Alps 2013, 6/09, Nice to Briancon

We got a nice early start out of Nice so we could take our time getting to Briancon. Peter had planned a great route over high passes, but of course none of them were open yet. He did a great job putting together another low-land route on short notice. We did have a heck of a time actually clearing Nice though, as we got off at the wrong exit that put us through a toll booth. Once through (and it takes a while with 3 bikes trying to use combinations of euros and credit cards) we had to u-turn and go back through.

Outside of Nice the road was an uneventful country ride as we worked our way closer to the canyons. North of the city M6202 (Route de Grenoble) becomes D6202 (Route des Alpes).

We stopped for breakfast under the neat looking town of Touet-sur-Var. We were hoping to find a gas station in town but there weren't any.

After brekfast we headed north on D28 to Beuil, and the road started to get very interesting. Once we got to these more interesting canyon roads, of course, it started to rain. The road was slick in places with red clay/dirt from the towering canyon walls, and the perfect place for Quattro Audis to scoot by us. D28 heads west through Gorges du Cians, which was a gorgeous red-rock canyon with huge dropoffs and a sinewy road perched high up on the hill. Coming around a blind left-hander I was greeted with quite the surprise, as the road was almost totally blocked by a recent rockfall. There was enough room to get the bike through, and perhaps a skinny car would weave through as well. I was reminded of comedian Jimmy Carr's appearance on Top Gear.

"The most ridiculous sign, I think, is Beware of Falling Rocks. What exactly am I supposed to do with that information? You might as well have a sign that says 'Life's a Lottery - Be Lucky'."

Breakfast stop

Road getting more interesting after breakfast

Looking back on D28

D28 was gorgeous but very wet

Crosstourer on D28

Looking back at was was hiding around a blind left. Fun.

Peter coming through the debris

Big drop if it goes wrong

What a great road

After the canyon sections on D28 we got to the (relatively) big town of Guillaumes only to find the one gas station closed. Not only closed, but with a sign saying something like 'Next Gas 60 kms' pointing the way we were going. Seeing that the range readout on the Crosstourer was reading about 15kms less than that I was getting concerned. Dave was not running as low as I was, but was down to 2 bars or so. Peter's route north showed a couple more towns before we got to Col de la Cayolle, which we needed to get over.

Of course as we rolled through those towns there was no gas. We got to the southern entrace to Col de la Cayolle and stopped to assess our situation. I was showing 20kms to empty, and the town most likely to have gas was over 25 kms away - on the other side of the pass. We stopped a car going by and did our best pantomime to ask for nearby gas and even though he spoke no English his reactions made it clear there was no gas within 10 kms.

We decided to press on over the pass and hope for the best. The southern ramp up was pretty short so maybe the range wouldn't drop too badly before we reach the summit. I took the lead so if I ran out I wouldn't just get left behind. It was cold and rainy on the way up and I did my very best to be easy on the throttle. By the time we got to the to we were still 20 kms away from fuel, and I was showing 17kms left in the tank. And the rain had turned to snow.

At the top of Col de la Cayolle

Lovely day for a ride. Even a lovelier place to maybe run out of fuel.

17kms left

A toasty 3 degree celcius

Down we go

I've never spent much time coasting on a motorcycle, but that's what I did for the majority of the long ride down the north ramp of Col de la Cayolle. Conserving momentum wherever possible and checking the range readout frequently I silently glided down the pass. Sometimes I had to had to brake to reel it in during a steep section, a lot of the time just maintaining speed on the shallow grades, and worrryingly having to give it throttle to get up a few inclines. It was a very different kind of concentration required, and a ride I won't soon forget.

I managed to earn back some range on the way down, but there was still the long, mostly-flat canyon section of the pass to get through. Nerve-wracking to say the least. After what seemed like an eternity we emerged from the pass and found the gas station in town. How much gas did I have left? Fuel capacity on the Crosstourer is 21.5 litres, and it took 21.1 at the pump.

