Video: Traversing Switzerland, Italy & France on eMTBs

Apr 25, 2020
by Big Mountain  
photo Margus Riga ridebig.com

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Warming up the e-bikes on our first evening high above the Valais' Val d'Anniviers. Photo Margus Riga

photo Margus Riga ridebig.com
An evening sampling the local wines in the high alpine. Jet lag? What jet lag? Photo Margus Riga

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
A perfect start to our journey. 75 vertical meters of climbing done, 15,002 vertical meters of climbing to go. Photo Margus Riga

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Just one of the 66,200 kilometres of singletrack that crisscrosses Switzerland. Not a bad tally for a country the size of Vermont & New Hampshire combined. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Never say no to a lift, right? One of two bumps up on our week-long adventure. Photo Margus Riga

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
The iconic Cabane du Mont Fort on the slopes of Verbier. Epic location to spend the night, just don't go for the cuisine. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Last light along one of the Valais' historic bisses, impressive irrigation channels that were dug by hand dating back to the 13th century. Photo Margus Riga

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Dropping into Italia from the Swiss border. No passport needed, just a sign on a trail at the top of a big pass. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Eco, Tour, Sport or Turbo? Starting the day with charged Boschs and full of espressos. Photo Margus Riga

photo Margus Riga ridebig.com
On regular bikes we'd cover two inches of map on a big day. With two batteries on the e-assist bikes was a different story, but still not a walk in the park. Photo Margus Riga

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.

photo Margus Riga ridebig.com
The boys and a turbocharged Lamborghini tractor. Behind them, the start of the opening climb of the day, a steep 1200 meter wall. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Arriving to the pinnacle of Day 5, the Col de Malatra. Note to self for future reference: e-bikes & hiking don't mix. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
The best things in life require great effort...don't you think? Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
1st prize gets...a ribbon. And 1345 meters of ripping downhill singletrack. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Dropping down to the foot of Mont Blanc and the start of the famous circumnavigation route, the Tour du Mont Blanc. Photo Margus Riga

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.

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Ah, la belle France. Enjoying a well-deserved late afternoon beverage in the Haute Savoie. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
The grand finale, enjoying our last descent of the trip in Les Houches bike park. Photo Margus Riga

Photo Margus Riga. ridebig.com
Alas, Chamonix. A hot shower, cold beer & fresh clothes await. Photo Margus Riga

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.

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Posted In:
eMTB Travel Videos



59 Comments

  • 57 33
 Lol, non-supported e-bike traverse? Yea I'm a hater. I know it was hard with an e-bike still, I bet logistics of charging was difficult, and lugging those pigs up hike-a-bikes does not look fun.

But look, lots of us have done multi-day high alpine routes around the world. I can't help but ask why? As Yvon Chouinard said about climbing "The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an a*shole when you start out and you’re an a*shole when you get back.”

You comprise the process, and you compromise the experience. It's the years of training, backcountry experience, knowledge of how to move quickly and efficiently in the mountains, being completely self-supported. The best experiences I've had in the backcountry come unexpectedly, perhaps it was when I pushed well beyond plans for the day and bived at 10,000 feet, or found a cool trail and took it not knowing where I would sleep that night. Being confined to finding a power socket at the end of the night or limiting your days based on your charge deprived you of so many opportunities. Great video and photos, but in my eyes this is no different than the rich a*shole who pays a sherpa to carry his backup up Everest, set up his tent, and put that mint under his pillow.
  • 14 6
 Do they really put mint under your pillow? If that's true, then I'll have to hire me a sherpa to carry me and my EMTB up and then back down the mountain. Who needs to pedal when I can have a sherpa carry me both ways.
  • 22 22
 @dfishdesign What a load of pooh. That is literally the impact of these sicko hikers who climb Everest. You claim climbers who climb Everest are part of a spiritual experience? Bullcrap! No, pretty much anybody ego climbs Everest is a narcissistic a*shole polluter who climbed it to boost their ego and brag to people about it. Be honest.

www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/amp/31711591

E bikes have made the world a better place simply because they are getting people back on bikes who had given up on riding. They are also great for commuting compared to a car. The world would also be a better place if pseudo-spiritual egotistical hikers would stop trashing ruining mountains like Everest to fulfill their "adventurous" egotistical desires.

