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Alps Switzerland : Sept 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06sep20:

subject:  favorites in mountains of Switzerland

I was glad to get to try out some of the high passes in Switzerland suggested on this newsgroup in the last couple of months by Sergio and Roberto, and the ever-helpful reports from Jobst Brandt. I've put some photos up at http://www.roberts-1.com/t/b06/ch/k So now I'm ready for some more ideas on favorite places -- and why we like (or don't like) them.

favorite Passes so far:

  • Grosse Scheidegg -- for outstanding close-up views of dramatic mountains with snow. I liked doing it east-to-west like Roberto suggested: views ahead of peaks for a long time during the climb (instead of waiting until reach the top), plus variety of water and buildings. Then more views at the top, and some fun curvy sections lower on descent to Grindelwald. I would not have know to ride this great pass if Sergio and Roberto had not suggested it.

  • Sustenpass -- for dramatic mountains with snow and cows + houses in quiet valley. I liked east-to-west because I got a long look at the dramatic Titlis peak starting low, then more peaks revealed in stages higher -- while looking down on the valley when I wanted. More mountains fairly close just past the top, and a variety of villages and scenes on the long descent.

  • Grand St Bernard -- several views of different dramatic mountains with snow, with villages and a couple of substantial lakes. Perhaps more vehicle traffic than other passes, though it seemed like the heavy trucks prefer to take the Mont Blanc tunnel. It worked for me to do it north-to-south because the tunnels felt OK to me while climbing (I had a flashing light and reflective ankle bands, but the tunnels often had some light from the side) -- and I liked the long early views ahead while I climbed toward the Grand Combin peak. More dramatic mountains over the top, but the descent could have had more interesting views and curves.

other passes with good points:

  • Grimsel for lakes + dams -- riding it north-to-south I found the lower half of the north side was kinda boring, and the descent of the south side was mostly just straight shots to tight hairpin curves -- so I suspect I'd have liked it better it south-to-north.

  • Furka for big views on its west side -- but the upper half of east side lacks high mountain views, and the valley floor is too far below to see much there. Having tried it both ways, I definitely prefer west-to-east. (Overall I like Susten better, but I suspect lots of long-distance tourers do Furka because it connects to Andermatt and Oberalp pass without the tunnels north of Andermatt.)

  • Nufenen West side for views of Berner Oberland and Ticino high peaks with snow -- but the views are not real close, and the west side felt kinda desolate to me, not many animals or houses. East side didn't have much mountain views, and I didn't like the joints in the concrete on the descent of the upper part, though the lower part had some more fun sections. (and I did not like putting it into a loop with Gotthard pass)

favorite Loop tours so far:

  • Grosse Scheidegg - Brienzersee

(clockwise thru Interlaken, Meiringen, Grindelwald) -- To the great pass the loop adds nice lakeside views and some pleasant quiet valley riding (and more vehicle traffic between Grindelwald + Interlaken, another reason to prefer clockwise to get thru that faster). I rode the south side of the Brienzersee lake following the national bike route, which was quiet, but got me into some gravel and complicated turns -- not sure how it would work to ride around the north side of the Brienzersee.

  • Susten - Grimsel - Furka passes

(counter-clockwise thru Wassen, Innertkirchen, Gletsch, Realp, Andermatt) -- Each of the three passes feels different, and the whole thing feels like a great achievement. My thinking is that the clockwise direction might be better for enjoying Grimsel -- but counter-clockwise fits better with maximizing enjoyment of Susten + Furka -- and especially with handling the required tunnels between Andermatt and Goeschenen.

