• Tag Archives Riding the high alpine passes
  • The Monte Carlo run-Part 3

    Day 3

    My room had this view up on the hillside which we would pass by this morning.

    I decided to treat myself to breakfast for a change and scrambled eggs and sausages went down well to start the new day. We removed the bikes from the locked garage, returned the key, and with the route keyed into the GPS, (even though I don’t need it), we set off, stopping first for petrol before climbing out of Briancon and up towards Montgenevre. From here we descend through the tunnels with their long distance views to the downhill bobsleigh run in the distance, and through the town of Oulx and onto the relatively boring road to Susa. Here the pace picks up, the roads narrow, climb, and the fun begins.

    There’s little traffic and I’m off, speeding (legally of course) past the odd car that is actually on the road, onwards and upwards towards the spectacular Lac du Mont Cenis, enjoying a relatively free run in the still cool morning temperatures.  We pass a group of riders on their choppers with ape hangar bars and wonder how the hell they can ride in such an awkward position, but their group is well disciplined, move over to let us pass and give a cheery wave.

    Down in Lanslebourg we strike East for Bonneval sur Arc and the ascent of the Iseran. At 2770m it’s another biggie in altitude, but today I’m riding it slower than usual and taking time to marvel at the sun shining on the glacier in the distance, and taking pictures of the fabulous scenery that normally I’d just pass through.

    At the top Andy is waiting for me before I send him off ahead again, knowing from last year’s ride here he’s much quicker than me on this descent, but also because I don’t want to ride quickly this morning and am enjoying the views.

    Sure enough Andy’s rate of descent was much faster than mine and I found him parked some kms ahead waiting patiently      ( or maybe not?) for me to appear. We stopped for coffee in Val d’Isere and sat inside the restaurant, taking advantage of the fact they were showing the MotoGP warm up on TV. Not so great watching Cal crashing his brains out though!

    Onwards past the barrage at Tignes and it’s giants head mural and down to Bourg St Maurice, where the next couple of novel parts of this ride were to come into play, riding the Cormet de Roselend and Aravis in the opposite direction to that I normally ride them in.

    Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve always ridden these cols in the opposite direction, but today going South to North I’m enjoying the novelty of riding what to all intents and purposes is a new route. The initial climb up from Bourg St Maurice is easier than the descent, and then as the roads open the climb is really good fun. The views are now opening up ahead of us whereas normally I’d be straining to look back over my shoulder to see them. The Lac de Roselend is revealed as a wonderful tapestry as you round the final bend and hillside blocking it’s view, and we slow to admire the beautiful blue waters and fantastic images ahead.

    Lunch is at the “usual” restaurant, the service never gets any quicker, but if you’ve got an hour or two to spare this spot is awesome, and always inspires me to take pictures.


    The descent to Beaufort is as much fun as the ascent, although I nearly collected a Goldwing head on when he decided to overtake a car without spotting I was coming the other way! Next pleasant surprise is the section that climbs towards Hauteluce. In memory it seems I’ve had a few “moments” coming down this stretch of road, and a friend once boiled his brake fluid on his Thunderace, but going up today was a blast and with no issues whatsoever!.

    The Col de Saises is still as poorly surfaced as ever, and the dodgy left hand bend over a crest descending is now a dodgy right hand bend ascending. Up and over the Aravis and down towards Bonneville, where a deviation sends us to the motorway, and then towards Geneva and Andy’s house where the ride “proper will end.

    Todays stats are only 359kms but 5 hours 40 riding time         


    I won’t bore to you with the boring details of my seven hour ride back home the next day, because they’re just that, boring, but when I’ve been writing and recalling this tale there are some very strong points that came through loud and clear….


    It’s always worth making the effort to ride the Alps, they’re special roads, challenging, rewarding, and fun

    Riding with a friend is always better than doing it on your own, an experience shared gives memories you can recall together for years

    Doing things differently (directional) can be fun, mixing things up can be rewarding, “variety is the spice of life and all that!”

