Col de Niard – No Brakes!


This is very steep, mainly unpaved, loop starting from Sallanches that leads to Col de Niard. A place FAR better known by hikers than cyclists. It feels like heading into a secret Alpine high valley. Beautiful.

It’s paved until roughly 1000 metres as it weaves up a quiet little road with nice chalets and the occasional farm.



As the paved road ends the route heads higher through a forest. Be warned. It gets extremely steep, and on a slippery gravel surface I spent much of the ride pushing. There is one short stretch that must be 30%. But again, so quiet, and beautiful. Apart from a few hikers, I saw no-one. Sorry, I don’t have any good “steep” photos as I was too busy staring at the ground and pushing my bike up while breathing heavily.

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Getting above the tree-line, things gets spectacular.

"Secret" road to Col de Niard



A less steep stretch

A less steep stretch

It’s a “road” almost the entire way, but becomes a trail just short of Col de Niard (1801 metres). I did briefly get off the road at the last chalet, following a hiking sign instead of riding through the farm. But I soon rejoined this road.

Looking back at last kilometre from just below Col

Looking back at last kilometre from just below Col

From the Col, the route actually heads higher to just over 1900 metres.

View of Col from just above Col de Niard

View of Col from just above Col de Niard

At this point I realised I had a problem: My disc brakes – recently adjusted by a mechanic – weren’t working. At all. I asked the locals for help but they had no clue.



I had phone service so I tried tweeting for help. Not certain why a few people “liked” the tweet. 🙂

Despite some ideas from kind twitter people, I realised I better start hiking. I of course kept taking photos and below the dust is from me desperately trying to brake with my feet – I had to jump off bike as I wasn’t stopping (but nice views of Mont Blanc).

Dust from using my feet.  Yikes

Fred Flinstone Brakes. Yikes!

I had reached the steep stretch and would have been walking here anyway, so I relaxed and enjoyed the surroundings. At roughly 1250 metres the paved road begins again. At this point one of my brakes was sort of working. So, no worries, I gently descended back to Sallanches (550 metres or so).

I must admit, I am struggling with disc brakes. I have them on my hybrid and this mtb. Due to all the descending I do the pads need to be changed relatively often. And despite studying various You-Tube videos I have yet to successfully change them myself – always ending up at a LBS for help (yes, I am technically challenged).

Which direction is better for this loop? Either way works. The way I descended has a 1.5 km stretch that I doubt even a pro could pedal up. So either way, there will be hiking.

Anyway, no harm done. I still enjoyed this truly off-the-beaten-track ride. An amazing place. But again, if you don’t like some pushing then avoid. On the other hand, it looks like I have a Col de Niard “Will” Strava hors categorie KOM (a KOM where no-one else has ridden the route) that will be easy for you to beat. Are you up for the challenge?


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Another great post Will.
    I’m sorry if I ‘liked’ your original tweet, not sure if I did it or not. But I can understand how frustrating it would be whilst asking for help. I too, am a shit mechanic, so any input from me would have been total guess work. I also have hydro brakes on my gravel bike, but haven’t really had any issues the same as yours, maybe some howling rotors but that’s about it.
    Having said that, I think they need a bit of TLC after the hiding they’ve had in the last two months.
    Safe travels mate.


  2. My new bike’s front disc brake went out in Slovenian mountains, quite frightening at first but the rear brake got me safely down. It was a loose fitting allowing air to enter brake line. Tightening and bleeding the line fixed it. Later it began clunking when braking: I retorqued the front disc center lock ring. I think the builder must have gotten repeatedly distracted while installing the front brakes.

  3. Despite being a professional mechanic and knowing how to fix most problems, I still dislike hydraulic disc brakes due to the lack of repairability on the road/trail. I therefore use cable-actuated disc brakes on my MTB – Avid BB7s work great, are easy to adjust, and are super-reliable; I highly recommend the upgrade.
    Regarding this route, did you notice whether it was possible to continue riding over the pass and down to La Giettaz? You could then take Route de la Soif to Col de l’Arpettaz for lots of fun on dirt roads.

    • Hi Chris, Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It looked very do-able. I could see from the Col the roads in the distance towards Giettaz. Looking closely at map, the gravel road on that side seems to go to almost 1600 metres. It looks like perhaps 2 kilometres between that and the Col that is a well used hiking trail. It doesn’t look crazy. Just a short stretch with a few hairpins that seems likely to by very steep. It “might” be the easiest of the three ways to Col de Niard.

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