  • Grand St Bernard - Col du Grand Ferret

(clockwise thru Orsieres, Aosta, Courmayeur, la Fouly) -- I found that the loop added the superlative close views of the highest mountains in Europe, while riding thru Courmayeur and la Palud and lower (Italian) Val Ferret, and some fun downhill cruising between la Fouly and Orseires on smooth pavement. But especially it adds the adventure of handling going up and down the unpaved hiking trail. I was glad for Jobst's idea of riding Ferret south-to-north because hiking trail on the north side is much gentler (and mostly not as rocky as Col de la Seigne), while the south side was very steep and had lots of "water bars" across the trail -- so I was able to descend much of the north side on my bike. I did have to carry my bike in several sections to get it up the south side, took serious arm + leg strength. But I'd do it again.

notes on other passes:

  • Gotthard pass / Passo San Gottardo: seemed like 60-70% cobbles on the south side, and about 3km of cobbles on the north side. Not much compensation in views. I'd need to hear a really good reason why I'd ever try riding it again. Is it legal (or reasonable) to ride on the Autobahn when descending the upper North side?

  • Col du Pillon had some nice mountain views and a pleasant descent on its East side thru Gsteig. Of the passes I tried around there, it seemed better than Col des Mosses or Col de la Croix (which was like Roberto said).

other thoughts:

  • the Switz national bike routes are usually more interesting and have less traffic than roads I would choose myself. But often not the fastest or easiest way to get somewhere.

  • saw lotsa bike rentals available in villages in the mountains, if don't mind using some sort of a mountain bike.

  • the Swiss post-bus routes go high up some of the passes, and some (many?) of those post-buses I saw had vertical bike racks mounted on back.

  • my preferences (which might be different from yours): (a) moderate descents with wider curves, rather than straight steep down with occasional tight hairpins; (b) moderate climbing steepness, since I've already got enough super-steep challenge climbs around home; (c) snow in my mountain views, or very dramatic rocks (like in the Dolomites), so I might have made different judgments about some other passes, if I'd ridden over them in May or June with more snow around.

  • my performance secret: ultra-low gears and patience.

Look forward to getting corrections and more ideas.

Ken

Col de la Seigne + Col du Grand Ferret loop : Sept 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06sep19:

subject:  Re: how was your weather?

Thanks Sergio -- It was your suggestions by Email that got me thinking about Col de la Seigne, and looking for Jobst Brandt's reports about it -- and his and other people's reports about Col du Grand Ferret.

And it was your suggestion of Col du Grand St Bernard / Passo del Gran San Bernardo that got me wanting to make a loop route with that. But riding all the way around the Mont Blanc massif seemed like too much, and I liked Jobst Brandt's idea that seeing the Mont Blanc massif from the south side was very spectacular.

So I started in Orsieres in Switzerland, rode over Grand St Bernand (indeed spectacular like you said) to Aosta in Italy, then over Col du Petit St Bernard (Piccolo San Bernardo) - (not as good views as Grand St Bernard) . . .

Next time I'm around here, try climbing southwest from Morgex over Colle San Carlo (or at least partway up its northeast to try for a big view of the wild southeast side of Mont Blanc.I found that the obvious road up the Val Veny southwest from Courmayeur was too close, and the main road from Pre-St-Didier to la Thuile is too much in the trees. [added 09jun]

. . . into France and found a hotel down in Bourg St Maurice. Next morning I started riding north toward Cormet de Roselend, but then turned northwest into Val des Glaciers. I left the road when I saw the sign for the Col de la Seigne hiking trail, did a little more riding, then lots of steep uphill pushing. Funny thing was the first four people I met on the trail that morning on bicycles -- they were amazed anybody would try this on a road bicycle. I added a photo of one of the mountain bikers and the trail surface to this page: http://www.roberts-1.com/t/b06/mb/index.htm

Then over the Col into Italy and down Val Veny (seemed like needed to hike up off the road to get the better views). to Entreves -- I didn't feel I had time to visit Courmayeur. Then the steep climb up thru la Palud, and the delightful gentle paved road in Val Ferret with a festive atmosphere with so many people out on a sunny afternoon. Then the steep climb up the hiking trail where I was regretting having ever read Jobst's and other reports of Col du Grand Ferret. Followed by the happiness of enjoying the descent on dirt into Switzerland, and glad I had learned from Jobst that the downhill would be more fun taking it south-to-north. Reaching the smooth pavement near la Fouly and a high-speed cruise down to the Orsieres train station (which made me glad I was on my road bike).

