A trip to the Alps - or any other big mountain range - has become a rite of passage for any mountain biker. However, riding in the big mountains can places a very different set of demands on your bike and body, so we've come up with some top tips to help you hurtle down huge descents with a grin, not a grimace.
Whether it's bike setup, kit choices or just some good old fashioned sensible reminders, here are our ten top tips for Alpine riding trips - though they probably apply to any big bike holiday or adventure.
1. Take bike specific spares
While most riding spots in the continent are well served by bike shops should you need tyres, brake pads and other fairly run of the mill stuff, they're very unlikely to have a derailleur hanger for your niche, low-volume bike or brake pads for a set of brakes that stopped getting made ten years ago - and if they do, you're likely to pay a lot of money for it.
Be sensible and get spares for anything that's specific to your bike, especially if it's not a mass-market brand. They'll likely come in useful further down the line anyway, so it's not like you're throwing the money away.
2. Get some heavy duty tyres
Alpine trails are longer, often rougher and you're likely to not be bringing your line-choice A-game when you're struggling to just hold on and prevent your forearms exploding down a descent. That means your tyres are very likely to take a serious beating, so those lightweight sidewalls simply won't cut the mustard - they'll just be cut to ribbons instead.
Of course, this depends on the type of riding you're doing, but if you're a heavy/clumsy rider and will spend most of your time hammering down descents before getting the lift back up, just save yourself the heartache and fit some thick casing tyres before you go - think Maxxis DoubleDown or Schwalbe's SuperGravity models.
Oh, and for god's sake, go tubeless if you haven't already and save everyone the sight of you changing multiple tubes per ride.
3. Get your bike and shocks serviced before you go
You're likely to be spending a fair amount of money on your trip, so why risk having it ruined because you were too tight or lazy to service your bike and shocks or get someone to do it for you.
The extra stresses that big mountain riding puts on your bike mean that wear can accelerate rapidly, so if it's six months since your fork lowers last saw fresh oil then it probably a good idea to get them done - plus you'll reap the rewards of extra plush and comfortable suspension.
The same goes for brake pads, drivetrain parts and so on - if they're getting towards the end of their useful life back home, they're very likely to give up the ghost and potentially ruin your trip.
4. Armour up
You're very likely to be doing much more riding while on holiday than you would while you're at home and it's also likely to be on much harder terrain. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the combination of fatigue and tough trails leads to more crashes, so kneepads are must-have items and elbow pads aren't a bad idea.
You don't need to go full stormtrooper if you're just doing some big distance rides and won't be lobbing yourself down Le Pleney in Morzine at warp speed fifteen times a day, but some lightweight protectors will save a lot of skin - and no one like waking up stuck to the bed with scab juice.
5. Buy or hire a quality bike bag if you're flying
The start and end of a holiday is often a pretty high-stress situation, especially if you're flying and need to get precious bike and kit through an airport, past the clutches of the baggage chuckers and out safe the other side.
There are plenty of bike bags out there, but the cheap ones tend to be as much of a hassle as just using a cardboard box from the bike shop. The luxury items are expensive but have mod cons like nice, stable wheels and simple and safe packing systems.
If you use one, I am willing to bet good money that you will never want to go through the sweaty, stressy hassle of wrestling a bike through an airport in a floppy bag or box ever again.
6. Be prepared for (very) changeable weather
This one should really go without saying, but it's easy to get carried away with a vision of your hot and dusty Alpine shredding, where applying enough suncream is the only thing you need to do.
Big mountains mean that big changes in weather are a very real issue - it can be lovely and warm down the bottom, but the temperature drops significantly with altitude and storms can roll in with very little notice.
If you're going to be out in the back of beyond, take extra layers and a waterproof, even if it looks and feels like it's going to be a scorcher - and if it is a scorcher, make sure you take a lot of water as it's not always possible to refill.
7. Don't forget to climb
The novelty of being able to hop on a lift and do more descending in a day than you could in a month at home is pretty special but, as any seasoned Alpine rider will tell you, if you want to get to the good stuff then you need to put in some effort.
Even just a half-hour of climbing or hike-a-biking will get you away from the masses and onto some truly special trails, so grit your teeth and get on with it. Pain is only a fleeting sensation, but some trails will stay with you forever.
8. Get a grip (strength)
Arm pump is the bain of any Alpine newbie's life and it can often get so bad that you simply have to stop riding unless your forearms stop looking like the Incredible Hulk on a bad day.
There are numerous ways to minimise it - running your brake levers so the bite point closer into the bar is a good start - but doing a bit of prep before you go is a good plan. Climbers have the right idea with grip strengthening aids such as rubber balls and the like to help beef up their forearms.
They're also pretty good as an anti-stress technique anyway, so next time Steven from accounts is being a right pain in the arse, channel thoughts of violence away from him and into your grip exercises, safe in the knowledge that by resisting crushing anything now, you'll be crushing some rad descents in a few week's time.
9. Size up your rotors
Hopefully, you'll now have forearms that'd make Arnie weep with envy, but there's no harm in loading the dice a bit further and sizing up your disc rotors for maximum stopping power for minimal effort.
Moving to the biggest rotors you can fit on your bike - usually, a 200mm but 230mm now being possible - is a cheap way to ensure powerful and reliable braking, which is rather important when brake failure can lead to some rather unpleasant consequences.
All you'll need is a new rotor and an adaptor so that your brake calliper will work with it - there are good aftermarket options for both if you don't want to spend big money on kit from the likes of SRAM and Shimano.
10. Get insurance
While the magic of the European Union means that you get reciprocal healthcare coverage while you're in the EU, the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will not cover you for being helicoptered off a mountain or being flown back to the UK with doctors and nurses in tow. You don't get a choice in the matter, either.
That can wind up being the sort of numbers that you'd be considering working a bit less with if it was a lottery win, so just suck it up and get insurance - and make sure it covers exactly what you're doing - if you're doing an event, make sure the insurance covers that and ring the provider if you have to. Six-figure bills are a very real possibility, so weigh that up before you decide to cheap out.
We hope you've found all these tips useful - if you have any more, please do let us know in the comments...
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