Transalpina, Romania's Highest Rideable Road

While many of you may have heard about Transfagarasan, one of the world’s most beautiful roads after the Top Gear chaps rode their supercars on it and their jaws dropped, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Romania has even more to offer to the thrill-seekers. Get ready to add Transalpina on your journey destinations list for the next year, as you’ll most likely fall in love with it.
Transalpina sunset 13 photos
A brief history

Those who are not acquainted with the Romanian language might raise an eyebrow observing the “Trans” particle in the names of these two roads. Well, “trans” comes from Latin, and refers to the action or property of crossing, or traversing an area. If Trans-Siberian does ring a bell, then you’ve got how things roll. It crosses the Parang Mountains form north to south. Or the other way around, if it suits you better.

Even though Transalpina is often referred to as the King’s Road or the Devil’s Pathway, it has nothing to do with George RR Martin or his novels. As for the devilish references, the road was and still is a very dangerous one, as it is rather unforgiving. Ever since it was used of the first time and up till recent road works, the Transalpina was only a rocky narrow path climbing to barren alpine wastelands, often at the edge of huge drops which could be as deep as 500 meters (1500 ft). And with the absence of rail guards, you can figure out that driving or riding at the very edge of doom was not exactly an easy thing.

The origins of the Transalpina are yet uncertain. While it is known that Transalpina was rebuilt between the two world wars and opened for public traffic back in 1935 under the rule of King Carol the Second of Romania (yes, Romania used to be a monarchy), some say that the road was built and rock-paved by the Germans during WWI.

Other sources say that the initial road was built by the Romans during their stay in the area during the second century AD, which is a somewhat more credible version. Due to the very difficult landscape, building a road from scrap looks like a rather difficult task in times of war. On the other hand, the road is mentioned in old historic maps as the “4th strategic Roman corridor”, but again, it is almost impossible to identify the exact origin of the road.

Where is it?

Transalpina, or the Road 67C as you’ll see it on the maps or GPS, lies almost at the heart of Romania, and it links Transilvania and Muntenia, two historic regions if the country. The whole length of the road is 135 km (84 miles), between Novaci (southern end) and Sebes (northern end), but the really fun portion is a 30-kilometer (18-mile) sector between Obarsia Lotrului in the north and Ranca in the south.

A very sweet, winding mountain road is also linking Obarsia Lotrului and Sebes, so going north will also provide riders with breathtaking scenery and a ton of fun the endless turns offer. To make things even nicer, you should also note the fact that riding the Transalpina will get you within striking range of the Transfagarasan. With 145km (90 miles) between Obarsia Lotrului and the southernmost end of the Transfagarasan, Curtea de Arges, it’s a real pity to visit to Romania and miss its other spectacular road.

Why is it cool?

For starters, you should know that the Transalpina is the highest road in Romania, with the Urdele Pass raising 2,145 meters (7,037 ft) above sea level. If you want to feel even bigger than the rest, you can also find a spot to park the bike and climb on the steep slope above the road, thus becoming the highest rider in Romania, at least for the moment.

Another thing is the fact that you can only ride the Transalpina in the warm season. The local authorities will close it as soon as the first snow sets in on the summit, due to the exceedingly high risk of accidents caused by slippery roads. It’s safe to assume that if you leave the road and come crashing down the huge drops, you’ll return home in a black plastic bag, so taking this sort of risk may not be the smartest thing one can do.

In a way, the Transalpina is not unlike the Pikes Peak, especially in the high areas where the guard rails are missing, and this adds a certain dose of uneasiness when opening the throttle in certain places. Today, almost the entire road has been paved, and the new asphalt allows all vehicles to cross the mountain range with ease.

However, many of the guys who rode the Transalpina before it was rebuilt (including myself) say that the old, rocky road was much more fun. It’s true, only a handful of brave guys riding other bikes than adventure and off-road compliant ones have managed to cross the mountains. Others believed that the old road was a joke when they learned that one guy aboard an R1 went from Novaci to Obarsia Lotrului, but telling them that we had to leave behind one Honda Transalp and a Yamaha machine with cracked sumps put back some sense in them.

Fact is that the old Transalpina was not exactly hell on earth… but the rocky thresholds one had to climb or steer part, together with the big boulders made a very unforgiving “welcoming committee” and remaining stranded with a slashed tire or a broken sump was not at all a rare thing back in the day. I will not even mention how many bend central stands which were hanging too low have been bent or lost on Transalpina.

After the rehabilitation works begun, riding the Transalpina also came with a bonus: crossing the river Lotru, in the northern sector, miles from Obarsia Lotrului. While during the summer, the Lotru was more of a stream, riders reaching it from either side have often been confronted with a much difficult obstacle. Even if the level was usually 30-45 cm (12-18”) so the amount of water pushing the bike laterally was not exactly dramatic, it was the width of the river which could cause problems.

It was not uncommon that the river bed which has to be crossed to reach 20 meters (65 ft) and the slippery rocks and hidden boulders could send rider and bike flipping to one side in the cold water fairly easily.

Since then the bridge was rebuilt, but the road is still incomplete, ranking as a construction site and being closed to the public traffic. However, I passed by the starting point of the “real deal Transalpina” in Obarsia Lotrului a couple of months ago, while heading for another cool sector, and met about a dozen bikes in the area. And since I drove west after the junction where the Transalpina started to the south and met new motorcycles, it’s safe to assume that those folks were coming from across the Urdele Pass.

If you feel like making a really awesome bike trip, make sure you add Transalpina and maybe Transfagarasan to your list. As for the former, the Ranca resort is developing quite quickly, even though you’d have to travel there in the winter to benefit from its multitude of skiable slopes.

Honda Transalp Club Romania Rally 2009
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