A good adventure with three countries and two high pass crossings on each day -- not sure I'd do all of again.

A few days later I got to try some of your other ideas like Grosse Scheidegg -- very spectacular going east to west, and made a nice loop route for me with Interlaken and the Brienzersee and Meiringen.

Ken

Ile-de-France : July 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06jly18:

subject:  Ile-de-France near Paris

Sharon and I had several fun days of riding our tandem in the Ile-de-France region which surrounds the city of Paris. On previous trips to France, we somehow thought we needed to go to some outlying area to find the world-class riding of France: Dordogne + Lot, Loire valley, Alsace, Bourgogne.

But now it's seeming like some of the most fun riding in France for us is close by Paris. We tried riding around Giverny + Vetheuil (75 km / 47 miles to the northwest of Paris), Chantilly + Neuilly-en-Thelle (38 km / 24 miles to the north), and Fontainebleau + Milly-la-Foret (57km / 36 miles to the southeast of Paris).

This is good for us, since it means we can combine countryside bicycle rides with evening visits to the city of Paris. All three of those rides are near train service to Paris. And the riding in Ile-de-France is much closer to major international airports which we can conveniently fly to.

On our rides we like variety, so in the countryside, we like seeing multiple kinds of animals, different kinds of fields and forests and gardens, different kinds of houses and building architecture, villages with multiple food + drink options which tend to be open for business when we ride through, a couple of historic sites which we could visit (but often don't). 3 out of 3 rides, the Ile-de-France region delivered on most of those. And the city of Paris delivered on its special qualities.

So now we've bought the L'Ile-de-France a Velo map by IGN 1:100000 with 100 loop routes. Though actually the 1:200000 Michelin or Blay-Foldex maps with scenic roads highlighed in green have been plenty useful for planning rides for us. The original stimulus for trying out more riding in Ile-de-France (and many of the roads for 2 out of the 3 rides) was the "Cycling France" guidebook by Sally Dillon and others (Lonely Planet, 2001) -- still the best English-language bicycling guidebook for France I know of.

Ken

P.S. My theory of why the countryside near Paris is often more interesting than the farther provinces . . .

The problem with truly rural areas is that they tend to focus on agriculture as a business, which tends to imply that they focus growing one or two things which optimize profits (or subsidized losses?) for the soil and weather of that area. Like the Alsace region has lots of vineyards and orchards, but not many cattle or animals. Like the Bourgogne region has lots of all-white Charolais cattle, but not many other animals. And business agriculture tends to have lots of large open fields, but not many farmhouses. Also not as many (non-migrant) people are needed to make modern business farming work, so lots of villages we ride through don't have any shops open to purchase food or replacement hydration more on lots of days and hours.

What's interesting for us in the region closer around Paris is that there's still farming, but it seemed to us like some of is "gentleman" farming, or "semi-hobby" farming -- perhaps supported by a family member with a good-paying job in Paris, or retired from a good job in Paris. Semi-hobby farming implies non-optimized farming, which implies variety: Different vegetable crops, more over-sized gardens, horses, cows, sheep. It implies more farm-houses, since part of the idea of a hobby is to get your hands on the growing stuff (when you choose to). Money from good-paying jobs implies multiple bakeries open in the quaint little village. Implies money to renovate old stone houses. Money to widen roads and pave them better. And lots of people out riding nice bikes on those roads (? perhaps to work off some stress from those good-paying jobs + commutes ?)

Alps France favorites : July 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06jly18:

see also 2008 reports on selecting mountain roads + riding "grander" northern section

subject:  favorites in the French Alps?

I'm looking for more rides to do in the great mountains of France. I've done lots of the big climbs, but I find I have more fun on a holiday week when I instead "mix" the tough climbing days with other days of fun gentler riding. So I'm interested in hearing about both ends of difficulty spectrum.

Here's some categories where I'm looking for more ideas: * gentler single-day loop routes * loop routes with moderate climbs "in the foothills" * big climbs up with descent back down the same way * loop routes that include big climbs

Below are lists of the ones I've found so far in each category.