    Choosing your destination gives a sense of purpose and maybe even excitement, and is so rewarding when it turns out to be all you hoped from it

    A BMW K1300GT is a great bike when it’s running well. A few stalls were the only issues, and when I’m regularly decking out my feet in bends, the front tyre must be working well!


    So thanks to Andy for his ever enthusiastic company and banter, and maybe we’ll do it again, in the opposite direction (or not?) , another time?

  • The Monte Carlo run-Part 2

    We climbed out of Monte Carlo and headed towards Sospel along 50kph limited roads winding their way along the cliff tops. Here the juxtaposition of old and new buildings clearly illustrated how much development had taken place over the years.

    Exiting the final town limits and passing the peage lentry we joined the small but fun roads of the D2566 which wind entertainingly over the Col de Castilllon towards Sospel. Another quick stop for petrol and onto the D2204 towards Breil-s-Roya and the start of the first real traffic we’d encountered so far. Unfortunately it included the ubiquitous camping cars. It seems their owners always choose the wrong times to haul their slow and mobile chicanes over the best roads ( is there ever a right time?), and frustratingly so was the case again today. Eventually the traffic just seemed to disappear and we were left with relatively clear roads until we reached the tunnel de Tende, and as per last year when I rode this road, ended up waiting for the one way traffic to come through from the other side until we could continue our onward journey again.

    Deja vu struck again when the GPS seemed incapable of finding a route out of Borgo S Dalamazzo to Vinadio, and as per last year, started riding round in circles round the outskirts of the town trying to find it. Eventually I gave up on my Zumo and deferred the route finding to Andy who was more successful and soon got us back on track.  A quick radio chat and we agreed that Andy would pull over somewhere ahead when a suitable lunch spot was found, and a few kms outside Vinadio he pulled over to a restaurant where there were a couple of Italian bikers already sat eating outside. The couple, a guy on an old Ducati SS1000 and his partner on an SV650. After we’d ordered and been sat down for a while talking, the Italian guy remarked that we were not French, confused that my bike had a French number plate but was speaking fluent English. Clearly it hadn’t occurred to him that other nationalities other than French might live in France! I had a large plate of surprisingly good pasta whilst Andy tucked into a burger. Suitably fed we began the onward journey through Vinadio, and turned left and over the bridge following the signs Col de la Lombarde.

    The Lombarde is quite some distance from the turn, and you start by climbing though woods along narrow and winding roads, not especially well surfaced, but the kind you take gently and enjoy their meandering nature. After some while there is a sharp turn to the Lombarde and the climb to it’s 2350m summit. I raved about this pass last year and felt much the same this year. It is VERY narrow in parts but has great scenery and in places an excellent surface. Take it easy and just enjoy the views, watch for the semi blind corners which could hide oncoming traffic, and then enjoy the great descent down into the skiing village at Isola. The road was partly blocked by a barrier and staff wanting to charge visitors for access to the motorbike trial going on further down the slopes, but clearly we were only passing through so avoided any charge.

    At Isola the road becomes the open and well surfaced D2205, passing through St Etienne de Tinee then turning sharply right at Pont Haut, where it narrows and starts to climb towards the Col de la Bonette. Initially very poorly surfaced it’s quite an open road, then the hairpins begin. The waterfall cascading on your right signifies the “real” start of the ride, then it’s a blast as quickly as you choose up to the summit. Today it’s quite fast, but I’m all too aware of the many ultra tight and narrow bends with their gravel strewn entries, so am quite circumspect in my enthusiasm for a sporty ride up, but there is little traffic and I’m having fun! With no snow on the extended 100m loop to the top we’re able to ride right to the summit and pose for the ubiquitous pics to show we were there. Andy (l)

    The Bonette itself at 2715m is one of the highest in Europe, and the extension loop takes it to 2802m, which is higher than both the Iseran at 2770m and the Stelvio at 2757m, but many consider it a cheat as it’s the loop and not a proper road that takes it to that height, anyway, today it was rideable, and although cool as always at that altitude, revealing great views.

