Cycling tips – what gear for the high mountains?

First time visitors to the big mountain passes often ask “what gear do I need“. But unless the question is followed up by a copious amount of personal information, from experience to wattages to ambitions then it’s almost on worth asking.

So for those of you going to the mountains of Europe for the first time, here are five pointers:

  1. If you really don’t know what gear you need, then you are probably reasonably inexperienced and lacking confidence. So I’d recommend a triple chainset and at least a 28T cog on the back. Some might baulk at this cyclotouriste set up but it’s better to be prepared just in case. Mountain passes can take an hour, just as you wouldn’t spin at 55rpm on the flat, don’t slog a big gear up the Izoard or Ventoux.
  2. If you are unsure, opt for a lower gear. Whether you are a novice deciding between a triple or compact or a pro deciding between a 21 or 23, opt for the lower gear. It’ll save you on the steepest part of the hardest day.
  3. Even the pros use low gears. Most riders will tackle a Tour stage with 39×23 and maybe a 25 on the back for the Pyrenees. Unless you are at a similar level, you should be using a significantly lower gear.
  4. Don’t fixate on the gears. The mountains have roads subject to very harsh conditions and it can show. Make sure your brakes are in good condition, that the pads have some life in them – you can go through a set on one day’s transalpine riding under the rain – and that the wheels and tyres will cope with rough roads.
  5. Warm clothing. It’s never that warm above 1500 metres. Even on a hot day in the valley, don’t get fooled. Packing armwarmers and a gilet is essential.

This is part of a series, for more tips on riding in the South of France, hit the “tips” tag just below.