I wasn’t totally surprised by the response. Some riders thought it was a great idea, albeit an ambitious one, some didn’t know what to think, while others that I approached dubbed it the e-douche tour. “It’s e-mountain biking afterall,” was their sarcastic response, as if I was suggesting that they join me on a guided jet-ski tour of the Florida Keys with dolphin escorts. I felt like I had to tread lightly while inviting friends from BC’s established riding community as most were still not sure what to think of e-mountain biking, myself included. The plan was a non-supported seven-day traverse through the Swiss, Italian and French Alps; a combination of the Haute Route Traverse and circumnavigation of Month Blanc including a solid dip into Italy’s Aosta Valley. An aggressive and rugged mostly singletrack point-to-point route across some of Europe’s highest peaks, on e-mountain bikes.
The truth is, I’d only ridden an e-mountain bike a handfull of times, I had a lot to learn and devising riding routes was the first challenge. I’d planned dozens of multi-day trips in the Alps with our guiding company Big Mountain Bike Adventures
, but this reconnaissance mission was the first on electric-assist bikes. The goal was to spend as much time as possible riding in the alpine, using mountain huts for overnights while taking full-advantage of our precious 500-watts of power but avoiding running out of juice; no one wants to pedal or push a 50-pound rig for long. Besides distance ridden and meters climbed daily, we had to take into consideration riders’ weight, what level of assist to use relative to the terrain (eco, tour, e-mtb or turbo), if we could charge the batteries at lunch and of course being able to charge batteries overnight. Some mountain huts didn’t have sufficient power to charge batteries which meant careful planning. In the end we opted to each carry an extra battery which we planned to use.
Fresh off the overnight flight to Geneva, we gathered at the Sierre train station on a sunny afternoon in late-July with chamois on, ready to ride. In the end, our crew consisted of six seasoned and grizzled BC riders each with decades of high-performance pedalling and a long list of adventures under their belts; it would be a tough group to impress. First up was to pack our 25L riding bags that needed to fit everything from a toothbrush to an extra riding kit to cameras and chargers and water and snacks and tools and extra parts and first aid kits and clothes for sleeping and the dreaded extra battery for the bike, including charger. Our bags were packed as tight as could be and weighed about as much as a small and angry fat toddler.
The next morning, we set out from our historic hotel at 2337m along an amazing stretch of singletrack in beautiful sunshine with views of the villages of Zinal and Grimentz far below and the mighty Matterhorn at the end of the valley. The next few days were spent crossing the Valais region of Switzerland roughly following the famous Haute Route ski traverse that goes from Chamonix to Zermatt. We rode along ancient waterways, through flowery villages and over high-alpine passes and bombed down mountains including the 2135-meter singletrack descent from Becs de Bosson to the remote alpine valley, the Val D’Hérens. It would have been rude not to, we ended our Swiss days by sampling a variety of fendant wines, the Valais’ symbolic light and aromatic white, as our multitude of batteries blinked and charged away into the wee hours of the morning.
Next up was Italy and the amazing Aosta Valley which we entered via the remote Fenêtre du Durand. Unlike the rockier Swiss side, the Italian trails had more dirt and forested trails which was welcomed. With the help of local guide Patrick we devised a route high above the Aosta Valley on trails that were knocking out everyone's previous Top 10's of all time, little-known trails that had seen few mountain bikes. And being bella Italia, lunches were delicious and always washed down with a few dopio espressos while evenings were spent diving into courses of polenta, cured meats, pasta, cheeses and crushing Brunellos and Chiantis like the Pope crushes sermons.
The Aosta Valley wasn’t all loam and fine dining though, we had a tough 40-kilometer day to conquer with 2200 meters of climbing punctuated by a steep hike-a-bike to the feisty Col de Malatra, a piton-laden finish that resembled a climbing route more than a mountain bike trail. On the final push we removed batteries from bikes to lighten them up and aided each other with the human-chain technique. It was tough. The reward was spectacular, a 1345-meter descent to the beautiful Val Ferret at the base of the imposing Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak at 4808 meters.
Arrivederci Italia, we eventually crossed into France on the remote Col de la Seigne and swung around the Mont Blanc massif on the popular Tour du Mont Blanc route via the village Les Contamines. The Tour du Month Blanc was busier with hikers, but still an amazing ride as you'd look over your shoulder and up, way up, to see the imposing Queen of the Alps piercing the clouds. After several mediocre cafe au laits, a case or two of dry Burgundies and 340 kilometers of pedalling, 15,077 meters of climbing and 16,298 meters of descent we rolled into Chamonix on a glorious sunny afternoon. We made it.
By the second day of our trip e-douche was never muttered again, it was quite the opposite. Over the week we learned a lot about these assist-bike: that e-mountain bikes are capable of travelling impressive distances over truly big mountain terrain, that they’re capable of cleaning some head-shakingly technical climbs, that they eat up descents like a downhill bike, that good suspension is as important as ever, that long leisurely lunches in the sun are advised to charge batteries and that hike-a-biking e-bikes should be avoided at all costs. In the end, it was unanimously agreed that e-mountain bikes and big Alps’ adventures are a match.
This e-mtb adventure is offered by Big Mountain
as an epic eight-day guided trip, albeit without the hike-a-bike. Check it out here