    I set Andy off in front for the descent having done my bit leading on the way up, and besides, I know he’ll be quicker than me on his GS as the battlebus takes some man-handling on these roads. He’s off and soon disappearing as he is able to gets past what turns out to be quite a lot of traffic descending this afternoon while I seem to keep getting stuck behind in the bends.  I catch him up as we get halted briefly by police and ambulances ahead, where it seems a biker has “run-on” in a bend, although Andy is able to ascertain thankfully that it’s the bike rather than the biker that’s come off worst on this occasion. Arriving at Jausiers at the foot of the descent, we strike off towards Guillestre over the Col du Vars, where we stop for a break, a drink and a piece of pie for me.

    The descent reveals wonderful views across the valleys and across to Mont Dauphin and the mountains in the distance. In fact the descent is longer than the ascent and much more enjoyable from the point of view of its scenery and road surfaces. Down in Guillestre we decide to see if we can stop at my favourite Logis de France, “Le Bon Logis”. Unfortunately they’ve already closed for the season so we revert to the original plan, which was to continue up and over the Col d’Izoard and stop overnight in Briancon.

    Once through the gorges of the Combe de Queyras the roads become fast and open for 10 minutes, before reaching the turn off point for the Izoard. The road climbs gently at first through the village of Brunissard before starting the real climb and bends, through the Casse Deserte and its lunar type scenery, climbing ever more steeply round tight and gravel strewn bends (recurring theme ) before arriving at its surprisingly boring summit at 2360m.

    A quick photo and then the descent on initially extremely tight bends with big drop offs, and then down through the woods, the road getting progressively wider and faster as it nears the bottom, and a relatively easy ride down into Briancon. We head for McDonalds to use their wi-fi and search for tonight’s accommodation. As per last night it seems there are slim pickings even this late in the season, but after some searching Andy finds us a hotel with a secure garage and we head the short distance there for a welcome shower, meal, beer and sleep.

    It had been a long day in the saddle with some very technical riding and big altitude ascents and descents, but who’s complaining when you’ve ridden two of Europe’s highest cols and walked round a Formula 1 race track. Another set of great memories banked !

    Ride stats for the day, 408kms and 6 hours 52 riding time



  • The Monte Carlo run- Part 1

    I’ve often written about how rides are dictated by weather windows, well this tour tale came about due to a time window. The year was rapidly heading towards autumn and opportunities to ride the cols were disappearing faster than a drunk’s money at a bar. I had an itch to scratch, I wanted to go and ride in the Alps again. It looked as if I’d be on my own though, as Sue really didn’t want to come and Mark had too many work commitments. I mentioned to Andy that I was going to be riding and he asked if he could come along too, especially given that my route, with a little alteration, would enable him to visit and walk the Formula 1 track around Monte Carlo. So, with some of Europes major cols to ride and an iconic destination to head for, we had a plan and looked forward to the off.

    It’s a seven hour ride to Andys place from mine, and then another two back down to what I consider the start of the ride I’d planned at Grenoble, so we compromised and agreed to meet at Grenoble, meaning we’d have an early start to the first day which would make a big difference in being able to get around my ambitious route.

    Battle bus loaded and ready for the off

    The GPS showed 6 hours to Grenoble, so at midday I set off on the predominantly motorway route there. That amount of time on boring roads gives you a lot of personal time to think about things, here are some thoughts  I had along the way.

    Are these earplugs with speakers more sound deadening than the pair I have without?…….

    It’s amazing how much difference riding in the sun makes compared to being in the shade, especially at motorway speeds!……..

    An hour passed already, only another 5 to go…..

    France has an enormous number of road signs, departmental, regional, for chateaux, parcs, museums etc etc…..

    Amazing that fuel consumption is only 5.4l/100….

    Glad I wore a second undershirt, it’s so much cooler out of the sun….

    Great, only another 3 ½ hours left…..

    Must be time for a break soon?…..

    I’ll stop here…….

    Great, half way there now………

    And so the ramblings went on and on as the miles and hours passed by.

