Going Downhill

No, not my life this time. This is about descending on a bike!

Some riders like flats (yuck), some others like climbing, and others like descending. I really do love climbing, but I’m not always that good at it; however I always dig a great downhill and I’m okay at it as well, especially when I’m 73 kg or more.

So I thought I post a few of my favorites for you and I encourage you to do the same in the comment section, particularly if it’s close to me so I can check it out.

Bonette to Jausiers

The Col de la Bonette, one of the highest in the Alps, has two great descents, but the best in my view is the north side towards the village of Jausiers. Its length is one factor – 24 km – but ‘quantity’ doesn’t make a great descent and this one has it all: wide-open, sweeping turns above the tree line that are fast and relatively safe (you can see everywhere); technical ‘drop-off’ bits in the middle that you need to be careful on; and forest hairpins near the bottom, all on what I remember being great tarmac. Oh, and it’s got marmots!

Going from memory but I think this is the Bonette

Galibier to Lautaret

Staying in the Alps, but a little further south, the Col du Galibier also offers two super descents. The south side is an epic 35 km if you include the Télégraphe (which you sort of have to if you want to reach the valley), but it’s the short-and-sweet north side that I prefer.

For one, you get some great close-up mountain views, including a pretty big glacier. Then the open road that weaves at speed all the 8 km to the Col du Lautaret. This one is high and above the tree line all the way, so you have a sweet, unobstructed descente all the way. It’s just a joy.

Then, when you get to the ‘bottom’, you can choose to turn left for another 30 km of downhill to Briançon, or nearly 50 km to the bottom of Alpe d’Huez. Choices, choices….

Courtesy of RideWithGps

Back side of Nimes to Pont St Nicolas

I include this because I do it nearly every time I ride my bike. The descent proper begins 9 km from home and is less than 3 km to the 14th century bridge at the bottom.

It’s a ‘big’ road by French standards, and there’s usually a fair amount of traffic, but you nearly always go faster than cars, so getting passed is not usually happening. This fun descent has a few tight-ish corners with those famous low stone European walls that will definitely not stop you from flying over the,, but otherwise it’s safe and fast. I usually do these corners at a little over 40 kph and rarely have to do anything other than feather the brakes.

And sorry, if you were planning on buying the chateau at the bottom (equipped with Romanesque church), it’s just been sold.

Anything in the Cévennes

You need to be on your game to enjoy descending in my favorite cycling playground. The roads are often just single track, they are sometimes roughly paved and full of sheer drops and blind corners. Ideal!

Note: most of the roads that 44|5 Cycling Tours chooses for our tours are bigger and safer…most!

Lots of the roads in the Cévennes are also completely car free. There is an amazing variety and number of tiny, paved roads, especially in the southern area, near where I live. I try not to throw around words like ‘endless’ too much, but really, there’s nearly a lifetime of incredible descending in them thar hills.

This one is from one of our tours – it even has lanes!

I could probably go on all night, but my fingers are getting tired. Maybe there’s a ‘part two’ in the future. I haven’t included anything from the Pyrenees, for example, and a handful come to mind right now.

Everyone enjoys different types of descents and some riders simply don’t like them at all, but what goes up must come down, so my advice would be to learn how to do it and embrace the beauty of gravity.

What others am I missing?

13 thoughts on “Going Downhill

  1. Love it!

    One thing you could really help with is this: What kind of tire do you recommend for maintaining grip over marmots?

    • You’ll have to come over here and find out for yourself, Tony!

      I know where you fit in the ‘love it or hate it’ range, by the way. I still remember the ‘Tony Tuck’ on all those many descents two years ago.

  2. What was the decent we did in the 2013 HRA where we both said at the bottom if our parents saw us descend like that, we would be grounded? That was a lot of fun.

    Also, Mark, you and I flying down the Col d’Izoard was one for the log book.

    • That was on the D1006 descending from France into Italy. I thought about that one as I wrote the blog. If I was writing about descending experiences that would’ve been up there!

      And the south side of Izoard with Mark would have been another. As I remember, we all had the VC kit on, too. That was fun.

      • Was that the Val d’Isere day? I remember 7C to start, 0C at the peak and 40C going through Italy. And having to stop several times while going downhill to warm the hands. (That was the first hill of course). Epic day though.

        • That was it, Luc. I had borrowed some embrocation cream from Rob, which helped on that freezing climb and first descent, but I think I could have fried an egg on my legs by the time we got to Italy. I was wrecked by the end of that stage, too, but can’t blame that on the cream. That drag to the finish line from Briancon was interminable!

  3. I am in the ‘don’t like it all’ category being a very unsteady bike handler. Long climbs are wasted on me because I don’t enjoy the reward of going down the other side.

  4. Anything that I would offer would pale in insignificance. I agree that descents should be discussed more often. Climbing up a hill simply requires stubbornness. Descending actually requires skill. And they are a lot more fun!

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