Tips for cycling in mountain regions

Tips for Cycling in Mountain Regions

Cycling in Mountain Regions
Image by jurvetson via Flickr

Every year cycling friends head over to France to tackle some of the mountains featured in the the Tour de France such as Alp d’Huez, Mount Ventoux or in neighboring Switzerland. One thing I quickly noticed was that where there are mountains there are valleys. While that is obvious many cyclists forget that it will change their style of cycling and what bike clothing to pack for the trip.

Kevin Smith lives at the bottom of Alp d”Huez in France and has some advice for those planning on bicycle touring in the region. And of course this advice really applies to cycling in any mountain regions including the Rockies.

You are used to riding on relatively flat or rolling terrain, and know how many kilometres (or miles) you can handle in a day. But what about when you are riding in the mountains? A general rule of thumb for mountainous terrain is to assume that your average speed will drop by 50% (and therefore the distance you will be able to cycle in a given time will drop by 50% too). So if you normally average 30km/h, then expect something like 20km/h. So your 3 hour ride will only cover 60km, instead of 90km. So you should either plan on shorter distances or expect to spend more time in the saddle.

Weather / Clothing

You need to be prepared for a range of weather conditions in the mountains – just because it is sunny with no clouds when you set off, doesn’t mean it will stay like that! The weather can change from valley to valley as the mountains form natural barriers to clouds – you can have rain on one side of a mountain pass and be fine and sunny on the other. If you are taking a shorter trip within the same valley then it should be more predictable.

Another aspect to consider is altitude – there could be 15 deg.C difference between the valleys and the tops of the high mountain passes. You won’t notice it so much on the way up (as you are working hard and speeds are low) but on the way down it will be very obvious when you add on the wind chill factor. On all but the very hottest summer days you will need a windproof layer to be able to put on at the top of the climbs before you descend.


As the roads in the mountains often cut through long tunnels, you need to be prepared for this. Most are lit (although not all!), however don’t be surprised if you find sometimes substantial stretches where the lighting is out. The use of a rear light in tunnels is required by law in France, but you will also want one purely for your own safety.

Bike – gearing

Unless you already live in some very hilly or mountainous terrain you will probably benefit in changing your gearing assuming you are taking your own bike. As you’ll be spending a significant amount of time going at speeds much slower than usual, you will need to have lower gears…More at Tips for Cycling in the French Alps – How to Get the Best Out of Your Holiday

As mentioned temperatures can vary a lot between the top and bottom of the mountains so dressing in layers, having items of cycling clothing such as arm warmers, booties (if it is really cool) and full fingered cycling gloves can make your trip more enjoyable.

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