2017 was a lot of fun on the bike. As in recent years, I found some new, very high, fun unpaved routes to explore, usually old military roads.
Here are the ten best road bike rides of 2017.
The 10 Best Unpaved Rides of 2017:
#1 Gornergrat – 3135 metres
The second highest I’ve ever been on a bike.
Gornergrat is a high rocky ridge in central Switzerland above Zermatt. It has dominating views of nearby Monte Rosa (the highest mountain in Switzerland) and of the Matterhorn. There is a tourist train to the summit, and skiing here in winter. To call the surroundings beautiful is an understatement. Details here.
See here for 25 of the highest unpaved cycling climbs in the Alps.
#2 Tunnel du Parpaillon – 2643 metres
This is one of the great gravel cycling climbs in France. Formerly the highest road in France, both sides are huge, beautiful, and quiet.
It was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys. The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long. Details here.
#3 Pas de la Beccia (2713m) via Fort de la Turra (2507m)
Many of the best super-high unpaved climbs are old military roads along the French/Italian border. Fort Turra is a strategic French fort high above Col du Mont Cenis. Pas de la Beccia was formerly the border (it was moved after WW2, both sides are now in France).
The route is completely rideable to the Fort, but becomes more of an adventure to Pas de la Beccia. But the views here of Lac du Mont Cenis far below are breath-taking. Details here.
#4 Fort du Mont Froid – 2822 metres
Another old French military road to one of the highest forts in the Alps. There is a plaque at the summit commemorating a WW2 battle here.
The route is completely rideable to Col de Sollières (2639m) then Col de l’Arella (2685m). The final stretch to the summit ridge with the fort and 360 degree views is a short hike. Details here.
#5 La Strada Militare Gran Serin (2800m)
Easily my favourite group of unpaved high military roads is the Strada dell’Assietta / Colle delle Finestre / Gran Serin network in Piemonte, Italy.
There are several gigantic climbs just to reach the Assietta road – high above the better known Colle delle Finestre. I detail them all here.
This year, I would climb the Gran Serin route with 2300 metres of ascent in a single climb! This ride, like Colle delle Finestre, starts in Susa. But it goes more than a half a vertical kilometre higher, eventually descending down to Finestre on a crazy cliff road. Details here.
#6 Col des Tufs Blancs (2304m) to Cormet d’Arêches
In the central French Alps, here is only one paved road that connects the Tarentaise Valley and the Beaufortain Valley to the north: the beautiful Cormet de Roselend. And expert cyclotourists know the part paved / part gravel alternative via Cormet d’Arêches.
In July, I found an alternate route to Cormet d’Arêches that crosses 3 cols all above 2300 metres. Old farm roads, many cows, deserted, beautiful views. Details here.
#7 Colle della Rho – 2541 metres
Another old military road – at least until Colle della Rho. This provides a couple of ideas for adventure cycles to cross from the Haute Maurienne in France into Italy or vice-versa.
This route starts in Italy, enters France at Colle della Rho (2541 metres), then spends roughly 14 kilometres in France, visiting a couple more cols, several lakes, and a refuge – all well above 2000 metres, finally descending back into Italy. Beautiful. Details here.
#8 Col de la Chal – 2460 metres
In the Tarentaise Alps. I married well: my wife allowed me to jump out of the car down low in the valley and I mountain-biked up and over Col du Chal (2460 metres) and down the ski slopes into the lovely car-free village of Les Arcs 1950. A gigantic, beautiful climb – roughly 1800 metres of ascent. Including a fun set of hairpins above the col (2550m). Details here.
#9 Passo della Mulattiera (2412m) & Col des Acles (2272m)
Another old Italian (Piemonte) military road that reaches a giant barracks ruins at the summit. Then some fantastic trails up against the French border. Details here.
#10 Aguille Croche (2487m) via Col du Joly
Starting from Les Contamines-Montjoie ski station, this is a great unpaved climb dominated by nearby Mont Blanc. It’s occasionally very steep, but quiet, beautiful, and high – reaching above 2400 metres. Details here, including some drone photos.
One of my few Moo Production videos in 2017:
A few honourable mentions:
- Lac(s) Jovet – scenic lakes in the Mont Blanc Massif
- Cime de la Bonette – Descending highest paved road in France through unpaved valley.
- High Jura Trails: Colomby de Gex, Mont Rond – Col de la Faucille unpaved (!), then the very highest points in the Jura mountains
- Schwarzsee – in the shadow of the Matterhorn.
- Jura Col Hunting – searching for a monument to a WW2 Canadian airplane crash.
- Torri di Fraele and Above – A superb, little-known paved ride up the hairpins to Torri di Fraele (near Bormio/Stelvio). Then an unpaved adventure in a secret valley.
Some very good memories! Happy New Year!
Here are my favourite rides of 2016.