How to survive mountain biking in the Alps!

8 tips for making it home from the mountains unscathed

Even when the sun is shining and the trails are perfect, things can go wrong in the blink of an eye when you’re riding big-mountain terrain. Clip a pedal or case a jump and you’ll find the higher speeds and more jagged terrain make things even less forgiving than they are back home.

So look ahead to warmer days and longer nights and set yourself up, both mentally and physically, for a summer trip to the Alps by reading our guide, and hopefully you’ll avoid any unwanted surprises...

1. Rocks

Alpine rocks always seem to be ‘rockier’ than the ones back home, and you’re going to be hitting them fast, so you may need to tweak your set-up.

Before getting stuck into some flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants rock garden action, we’d recommend firming up your suspension and upping your tyre pressures slightly. Then it’s just a case of making sure that your heels are dropped and your weight isn’t too far forward or back, holding on tight and letting the magic happen!

2. Singletrack

Threading the needle through long grass while being buffeted by the aforementioned rocks requires skill and anticipation. Don’t get transfixed by the edge of the trail or that massive boulder you’re quickly getting closer to. If you point your eyes in that direction, the bike will inevitably follow.

This is known as ‘target vision’ and can work in your favour as much as against it. Stay focused on the trail ahead and the snaky singletrack won’t bite you in the butt.

3. Berms

Big berms mean big consequences, so pucker up and get ready for some serious G-force!

Again, you want to be looking well ahead — normally at the exit of the corner. Keep your pedals level or lower your outside foot, keeping your weight central.

If you get off-balance, there’s a danger you’ll be bucked off when the bike finds grip in the middle of the turn. Known as a ‘highside’, this  won’t be pretty! As you push the bike into the turn with your legs, get ready for the compression.

4. Jumps

Check the take-off and landing on foot before hitting any jump for the first time. (Don’t get complacent as your holiday progresses — hitting jumps blind is for lemmings, not mountain bikers.)

Judge your speed carefully, not forgetting that alpine tracks are generally steeper than those in the UK, so watch out you don’t turn into Speedy Gonzales on the run-up. Then rejoice in the hang time and the envious looks from your mates who were too chicken to hit the gap!

5. Chairlifts

Alpine uplifts are usually ski chairlifts, which are ideal for enjoying some banter with your mates about that jump you hit or that gnarly drift on the last run, while taking in the views.

They’re also a good place to take selfies and think of the poor people you’ve left at home in the rain. Remember to close the safety bar as you leave the lift station — otherwise you’ll cause the lift to be stopped and delay everyone. Some good-natured heckling of the riders below is always appreciated!

6. Hike-a-bike

Hike-a-what? You’re in a ski resort — surely you shouldn’t have to ride uphill, let alone shoulder your bike?!

Some of the best descents in the Alps require a little more effort than just hopping on a chairlift. A quick 20-minute carry can pay dividends when you discover a monumental money-shot of a trail. The easiest way to carry your bike is on your back, drive side up.

Get adventurous — there’s more to alpine riding than just hanging out in the bike park!

7. Ridgelines

Riding on a knife edge is an exhilarating experience, but one that can turn your pants brown very quickly if you’re not careful. Remember, target vision can work in your favour. Focus on the trail ahead and ride with confidence and conviction.

Ignoring the precipices and potential doom on either side will help with your confidence. As soon as you start to become hesitant, it’s better to take a timeout rather than try to battle on. You’re a long way from help up here!

8. Bike bags

Packing your bike up to go to the Alps can be a traumatic experience. Separation anxiety is compounded by the knowledge that someone at the airport is going to do their best to rough up your pride and joy.

A quality bike bag, such as that from EVOC, will reduce the chances of a non-riding-related breakage. They’re expensive though. If you’re on a shoestring, a cardboard bike box will work if you pack meticulously and aren’t stingy with the bubble wrap and parcel tape.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Alex has been riding bikes since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He first raced back in 2003, winning the Juvenile category on a sketchy hard tail Planet X bike. Alex lived in the Alps for seven years so isn't shy of a climb or two and loves getting out in his bike in all weather. His favorite thing to ride is steep loamy tracks with loads of opportunities to slam the bike into turns and really give it some frame bending welly! He's broken his fair share of frames, so any bike between his knees is going to get a right seeing to.
  • Discipline: DH, Enduro, XC, BMX, Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Epic descents covered in the world's finest loam and hero dirt
  • Current Bikes: Nukeproof Mega 275 / Giant Anthem Advanced 275 1 / LeMond Reno / Deluxe Pro 2 BMX
  • Dream Bike: Giant ATX 1 DH (1999 model)
  • Beer of Choice: Teetotal
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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