We had lunch at the same place we ate last week when we passed through Barcelonette, and a sandwich and a beer never tasted better. Almost thawed out by the time we left, which was good because some of the best riding of the trip lay ahead.

Specs for the Crosstourer

21.1 liters. Pretty close.

Tasted fantastic after a long stressful ride

After a most satisfying lunch we headed north for a return trip of the Col de Vars. The rain had quit near the top and we stopped at the little cafe at the summit to shed some gear and pick up some pass stickers. The proprietor was very friendly and talkative - especially when he learned Peter was from Canada. We continue north to Guillestre, take D902 through Arvieux, which was very pretty, and then head over Col d'Izoard, which might just have been the very best pass of the trip. The ride up had a fantastic set of curves and hairpins through a forest, then nearer the top it opened up to something akin to a moonscape before becoming a typical snow-packed high pass.

I totally loved the forest section where I had a great time throwing the bike through the corners and around the hairpins (dialed back a bit due to wet roads, but also maybe feeling a little more daring having a bike with TCS).

Another great canyon road in southern France

Twisty goodness, would be more fun if it was dry

I had no idea France would look like this

A dam along the way to Col d'Izoard

The water level when we were there

Vew low compared to the sign

Very pretty scenery on the way to Col d'Izoard


Great turn going up Col d'Izoard - full res pano available here

Shame the road was still wet from the day's rain, but it was still a great ride

Fog leant a nice mood to the ride up in places

Pass awesomeness

I could ride this all day

The forest run opened up to this near the top of Col d'Izoard

Very different kind of pass

You can see the road across the way

We weren't sure what that snowy section would be like once we got there

Nice background

Should have went with more depth-of-field...

Continuing up

Dave crossing the snowy section

More snow near the top, but the road still rocked

Dave nears the top of Col d'Izoard

Peter comes next

Just so many fun curves on this pass

Final turn before the summit - full res pano available here

Pass marker at the top of Col d'Izoard

Dave crosses the summit

Crosstourer at the summit

Me at the top of Col d'Izoard - photo by Peter

The ride down the north ramp of Col d'Izoard was almost as much fun as the ride up. The road started out with very dramatic sweepers with huge views, then descended into a forest with perfect turn after perfect turn. In a short straight between two of these perfect turns I passed a guy going downhill on a skateboard. Ok, I thought, pretty cool. A couple turns later I'm about to enter afairly tight left-hand hairpin when I see a bunch of guys hanging around the outside of the turn, and a dude with a tripod setup dead in the middle of the road obviously waiting to film the descending skateboarder. I pulled over and watched the guy come down before continuing down the pass.


Pano of start of Col d'Izoard descent - full res version available here

Another pano of Col d'Izoard descent - full res version available here

The first turn on the descent - full res version available here

The Descent


You can see quite a few turns from this viewpoint. The parked snowplow scared the crap out of Dave when he came around the bend.

Watch that first turn

Looking back from the turn above

Dave heads down first

Dave riding down Col d'Izoard

Me getting the shot above of Dave (Peter's photo)

Down he goes

Dave grabbed this shot of me coming down the pass

And one of Peter heeled over

We stayed at the same hotel in Briancon, and our hosts were happy to see us again. Since the on-site restaurant was closed early we walked into town for another well-deserved meal. Overall it was a fantastic day, from the fuel drama on Col de la Cayolle to the joy of Col d'Izoard.

Tomorrow we leave France behind on our way to Switzerland. Of course we can't go over the passes we planned to use since they are still closed. So it will be another ad-hoc route and hope for the best.

Underground parking at the hotel. Last week we were the only bikes here.

A clear toilet lid. Someone has a good sense of humour.

The "pillow" in my room.

Screenshot of website listing northern France Alps pass status. We would check this page every morning and evening, and sometimes during lunch. I think during our whole time in France 2 passes changed to Ouvert, and neither were on any of our routes.

The southern pass status page