest are on loan.
We based ourselves in Sölden and headed south from there to the Timmelsjoch. Thankfully it was open (it has been recently plagued by landslides) and we were blessed with great weather. The Austrian side of the pass climbs through four hairpins and is a relatively gentle introduction to the more spectacular Italian side.
We soon pass the small ski-resort town of Hochgurgl then up around the next bend the imposing wood and glass structure of the combined cable car station / toll booth / Motorcycle Museum and restaurant comes into view straddling the road ahead and jutting out over the valley to the left.
The main exhibition hall is on the first floor but there is also a secondary exhibition area on the ground floor which was hosting a special display of Indians. It was great to see the world record breaking Indian Scout of Burt Munroe (even if it was a replica).
Entering the main exhibition area on the first floor reveals an architect’s dream interior that curves left and away from you into the distance. Gunmetal grey cylindrical pillars support the wooden beamed roof with spotlights all around.
The right wall is a curved and banked wooden track with five rows of board track and racing bikes lined up as if ready for the off. The roped-off centre section of the hall is dominated by sidecar combinations including the Ariel 350 used in the Nanny McPhee film with Emma Thompson.
The wooden walls down both sides of the halls are bedecked with display cabinets of trophies or mementoes and active video screens. The number of different marques on display is bewildering – you could spend hours in here without getting bored.
We are shown around by Museum and Restaurant manager Basilius Praxmarer who also gives us some more of the back history and future plans.
Angelus Scheiber, grandfather of the twins, was an Ötztal tourism pioneer and with support from the provincial government planned the first paved road over the Timmelsjoch in 1950 following the route of the old mule trading track.
The idea was to be able to ski at midday on the Ötztal glaciers and then relax in the afternoon under the palm trees of Merano. Work started in 1955 and the road was opened in July 1959.
Two generations on and the twins have replaced the old simple toll booth with the structure we see today but already there is work underway on an expansion. A third wing is being built at the moment and will be opened in Autumn 2021. The collection is expanding thanks to private donors and a new partnership with Red Bull and Wings for Life.
It’s an extraordinary perfect storm of incredible roads, a breath-taking location, amazing architecture and a stunning collection of motorcycles. It’s hard to find reasons why you wouldn’t want to visit.
How to visit
The Top Mountain Crosspoint with Europe’s highest motorcycle museum at 2175m is open every day from 9am to 5.30pm.
The connected restaurant is open from 10am to 5pm. The entrance fee is €10 but if you are staying in the area and have the Ötztal Premium Card, then the entrance is free.
To visit the museum you don’t have to pass through the road toll but you are sure to want to ride the spectacular Italian side of the pass.
The access road is open daily from 7am to 8pm all year round, but the section after the toll is normally only open between end of May and end of October. It’s worth checking whether it is open here. The one-way ticket costs €15 and a return ticket costs €21.
The Italian side is not suitable for large vehicles and coaches over 10m length or over 8 tonnes are prohibited – so leave your massive motorhome at home. Trailers over 4.5m are also prohibited.
The nearest airport is Innsbruck, which is served from UK by BA and charter airlines. You then have to drive to Sölden in Ötztal and then on to Hochgurgl.