Ken

Here's my favorites from what I've tried so far:

Gentler single-day loop routes:

  • around the Lac d'Annecy: lots of lake + mountain views, three non-big climbs along northeast side of lake, while much of southwest side is a paved rail trail -- plus the ancient city of Annecy is nice for walking + sightseeing.

  • farms + vineyards southeast from Chambery city. Delightful in springtime when there's still some snow on the surrounding mountains. The "Lac St Andre" signed bicycle route makes a nice introduction, then there's lots of pretty variations which Sharon and I have explored.

[ It's not easy to find this gentler kind of route in the middle of the Alps -- I think I'd settle for something in the area east of Lyon being near enough. ]

Moderate climbing loop routes "in the foothills":

I feel confident I can find this kind of riding: (a) down south around Nice + Menton; and (b) up north between Thonon and St Jeoire --perhaps something with the D12 (Habere-Poche) and/or the D26 (Bellevaux).

But I'd love to know some nice foothills routes for some of the areas in between. I even took the time to check in three shops around Chambery, but they didn't have any bicycling-specific guidebooks or maps. Seems you can get bicycle routes from tourist offices -- OK -- but it would be nice to have some suggestions of which ones to try.

  • "Versant du Soleil" signed bicycle route on the northwest side of the valley (opposite La Plagne) between Aime and Bourg St Maurice - ?? - the part I rode from Granier to BStM was delightful, but I didn't do the whole thing.

Big Climb up, then go back down the same way:

  • Col de l'Iseran: prettiest I found in terms of mountain peaks that still held snow to the beginning of July. I especially liked the north side starting from Val d'Isere. (not start any lower, unless tunnels with lots of vehicle traffic is your desire) -- and the south side starting from Lanslebourg was also nice.

  • Cormet de Roselend: especially the northwest side (toward Beaufort). Pretty lake, variety.

  • closest views of the biggest mountains: Sallanches to Combloux, south up the "ancienne route a Combloux". Climb starts very steep, then steep, then gets gentle, with pleasant farms. (I did it as a loop with Col des Aravis - Col de la Colombiere - Megeve.)

  • Col du Galibier: north side (toward Valloire) is spectacular.

  • Col de la Bonette / Restefond: north side was a very fun descent to Jausiers. (be nice to catch this early in the season while there's still some snow on surrounding peaks)

  • Col du Mont Cenis: has a big pretty lake at the top. (could also be done in loop with a bus ride thru Tunnel Frejus)

  • Col des Aravis: southeast side (toward Flumet) seemed interesting.

www.grenoblecycling.com is a rather helpful English-language resource to the big climbs.

Loop routes with big climbs:

  • Lac de Serre Ponšon - Barcelonnette - Col de Vars had lots of variety and good views -- though the Col de Vars itself wasn't so interesting for me (which makes me feel sorry for people who do the hard labor of climbing Vars and miss out on the wonderful riding above and alongside the Lac). I started in Le Lauzet-Ubaye, D900 east along the Ubaye river thru Barcelonnette and Jausiers, D902 north over Col de Vars (climb finishes with sustained 9% steepness grade), good views of Pelvoux / Ecrins mountains and Durance river valley on descent to Guillestre, N94 southwest to Embrun. As I was leaving the town, climbed D9 west up to Les Truchets, descended D841 + D641 with great views of big lake + peaks. Crossed bridge to south side of Lac de Serre Ponšon, took D954 with more lake views southwest then east back to start. I estimated this loop as roughly 2400m of climbing and 135km distance (8000ft and 84 miles).

  • Briancon - les Vigneaux - Guillestre - Col d'Izoard: Great variety, first riding south down the west side of the Durance river, then the big climb back north, and I remember enjoying much of the descent from Izoard into the city of Briancon.

  • Montgenevre - Echelle cols: Col du Montgenevre -> fun descent east into Italy -> thru Oulx + near Bardonecchia -> return to France by going southwest over quiet Col de l'Echelle to Nevache.

