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Old 05-11-05, 07:41 AM   #1
themegabides
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Anyone biked the Alps?

I figured this is a different subject from the last thread, so I started a new one. Who here has biked the Alps, and what kind of experience was it? We're planning to take the Simplon pass from Italy into Switzerland on our European tour next month. Is it incredibly difficult? I'm worried about the shape my partner's in; he's done a lot less riding than I have. Anyone have any tips?
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Old 05-11-05, 08:06 AM   #2
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I'm not familiar with the route you mention, but my wife and I biked in the Alps of France last summer. We went over 6 big climbs: Bonnette, Vars, Lautaret, Alpe d'Huez, Glandon, Madeliene. Sorry about the spelling. We loved it. Plan on short days (distance-wise) when you're climbing a pass. We kept those days to about 60-70km, and that worked well for us.
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Old 05-11-05, 08:10 AM   #3
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Are you carrying gear? If you are, just make sure you travel light.

I didn't have a lot of experience with bike riding in the mountains. I was super glad to have my triple chainring! I'm not a strong hill climber at all- I'm from Chicago, and it's flat as a pancake. I felt it was very difficult, but I'd spent some time in Italy dragging my gear around the countryside and hills, so it helped when it came time to go to Switzerland and do some rides.

Tips- start riding in the hills now and load up your bikes a lot. Do it lots and do it often.

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Old 05-11-05, 08:19 AM   #4
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we're traveling light; all we're carrying is one tent (we're alternating carrying it), our sleeping bags, and then rear panniers with the bare essentials (clothing, IDs, tool kit, maps, etc.). we're lucky enough to be college students whose parents will pay our credit card bills while we're gone, so we can do a credit card tour with little worry.

we've been training in ireland for the past few months, and it's hillier and windier here than anywhere i've ever been, so we're lucky in that regard; i'm just not certain the alps aren't going to completely kill us, lol. here's a rough map of the pass we're taking through the alps: http://www.montivagus.de/images/chpsim.gif

all told, it'll probably be two or three days up to the summit, and two days down. does this sound right?
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Old 05-11-05, 08:32 AM   #5
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I did the Gotthard pass in Switzerland last summer. Physically, it was the most strenuous tour I have ever done. I was not in the best of shape when I began my tour, and I hit the pass on Day 4. It took me one-and-a-half days to climb to the summit, and by the end of the second day, I could not deliver power to my legs. I pedaled for two minutes and then had to rest five minutes. The altitude gain may have had something to do with the exhaustion I experienced. I needed six days of rest (no bicycling at all) before I was able to continue my tour. I avoided intense climbing for the rest of the trip, although I did do several one and two hour climbs without significant problems.

If I were doing that kind of tour again, I would do some things differently:

* I would not attempt to climb mountains without prior training, or at least without having spent many days riding myself into better condition.

* I would take a day after an arduous day of climbing to sleep, stretch, eat, and hike/walk.

* I would consider installing an even smaller granny gear than I already have (my lowest now is 24/32).

There may also be an age factor at play. I was 48-years-old last summer. My climb up Goddhart would probably have been easier for me twenty years ago. On the other hand, I now have bragging rights that I climbed the Swiss Alps on a bicycle 18 months before my 50th birthday!
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Old 05-11-05, 08:36 AM   #6
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that's pretty awesome, acantor! i turned twenty in january, so i'm a youngin'. however, while i've got good endurance, i'm really not that great at climbing. i think i'll definitely heed your advice of taking rest days between each climbing day.
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Old 05-11-05, 11:20 AM   #7
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I've done a few big climbs in the Alps (Alpe d'Huez, Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer). I've also crossed the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The main things for a climb like that are to have plenty of low gears, try to avoid doing it too early in your trip (you will build up strength & endurance if you've already been touring for a week) and to take your time and enjoy the view!
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Old 05-11-05, 12:38 PM   #8
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In years past, I biked over a fair number of passes in the Swiss, French, & Italian Alps. My first attempt to climb a pass (on a day ride during college, not on a tour) was a fiasco. My 2nd attempt was successful, and I learned that assuming you're in reasonable cycling shape, climbing mountains passes is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. I found that if I persevered for 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of a climb, I fell into a relatively easy rhythm which I could maintain for a long time, assuming a fairly constant gradient. I learned to love climbing passes. I hadn't climbed any serious passes in a few years until last summer when I spent a few days in the Pyrenees to celebrate a milestone birthday. I was quite pleased that I was able to bike up the Col du Tourmalet without dropping dead at my advanced age. Since I survived and enjoyed that, I'd still like to bike up the Stelvio Pass one of these days.