    Grenoble eventually reached, I filled up with petrol at a supermarket near the hotel, and after parking up in the hotel car park, took the opportunity to  chat with a couple of Brits who had just arrived, one on a bike superbly equipped for touring, an old ST1100 Pan European, the other manifestly and outwardly the complete opposite, a ZX-10R with just a pack strapped to the rear seat. Asking how he managed with so little luggage and on a sports bike, he told me that the bike wasn’t too bad but he probably wouldn’t tour on one again, and that he just threw away clothing after each day. Considering they’d already ridden from the UK down through Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and were heading to Switzerland, I reckon he was doing bloody well to still be walking and be as cheerful as he was! Fair play to you guys though, hope the rest of the ride went well and it was a pleasure to meet you.

    Andy rocked up an hour and a half after I arrived, and after a couple of beers and dinner in the hotel we turned in and looked forward to the next days riding.

    Stats for the day- Home to Grenoble a whisker under 600kms and just under 6 hours riding time

    Day 1

    8.12am. The bikes are packed, radios checked and working, and we’re off. The hotel location puts us onto the D1075 towards Vif within minutes, and onto the start of three days of bend swinging.

    Familiar views are welcoming and here’s one showing early morning clouds over the nearly hills, and with temperatures not much above 15C this time of the morning I’m glad I’m wearing a second under layer beneath my vented summer jacket.

    I know these roads so well that immediately I’m carving them with verve. Shifting gently off the seat I enter a sharp left hander and am shocked as the footrest extender decks out and momentarily moves me off line. Strange, ridden that corner dozens of times and not had that happen! I’ve recently switched to a Bridgestone BT030 front tyre and it has livened up the steering, but today I’m not getting the feedback I expect. I hadn’t noticed anything odd on the motorway heading to Grenoble, but then again that was predominantly riding in straight lines, so what was going on? The beauty of radio to radio contact is the ability to talk with your riding buddy. After a quick comment to Andy about my handling woes he suggested I change the ESA setting to one plus luggage. Now that’s something I’ve never needed to do on the old BT023 tyres, but seeking to resolve the “odd” handling I was experiencing, changed the setting, and lo and behold, all was restored to normal. Thanks Andy!

    At Monestier the D1075 joins the N85, a road which runs in parallel to the Route Napoleon on the other side of the valley. I prefer this side because of the better road surface and the views, leave the N75 to the tourists who want to ride the busier and alternative route down to Gap.  The N85 crosses the Col de Croix Haute, it’s only 1179m but has some great bends on the way to it’s summit, although there are some very strange drivers going the other way today! Cars lining up for overtakes round blind bends aiming for me don’t give me confidence in the early morning driving skills of others, but we continue safely to the turn off point towards Veynes and onto Gap without further problems.

    In Gap Andy needs to stop to find an optician for contact lenses, and once sorted we head over the bridge into Savine le Lac and pause for coffee.

    The Lac de Serre Poncon is one of Europes largest artificial lakes and today it seems to be quite full compared to other times we’ve visited. Circling the lake is always a pleasure, with magnificent views, beautiful blue water, and the 123m dam wall clearly visible in the distance.

    The next hour or so is spent on roads that I’d been looking forward to for so long. Small cols, winding roads, variations of fast open bends combined with  tight, twisty, and technical sections with the small cols of St Jean, De Maure (1346m) and Labouret (1240m) providing challenging riding, ending all too soon at La Javie.

    The city of Digne comes next with it’s huge sweepers leaving the city past the hospital and through a seemingly never ending 70kph speed restricted area.  The roads down to Barreme are now strangled by lowered speed limits too, and the joy of blasting down on these fabulous open roads has been neutered somewhat by the French governments continued reduction in speed limits everywhere.

    Barreme to the Col des Leques and to one of my favourite spots in France, Le Bistro du Col. Normally I arrive after 6 hours riding and too late to eat lunch, but today, having a two hour head start after leaving from Grenoble, we arrive around lunch time and are greeted by a guy who has been there ever since I started riding the cols aons ago. He usually recognises me by my Haga replica, but I’ve got a new helmet this year, but once I introduced myself he recognised me and shook hands. His recommendation for the pork speciality of the day was excellent, and once again it was great to just sit quietly on the col watching others go by, chilling out to the super cool laid back music that they play there.

