The Pyrenees are one of the world’s best cycling destinations. They’ve got huge cycling heritage, with legendary climbs that have been lighting up the Tour de France since 1910 and wild, untouched landscapes that won’t fail to leave their mark on you.
We love the Pyrenees and have written these top tips to help you have an amazing experience.
For route suggestions, GPX downloads, bike hire and accommodation information, don’t miss our comprehensive guide to cycling the Pyrenees!
How to prepare for a Pyrenees cycling trip
1. Choose the right gearing. Pyrenean climbs are generally steep and long. Most riders will want a compact 50-34 chainset with a 11-28t cassette. A cassette with a 30 or 32 tooth sprocket would offer even more flexibility…
2. Get some training in beforehand. If you come to the Pyrenees to ride the famous mountain climbs, you’ve got to expect severe gradients: double digits are not uncommon on some routes. You’re going to struggle if you’re totally unfit. Try and get some long miles in before you leave and, if at all possible, make some of those in hills.
3. Bring spares and know how to use them: Look at our packing list and use it! The last thing you want is a mechanical you can’t fix.
4. Fuelling: It’s simple. Take enough food. Cafés and shops cannot be relied upon to be open when you need them. Also remember that when it’s hot you often don’t feel hungry, but you must continue to eat. Fuel before you start climbing and keep something in your back pocket. You should be able to pick something up where you’re staying – or bring a stash of your favourite bars with you.
5. Check your bike: If you’re taking your own bike, consider having it serviced before your trip. If you’re renting a bike, take a look at our questions to ask before hiring a bike.
Plan your Pyrenees cycle routes
6. Plan your routes before you visit. Our Pyrenees cycling guide contains loads of routes we’ve tried and tested: pick between loops of the most famous climbs and lesser-known options too. You’ll find route profiles, descriptions, photos and videos so you know what you’re letting yourself in for. You can even use our free GPX downloads.
7. Familiarise yourself with the route before you ride it. It’s important to know what to expect before you set out. Consider your route, how long each climb should take, where you plan to refuel and any shortcuts or important parts of the route. Even if you’re with a group, you might get split up, so make sure you’re self-reliant.
Pack for Pyrenees weather
8. Pack for all weather. At any time of year, keep a jacket in your back pocket. It might feel over-cautious to stick a jacket in your pocket when you’re setting out under a brilliant blue sky but, trust us, the weather in the Pyrenees can change in a flash. It’s common to find rain, cloud and mist on the top of the highest peaks, even when it’s been 30°C in the valley. If you do get caught in some weather, a simple jacket can make all the difference.
If the forecast suggests poor weather, you’ll need to pack kit in addition to a jacket: arm and leg warmers and long-fingered gloves, possibly overshoes too. Check our ultimate packing list which has a checklist you can use.
Other top tips
9. Know the rules of the road. Understand the French Highway Code and the rules for cycling in France before you go. This is a useful summary and there are also specific rules for cyclists. Also be aware that some cycling kit is obligatory; the pictogram below summarises this. We rarely see road cyclists in France with lights or bells, and we ourselves have never had any problems, but it’s best to be aware of the rules and make your own decision.
10. Don’t go out too hard! At the beginning of a day, it can be easy to be overly enthusiastic and set a pace you can’t sustain. Riding in the Pyrenees is hard. Often the lower sections of climbs can lull you into a false sense of security. Take it easy, don’t kill yourself early on and you’ll have a blast!
11. Beware the livestock. On many of the mountain roads, cows and sheep graze freely. They wander all over the road and you need to bear this in mind, particularly when descending at speed. It should go without saying, but also don’t approach or antagonise any animal. We have heard stories of Pyrenean cows attacking humans when provoked. We’re also told that there are bears in the mountains, but we understand that they’re a very rare sight.
12. Heatstroke. Take sun cream and plenty of water out with you on the bike. And ensure you use them! Heatstroke can strike quickly and is extremely nasty.
13. Cramp. This is a common complaint when cycling in the heat.. We always take electrolyte tablets for our water bottle; we find they really help stave off cramp.
14. Group riding. Particularly if you’re new to riding in the mountains, it can be good to ride with a friend or group. That way if something goes wrong, there are people there to help you out. At the very least, make sure someone knows your route and your expected timings.
15. Lights, phone, ID and money. At a minimum, keep a small rear light fitted to your bike in case you come across a tunnel or get caught in bad weather (not to mention that it’s a legal requirement, as explained in point 10 above!). You’d also be crazy to leave home without money, ID and your phone!
Been cycling in the Pyrenees and got some additional tips? Please comment below!
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