If you want a treat, climb up the Grosse Scheidegg starting from Grindelwald, Switzerland. That, along with Logan Pass (Going-to-the-Sun Road) in Montana, USA, are probably the prettiest passes I've ever biked over. Perfect weather in both cases helped.

I learned about a great website with all sorts of cool data about european passes, but I can't find it at present. I'll post the URL if/when I find it.
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Old 05-11-05, 12:52 PM   #9
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This isn't the link I saw last year, but it's similar. This one is in Spanish. The one I saw last year was an Italian website, I think, though much of it was translated into several languages.
http://personal4.iddeo.es/cmontefusco/ports.htm#marcH
I believe the Simplon is listed in the Italian portion under "Sempione".
I made a mistake in my previous post. It's the Gavia Pass, not the nearby Stelvio, that I hope to tackle someday, though the Stelvio sounds cool, too.
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Old 05-11-05, 01:17 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by themegabides
I figured this is a different subject from the last thread, so I started a new one. Who here has biked the Alps, and what kind of experience was it? We're planning to take the Simplon pass from Italy into Switzerland on our European tour next month. Is it incredibly difficult? I'm worried about the shape my partner's in; he's done a lot less riding than I have. Anyone have any tips?

I have biked the alps for numerous summers, almost always starting in the Alpes maritimes of France and zig-zagging my way north and east thru the range over the summer, ending in Austria with a climactic ascent of the Grosseglockner. I would classify most alpine passes as moderately difficult. They are steep in places; but not particular long or high by mountain standards. They are, however, colder than you might expect them to be for their overall elevation because the winds blow over the mountain snows on alot of the passes. To me, the five mightiest alpine passes are Col de Galibier; Grand St Bernard; Stilfserjoch/Stelvio, Furkapass, and the aforementioned Grossglockner. Obviously there are many others that offer stiff challenges as well.

Put your buddy on a stairmaster and see how he looks after climbing 30 minutes at a moderate and varied pace. That'll give ya a good idea of how aerobically fit he is. That being said, make sure you have gears that are low enough to handle the steeper grades you encounter on some of the switchbacks. I have done the Simplon but I don't recall anything about it after all these years.

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Old 05-11-05, 01:22 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by axolotl
...and I learned that assuming you're in reasonable cycling shape, climbing mountains passes is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. ... Since I survived and enjoyed that, I'd still like to bike up the Stelvio Pass one of these days.

Definitely a mental challenge as you must steel yourself for climbing for several hours. On my beloved Grosseglockner, as you enter the road from the north, there is a sign (or at least used to be): 12% for next 12 kilometers. That does a job on your head, given that most climbs in the rockies rarely get into the upper single digits, and that only for a few stretches.

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Old 05-11-05, 03:00 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by themegabides
I figured this is a different subject from the last thread, so I started a new one. Who here has biked the Alps, and what kind of experience was it?
My first time through the Alps (north to south, Innsbruck-Bolzano-Venice) included lots of walking, but I still enjoyed the Alps very much. My second (and latest) visit (west to east, including Mont Ventoux, Galibier, Iseran, the two Bernhards, Furka, Stelvio..) was obviously planned to be as climb-packed as possible. After my first visit I had learned that climbing, like others have said, is very much a mental challenge. That was a highly enjoyable tour.


Quote:
We're planning to take the Simplon pass from Italy into Switzerland on our European tour next month. Is it incredibly difficult? I'm worried about the shape my partner's in; he's done a lot less riding than I have. Anyone have any tips?
I haven't done the Simplon (I passed through Brig on the northern side on my way to the Furkapass), but my understanding is that it is a major route and not too steep. This profile might help. Unless this pass comes very early on your tour I don't think you will need two full days for that climb. And the descent will not take more than an hour or so .
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Old 05-11-05, 08:06 PM   #13
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I rode the Alps (St Bernard pass area/Annecy/Albertville) when I was 15 years old. Take it slow, and if you think you might need to walk (no shame in that) be sure to take touring shoes that you can walk in, as opposed to road cleats.

