Kate and Greg bike from Lyon to Nice over the Cime de la Bonnette.

This year we decided to go to France again, and go over the Cime de la Bonnette. This is a pass in the Haute Alpes that they say is the highest public road in Europe. Two years ago, when we did a bunch of passes, I remember biking past the turnoff to Jausiers, and thinking that we should be going over that pass (the Cime), but we continued on and did the Col de Var that day. Now we would do the Cime de la Bonnette.

Map of Trip
Here is our trip. The bus section in brown.

The cheapest way to fly to Europe from Vancouver is to take Air Transat to either London Gatwick or Paris Charles de Galle airport. We've used both. You then can fly Easyjet from London to the next point on your journey, or, from Charles de Gaulle take the TGV (the French High Speed Train) to the next destination. This is what we chose to do; we took the TGV from Charles de Gaulle to Lyon. We had been to Lyon before and knew a cheap hotel there that was in a good location.


The hotel that eight years ago was a comfortable dive in a good location was now a more expensive dive in a good location because it had been recommended in all the guide books since then. We arrived late so the room we got was probably the last one available, and it was a bit dark and dingy; but the location in the centre of the old town was still the same, with huge choices of restaurants out the front door; so we were okay.

Looking for a meal in Lyon
Lyon is famous for its cuisine. Here are some students wandering around.

We spent three nights in Lyon to get over our jet-lag, assemble our bikes and generally get acclimatized to Europe again.


Leaving Lyon in the rain.
Heading off from Lyon in the rain.

The first day we headed out to an industrial town at the edge of the Lyon metropolitan area. Lyon spreads a long way, and it takes most of a day to bike out of it. We just made it to the town (Bourgoin-Jaillou) in late afternoon. The weather was cool and overcast, and they don't heat the hotels this time of year, so we got cold.

The next day after a few kilometres of heavy traffic we finally made it to rural France, which is where we prefer to bike. It was a pretty pleasant bike to the town of Voiron. In Voiron we were staying at a Logis de France hotel. This is a good quality chain where they always have a good restaurant in the hotel. It was the day after Kate's birthday, so we wanted to have a good dinner. Well, it was one of those restaurants that does cook the food well, but doesn't give you much of it. We ended up hungry after dinner, fortunately the breakfast the next day was good and plentiful.

We wanted to go over the Col de Porte in the Chartreuse Massif to get into Grenoble. Voiron is a little off the straight track, but was the only place we could find a hotel. So the next morning we biked the 15 Km to St. Laurent de Pont at the start of the road up the pass. As we were starting up we hit a sign that said "Road closed at 5km", hmmm. We asked at a bike store that was just beside the sign, and he said: yes, it is closed but there is a way around by going over 20km in the direction we didn't want to go. Hmmm. What we did was we headed up until we hit this friendly guy that said, yup its closed, you can't go any further. Then we came down and backtracked past a field of cows who may have been thinking "Didn't we just see those guys going the opposite direction?"

Kate and Friendly guy telling us we can't go any higher.
This is as far as we got on the Col du Porte. They were blasting ahead, and this guy was stopping traffic.

Instead we just headed down the valley from Vioron into Grenoble. We finally found the bike trail along the dike beside the Isere River, and that led us in to Grenoble easily and without traffic. We found our hotel (La Moucharotte) pretty easily. In cities we rely, first on Google Earth to give us a general feel about where our hotel is, and how we need to approach it, and then we (sometimes) use the GPS on my smartphone to take us right to it. We don't carry detailed paper maps for each city.

We spent two nights in Grenoble, so we had a free touristing day. We saw the museum and the fort (they call it the Bastille). Both quite interesting, and considerably uphill.

Pedestrian bridge over the Isere, looking up to the Bastille in Grenoble.
This is the pedestrian bridge across the Isere looking up to the Bastille (the fort) in Grenoble.

Greg being spied upon.
The ski museum in Grenoble was pretty interesting.

Looking down on Grenoble.  You can see the bubble teleferique.
Looking down on Grenoble. You can see the bubble teleferique used to get to the Bastille.

Leaving the hotel in Grenoble
Leaving the hotel in Grenoble. This was in the 'student' district and was in a good location, but was an odd hotel.

Alpe d'Huez

We then headed out to Bourg d'Oisans at the foot of the Alpe d'Huez. The Alpe d'Huez is famous in bike racing circles because it is such an unremittingly brutal climb. Kate, for some reason, felt that we wanted to do it. Many people in the world have lived happy, productive and satisfying lives without ever having to bike the Alpe d'Huez, but Kate felt that we wanted to do it.

New snow on the mountains
Biking up the valley to Bourg d'Oisans; there is new snow on the mountains.

Turn marker on the way up.
The route up the Alpe d'Huez has numbered turn markers (and occasional prayer flags).

Looking down on Bourg d'Oisans from part way up.
Looking down on Bourg D'Oisans from about a third of the way up the climb.

The Alpe d'Huez
Our heros at the top.

Kate clowning
Kate needed a picture of her on one of these bikes at the bottom of the Alpe d'Huez.

The day after biking the Alpe d'Huez we headed over the Col d'Ornon to the town of La Mure. The Col d'Ornon was relatively mild, with a low summit, it wasn't a mountain summit, but a farming valley, but the descent was very pretty, through farmland. When we got to La Mure, our hotel was not open yet (it was closed that day -- it only opened in the evening). We waited, had some food and were finally let in to our room.

