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Old 12-06-11, 02:05 PM   #1
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Circumnavigate the alps? In 2 months? On a tandem?


My wife and I are starting to plan our 2012 summer trip. We're thinking of starting and finishing in her parents home town of Prague. We've biked Prague to Budapest before. But we're thinking of a bigger trip. We'll have 2 months, July and August (I know, not the ideal months but . . .).

At first we were thinking to cycle from Toulouse, where we have relatives, to Prague but thought the transportation logistics too complicated, one-way airfares, shipping stuff from Toulouse, etc. Now we're thinking about a loop from Prague. We like climbing however we'll be on a tandem with a trailer so I'm not sure whether the bigger passes in the alps will be too steep, up and down, for the tandem/trailer.

One route idea is going south from Prague through Austria, over the Dolomites, across northern Italy, into the French alps and back through Switzerland and Austria.

Appreciate any suggestions and advice.

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Old 12-06-11, 08:50 PM   #2
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My limited experience in the Alps is that the difficulty is not necessarily the result of the steepness of the roads, but the vertical distance you have to travel.

One my first day climbing the Gotthard Pass, travelling north to south, there was no respite from climbing for 35 or 40 km. The road flattens out for a few kilometres near Andermatt, and then heads straight up for another 20 km or so to the summit. I arrived at the summit, exhausted, midday on Day 2.

South of Airolo, the side roads to the east of the main road tended to be steep, but these can be avoided. (But if you manage to struggle up -- I pushed my bike much of the way -- you will find quiet scenic roads that parallel the main route that are spectacular for cycling.)

Look for maps that show the amount and direction of the grade. These are very useful for route planning if your goal is to avoid the steepest roads.
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Old 12-07-11, 06:52 AM   #3
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july and august are the best months i think, go for it!
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Old 12-07-11, 10:02 AM   #4
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I had a hard time climbing the Dolomites and Alps while on my motorcycle! Good luck and enjoy.
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Old 12-07-11, 11:11 AM   #5
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did you ask over in the tandem section? Im sure you will get much better informed answers from real experience regarding climbing steep stuff (and especially with a trailer too) and it being doeable, not to mention long downhill experience regarding braking (again, especially with a trailer)

I suspect asking us single bikers questions is like tourers asking questions about climbing to a bunch of roadies on 17 lb bikes.

all the best getting some answers from folks who have actually pulled a tandem plus stuff up mountains (hey, just had a thought, what about asking the mom of that Alaska-SAmerica family, NancyV, didnt they have a tandem and a trailer??)
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Old 12-07-11, 11:16 AM   #6
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My advice would be to use care when planning your route. I assumed that I could ride my loaded touring bike over any line on the map and found that not to be exactly true. Get the Swiss bike map. It has many numbered bike routes that are often signed. It is the only map I used while riding there. It notes where the uphills are and how steep.

At intersections of national routes, there will be a detailed road sign that some people took a high quality photo of to use as a local map.

Don't assume that if you can't ride up a slope that you can walk up it. I tried to do this on the Pragelpass but found the slope too steep to walk in cleated biking shoes, so I had to continue riding.

You will have a wonderful time and see beautiful things.

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Old 12-07-11, 12:19 PM   #7
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I've toured a fair bit in the Alps and Pyrenees, though never on a tandem. There is enormous variation in gradient, and there are some websites out there which have statistical information including the maximum gradient and average gradient. One thing which is not a problem in Europe compared to, for example, the Rocky Mountains, is altitude and breathing difficulties. The highest passes in Europe are lower than the highest passes in North America. On the other hand, the valleys in Europe are typically lower so the total height differential is often about the same. I like climbing and haven't found Alpine passes to be excessively difficult. On the other hand, I've avoided passes which I consider extremely steep. Often times lower passes are the most beautiful. I think my favorite in Europe for scenic beauty is the Grosse Scheidegg in central Switzerland. My favorite in North America is Logan Pass (aka Going-to-the-Sun Road) in Montana. Neither of these is among the highest or most difficult among the passes I've biked up.
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Old 12-07-11, 02:42 PM   #8
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We've toured with our loaded tandem in the Alps regions of Germany and Austria, although we haven't done any of the really big passes. I've also ridden in the French Alps on my single bike. First thing I would say is be sure you have a good braking system, likely using a drum brake. There were several backsides of passes that would have terrified me if we didn't have our drum brake available to scrub speed off. Some may tell you it's not really needed, and I guess if you are a super-light team that packs light they might be right. For us, it's a pound or two of very worthwhile insurance. Low gears are also a must on a loaded tandem, as you probably know. We were happy to use our 24 front/34 rear combo to crawl up some passes.

You can probably put together a reasonable route using existing bike routes. The Via Claudia Augusta, for example, takes you from Germany through Austria and into South Tirol.

As acantor noted, the Alps in France and elsewhere can have very long sustained climbs that often tax people who aren't used to them. I was a staff person on a few bike tours in the French Alps and we had a lot of really strong bikers who were convinced they would have no problems with the climbs. Even riding their $5,000 carbon racing bikes, a few guys from Colorado finally admitted it was way harder than they expected.
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