Alps - possibly the best riding in the world?
Well, anywhere in the Alps actually. It doesn't
specifically have to be in the French part -
good roads and mountains don't recognise political
Why are the High Alps so good?
For a start off, the Alps are within pretty
easy reach of the UK. Depending on your start
point of course, a two day ride will get you
there from most places in the UK. The highest
part of these mountains is about a 600 miles
ride from Calais. There may be equally stunning
riding areas in the world, but
I don't know of any (yet), and
It would almost certainly involve a long-haul
flight to get there.
So what's so special?
Just the sheer splendour and magnitude of the
mountains. You can ride around Mont Blanc, Europe's
highest mountain at 4800m. It's always snow
covered, as the name suggests. You can ride
over the highest paved mountain pass in the
Alps - the Col de L'Iseran just above the ski
resort of Val D'Isere. This climbs to 2770 metres
above sea level, and is usually blocked by snow
until mid-June. You're riding at altitudes of
about 6 times higher than anything in the UK.
The roads twist and turn for mile after mile
after mile; there are few cars around in early
season; the road surfaces are mostly good with
excellent grip; there are no traffic jams or
speed traps; you're surrounded by snow capped
peaks and tumbling glaciers; and for most of
the time the sun shines brightly as well. Need
I go on?
Ok I will. It's very hot down in the valleys,
often 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in Summer, but
as soon as you climb up the valleys towards
the high mountain passes (known as "cols") the
air is cool, crisp and invigorating. Bikers
are welcomed here, and many small restaurants
lay on a special menu for you. Photo opportunities
are never ending, and you can even fit in a
bit of summer skiing while you are here.
At the end of the day, when the riding is done,
you'll find eating out is better value than
England, and although bar tariffs can be high,
chilled 1664 from the supermarkets is exceptionally
good value, and it's a higher quality product
that the stuff they sell us back home.
A favourite base of mine is the little town
of Bourg St Maurice. This normal French town
is busy throughout the year, and is able to
offer the visitor something of interest in all
4 seasons. In winter, it sits beneath the ski
resort of Les Arcs and in summer it's an ideal
location for mountain sports such as Paragliding,
mountain biking, river rafting and of course
The ultimate ride for me, is a circular route
I've named the "Circuit de Mont Blanc" which
can start and finish in Bourg St Maurice, or
at any point en-route either.
This 200 mile route pulls in 10 mountain passes
across 3 different countries; France, Switzerland
and Italy. We begin with the Cormet du Roselan
which climbs steeply out of Bourg St Maurice
heading for Beaufort, which is famous for its
cheese. A little detour via the barrage and
the "Col du Pre" makes sure we get an extra
col in the bag which wouldn't normally fall
naturally into the circuit. A steady route via
Flumet, Megeve and Chamonix sees us through
some of the glitziest ski resorts in Europe.
We ride beneath a truly imposing icefall near
the mouth of the Mont Blanc tunnel, before reaching
the Col du Forclaz and Martigny over the Swiss
border. There's an extra little route via Champex
I've still not ridden, but note it will add
yet another diversion to this already spectacular
day route. We then take on the magnificent Col
du Grand St Bernard, which is my personal favourite.
Very challenging, very high, very twisty, with
a fairly well-surfaced road taking us to its
summit and the border with Italy.
We pass a shimmering frost edged lake, then
commence the exhilerating descent into the Aosta
valley in Italy. A little tiresome straightroad
riding in the intense summer heat soon passes,
before we cut short our obvious route towards
Courmayeur and the Petit St Bernard. A little
known pass called the St Carlo is worth doing.
I found this almost by accident, and it "cuts
the corner" to La Thuile. The road is a well
surfaced, demanding succession of continuous
hairpins, which enables you to bag yet another
col, before conquering the last one of the day
- the Petit St Bernard, which takes you back
over the top into France again.
The final drop down to Bourg St Maurice from
La Rosiere will have your hands and wrists crying
out for mercy, after braking hard for every
hairpin bend, time after time for the tenth
occasion today! Half way down, you'll be hit
by an intense wall of heat as the coolness of
high altitude gives way to the low lying sun
trap of the valley bottom again.
I've seen people literally shaking with the
adrenaline rush and exhaustion after completing
this final run of the day.
Either get yourself straight down to the open
air swimming pool before the sun goes down,
What better way to relax now, then to dump
the bike and head on down to "Le Tonneau", the
local bikers' staging point, and enjoy a couple
of oh-so-welcome chilled beers. As the beers
goes down, stories of the day's heroic riding
begin to emerge...
When to go?
Not before mid-May as the high mountain cols
will still be snow bound. June & July - probably
the best. June - snow only just receding, alpine
flowers emerging and Marmottes coming out of
hibernation. Late June sees a Motorcycle Rally
(The Trans' Vanoise) and the Fete de St Jean
taking place in Bourg St Maurice. The ski lifts
operate in the months of July & August as this
is now "high season", along with the opening
of the open air pool and all the mountain restaurants.
Everything is open in July and August, but it
can be very very hot, and relatively busy. September
& October are shoulder season, pretty, and still
warm, but things are starting to close down
for the approaching winter. Anytime from early
to mid October, it may start to snow on the
mountains. November can see major snowfall,
and then, it's a whole new ball game. The ski
season begins again, and many of the roads you've
just enjoyed riding up and down now become ski
runs again until next May.
www.lesarcs.com Bourg St Maurice Tourist
www.alpineroads.com Descriptions of all the
major Alpine passes in France, Italy, Austria
and Switzerland. Information and organised motorcycle
tours to the alps.
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