About Mountain Biking in Verbier
The resort of Verbier provides an excellent base in which to explore the surrounding areas. Firstly there is a huge surplus of rental accommodation which makes prices significantly cheaper than the winter. The town itself has excellent infrastructure which is open by early June, when the lifts open for Summer.
There is a thriving family of bike tour operators in the area offering excellent guided weeks, with all the facilities that a biker would expect. Also, Verbier is a great base for exploring other resorts and areas. For example Chamonix and the Portes du Soleil are only 1-1.5 hrs drive away. We know many people who may travel hours to get to their local spot back home. Here in the Alps the options are limited only by the time you have to take your holiday.
The Verbier Bike Park is a must for downhill fans with 6km of serious downhill tracks running from Ruinettes to the Médran in Verbier. The 700m vertical drop in altitude makes it more suitable for speedsters and hardcore downhillers, however, you have to start somewhere and the park offers 4 different gradients of trail – green, blue, red and black – for beginners, intermediates and experts respectively.
There are 4 downhill tracks proposed in total, stretching for over 20 kilometres. They will break down roughly into the following percentages; 10% green, 20% blue, 40% red and 30% black. Also there are plans to develop a lot more obstacles and ramps which should gives riders of all levels more variety of terrain to ride on.
You can either buy a day or half day lift ticket to use the park which will give you unlimited access to the Ruinettes gondola. Alternatively, each afternoon, pro-riders from the Verbier bike team are available to show you around the trails (min. 2 people), telling you all you need to know about the park and the obstacles on the way. Advance reservation is recommended for one of these “Brakeless” sessions, but bear in mind that your lift ticket, bike hire and protective equipment are not included in the price. To check your progress during your stay, you can hire a “Freelap” timer gadget that will tell you the time of your descent on 3 different sections of the black “Tire’s Fire” piste.
The park is open from early June to late October every summer. See the Verbier Bike Park official site below for the latest dates and info (in French only).
If you prefer to take life at a more leisurely pace then there's plenty of mountain biking that is suitable for families and/or individuals who want to discover Verbier and its surrounding villages without having to furiously pedal uphill or kit up in full body armour.
If you're not sure where to head and which trails would be best for you, then during the summer months, the Tourist Office run two free guided bike tours around the area. There are plenty of bike hire shops in and around town offering Mountain bikes and protection kit for rent or sale. (NB: In French, mountain biking is called VTT (Vélo tout-terrain!).
The lifts are open from early June until mid September and they either allow you to put your bike fully inside (cable cars) or they have specifically adapted racks on the side (gondolas & chairlifts) allowing you spend more of your time riding incredible alpine terrain rather dragging yourself up steep inclines! By using the lift system you can increase the number of great trails for riders of all levels in the valley as most of the lifts within the valley permit bikes to be taken on board free of charge. Here's an example of how to easy it is to put your bike on a gondola lift .
Lift passes can be bought at the lift stations on an individual ascent basis. However if you're here for a few days and are going up and down many times during your stay, it's more economical to purchase a Pass Sports Activity Pass which gives you 6 days of unlimited access to the main lifts and cable-cars in the valley.
During the summer, all of the yellow Post buses that operate between Le Chable and Verbier are equipped to carry up to 6 bikes on specially adapted racks on the back. These racks are in operation from mid-May to mid-October each year and you have to pay a small additional fee to put your bike on the bus (approx CHF 2,-). It is recommended that you book your bus in advance wherever possible to ensure that there is space, although there is always the Le Chable gondola option to save you pedalling all the way back up the hill! A similar bike service operates between Nendaz and Siviez.
Hiring bikes & equipment
If you don’t own your own mountain bike and plan on renting equipment then there are plenty of Verbier mountain bike hire shops hiring out both full suspension and hard tail mountain bikes. The cost of daily rental varies from store to store and on the type of bike you choose to rent. On average you can pay anywhere between €16 - €80 euros for a days hire. Prices vary depending on whether you select a basic bike without suspension, or a full on free ride descent bike. (It is also possible to hire mountain bikes for children from around €15 a day.)
Full Suspension or Hardtail Mountain Bike?
A full suspension (FS) bike is one with both front and rear suspension that is effective at absorbing lumps, bumps and jumps thus providing better performance and a smoother ride. A hardtail refers to a bike with no rear suspension. Suspension forks may be added to the front of the bike but its back post is rigid. There are numerous makes and models of both types available to the potential buyer so when deciding on which type of bike is best, it is important to consider the following:
- Your budget!!
- The type of riding you and your bike will be undertaking
- The typical terrain and angle of decent you will be riding
In general, hardtail bikes tend to require less maintenance and perform better on steep uphill climbs and sprints to the finish line, whereas full suspension mountain bikes are much more comfortable and arguably have more control over the rough stuff. Sadly, along with an increase comfort, FS bikes increase in price quite significantly.
