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Ok I'll try to be brief. I want to take a bike tour from Tuttlingen, Germany to Milan, Italy. I am 21 years old, in pretty good endurance shape, but am not an incredibly avid biker by any means. At home, I own a $400 bike and go on 40-50 mile bikes every once in a while. Since arriving here a month and a half ago, I have either gone on a 6+ mile run or a 40km+ bike (ranging up to 70km) every other day. Also, my bike is pretty bad here, I bought it for 70 bucks, but I can average 15-16 mph on it on flats.

I am looking for information on the route "Via Claudia Augusta." In total my trip is 550km and I am looking to complete it in 5 days. Does anybody have first hand experience traveling through the Alps, or even this particular route? Every territory has some unique things you need to know, and I am looking for further information than I can find online that may help me complete this tour. Specifically, I'm wondering how mountainous (up and down) the route is. I am pretty sure I can cover 150km+ in a day on flats, but in the Alps I have absolutely no idea how far I could go. Can someone help give me some perspective on how much distance I would be able to cover using this route per day? Thanks.

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Can you map out the route you plan on taking? I'm not familiar with the area, but when I tried to do this on Google Maps, I came up with this route. –  Kibbee Jul 25 '13 at 19:01
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...Continued, Whis is about 700 km. I estimated a probably route using this Via Claudia Augusta map. –  Kibbee Jul 25 '13 at 19:03
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2 Answers

I have biked from Geneva to Lucerne, which included some sections in the Alps, and others in the foothills. Your experience may vary, since the Austrian and Italian Alps could be rather different.

Regarding the choice of bikes, I did my route on a $150 folding bike, though I would very strongly advise against this. The main thing I wished for was a proper climbing gear, so make sure you have a small chain ring. That said, it's certainly do-able: sometimes you just have to walk a ways.

5 days seems ambitious to me. I bike similar distances to what you describe, at similar speeds, and am a similar age. The Alps are steep. They wear you out fast. We did some 100km days, but were totalled after them, and needed a day or more of recovery. From experience, I'd plan on making at most 18km/h through the foothills, and perhaps 15km/h or less near the mountains proper. Sure, for the first hour you'll do 25km/h, but keeping that pace is a challenge. I was fine doing 65km days, and probably could have kept up that pace quite easily. So 6 or 7 days would give you more breathing room than 5.

Edit: Actually, after looking at your route, 5 days seems okay. I was going west-east through the Alps, but if you just cut through, and have some flat sections in northern Italy, you could probably manage 5.

Some other thoughts:

  • Bring supplies for the steep parts, even if you would normally just stop at stores or restaurants along the way. There are shops up there, but they'll charge you 3-4 times the normal price, and you may have to go far out of your way.

  • Be prepared for extreme wind. It's not there every day, but it can get up to 25km/h or 30km/h easily.

  • Consider avoiding the bike paths, if there are any. Often these went quite far out of their ways to avoid the main roads, and in some cases (e.g. Lausanne), that meant going up and down steep grades over and over again, where the road was nearly flat. Traffic seemed to be pretty low in the Swiss parts anyhow, so by the end we only used trails that actually followed the roadway.

  • Not sure whether you're German, but the folks in the Alps seem to like credit cards even less than those in Germany proper. Bring cash!

  • SUNSCREEN! Not the first thing you think of, but the elevation makes a huge difference. Apply more than once per day.

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Thanks, especially like the tip about following the actual roads rather than bike paths. I can see myself doing the exact same thing as you and wasting half my journey logging extra hilly miles =p –  John Dodson Jul 26 '13 at 8:28
    
Wasting your journey on hilly miles? I would actually prefer a more scenic and challenging trip with fewer motorized vehicles. This does depend on what type of riding you prefer though. –  Benzo Jul 26 '13 at 15:43
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My formula is this one: take the distance you ride on the flat and divide by 1.5 to convert to hilly-route distance.

Last year I completed a 2200-km bicycle trip across the Alps in 22 days and crossed 10 mountain passes above 2000 m. Besides that I also did some trips in the Andes. So the formula is based on a very good sample.

Another rule of thumb I find useful is that I need to cycle 1 hour for every 500 m of vertical difference. (That's based on a comfort level of 100 km per day on hilly terrain; adjust the number as needed.)

My only recommendation is to be sure the ratio of your lowest gear is no more than 0.8 between the chain ring and the cog; otherwise you may need to push the bicycle on the steeper parts in the Alps.

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