We rented motorcycles near Barcelona. Julie and I each got a BMW F800ST, and Lloyd opted for a Honda VFR800. We headed straight north for the Pyrenees, meandered through the foothills and ended up near Puigcerda for our first night on the road.
During the next six days we "did a big spiral" through the Spanish Pyrenees as we made our way west toward the Atlantic Ocean. There is one road that stands out for length and quality of riding in this area of the Pyrenees, it is road N260. The N260 starts in Portbou on the Mediterranean Sea and runs for over 300 miles to Jaca, treating the motorcyclist to sections that vary from freeway smooth sweepers, to tight technical corners, and everything in between. It is truly a road not to miss.
I believe that the N152 is actually a section of the N260, but it deserves special recognition. The N152 is also called the Collada de Tosas and it runs for 28 wonderful miles between Ribes and Queixans. It is turn after turn, right, left, right, left, as it makes its way along the side of the Serra de Satlegue. The turns are tight and many are decreasing radius corners. This road has so many technical curves that you simply have to stop if you want to enjoy the scenery. There are a few places to stop and look around, wash your hands or perhaps to get a drink of water. But while riding this road, be attentive to the corners because if you make a mistake, you can end up against a rocky wall or over the edge of some very steep cliffs. Getting it right is what this road is about and you simply cannot ride this road without having a big smile across your face, it is that good.
The final road that I want to highlight in the Spanish Pyrenees is actually not in the Pyrenees at all, but runs along the Mediterranean coastline. It is Gi-682, otherwise known as the Tossa de Mar. It is nicknamed the "Road of the Year" because it has a corner for every day of the year, i.e., 365 in all. I think this road was my favorite of the trip; billiard table smooth road surface, scenery that includes beautiful crystal clear Mediterranean Sea coastline, numerous paved pullouts to enjoy the scenery, and 365 technical corners in 12 miles. That many corners in only 12 miles makes for a fantastic motorcycle ride, and compares favorably with the most famous motorcycling road in the USA, the "Tail of the Dragon," which has 318 corners in 11 miles. Saying that this was my favorite road is very significant because these roads in Northern Spain are the best of the best. Big thanks to my friend from Wales, Steve that put me on to this fabulous road.
There are lots of other roads that we took through the Spanish Pyrenees and 90% of them are among the best I have ever ridden. Many go up side canyons off of the main roads, like this one up the Panticosa. In fact these roads were so much fun that I just didn't want to stop to take pictures, so I didn't. I just enjoyed riding, and you will too if you travel through the Spanish Pyrenees.
We crossed over the spine of the Pyrenees and into France at the Col de la Pierre St Martin. This road is widely regarded as one of the best, but sadly, I cannot attest to that. We were socked in with dense fog well before we reached the pass. It was the kind of fog and rain that you just hope to get through without going over the edge. Once we descended below the clouds , the landscape was more lush and green, indicative of the greater rainfall that the French side of the Pyrenees gets as compared to the Spanish side.
Our western terminus was the French village of St Jean Pied de Port. From there we headed east through the French Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea at Collioure. Along the way we met up with our friends Alastair and Fionna from MCi Tours. They were also doing a tour of the Pyrenees and we linked up with their group for three days and four nights.
The roads through the French Pyrenees are excellent and extremely scenic. They tended to be more a "discovery journey" rather than pure motorcycle nirvana like many of the Spanish roads. Both sides of the Pyrenees are excellent for motorcycles; they are just excellent in different ways.
We "discovered" our share of animals along the French roads. We traveled through fog shrouded meadows with sheep grazing along the side of the road. We encountered a donkey or two that seemed to think that such a nice curvy road was there for its benefit, not ours. We were also treated to a cattle drive down the main street of one of the many small mountain villages we passed through. Needless to say, we also had to be mindful of what these critters left behind because it usually resulted in randomly located patches of greatly reduced traction - all part of the challenge and charm of the journey.
Of course, no trip to the Pyrenees would be complete without "discovering" at least one of the passes used for the Tour de France. The actual routes used for this most famous of all bicycling competitions change each year, but one pass that is almost always included is the Col du Tourmalet. The road up to this pass is one of the best in the Pyrenees, as you ride alongside hang gliders that are slowly descending into the valley far below. Stop at the top to admire the feat of all those bicyclists and to take a bow yourself.
One theme of riding through the French Pyrenees is "discovering" the wide variety and unique construction of the roads. They are sometimes cut into shear cliffs, such as this road through the beautiful Gorge de Galamus. Another one was honed into a mountainside to make a ¾ tunnel through a chasm near Belfort-sur-Rebenty. Still another went under a bridge to curve around on itself and go over the same bridge as the road ascended Col de St Louis.
Thomas R. Powell
Last updated on 02/19/2012.