Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved mountain pass in Europe (2764 metres). It’s a beautiful road, but similar to many famous passes along the Route des Grandes Alpes it can suffer from loud summer traffic: motorcyclists love this road.
So what could be better than a day where the route is closed for 6 hours? Sunday morning from 8am to 2pm the north side above Val d’Isere (16 kms below the summit) and the south side above Bonneval-Sur-Arc (13 kms below the summit) was bike-only …. and there were friendly Gendarmes to enforce the closure. Much appreciated.
See here for a list of more 2017 bike-only days.
A 3D Video:
Doreen rented an electric bike allowing us to climb together. Excellent.
It was cool and foggy down low:
But we soon made it above the clouds. Glorious views:
I can’t say it enough how wonderful (and quiet) it is to ride on a famous climb without any traffic. The biggest difference by far is the lack of noise as motorcycles can usually be heard from miles away and there can be a constant drone. The other nice aspect of car-free days is that everyone is in a good mood. I always notice this. Everyone is just happy to be sharing and enjoying such a special place. It’s a non-competitive event and there were riders of absolutely every level: Strong people flying up, groups from cycling clubs chatting away, tandems with kids in tow, etc.
I’d say roughly 1/3 of the bikes were e-bikes. With most people, like Doreen, using a low power level and still working hard. And for many, the e-bike gave them the opportunity to ride Iseran. I must point out that Doreen has conquered many big Alps climbs under her own steam, including Iseran a couple of times. But she was grateful for an e-bike today, and I was thrilled to ride with her.
As the above profiles show, one can start each side far below the points of closures. BUT, all of the best parts of both sides are above these points. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend the 30 kilometres below Val d’Isere.
At the summit? Refreshments on offer and a very friendly Mad Max guy playing the drums.
Unfortunately, the battery on Doreen’s bike didn’t look strong enough to risk the other side. These bikes are heavy, and a dead battery would make it near impossible to climb. So we split up and I descended the south side. Above the col, I could see the chair lift open to the glacier for summer skiing. Not much snow, but still possible.
The south side is more remote than the north side. I didn’t take many photos on this side as I struggled with a head wind but it’s absolutely beautiful.
Reaching the summit, I just immediately decended the far side. Wonderful and empty. Even a lousy descender like me enjoyed myself. Of course I stopped for a couple of photos:
I am a huge fan of car-free bike days. Non-competitive, friendly, and quiet. Special days.
On my list Will.
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Hi Will, I checked Googlew but could not find date for 2018. Do uyou by chance know?
Hi John, I think they usually announce it March or April. It’s usually last weekend in June or first in July.
This forum post suggests June 24th.
They also suggest the road might not be clear of snow by then, given the record falls this winter. Some of the road is a piste.
Here’s a post for 2018 Bike Days including Iseran: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/cycle-the-alps-traffic-free-heres-how-2018-edition/
Yes, lots of snow this winter ….. but I’ll bet it’s open by June 24.
Hi Will. Always enjoy your posts and they serve as my guide of which cols to ride. I know it’s a difficult choice, but if you had to choose only one side to ride for the day , which one will it be ? North or South? I’ve ridden it from Bourgeois St Maurice and didn’t enjoy the busy roads and tunnels before Val d’Isere. But beyond that it was stunning.
I prefer the south as it feels more remote. Less developed.