Also, I had trouble with the lack of guardrails. If you have a fear of heights, this could make your ride somewhat difficult, both uphill and downhill. Even now, when drive in the Alps, I really have to concentrate on not getting vertigo. It even happens to me in the hills of West Virginia!
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Old 05-11-05, 08:43 PM   #14
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Here's theeuropean pass website I mentioned above. This one is multilingual.
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Old 05-11-05, 09:17 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by velogirl
I rode the Alps (St Bernard pass area/Annecy/Albertville) when I was 15 years old. Take it slow, and if you think you might need to walk (no shame in that) be sure to take touring shoes that you can walk in, as opposed to road cleats.

Also, I had trouble with the lack of guardrails. If you have a fear of heights, this could make your ride somewhat difficult, both uphill and downhill. Even now, when drive in the Alps, I really have to concentrate on not getting vertigo. It even happens to me in the hills of West Virginia!
Boy do I have to agree with you there! The lack of guardrails amazed me on the Col De Galibier..i was afraid going UPHILL, let alone descending!

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Old 05-12-05, 01:23 AM   #16
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A friend and I did the Simplon Pass about 7 years ago and if I rememebr it correctly it was around 18 km to the pass. I had no problems as I didn't find it too steep. More of a steady same grade uphill ride.
We were toruing so we had all the gear with us.
My friend, who was not in great shape had BIG problems though. His bike wasn't suited for riding in the mountains, (gearing too high) so he ended up walking about 12 km of the climb. I even rode up to the top, hid all my gear in the bushes, went back down and loaded most of his stuff on to my bike and then rode back up. Still he couldn't follow, so we tried changing bikes, but at this stage he was so exhausted that he had to take long breaks and would walk 1-2 k's, new break and so on. I rode up top and took a long nap in the sun. A very hot climb, as this was end of July.
The ride down on the side is long and you have make sure your breaks are working.
I am not exactly sure where, but I remember a long tunnel at the bottom. I highly recommend NOT going through as it is very long (seemed like 3-4 km) dark, hardly any shoulder and air is NOT HEALTHY. We didn't know how long it was, so we took a chance and basically sprinted through. Cars were honking like crazy...
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Old 05-12-05, 02:14 AM   #17
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Nice thread, I plan to do the Alps as well, hopefully this summer, I climbed the St Bennadict Alps in Italy, 980 meters, I guess small fry compared to the Swiss Alps, it took 2 x1/2 days to do it, I was loaded with all my camp gear, did not find it easy but did not struggle at all either, what I did find was there was no place to stealth camp as everything was at a 45 degrees and the only flat bit was the tarmac. Also can anyone advise on the clothes needed, as in keeping warm and sleeping bag, will a comfort rating of -5 suffice, taking into account the wind chil factor.
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Old 05-12-05, 03:26 AM   #18
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awesome advice, guys. these forums rock. about the weather-- i'm also unsure how to prepare. we'll be in the alps approximately june 15-17. cold? hot? both?
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Old 05-12-05, 03:36 AM   #19
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I cycled from near Munich to Slovenia last July. I went over Gerlos, Grossglockner,Wurzenpass and Predil, Grossglocknerbeing the hardest by miles. I think that it was the hardest days cycling I have ever done Wurzenpass had the steepest inclines, but it is not very long.

Cars were very considerate on all the alpine roads
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Old 05-12-05, 07:47 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by themegabides
awesome advice, guys. these forums rock. about the weather-- i'm also unsure how to prepare. we'll be in the alps approximately june 15-17. cold? hot? both?

Yes, cold. The European continent does not warm up sufficiently to hold back the cold fronts off the north sea until late June early July. While I am not predicting what weather you will have, it is best to expect chilly and showery weather in alot of the Alpine regions, especially the French alps. One consolation is that the fresh snow on the higher elevations will make the peaks BLINDING white in the sunny air.

I had two light but warm wool sweaters, two dickies (a turtleneck without the rest of the shirt) and two longsleeved t-type shirts. I had a water resistant breathable windbreaker, and a waterproof windbreaker also; and varied the assortment of these clothes above depending upon conditions.