Whether to go full suspension or hardtail is one which can create a lot of healthy debate amongst the mountain biking community. Inexperienced or beginner riders may prefer to start with a hardtail complete with front, lockable suspension; progressing to a full suspension bike after they have got a feel for their preferred type of riding. Although a full suspension bike will give you more options to adjust to suit the terrain, it can be more energy intensive on the uphill as unless you have a ‘lock out’ facility on the rear suspension as energy can be lost through ‘suspension bobbing' as you climb. And there is a weight penalty for all that bump proofing suspension. Furthermore, you could potentially have more moving parts to repair should anything go wrong. On the positive side, it is worth remembering that you can make a full suspension bike ‘lock out’ so the experience is like riding a hard tail, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a hard-tail ride like a full suspension bike!
If you bring your own bike then there's no point loading up your excess baggage with spare bike parts either (unless your bike requires specific specialist component parts).
Verbier has some excellent biking shops that sell plenty of spare parts and components for your bike. However, remember the spares list does not extend to some obscure pivot in your one off special downhill rig. We are talking rear mechs, pedals, cranks, chains, cassettes, brakes, brake pads, cables etc from the more popular manufacturers. The exception to this rule is the rear gear hanger; bring one with you for your bike, especially if it’s of the super funky alternative/rare type. The bike shops do not carry this part for all the different bike manufacturers and the models they make and it is probable the most frequently damaged part in the event of a crash. Even a relatively innocuous fall can damage this part and although they can often be bent back into shape, it would be a shame to ruin your holiday if this were not the case. (Most of the rental shops will also do a good line in helmets, body protectors, repairs and servicing.)
It is highly advisable to ensure your own bike is in tip top condition before lugging it all the way over to France. A days riding in the Alps equates to many rides out in the UK and the wear and tear on your bike reflects this. If you start the week with your bike in a poor to average state of repair it will let you down at some point and spoil the day, if not the weeks enjoyment. If you are not a competent mechanic then your local independent bike shop will provide a service for your pride and joy to ensure you and it remain friends for the week. It is money well spent to upgrade your tires if they are of the lighter weight cross country variety and purchase some free ride tyres with a 2.3 section to smooth your way and avoid the punctures. There is every chance a set of brake pads will disappear in a week so bring a spare pair and carry them with you on the trail to avoid that metal on metal effect! If you run out of time before you come away, Verbier local bike shops will be able to carry out a service for you. Charges are approximately €40 per hour on a pro-rata basis depending on how serious a service your bike requires!
Equipment for cycling
- Water - One of the biggest problems in this region is the heat. Fit two bottle cages to your bike and take 750ml bottles with electrolyte drinks.
- Sun Cream - The thin air and hot summer sun means you will burn quicker here than at home
- Windbreaker - Although it may be warm in the valley temperatures can drop rapidly as you climb, weather can chage quickly and the fast descents can cool you down fast.
- Snacks - Energy Bars and gels are a very good idea if you are planning a day on the roads.
- Mobile Phone - Being able to contact someone to pick you up if your chain breaks is helpful.
- Money - You may need it in an emergency or just for a beer at the end of the day.
- Basic Repair Kit - You can't fix everything by the side of the road but not all breakdowns require the day to end.
Cycling hotels & camps
These days there are many companies taking the thought process out of it all and offering a tailor made mountain biking specific holidays. There are many specialist Verbier based chalet companies and apartment rentals offering such packages.
Several local Tour Operators offer an active mountain biking programme. Most of the above companies will all offer comparable deals with little extras here and there so perfectly suit a range of riding levels from beginners up to skilled riders.
Most companies listed can recommend where the closest or best trails are to them, and some will happily organise a guide through a local company if you need it. The various biking trails surrounding Verbier offering some great cross country riding and single track trails with spectacular scenery in the background.
Wherever you choose to ride you will inevitably have a thoroughly enjoyable experience in and around the Bagnes Valley. The mountains are there to be enjoyed by everyone so remember to be considerate of others when on your bike, following the 'Mountain Bikers code of conduct' at all times.
Flying with your bike
A review of airlines terms and conditions in relation to sports equipment baggage indicates that it is highly likely that you will be subjected to a standard charge for taking your bike on board. Easyjet; bmibaby; Aer Lingus; and KLM indicated that there was an average additional charge of between £15 (€22.50) and £25 (€36) to take your bike, one-way.
However, make sure that the combined weight of your luggage does not exceed you allowance. Although you may have paid an excess for your bike its weight may be added to the weight of your hold luggage and there can be a penalty for any kg's over the allowance.