  • big long challenge: Larche - Italy - Lombarda - Bonette. I started _early_ in Jausiers, not-real-steep climb to Col de Larche (Maddalena in Italian) fun + pretty descent southeast in Italy thru cliffs and villages. Interesting long climb with steep-ish sections south to Colle della Lombarda / Lombarde. Back in France, some rough pavement on descent to Isola 2000 ski resort. Then nice pavement (but I would have enjoyed more interesting curves) down to the low valley village of Isola. Long limb (one or two steep-ish sections) to Col de la Bonette, then I did the extra bit (rather steep) to Cime de la Bonette (over 2800m, a paved road higher than Col de l'Iseran or Stelvio). Finished with a rather fun descent north back to Jausiers. I estimated this loop as roughly 4360m of climbing and 161km distance (14300ft and 100 miles).

Alps France -- Sea to Lac : July 2006

posted to rec.bicycles.rides 06jly18

see also 2008 report on riding "grander" northern section + 2007 report on flaw in Route des Grandes Alpes

Subject: France Alps high cols Sea to Lac

One of the big mountain road bicycling adventures is to ride over the high passes between the Mediterranean Sea and Lac Leman / Lake Geneva. It's getting promoted a lot for driving by car or motorcycle as the "Route des Grandes Alpes", with the turns marked by prominent signs beside the roads -- and even a special paper map for it on sale in shops, and its own website: www.routedesgrandesalpes.com (see detail of routes further below)

Now I've found advertised on the web, three bicycle tours that are pretty closely following this officially signed motor vehicle route.

But I don't think it's the best route for most cyclists -- lots more details below.

My experience is that I climbed all the high passes on a route from Nice + Menton north to Thonon on Lake Geneva -- but I did not ride them all in a continuous sequence -- instead I climbed over them as part of loop routes together with other nearby roads and cols -- during four separate weeks over three years. I found this "piece-wise" approach rather interesting, often enjoyable and/or exciting -- no regrets on not having done it "straight through" -- hope I get to do several of those loops and climbs again. (Looked to me like at least 85% of the other riders I saw on most of the climbs were not doing it straight through either.)

Some thoughts on the overall route:

  • It's a great route, with great achievements and big views along the way.

  • Bicycle versus car: The best cycling route is different from the "official" car-driving route, I'm convinced.

  • Lots of the more fun and pretty riding in the French Alps is not on the grand route over the high cols.

  • The paved roads with the closest biggest views of the highest and most dramatic mountains are not on the official route.

  • Direction: I think the south-to-north direction has more interesting bicycling. But it seemed like most of the "loaded touring" cyclists I saw were going north-to-south -- I suspect because the passes in the north are lower for acclimatization, and because if they finish early they prefer to spend their extra days near sandy beaches.

I think a better base for planning a Sea to Lac cycling route over the high passes is www.chez.com/bikeevasion/alpes.htm

Below are some comments about alternatives for specific sections -- and a sequence List of cols.

Ken

Specific sections (south to north):

  • Col de Turini? It's the obvious southern-most high pass (1604m), it's on the official car route -- but lots of bicycle routes and tours skip it (one alternative is below under "List of cols"). My memory is that I did not find the climbing to Turini all that interesting, and the descent to the west felt too steep to be much fun for me.

  • Col de la Cayolle? versus Bonette + Restefond? The official car route goes over Cayolle (with Couillole + Valberg). Cayolle is supposed to be much more scenic, but I found that it had some rough pavement. Also I didn't find the two east-west connecting passes that interesting. Bonette instead I found had mostly nice pavement, and the descent of the north side of Bonette + Restefond was rather fun on that nice pavement. And it strikes me of some importance to a "Grandes Alpes" route that Bonette is substantially higher than Cayolle.  

  • Galibier versus Mont Cenis (Susa, Italy)? Tough call. I like Col du Mont Cenis better because: (a) riding above that big lake up high is special for the Alps; (b) fewer high-traffic roads taken in the uphill direction, more in the downhill direction; (c) I like the idea of visiting Italy; (d) it was rather fun to descend of the east side of Col Montgenevre to reach Susa and Mont Cenis.

