Alpine riding tips

by Martin Thomas   February 14, 2013  

I'm planning on some French Alpine riding this summer, which has prompted an unusual flurry of winter hill training and much mulling over of maps and online cycle emporia.

Because of some of the routes we're thinking about taking, it looks as though we might have to be able to take enough stuff with us for overnight stays - not camping, just a change of clothes etc - together with a bit of photographic equipment. So I'm contemplating putting a rack on my rack-ready Enigma Etape and taking a lightweight bag (or two). Because I'm a bit of a ponce and it's titanium, like the bike, I'm looking seriously at the Tubus Airy. What I'd really like is a lightweight expandable bag a bit like this Topeak but I'm not sure it'll work with the Tubus rack because of its mounting mechanism. Does anyone know whether it will work or not? If not, are there alternatives (to the bag I mean...I don't really want a kilo of Topeak rack on my bike)?

Given we'll be carrying a bit of stuff and this is the Alps we're talking about after all, I've also be thinking about switching to a friendlier casette than the 12-25 I'm currently using. I've seen 10-speed 12-29 and even 12-30 casettes, which I'm tempted by, but I'm not sure if I'd need a long derailleur cage for these. Anyone know? Is that an easy job? We're talking Campag Centaur here BTW. 

TIA for any pointers.

11 user comments

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You can run up to a maximum 28t big cog with a standard short cage rear Shimano derailleur. Bigger than that and you need a new RD.

posted by drmatthewhardy [303 posts]
14th February 2013 - 23:38

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If you got bigger than a 28 you will need a longer mech and possible chain also, You may also need a new chain when changing your cassette as they wear together and i would not want to a HC with a slipping chain/cassette.

posted by guyondebike [34 posts]
15th February 2013 - 1:35

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Thanks both. And would a 28 do the job? Three teeth doesn't sound like much to me. Having said that I was speaking to one of my cycling mates the other day who is...let's just say better on the flat than the hills, and he did some alpine stuff on a standard chain set and an 11-23 cassette, so perhaps I should just observe rule 5 of The Rules . However, he did say it was bloody horrible.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
15th February 2013 - 9:10

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If you're having to ride with additional weight and you are doing more than one Cat 1, HC climb per day then you might want to think about a triple. Riding up those bad boys without your luggage is hard enough with a compact set-up, but with it I can only imagine it would be excruciating......obviously if you have the power to weight ratio of a Saturn 5 rocket it'll be no problem, but if you're a bit more normal like me I wouldn't consider doing touring in the Alpes without a triple, and then you would need a different derailleur on the front.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1115 posts]
15th February 2013 - 9:22

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I normally ride a 53-39 on the front and started off with an 11-25, but after getting new wheels went for 11-28. It's made hill climbing a piece of piss (around the UK). My friend used to either ride a compact or at least had better ratios than me and used to fly up, but after giving myself '3 teeth' as you put it, it has made gradients soften as I can keep my cadence.

The issue with Alpine ascents is not really the same as hills here. What I notice about the majority of British cyclists is that they will attack almost all and every hill with the mindset that momentum will help them overcome them (not surprising given that the hills are so much shorter on average). Better to sit into an alpine climb and get the measure of it.

A climb like Shap Fell, or Ditchling Rise would give you a bit of a taste. However, I did the Ride Across Britain last year and probably the most climbing we did was on the first day from Land's End to Okehampton. I think it was somewhere around 9,000ft. Though that is a lot of short gut busting hills. You have little choice but to attack many of them and the repeated red zone fried quite a few riders if you want to test yourself somewhere in the UK.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1115 posts]
15th February 2013 - 9:36

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Thanks Colin. I might see how I get on with a 28 and take it from there. I know both of the UK hills you mention. I live in Brighton and climb Ditchling Beacon at least twice a week, and I climbed Shap Fell on a LEJOG 3 years ago so I know what you mean about settling in to a climb. I also did a bit of cycling in the Massif Central a couple of years back, which included Puy Mary among other cols. It's the deep-seated memory of the pain of that experience that prompted this query Smile

Someone once told me you're ready for the Alps when you can do 5 repeats of Ditchling Beacon without a rest, so maybe I should build up to that. I heard about one bloke who took that to extremes and went up and down the Beacon 20 times (!) in his training, which seems a bit ludicrous to me. Rather boring apart from anything else...

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
15th February 2013 - 10:03

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I'd get a tortec velocity rack and a lightweight pannier. reasons:

1) the velocity rack is only about 80g heavier but you'll save yourself £100, so that's the bag paid for

2) a pannier is a much more versatile space than a trunk bag

the other option is to get Alpkit to make you a frame bag, they're lightweight, versatile and cheap, and custom made to your frame.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7311 posts]
15th February 2013 - 10:38

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Am I right in thinking that Alpine climbs are much gentler than a lot of UK ones? So Alpine climbs might go up at 3-5% for 15km, whereas we over here might be used to 7-15% for 2km.

I'm off to lust after Strava segments for Alpine climbs now. Might be a while.

posted by bashthebox [638 posts]
15th February 2013 - 11:45

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Oh, and for reference, I had 12-28 on Campag Centaur and it was on a medium hanger, if memory serves.

posted by bashthebox [638 posts]
15th February 2013 - 11:46

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Thanks Dave, that rack looks much more sensible than the Airy (even if not quite as lovely...) Might go for that instead and put the savings towards new cassettes/derailleurs/chains etc.

bashthebox, from what I gather some alpine climbs are long and steady - others are a bit less steady...

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
15th February 2013 - 12:35

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bashthebox wrote:
Am I right in thinking that Alpine climbs are much gentler than a lot of UK ones? So Alpine climbs might go up at 3-5% for 15km, whereas we over here might be used to 7-15% for 2km.

I'm off to lust after Strava segments for Alpine climbs now. Might be a while.

As you say, the Alpine climbs are usually steady gradients. What you actually find in the UK is that the gradients are far from steady and so when you check them out on Strava and elsewhere the average gradient is 5 or 6%, but actually has a slow run up and peaks with gradient shifts that can rise up to 16% (or a lot more in some cases) but as its only brief the average is a lot lower. It's like riding up a skateboard ramp in a sense. Riding style for both can be a bit different.

20 times up to the Beacon is a bit daft. But I suppose he may have calculated the vertical climb. Still the unrelenting rise of a mountain is not the same as the up-down-up-down of repeat hills.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1115 posts]
15th February 2013 - 14:11

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