Col d'Ornon
The Col d'Ornon was a pretty mild pass.

The next day, we had to get to Gap, this was going to be a longish day for us anyway, but turned catastrophic. La Mure is at the top of a pretty high bench, and the day started with a long fast descent into the valley below. Right at the bottom of this valley, my rear tire flatted. When I was blowing it up after replacing the tube I found that the tire itself had herniated. Normally, we would have gone back to the town we had just left and try to find a new tire, but there was no way we were going back up that hill. So we duct taped the tire, lowered the pressure in the tire and swapped rear wheels so that Kate (who is lighter) was riding on the damaged wheel. Unfortunately, when I was changing the wheels, I didn't get Kate's on straight and so she had a bad wobble when going downhill, that we assumed was due to the low tire pressure.

Fixing a flat
This was the flat at the bottom of the hill down from La Mure. The tire was worn through and the tube had burst after heating up on the downhill. The Dahon wheels have small indentations in them at each spoke, the tube presses into these holes and when heated up will blow.

We got to a town just before the Col de Reynard and it was getting late, Kate was feeling sick and she was worried about going downhill with her rear wheel. So we called a taxi that took us over the col and down into Gap. The col itself looked quite easy - but they all do from the seat of a car. The descent was steep.

We stayed in an F1 hotel in Gap. These are really minimalist hotels meant for people passing through quickly. The rooms are small and truly minimal, but clean, and the breakfast is good. We appreciated the value for money.

We spent a lot of time going from bike shop to bike shop trying to find a 20 inch slick tire, not a mountain bike or BMX tire, and failed. But it was late and Kate was still feeling a bit sick. The ride to Barcellonette, which was where we would leave for the Cime de la Bonnette was a long one over hilly terrain, so we decided to take the bus. We didn't have the luxury of time on this trip.

We got to Barcellonette and stayed at the same hotel we had stayed at on our last trip through here (La Choucas - really some rooms over a bar), we were in the same (nice) room which had been upgraded since we were last here, which we found interesting, they must have been doing well.

Cime de La Bonnette

We left early (for us) and hit Jausiers in late morning. We had something to eat there because there is not much on the way up the pass. From Jausiers it is about 24km of road and 1600m of climbing to the top, and it is one of the prettiest passes we have done. It's not as spectacular as something like the Stelvio, but goes through very pretty, and sometimes dramatic, country as it climbs to the alpine.

One of the kilometre markers on the way up to the Cime de la Bonnette
Resting on the way up to the Cime de la Bonnette.

Flock of sheep on the way up
When we rested at one point we saw this shepherd take his flock accross the road to higher pastures.

Col and the Cime
This is the Col de la Bonnette and the Cime de la Bonnette. Here you can see the cheat that they pulled on unsuspecting cyclists. The road goes at a reasonable incline to the col (the low section before the hump on the right). That would only have made the Col de La Bonnette the third or so highest col in the Alps, so they stuck a road around the pointless hump on the right. This road gains 100m in less than a kilometer -- it's about an 11% grade, and is totally pointless. Someone with sturdy character would not be tempted to go over it.

Greg approaching the Cime
So this is Greg approaching the Cime de la Bonnette. It looks like I'm having no problems at all, while I remember that I was gasping for breath, freezing my butt and bleeding from my eyes. We were battling cold headwinds so strong that Kate thought that if she stopped she would not be able to get going again.

The Cime de la Bonnette
Here we are at the Cime de la Bonnette (2800m).

We made the top in the late afternoon and had 17km to go to get to St. Etienne de Tinee, where we had a hotel room booked. Needless to say, this was fast downhill work. I think the climb from the St. Etienne side is steeper than the way we came up. In any case, I flatted (again!) near the bottom of the steep part. This was solely because of the design of the wheels they use. The spokes form indentations and the tube stretches into them, weakening it. When it gets hot, the tube weakens and can blow. It got hot on the descent and it blew. I fixed it too fast, and about 10 minutes later it flatted on a curve, taking me down heavily. I fixed it correctly this time, and we made it to our hotel.

First flat on the descent
The tube had overheated on the descent and blew at the bottom. I did not get the patch put on correctly.

Second flat on the descent
Second flat on the descent, where the previous patch just didn't hold. This one did.

The next morning we had our p/d and to Kate's strident disgust, they charged us for extra coffee. This rarely happens (we seem to recall three times in eleven years!), and when it does, Kate gets upset. We let them know and then headed off to Nice. It was about 90km, almost all scenic downhill!

Getting into Nice was a bit complex, but we ended up riding along the Promonade des Anglais to where our hotel was. The final approach was a bit tentative when the GPS placed our hotel at the same location as a sex shop. It turns out that it was a block or two off. The hotel turned out to be quite nice and Kate liked it a lot.

Kate dipping her front tire in the Mediterranean
Kate introducing her bike to the Med.

This is the balcony outside our hotel room.
We liked the hotel in Nice (the Au Picardy). This was the small balcony outside our room.

It turns out that Nice does not have a lot for the tourist other than a great beach. We wandered around and enjoyed it, though. It was nice to have finished the trip.

Kate's art shot
This is an art shot Kate took of the side of the Modern Art Museum while Greg was sick for a day with Kate's cold.

The trip home was long, but uneventful, and when we arrived home we found that Kate's wine carboy had fallen over and stained the floor and some of the ceiling on the floor below (although they had not noticed it until Kate showed them).

Welcome Home
Kate's carboy of wine had fallen over.