You have thrown the sport of mountain biking under the bus to prop up the fraudulent image one of the worst, most unsustainable outdoors activities known to man. Shame on you.

ourworld.unu.edu/en/vanity-pollution-and-death-on-mt-everest
  • 5 0
 @DoubleCrownAddict: I think/hope if you re-read dfishdesign's comment and use of Yvon's quote you'll find you're pretty much 100% in agreement. All part of the fun of Pinkbike, lots of people from lots of countries communicating in one of several versions of english!
  • 4 0
 haha. gold.
  • 11 3
 @dfishdesign I get the feeling you’re having a hard time comprehending that other people are interested in having different experiences than you (or Chouinard) might. Or that they might want to try a slightly different challenge than they normally take on. In this case, part of the challenge was logistics. That doesn’t invalidate or compromise the experience because they set that as part of the challenge. But who knows, maybe you’re the sort who eschews cars and airplanes and grow your own food so you can have a more ‘pure’ experience moving through the world. If so, good for you. If not, perhaps you can just be happy that these folks had an awesome experience.
  • 9 1
 @grum-p: Yeah I didn't read it correctly the first time and see that he was critical of Everest hikers, sorry.
  • 7 0
 The beauty of outdoor adventure is the ability to learn about your self. About your limits, fears, abilities. I mean yeah, sure an e bike is fun but the fealing of doing it all with your own grit/ sweat and tears is something no assitant can take care off. Forget about your batteries, iphones, gps, garmins etc just f*cking ride and feel it. no offence.
  • 4 0
 @dfishdesign,

The answer to your question "Why?", would probably be because they thought it would be fun for them.

And it looks like they were right. Who cares what Yvon Chouinard said, what makes his opinion relevant to what anyone else wants to do?

You do what you want to do, and leave the rest of the world to do what it wants to do.
  • 5 0
 Because their goal wasn't to summit everest. Their goal was to cover as much terrain as possible and see what ebikes are capable of. This trip looked rad and I bet they had a lot of fun. Not all of us are Jim Fixx.
  • 1 0
 @friendlyfoe: Exactly!!
  • 14 3
 It would seem that here in Europe we have embraced E-bikes simply for what they can offer, dont get me wrong, I enjoy bike parks, getting out with friends and exploring parts of the UK, but being honest, I'm 54 and only good for around 40 miles on my Ibis HD4, on the other side of the argument I'm good for 60+ miles on my E-bike.
The planet is large enough for both analogue and E-bikes, the latter can offer some people an experience some of us can't comprehend such as when I saw Martyn Ashton, once a superb MTB, Trail and stunt rider until his accident left him paralysed from the waist down, if not for an E-bike then he would have never been able to ride the Fort William Downhill track as he did a few years ago again, to see that man's face light up with joy, the crowd going wild, the total euphoria of the atmosphere said to me that none of us are to judge what is and isn't a Mountain Bike so long as it puts a smile on your face, but don't take my word for it, look it up on YouTube and then tell me E-bikes don't have a place in our chosen pursuit.
  • 6 10
flag alexsin (Apr 26, 2020 at 9:53) (Below Threshold)
 Please read this in the spirit of honest curiosity. Why not just get a bit fitter? There are plenty of 54 year olds who can do 40km+ days. It takes some dedication and a fair bit of time to push into those big days but people of all ages do it all the time.
  • 11 1
 @alexsin: Being able to do 40+ miles at 54 is already damn impressive. People have busy lives, other interests, etc. Not everyone can dedicate themselves to a training regiment that gets you to that level of fitness. Honest question, why do you care?
  • 4 0
 @alexsin: Taken in the spirit you mention, the difference being is that I pedal miles and not Kilometres, I use my analogue bike 3 times per week, the same distance each time, and my E-bike once a week so I think I'm doing pretty well, I have no desire to kick out a 100 mile ride just to say that I have done it, I do what I do because I enjoy it and comfortable doing it multiple times per week, plus I also have a life to live and family to enjoy.
  • 4 0
 @roma258: Many thanks for the support, I have replied to alexin, and I agree with you, we have other interests and lives to live, MTB is a hobby for me, if it ever became my master then I'd quit.
  • 8 1
 @Gavalar66: I'm 38, have a small kid and a full time job. I'm lucky if I get two rides per week in and there's no way I can knock out a 40 mile ride right now. This whole "why don't you just get fitter" attitude has no relationship to how most people live their lives.
  • 1 0
 @roma258: Enjoying family time is a rewarding time and we all have to work in order to support the family unit and that should always take priority, family makes us who and what we are.
I'm lucky that I own my own business so can leave work early in order to get out on my bike but sometimes that's not always possible but I don't worry about it, as you say, "just get fitter" is very often easier said than done but when I do get out I really enjoy it and if a time ever came that I stopped enjoying it would be the time to stop.
Enjoy your family and when time allows, enjoy your bike and remember, it's about the smiles in your miles.
  • 12 5
 Take mother earth out of it, even though you shouldn’t. Ebikes are a bike companies marketing dream. Each year your 6k bike will get new tech that makes last years obsolete. I’m fully aware that’s the goal for regular bikes too but it’s no where near the rate ebikes will bring. I’m going to keep pedaling my standard bike so I can afford this sport and hope to god the die hards who built this sport up, feel the same.
  • 10 4
 Can we please take a moment to consider the impact on the trails before we grab a bit of rear brake and kick out our tires? If you're lucky enough to have a trail association maintaining trails, or you're riding in an environment that has quick regrowth, then go for it (if you have to). But almost every shot I saw of that here made me cringe.
Other than that, beautiful. What an experience.
  • 7 1
 If it is only
about the experience then why even mention that ebikes where involved. Why would it even matter? Unless of course ppl need to understand that the experience is causally linked to ebike possesion.
  • 2 0
 I agree with you....but can you imagine the comments if they didn't mention they were on e-bikes in the article. The top comment would read "CHEATERS!!! That picture definitely shows you were on ebikes!". I think they wanted to mention it to be more up-front rather than others seem them as sheepish, not to necessarily promote or say this can only be done on ebikes.
  • 1 0
 IT keeps the sponsors marketing people happy.
  • 5 0
 Hmmm, fair play. It's a stunning area and hike a bike with ebikes must be tough. Last September we did the whole Haute Route unsupported in five days, ladders and all. Then straight after I did a solo non-stop 19 hour ride round the whole Tour de Mont Blanc. We were mostly on hardtails which was super-handy for all the scrambling sections, nice and light! I'm intrigued how much of the actual Haute Route you did? My favourite bit of it was the day we overstretched and ended up descending from a 3000m ridge in pitch black and snow before blagging into a hut after midnight to avoid spending the remainder of the night huddled in a group shelter. I wonder how much being reliant on re-charging robbed you of the possibilities of having those mini adventures within the overall adventure?
  • 1 0
 "hike a bike with ebikes must be tough" It's really only a tiny bit tougher than an analog bike. My Ripmo AF = 36lbs, my Sight VLT carbon = 52lbs for a difference of 16lbs. Do people who lift regularly (disclaimer, not me) think going up 16lbs (especially on the end of 36lbs to 52lbs) on rows, or bench press as big a deal as we cyclists seem to make it in the context of ebikes? I'm not being condescending, I'd really like to get perspective, comparing the two.
  • 7 1
 I often dream of going back to the Alps and when I do, it’s always like this:

youtu.be/z_JupfzlWSc
  • 2 0
 Thanks for sharing this. Love it and I could not agree more with you!
  • 2 0
 @sprecks57: No problem. Of course all the Matt Hunter edits are great.
  • 8 1
 What a nice adeventure!
  • 3 1
 so beautiful was fortunate to stay in valais last year summer, and rode most of the trails they've done. such a beautiful place, itching to go back soon
  • 6 2
 This is great and looks like a great way to experience the Alps.
  • 1 0
 I dont understand how you can do a self supported trip that requires you to plan the whole trip around external access to charging points. Its clearly not self sufficient
  • 8 10
 this mode of access to nature is not compatible with its preservation. Just because technology allows you to do everything does not mean you have to do anything. have you thought about what will happen if thousands of bikes start to circulate in these extremely fragile environments? erosion is the first problem. but there is the whole question of overcrowding and the impact in terms of pollution, energy consumption, disturbance of wildlife. it is not sustainable
  • 6 1
 I hear you but the true cause of environmental impacts is too many people period!
  • 10 1
 @slayerdegnar: I'd say the true cause of any harm to the environment is people not getting to or being restricted from nature. Give people an appreciation for the wild from an early age and they'll take care of it when they visit. Don't just block it off for the 'oh-so appreciative' types. There should be school busses full of kids from the cities dropping them off for tours of forests and mountains. Don't teach them about erosion, show them. Don't teach them about ecosystems, show them. Then it won't matter if they're on an e-bike or or Moto, they'll take care of it.
Don't fill kid's minds with scare-tactics, 'ooh the world will end if you don't recycle kids'! Teach them to love and appreciate nature. There's a difference, and the latter doesn't have a serious impact on the hopelessness and depression young kids are experiencing because us 'adults' are constantly threatening them with the end of the world.
Just my $0.02.
  • 2 0
 @jeremiahwas: Im totally with you on this!
  • 2 0
 Best MTB tour company WORLDWIDE!
  • 1 1
 We did this trip last year but on real bikes, just three sons and there 55 year old dads. Check out ride the alps with guide Jamie!
  • 2 0
 I see Margus : I click.
Awesome
  • 2 1
 landscape is just insane..my introvert brain sense peace
  • 4 2
 Awesome Adventure!
  • 3 0
 Thanks Dave! Hopefully we can get out and do a big adventure like this together sometime soon. Cheers.
  • 3 0
 @BigMountain: this is the route I would love to do, soon buddy! Come on down any day and lets go for a morning rip, the dirt is perfect and the stoke is high! We have bikes!
  • 1 0
 @BigMountain have you got a map or GPX of the route?
  • 1 0
 lol ya'll r trippin
  • 2 5
 I would rather traverse this on a KTM Freeride E-XC or a proper Enduro Motorcycle!
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