About Mountain Biking in Courchevel
Although Courchevel isn't as renowned as some other Alpine resorts for being a hardcore mountain bikers dream it does have its fair share of tough technical descents.
Having said that there are also a fair few 'tame' routes that act as a good introduction to the sport and there is plenty of easy to intermediate cross-country biking that will give the legs and lungs a good workout whilst allowing you to take it at your own pace and enjoy the scenery at the same time!
The Courchevel area has been FFC (French Federation of Cycling) accredited so the trails are way-marked and graded according to difficulty in much the same way as ski pistes are: green for very easy, blue for easy, red for difficult and black for very difficult and expert only trails.
As part of the huge 3 Valleys area the door is open to more trails and mountain biking in both Meribel and Val Thorens. The area as a whole has an extensive network of lift accessed downhill tracks, single track trails, fire roads and bike parks. Using the Saulire cable car you can go over to Meribel and if you have enough energy even make it up to the top of the Belleville Valley and Val Thorens. The 3 Valleys day pass will cover you for all the lifts in these resorts plus the free bus service that runs between the lifts in some of the valleys.
The activation of the Le Praz gondola gives you even more access to the mountains. See the 3 Valleys trail map for more details of which lifts are running and where the trails go.
Also see: Mountain Bike Trails in Courchevel
The lifts are open from early July to the end of August and have specifically adapted racks or hooks for your bikes allowing you spend more of your time riding incredible alpine terrain rather dragging yourself up steep inclines (unless that's what you like!)
Also see: Summer Lift Opening Dates in Courchevel
Hiring bikes & equipment
If you don’t own your own mountain bike and plan on renting equipment then there are plenty of Courchevel 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).
Courchevel 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, Courchevel 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.
There are 2 free bike wash centres in Courchevel; one at Le Praz near the gondola and another at Courchevel under the Croisette footbridge. Showers are available at Les Grandes Combes swimming pool between 10am and 6pm.
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 Courchevel based chalet companies 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 will guide you around the various biking trails offering some great cross country riding and single track trails with spectacular scenery in the background. Due the technical nature of the routes selected, they do state that they tend to select smaller group sizes for better riding experiences and will not take beginner riders on their guided rides. Some are happy to offer a discounted holiday to accompanying guests who are not riding though.
Wherever you choose to ride you will inevitably have a thoroughly enjoyable experience in and around the Courchevel area. 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.
Also see: National Trains to Courchevel