The more conventional airlines such as British Airways and its code share partner Swiss airlines permit free transport of bikes providing they fit within the free baggage allowance, and are packed in a hard shelled container.
Packing your bike for a flight
There are a few options available in transporting your bike. Hard bike boxes tend to cost in the region of £300 and like a hard case suitcase it will minimise the risk of damage occurring to the your bike but they are heavier. A soft bike bag is the cheaper option, costing around £100. Whilst this will provide your bike with a little more padded protection it is not as reliable as the hard box. On our recent trip from the UK to Geneva, we transported our bike in its original cardboard box, protected the key areas with bubble wrap and cardboard and it arrived safely and undamaged. Most airlines stipulate the following:
- Bikes should be contained within a protective box or appropriate bike bag;
- Only one bike should be carried per box/bag, and no other items (except protective padding) should be included within the box/bag;
- Handlebars and pedals must be fixed sideways against the frame or removed; and
- Tyres should be deflated slightly to reduce the risk of damage.
If you are transporting your bike, you should also check out your travel insurance arrangements. A lot of travel insurance companies will not cover your expensive mountain bike without an additional excess payment, and a lot of airlines will not be held responsible for any damage sustained whilst the bike is in their care. Check out your household insurance policy to see whether it can be covered as 'contents away from home'. There may be a slight surcharge for this option, but it's potentially better than having to fork out for a new bit of kit, or a brand new bike!!
In addition to bubble wrap, purchase some pipe lagging and zip ties from a DIY store to put around the frame of the bike for protection during transportation. In addition, if you don't have your original cardboard bike box, ask your local bike shop for one. If you have the choice always use the manufacturer’s box and your bike should arrive safe and whole. However, it is worth noting that the most frequently damaged part of a bike is the rear gear hanger. Remove the rear gear mechanism and tie wrap loosely to the frame to avoid this scenario. This applies almost equally to disc brake rotors if your bike sports them. Take them off, likewise pedals, its only a five minute job and will prevent you engaging in a fruitless search for an obscure part in resort.
Taking your bike on the train
Going on holiday to France with your bike is pretty straight forward, but as with a lot of things, its better to book in advance.
The Eurostar allows you to take your bike in 1 of 3 ways into Europe.
1) Reserve a place for your bike on the train in advance - For peace of mind, you can reserve a place for your bike on the train you’re travelling on for £30 one way, subject to availability. 2) Fold it up - If your bike is placed in a suitable bike bag no longer than 85cm, you can carry it on board as part of your baggage allowance.
3) Use the registered baggage service on the day of departure - For fully assembled bikes or bike bags over 120cm at their longest, you can use their registered baggage service for only €29 one way from Paris, €25 from Brussels and £25 from London. They will do everything they can to ensure your bike travels on the same train as you. But if it can’t, they guarantee that you will be able to collect it at your Eurostar destination station within 24 hours of your departure. If you can fold or dismantle your bike and place it in a bike bag between 85cm and 120cm at its longest, then you can use their turn-up-and-go registered luggage service for just €15 from Paris or Brussels and £10 from London. Your bike will generally travel on the same train as you unless there is not enough space. If this is the case, they will send it on the next available train.
To make a reservation or find out more about registered baggage service, call 01 55 31 58 33 in France or 0844 822 5822 in the UK.
On trains running from London to Avignon, Provence and the French Alps, bike bags measuring between 85 and 120cm can be carried on board as part of a passenger’s baggage allowance.
Once you're in France getting around with your bike can be straight forward, but again planning ahead and getting to the station early are highly recommended.
Domestic or regional trains (TER) and Tourist trains quite often allow you to transport your bike for free, although you may have to put it in a bike compartment, or hang it from a hook to save space, or fold it up and take it on as hand luggage. Spaces are limited and you cannot reserve in advance, and in some regions bikes aren't permitted Monday-Friday during working hours as the trains are too busy with pedestrians.
Regional trains in Ile-de-France, the region surrounding Paris, are called Transilien. These are the country’s busiest commuter trains. They operate into all of Paris’ stations and run on lines with a letter associated (line K, line P, etc.). They also include the RER trains, which run on lines A to E. You can take your bike on board a Transilien Monday to Friday, before 6.30am, between 9.30am and 4.30pm, then after 7.30pm; At any time on weekends and bank holidays and at any time if it is folded or placed in a bike bag and does not cause fellow passengers any inconvenience.
On Intercity trains it's best if you can dismantle your bike and carry it on in a bag no more than 120x90cm. Some of these trains require a seat reservation, whereas others do not. Consequently, according to the type of train, it may or may not be necessary to book, or pay for, a place for your bike.