    Here’s Bertrand and his Monster

    Over lunch we decided that rather than head down on the D6085 to Grasse, we’d try something different, so heading over the Clue de Vergons and Col de Toutes Aures to Entrevaux, we headed south on the D2211/D17 towards Sigale and Roquestron. I’d input a route to take us to Nice via this route after having checked waypoints on the map, but at Roquesteron it all went to pot. We were on a road that seemed to be getting progressively smaller, tighter, and less well surfaced. Joking over the radio Andy noted that if this was a departmental road heaven help us if we were to have tried the smaller roads marked white on the map!

    Things really did start to get worse though and the pace got slower and slower, the arrival time on the GPS suddenly leapt up by an extra half hour, and eventually at a junction the penny dropped, the GPS had routed us onto the white road we didn’t want to ride on as it had calculated it was a faster route! With little choice other than to continue we dragged round the poorly surfaced and often gravel strewn roads before arriving in Nice, where either tiredness or poor interpretation of the GPS route led to us getting split up.  After a few minutes the phone rang, and Andy suggested we meet at a McDonalds, good idea except there were two registered in the GPS. Plan B was to meet at Flunch, which was supposedly only 10 minutes away. The GPS then sent me around a couple of housing estates before I eventually got on the right track and rolled up at Flunch to find Andy already there waiting for me.

    Tired, pissed off, and in need of some chill time, I waited while Andy surfed the net and found a hotel for us. We booked and were there 15 minutes later. With the bikes parked securely in the underground car park, Andy went for a swim, then we met later in the bar for a couple of beers, had a pleasant evening meal, and after agreeing another early start for tomorrows trip to Monte Carlo, we turned in for the night.

    Days stats- 382kms and 6 hours 29 riding time

    Day 2

    Sometimes technology goes wrong, and this morning was one of those times. Andy paid for his room and set off to the car park whilst the receptionist took my credit card, which was promptly refused. A second attempt failed too. I handed over a UK credit card which was also rejected. Now unless I’d been made bankrupt or someone had emptied my accounts, there was no logical reason for this to happen, and sensing my frustration the receptionist decided to try another credit card machine, and guess what, it worked this time! Accepting her apologies for the problems I descended to the garage where I blamed Andy for using his “dodgy” card earlier!

    The lure of Monte Carlo was obviously a big one for Andy, he’s watched Formula 1 for years and always wanted to walk the course but the opportunity had never presented itself, and clearly he was very keen to get there, as leading off from the hotel and entering the peage he was off quicker than a rat up a drainpipe.  At this early hour of the day there was little traffic anywhere and we were soon descending into Monte Carlo, and by 8.15 we were parked up and admiring the flotilla of very expensive boats moored in the harbour.

    Taking the role of tour guide Andy excitedly pointed out the main points of the track as we walked around it.

    Crossing over the road from Tabac, we climbed the hill, past Beau Rivage and to the Casino where I’d last visited on a tour many years previously



    Mirror reflecting the casino opposite

    We followed the holes in the pavement where the barriers are inserted, amazed at the narrowness of the track and the tightness of some of the corners.

    Mirabeau down to the tunnel

    Comfy loungers to while away the hours gazing out at the view and luxury boats

    Surprisingly sharp bend!

    Walking through the marina the overriding smell is of diesel fumes and brasso as deckhands worked on polishing their bosses multi million pound vessels.

    Local owner

    Great sense of humour and obviously huge trust fund!

    Andys next purchase?

    You can’t quite see in this picture but even the tie ropes are neatly coiled to perfection

    We walked on past the marina to Piscine, and La  Rascasse, with Andy continuing to tell stories about each place, I’ve never seen him so happy or animated, he was like a kid in a sweet shop, Nice when you can go somewhere or do something you’ve always wanted to do and it meets your expectations!

    Fangio statue

    This guy had come a long way!

    In the shop windows nearby there were lots of images and Grand Prix memorabilia

    We eventually stopped for a drink, and less than an hour and a half after we started we were back at the bikes and ready to go again.