I learned early: get into your low gears! Most people try and 'save their lowest gears for the end when they need them.' What happens is you get so tired that by the time you drop into your lowest gears you are too exhausted for them to do any good. On the grosseglockner I almost immediately got into my 28 front and 30 back; I could go one gear lower, 28-34. It was scary to have only 'one lower gear' to go, but my legs are very strong and my endurance/lung capacity very great. From time to time the grade lightens up a bit and you can get a psychological lift from shifting; but that final series of switchbacks below the Edelweiss Spitze (I always go from Fusch, to Heiligunblut) is just a real psychological blow to se after all that climbing.

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Old 05-12-05, 07:52 AM   #21
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Nice thread, I plan to do the Alps as well, hopefully this summer, I climbed the St Bennadict Alps in Italy, 980 meters, I guess small fry compared to the Swiss Alps, it took 2 x1/2 days to do it, I was loaded with all my camp gear, did not find it easy but did not struggle at all either, what I did find was there was no place to stealth camp as everything was at a 45 degrees and the only flat bit was the tarmac. Also can anyone advise on the clothes needed, as in keeping warm and sleeping bag, will a comfort rating of -5 suffice, taking into account the wind chil factor.
Yes, I call this the "pickle problem" after Arlo Guthrie's "PICKLE" song: "on one side of the mountain there was a mountain! On the other side, there was a cliff." It can be so frustrating riding mile after mile (UPHILL) waiting for a place where you can sneak off. If there are any switchbacks, there is probably enough flat terrain around them to sneak off.

My down fill bag was rated to -10 C and it was fine. Make sure you have one set of clothes that remain dry at all costs; you will need them when you are coasting downhill. This isn't easy to maintain if you have day after day riding in rain in the mountains.

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Old 05-12-05, 08:41 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by axolotl
..... I found that if I persevered for 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of a climb, I fell into a relatively easy rhythm which I could maintain for a long time, assuming a fairly constant gradient. I learned to love climbing passes.... .
On my alpine tours I used to have the motto, a pass a day keeps the doctor away. I loved to do chains of passes which are common in the Alps region. I might do Col la Cayolle in France, col de larche into italy; back into France over Sestriere and col de montgenevre; over Col de Galiber to the Maurienne; out of the Maurienne by Col De L'Iseran; over Petit St Bernard into Italy; finally into Switzerland over Gd. St. Bernard. After seven passes in a week or so i'd take a bit of break in the Lac D'Annecy region. But I loved climbing and soon found myself getting back to it.

My biggest climb ever was Agua Negra in the Andes between Chile and Argentina; from sea level after a few miles of flatlands you started climbing to 15,500 feet. Took me nearly 3 full days. The second day was REALLY tough psychologically...you started climbing the minute you got on the bike, and KNEW you still weren't gonna reach the top at the end of the day. It got so cold that night that the water froze in my water bottles even though they weren't outside my tent all that long a time.


Not so sure i could keep up this pace now that I am older and my knees got obliterated on my world tour from malaria and the side effects of some of the medications; but I could just make my granny gears even grannier and hit the mountains!

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Old 05-12-05, 08:42 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by axolotl
..... I found that if I persevered for 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of a climb, I fell into a relatively easy rhythm which I could maintain for a long time, assuming a fairly constant gradient. I learned to love climbing passes.... .
On my alpine tours I used to have the motto, a pass a day keeps the doctor away. I loved to do chains of passes which are common in the Alps region. I might do Col la Cayolle in France, col de larche into italy; back into France over Sestriere and col de montgenevre; over Col de Galiber to the Maurienne; out of the Maurienne by Col De L'Iseran; over Petit St Bernard into Italy; finally into Switzerland over Gd. St. Bernard. After seven passes in a week or so i'd take a bit of break in the Lac D'Annecy region. But I loved climbing and soon found myself getting back to it.

My biggest climb ever was Agua Negra in the Andes between Chile and Argentina; from sea level after a few miles of flatlands you started climbing to 15,500 feet. Took me nearly 3 full days. The second day was REALLY tough psychologically...you started climbing the minute you got on the bike, and KNEW you still weren't gonna reach the top at the end of the day. It got so cold that night that the water froze in my water bottles even though they weren't outside my tent all that long a time.


Not so sure i could keep up this pace now that I am older and my knees got obliterated on my world tour from malaria and the side effects of some of the medications; but I could just make my granny gears even grannier and hit the mountains!

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