Travel from U.S. to France

Greetings fellow unicyclists -

I’m seeking advice on planning a trip from the United States to France with the specific goal of climbing Alpe d’Huez on my Nimbus Drak 29”. I suffered an unfortunate fractured patella on my bike about a month ago, that and the subsequent surgery completely killed my summer of 2013 :angry: So, I’m going through some sort of “immobility crisis” where I’m doing a lot of planning and buying up equipment and gear in anticipation of a full recovery (gotta keep a positive attitude right?). This injury has taught me that life is in fact very short and to quote Warren Miller: If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.

Who am I kidding? I can’t even walk yet but I’m really looking forward to riding again, One item on my bucket list is to climb the 21-hairpin turns on the road leading to Alpe d’Huez.

I’ve not traveled internationally so I have no idea how to go about this. Here are my specific goals:

  • This is not intended to be a multi-week sightseeing or tourist trip, just several days.
  • The specific goal is to complete the road climb.
  • I would like to ride some muni at Alpe d’Huez if there’s any available.

Advice I’m looking for concerns mainly travel logistics:

  • Flights - nearest major airport? Travel from airport to mountain (train, car, unicycle?).
  • Transporting/shipping my Drak 29”, helmet, and safety gear.
  • Lodging - I’d like to stay at or nearby the mountain.

I’m also interested in hearing from anyone who has done this, either a local European or from the U.S.

Are there any interested parties that would like to join me (it’d be fun to ride with someone else)? Timeframe is August/September/October 2014 - hopefully I will be riding by then :smiley:

I appreciate any advice or suggestions you may have.

  • Chuck

Sorry, no advice on logistics but I have a Passport. Sign me up as interested for a ‘uni raid’ on the Alpe d’H.

Two unis in a bike box could save a buck or two on airline fees.

Any idea of the grades? Sounds like a fantastic challenge, especially for anyone who loves climbing!

It doesn’t seem stupid hard, depending of course on how hard you ride it. Wikipedia says it’s 13.8 km at 7.9 per cent grade average.

I happened to see some web video not too long ago of a charity event where 8000 riders climbed it six times each! This one:

It looks like Bourg d’Oisans is doing all it can to encourage people to come and ride:

There’s plenty of information on the web about how to get there and the services available. I guess ski towns are usually looking for ways to make money in the summer.

Why not do Col du Galibier too while you’re in the area? It’s another classic and a good bit tougher I think. And Mont Ventoux is another legend but more of a trek to get to from there.

2 hrs and 10 min on what appears to be the same unicycle as my 20" Avenir! (Quick look at 0:11.)

Looks like there might well be:!/presentation/carte

The nearest major airport would be Lyon.
From Lyon, you could either rent a car, or take a train to Grenoble, and then a bus to Bourg d’Oisans (down the road to l’Alpe d’Huez)or l’Alpe d’Huez (up the road).

For accomodation, take a look at this:

madc-ccc ( ) has done this several times, the last one a few weeks ago.

Slope Info

Average 7.9%-8.0% over about 8.1 miles. 3,600 feet gained.

I live in Maryland north of Washington D.C. and have successfully ridden the climb up Coxey Brown Rd. in the Catoctin mountains: 1.88 miles with 1,000 feet gained. There’s a quarter-mile “flat” section about half way which distorts the overall average: the lower and upper parts are steeper.

Anyway, I plan to “train” for Alpe d’Huez at Whiteface mountain in upstate New York. On paper the climb is nearly identical to Alpe.

I plan to do it on my 29er Drak and I hope to match or beat Sheryl Crow’s time of ~90 minutes on a bike.

Doable. :slight_smile:

Just a few hours until TdF 2013 stage 18, which climbs Alpe d’Huez twice.

I think you can travel from the US to France by bike.Yeah,it is so cool.But it will take a lot of time…:smiley:

Great idea, Chuck!

@Elise: hey, how you doing? ;-p


I indeed climbed to l’Alpe d’Huez 3 times on a unicycle:

  • In 2009, with a 29" unicycle (read this post if needed)
  • In 2010, with a 26" geared unicycle (high gear does help for the return trip!)
  • In 2013, with a 29" unicycle (picture #1, picture #2)

It is not a that hard climb for sure - yet, I still have to make it without stopping, or by stopping less often (I typically stop… 5 times)!
But if you are trained and you choose the right crank length, you might well do it without stopping!

The beginning of the climb is in fact kind of “killing you” (up until the location called “La Garde”), so you would better start the climb with some miles in your legs already, otherwise it might just compromise the success of your attempt.

Talking about the ideal length of the crank - well, as usual, it is kind of difficult to speak for others, but I would suggest you use 150mm cranks: that’s at least what I used myself for the 3 climbs, and it looks quite ideal to me.

Other than that: the road is quite exposed to the sun, so you should better avoid the hottest hours of the day, and do the climb either early in the morning, or late in the afternoon.

Good idea to try to do some Muni in the area: there are plenty of tracks everywhere (even though I don’t know very well the area)!
At least, I once participated to the Megavalanche event (in the 90’s, on a… hem… mountain-bike), which could be an inspiration for a similar thing on a unicycle. It is very unlikely though that you could start from the very top (Pic Blanc, 3300m), as I believe it is restricted to the Megavalanche participants??? But in the worst case, you could start from the altitude of l’Alpe d’Huez, and you would still have a lot of kilometers of Downhill Muni to go!

If I were you, I would select a slick tire for the road climb, and a regular Muni tire for the Muni: trying to do a trade-off at that level, with only 1 “average” tire, might not be a good idea! If needed, you could buy the tire you are missing from a LBS in e.g. Grenoble, if that’s more convenient for you.

Note that I’m based in Grenoble myself, and would be very happy to join you next year for the climb! Please keep me posted on your plans, as they will get more real over time… and, of course, I wish you to recover as fast as possible from your injury!

Cheers, MadC.

MadC, it’s wonderful to get your input and the benefit of your experience here. Many thanks for reading and contributing, and congratulations on having conquered Alpe d’Huez three times!

I’m pretty pumped up about it, having just watched today’s stage of the Tour. I might want to go and ride it next year myself, whether or not haskinsc does.:slight_smile:

MadC -
Thanks so much for the first hand information - I find that very helpful and encouraging. While I have numerous unis my go-to uni for just about everything is a 29er with 150s. It just feels like the best setup for me.

And thanks again for your wishes for a speedy recovery. Unfortunately a broken patella with tendon surgery does not heal quickly. It will be at least another month before I can walk :frowning:

I’ve recorded today’s stage of the Tour and am anxiously looking forward to watching it tonight. Also looking forward to riding with all you guys on the forum in 2014.

  • Chuck

Tour de France 2018: Stage 12
Thursday July 19
Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs - Alpe d’Huez, 175.5km
The third Alpine stage features famous climbs: Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and L’Alpe d’Huez.


I’ve just written a post on my site about a guy who uncycled across America after graduating high school. You should check it out!


As spotted by Coin Coin:

Amazing!! Someone was watching a lot more closely than I was.:slight_smile: