Road Biking vs Mountain Biking; Cycling in The Alps
18th July 2019 | French Alps
It’s the age-old debate. It’s comparable to skiing vs snowboarding (is it?). But as with the imaginary rivalry between snow sports, the world of cycling in the Alps seems to be represented in a similar way. Skiers; traditionally seen to be wearing tight clothing with their legs tightly together at the knees as they wiggle down the piste. Snowboarders on the other hand have a much ‘cooler’ reputation; baggy clothing that sits around their ‘derriere’, squatted wide stance and see to be ‘ripping it up in the park’. Cycling has similar reputations. The road cyclists slap on chammy cream (if you know, you know!) and stretch into their skin tight lycra. Mountain bikers don cool protective padding and baggy shirts and shorts.
Alas, it seems that the mountain sports between summer and winter stay closer than we realise!
But, you’ve just bought your dream property in the French Alps…which bike sport to undertake first?
Let’s be honest for a moment. If you hop onto a road bike in The French Alps, you’re going to be going up-hill, fairly relentlessly. And whilst you can drive to areas where flatness is possible at the bottom of the valleys, where is the fun in that?! The Alps are getting better and better at putting in cycle routes, around Bourg St Maurice and Annecy there are bike routes which are fairly flat and you can follow them on various loops. Particularly good for the kiddies in your party.
But if you want the full experience of road biking in the alps then you need to get on them hills!
Here’s our first biggest comparison. On mountain bikes you’ve got the beauty of hopping onto the lifts to get to the top, and the majority of your time can be spent going downhill (if you want), whereas to get the downhill on a road bike there’s only one way…the uphill. The bonus to this is that you’ve really earned that downhill (plus the coke and quiche at the top!) and you burn a huge amount of calories. Cycling uphill for an hour can burn easily 600 calories. So if you’re looking to get fit quit, then no pain no gain.
Whilst the uphill can seem tedious, if, like me, you find the downhill on a road bike frankly terrifying (fingers stuck to my brakes from squeezing so hard, terrifying) then the uphill is actually the joy of it. you don’t have to rely on lift opening times or specified routes…the world is your oyster. The only question is how much stamina you have. Cycling in the alps is not for the faint hearted.
The lifts in ski resorts are mostly only open in the summer for July and August, which can leave mountain bikers thinking ‘damn, what to do?’, which is a bonus for the road cyclists. However, with the rise of e-bikes and more and more Enduro trails, mountain biking is getting more accessible outside of the summer opening times. Again, this means hard work often, and whilst I love uphill, you wouldn’t catch me doing it on a mountain bike.
Which leads us to look at the actual bikes. Mountain bikes are big and stable. And with that comes weight. Weight to lug around, to fit onto your car, or to control. Road bikes are light, but less stable and certainly less versatile in terms of terrain.
On road bikes you can fly fast on smooth tarmac, and there a multitude of events and infamous cols to explore when cycling in the alps. To find out more about these, check out our blog on infamous climbs. You can take on the étape, the stage of the Tour de France. But you really do have to work for those views. Mountain bikers can whizz to the top and take in the beauty before flying downhill over any terrain and with the adrenalin of bumps and turns thrown in. You can see far more of the mountain because the tracks are made for you, and you’re winding down the winter ski slopes, whilst avoiding the odd sheep or marmotte. On the roads the cars are a real danger and we’re always extremely surprised by the cyclists brave enough to go out without a helmet (road or mountain).
So in conclusion; it turns out that, just like skiing and snowboarding, both bike sports are absolutely fabulous. Sure, some people will love or hate one or the other. But it’s definitely worth giving both a go whilst you’re here. Get muddy and adrenalin pumped flying downhill on the side of the mountain, and feel the rush of accomplishment as you pass each kilometre marker. Whatever you do, you’ll have earned that glass of rosé at the end of the day.