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14 must-read tips for cycling in the Alps

TIPS FOR CYCLING THE ALPS

Cycling in the Alps is an unforgettable experience. Here are some tips to make sure it’s unforgettable for all the right reasons!

For route suggestions, downloads and everything else you might want to know about cycling the Alps, check out our comprehensive ultimate guide.

Essential preparation for cycling in the Alps

  1.  Choose the right gearing. If you’re cycling the Alps, you’re going to be riding long climbs. If you’re super strong, like pushing big gears or are avoiding the steepest climbs, you may be happy with a semi-compact 52-36. However most riders will prefer a compact 50-34 chainset with a 11-28t cassette. A cassette with a 30 or 32 tooth sprocket would give you even more flexibility.  
  2.  Get some training in before your trip. In the high Alps, you need to be ready to climb miles of hairpin bends on gradients at 6-8%. They’re not going to be much fun if you’re totally unfit. Try and get some long miles in and, if at all possible, make some of those in hills.
  3.  Bring enough spares and know how to use them: essentials include spare tubes, tyre levers, and a pump or CO2 canisters, plus a puncture repair kit and versatile multi-tool. You may even want to bring a toolkit for larger repairs, particularly if you’re not staying in bike friendly accommodation.
  4. Fuelling: long mountain climbs require a lot of energy. Fuel before you start climbing and keep a gel or high-energy snack in your back pocket. You should be able to pick something up where you’re staying - but if you’re concerned, bring your favourite bar with you (here are our suggestions). Most importantly, don’t leave eating until you’re starving: do like the pros and eat now for later.
  5. Check your bike: if you’re taking your own bike, consider having it serviced before heading to the mountains. The last thing you want is a mechanical issue half way up or down a mountain. If you’re renting a bike, take a look at our questions to ask before hiring a bike.

Routes

  1. Plan your routes before you visit. Our ultimate guide to cycling the Alps contains loads of information on routes we’ve tried and tested. We give you route profiles, descriptions, photos and videos so you know what you’re letting yourself in for. You can even use our free GPX downloads.
  2. Familiarise yourself with the route before you ride it. Make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for! Take a look at the maps and route profiles so you know what to expect and can be confident. Have a think about how long each climb should take, where you plan to refuel and any shortcuts or important parts of the route.

Weather

  1. Pack for all weather. At any time of year, the weather in the Alps can change very quickly. Especially in early and late summer, there might be temperatures in the 30s one week and heavy rain, hail and snow the next. We recommend you pack accordingly: that means arm and leg warmers, waterproof jacket, long-fingered gloves and overshoes- in addition to your summer kit. The weather can be very different on the summit to in the valley. Even if it’s not, a jacket can be a total lifesaver on a descent: windchill can be huge.  For more information, check our:

Other stuff

  1. Beware heatstroke. Take sun cream and plenty of water out with you on the bike. And use them! Heatstroke can come on quickly and is very scary.
  2. Cramp. Another common problem when cycling in the heat is cramp. We always take electrolyte tablets for our water bottle; they really help stave off cramp.
  3. Ride with a friend. Particularly if you’re new to riding in the mountains, it can be good to ride with a friend or group. That way if something goes wrong, there are people there to help you out.
  4. Remember lights. At a minimum, keep a small rear light fitted to your bike in cause you come across an unexpected tunnel or get caught in bad weather (and also because it's a legal requirement - see point 13 below!). Money, ID and your phone are also essential.
  5. Be aware of France's Highway Code, and particularly the specific rules for cyclists.
  6. Know that some cycling equipment is obligatory and there's the potential you'll be fined if you don't comply - the pictogram below has details. That said, we've rarely seeen road cyclists in France with lights or bells, and we ourselves have never had any problems, but it's best to be aware of the rules and make your own decision.
List of obligatory cycling equipment and fines
Your thoughts!

Been cycling in the Alps and got some additional tips? Please comment below!

Looking for the best places in France to ride? This article is for you.

Want some support with your cycling trip? Check out our independent review of the best Alps cycle tours.

Looking for information on taking part in the Marmotte? Read this.

(Banner photo credit: Tobias Klein/Shutterstock.com)

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