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Mountain Biking in the Alps

Our Bike Park Guide

Playing host to a number of Europe’s best mountain bike resorts, including the likes of Les Gets, Morzine, Les Deux Alpes and Chatel, the French Alps are a popular destination for riders from across the globe.

With a collective 2,500+ km network of trails and chairlift assistance to elevations of over 3000m, it’s no wonder so many make the annual pilgrimage to this mountain biking mecca.

For those new to the sport, we know that riding abroad, particularly in a dedicated bike park, can seem a little bit daunting. As such, this article covers everything from trail grading to bike choice; helping to ensure you have the best possible trip, whilst providing a taste of the incredible riding the Alps has to offer.

A Run for Everyone

For anyone that’s already visited such resorts to road cycle, walk and relax, you’re sure to have seen swarms of mud-caked, full face helmet wearing riders rolling through town on 200mm travel downhill bikes. While there is certainly an extensive maze of runs catering to the more experienced rider, the trail builders dedicate significant time and energy crafting routes for all abilities.

Pick Your Colour

Graded by colour, it is made clear whether the runs are for you before you commit. Much like skiing, green indicates a beginner's option, followed by blue, red and black, increasing with difficulty in this order. Put simply, a green will adopt a gentle gradient and include small rollable obstacles as well as low, fairly flat berms.

Know Your Limits

Similarly, you wouldn’t expect to find any non-rollable features on blue or red trails without an option to bypass them. The gradient will, however, steepen, along with an increased likelihood of encountering more challenging terrain such as roots, ruts and rocks. Black runs are another story; packed with large gap jumps, drops and tall, tight berms, these often steep and off-camber trails should be reserved for experienced riders only.

Thanks to the invention of the chairlift, accessing these amazing trails couldn’t be simpler. Providing a quick and easy uplift for both you and your bike, chairlifts and gondolas are the bike park's alternative to a long and gruelling climb; perfect for the more gravity focussed riders amongst us.

The only downside to spending almost all your time descending is the additional wear to your components. You’ll soon realise just how quickly you get through brake pads and tyres with your bike pointing firmly downhill.

We would suggest taking a couple of spares with you, as getting down to the bare metal and then discovering the local shop doesn't stock your model of brake pad can really cut your riding short.

Pack Smart

With the weather conditions often changing by the hour and such a variety of terrain on offer, the chances of suffering a mechanical are also greatly increased. A set of brake pads, chain lube, a chain and at least one spare tyre should always find their way into your luggage.

Avoid a Hike

Additionally, we’d suggest you carry a couple of inner tubes, a quick link, multi tool, pump, tyre boot and levers in your backpack whilst riding. It’s essential to keep everything you need to repair your bike on you, as most chairlifts won’t offer a return journey and it can be a very long walk down!

Bike Choice

So, now you know what’s out there and have an idea of things to pack, we should probably talk bikes. While every trail is arguably rideable on any type of bike, it's advisable that hardtails should stick to greens and blues, while full-suspension XC and light trail bikes will find their way down most reds. 

If you’re looking to explore the bike parks in full, or simply chasing a comfortable ride on easier trails, an enduro or downhill bike is undoubtedly your best bet.

The Sweet Spot

Generally, a modern setup with a minimum of 160mm front and rear wheel travel will provide the versatility required to navigate your way down with speed and style. This is however just a guide, you will encounter a host of fast, talented riders on shorter travel bikes. 

If it's your first trip to the mountains and you're still unsure as to which bike you should take with you, or rent on arrival, our advice is simple; more travel can never hurt.

With such fantastic towns, trails and scenery just a stone's throw away, whether it’s a full season or one week break, why not make your next holiday one to remember and take a trip to the Alps? 

About the Author

  • Ollie Boulton
  • Height: 178cm
  • Weight: 80kg
  • About Ollie Boulton : Ollie has been riding for the past ten years and has worked within the cycle trade since leaving university. His weekends are spent riding, with time equally split between the trails and tarmac. Ollie loves to travel with his bikes and has spent a full summer riding enduro in the alps as well as completing the Paris Roubaix sportive.

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