Riding the Pyrenees in winter can be a wonderful experience. Most bikers have read about and imagined riding in the Pyrenees, its wonderful twisty roads, smooth tarmac and breathtaking scenery, and both the stories that they read and the images they create almost always centre around riding in the summer months. My first trip into the Pyrenees was very different, as it happened one very cold January morning.
My Belgian friend sent me a message asking if I wanted to have a ride-out and blow away the cobwebs, well it would be rude to give a negative response to an invitation which meant riding part of the Pyrenees, so a loose plan was formed which would involve calling in for brunch with a friend of mine who lives in Tremp, and then we would take the N260 West and at some point, descend back into the plains around Lleida.
We met at my local petrol station, filled up with fuel and coffee and set off. My friend was on his BMW 1200 GSA, with heated everything and the wonderful BMW Rallye suit, so to him, it was a warm spring morning. I was riding my KTM 640 Adventure, which is a wonderful do-it-all bike, but it lacks the creature comforts that people expect from adventure bikes. I enjoy riding my bike, its raw, cheap, easy to repair and will do everything I ask of it, from climbing mountains, wading through rivers or cruising on the motorway at 120kph. But that morning, I wanted heated grips and a heated seat.
It was 7°c when we left Flix, a little foggy, quite damp, and compared to the summer here when it reaches 45°c, it felt like we were closer to the arctic circle than rural Catalunya. I had my winter base layers on, thick socks, a 100 weight fleece jumper and my RST Adventure suit combined with Hein Gericke All Season gloves and Fox Motocross boots. I felt like Mr Staypuffed from the Ghostbusters film, but I was confident that as the sun started to burn through the fog, I would need to stop to remove some items of clothing and I may also be able to change into my summer gloves. This is Spain, its a hot country, right?
The C-12 is the main route out of Flix towards Lleida and onwards to the low Pyrenees. Its a lovely road with a track-like surface and concentric bend after concentric bend interspersed with a few straights to allow you to pass the occasional slower vehicle with ease. We rumbled along at a steady pace, climbing in altitude with each kilometre, enjoying being out on the bikes and riding together after not seeing each other for a few months. After the turning towards Fraga and Maials, we were greeted with a lovely view of the snow capped Pyrenees.
As we rode around Lleida, it started to become increasingly foggy, and I noticed the occasional patch of frost on pavements which confirmed that the cold was starting to penetrate my clothing. Being the eternal optimist, I knew it was just a small patch of fog and soon we would be back in the sunshine and climbing towards the snowline.
Instead of following the C-12 to its end, we took the parallel C-13 towards Camarasa. This road is a wonderful introduction to the sort of riding you can expect as you climb further into the Pyrenees. Its like a roller-coaster, up, down, left, right, with incredible views. The difficulty is deciding whether to fully enjoy the fast sweeping road or slow down a little and enjoy the views. Its one of those stretches of road you can do several times and always see something new.
When we approached Cellers, the fog had returned and this time it was like pea soup. I couldn’t see my friend in my mirrors, speed was down to around 40kph because we simply couldn’t see far enough ahead to risk going any faster. I was constantly wiping the water droplets from my visor. My fingers were numb with cold, despite having hand guards and thick winter gloves. My breath was creating ice on the inside of my visor. It was bittersweet, despite the freezing fog, I enjoyed the challenge of riding in those conditions. It reminded me of my winter commute in the UK, astride my Honda CG125 with my boots skimming the snowy road surface as I tried to get from one side of Milton Keynes to the other.
When we finally reached Tremp, whether we had arranged to stop or not, we were stopping for brunch and to thaw out. I guided us to the bar where I had arranged to meet my other friend, we parked our bikes and dismounted. My riding buddy informed me it was +0.5°c according to his BMW’s air temperature sensor. We had barely started to climb into the mountains, only travelled for 2.5 hours, but it had been a great introduction to winter riding in the Pyrenees.
After an extended brunch, the fog had cleared, the sun was shining and we were ready to head west along the N-260. This road runs from the French border along the Mediterranean sea, and follows the Spanish side of the Pyrenees almost all the way to Jaca which is about two thirds of the way from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. Its a wonderful biking road with something for everyone, but on this day, the road was fringed with snow and where the sun hadn’t managed to reach the tarmac, there was still a covering of ice. It made for a fun and challenging ride, but it was great to have the N-260 to ourselves.
From here, given the weather and road conditions, most people would probably take the N-230 South towards Lleida, but we don’t like to do what everyone else does, so we decided to take the A-1605 and what a great decision that was. When you mention this road to people who know the roads around the Pyrenees, they greet you with a smile and almost a twinkle in their eye as they say ‘ah, you found the A-1605, not many people know how good that road is’. Well they will after reading this. It doesn’t matter what you ride, a CRF250 or a ZX10R, you will all equally love the A-1605. And when you get to the end of it, you will want to turn around and do it again in the other direction.
The road follows the river Isabena all the way to Graus, crossing it several times as it winds its way down the valley. At Graus, the river Isabena joins the river Esera and the A-1605 joins the A-139, which then becomes the N-123 which we followed as far as Barbasto. From here, we took at A-22 to Lleida as my friend had a safety recall he wanted to ask about at the BMW dealer before heading back to Flix where we started this circular ride.
In total, we covered over 400km that day, which the KTM managed on a single tank of fuel. The day took around 9 hours, but we stopped for quite a while to have brunch with another friend, plus several photo stops. Its a journey I will do time and time again, because the landscape changes with each season, but its also a lovely route in and out of the low Pyrenees, whichever way you do it.
I have since written another post about a six day guided tour of Catalunya which I did in September, when the weather was much better. The tour incorporated this road and also the TV-3301, which is covered in a separate article.