What about the notorious "old military road" (mostly on gravel) over Colle della Finestre in Italy between Sestriere and Susa? Myself I didn't think the views were worth the extra labor (versus the valley road thru Oulx). Probably the views would have seemed more worthwhile in early season with snow, but still that's a lot of gravel and a lot of extra climbing. (If you like that sort of thing, also consider Cormet d'Areches instead of Cormet de Roselend.)

  • Romme? The official car route puts this col between Colombiere and the valley city of Cluses. It does have a somewhat pretty view of some distant mountains to the northeast. But the road between Romme and Cluses is so steep that the descent was not very fun for me. My very rough estimate is that it's like 750 meters of climbing at a steepness of at least 9% grade. It's the only place in the Alps where I saw (south-bound) cyclists walking their bikes uphill. Though I've never checked it, seems like the D4 might be worth considering as an alternative, going directly between Le Reposoir and Sconzier.

  • les Gets + Morzine? The official route takes the obvious D902 from Cluses over the Chatillon pass to Taninges, then over les Gets to reach the Lac at Thonon-les-Bains. After riding that north-bound, I then enjoyed more riding the D26 south-bound from Thonon thru Vailly and Bellevaux over Col de Jambaz (1027m) to Megevette, then (due to a road closure) the D226 down to the D907 west to near St Geoire, then continued south on D26. Advantages of Jambaz over Les Gets: (a) better views of sharp mountains; (b) better views of quiet farm valleys; (c) less vehicle traffic; (d) higher col, more appropriate for a route that calls itself "Grand". (But seems like lots of experienced cyclists prefer a route still more complicated route with higher cols with Ramaz + Habere-Poche.)  

  • truly Grand connection between Colombiere and the Lac? It strikes me that neither of the north-most cols (Les Gets or Jambaz) in the paragraph above is up to the "Grand" level of most of the route. How could a route called "Grandes Alpes" fail to include the best and biggest views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe? But I found a road which has better bigger mountain views than anything on the official route (e.g. the "old road" from Sallanches south up to Combloux).

Seems to me that adventurous riders seeking a truly "Grand" connection on its northern end to the Lac should consider trying to figure out it it's possible to work out a route which finishes with some truly grand views of the Mont Blanc massif -- possibly using like the Passy - Servoz road to Chamonix, then over two cols into Switzerland and finish at the east end of Lac Leman / Lake Geneva. (I'm guessing the main reason the official car-driving route does not do this is in order to keep the route completely within the boundaries of France, but I fail to see why a cyclist visitor to modern Europe needs to be so constrained.)

08oct: I did try that: see report on riding "grander" northern section  

List of cols (and some cities) -- south to north:

  • start in city of Menton

(some cyclists start in Antibes or Nice)

  • Col de Turini (from Menton by way of Col de Castillon)

(some cyclists) Grasse - Col de la Sine - Col de Bleine - Gorges du Cians - Col de la Couillole to St Sauveur sur Tinee

  • Col St Martin to St Sauveur sur Tinee

  • (official driving) Col de la Couillole - Valberg - Col de la Cayolle to Jausiers

(most cyclists) Col de la Bonette (2715m) - optional Cime de Bonette (2802m) - Restefond to Jausiers

  • Col de Vars

  • Col d'Izoard to Briancon

  • (official driving) Col de Lauteret - Col du Galibier to Lanslevillard

(some cyclists) Col de Montgenevre - Italy - Susa / Col du Mont Cenis to Lanslevillard

  • Col de l'Iseran (2764m)

  • Cormet de Roselend

  • Col des Aravis

  • Col de la Colombiere

  • (official driving) Romme, then down to Cluses

  • Chatillon

  • (official driving) Les Gets

(some cyclists) Cluses - Araches - Taninges - Pras de Lys - Col de la Ramaz - Col Jambaz - Col Terramont - Habere-Poche

  • finish in city of Thonon-les-Bains

A helpful English-language resource for many of the higher cols is www.grenoblecycling.com

more . . .

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