August 25, 2009 - 5.0Review of complete N260 route: "The Best Biking Road in Europe?"
The N260 Has the most mundane start of any road It starts at a set of Traffic lights at Llanca on the coast road in Northern Spain amongst thousands of white painted holiday homes and apartment blocks with terracotta roof tiles. Here it is travelled every year by countless quantities of camping cars and rubber necking tourists in cars who rarely drive at anything above snails pace, as here, it is part of the famous coast road to France along the Vermillion coast. Yet within half a mile from its start the beautifully surfaced road starts to twist, turn and swoop but giving little away as to what lies ahead along its 311 miles before it arrives a few miles short of Jaca where this amazing road is uncerimoniously terminated having reached its crescendo on the last few miles to Biescas with a waterfall of continuous bends.
The road is in many respects similar to the special stages of a rally where the various “stages” are separated by short lengths of normal road where one can catch ones breath before the next onslaught of bends and hills arrives to play havoc with all your senses. This road is not for the feint hearted, or for the beginner it is best ridden with respect and by riders who keep more than a little in reserve for the unexpected occurrence such as coming across the odd cow or goat or large rock or muck on the blind side of a corner as well as the possibility of coming face to face with another motorist on the wrong side of the road, however that doesn mean that one should not push the envelope just a bit, But be fully aware that in many places there is precious little, if anything, separating you from a drop of up to 500 metres. So in the event that you get it wrong it could take your mates following, a long time to find you and even longer to get you back up to the road if you are sporting injuries.
From the coast the road starts off with some fast sweepers through some foothills, to whet ones appetite, but all too soon these are replaced by a long straight that goes straight into the heart of Figueres (Famous for the Dali Museum) after traversing Figueres the road remains quite benign to Olot, in places it is fast dual carriageway, but then at Olot the road appears to split into two and with the same destination, Ripoll!, signposted in both directions, confused? You will be! at this point we must stay in the LH lane and within 500 yards you will realise that you have started another special section as immediately you are thrown a dizzying collection of twists , turns 180 deg switchbacks which continue for 19 miles to the suburbs of Ripoll this is a baptism of fire but nothing compared to whats coming.
After refuelling one heads north for 9 miles to Ribes de Freser (this road used to be marked as the N152 but has recently be returned to its original name the N260) the road follows a river so there are many fast sweeping smooth corners but one must take it steady and regroup as another special section is not far away.
After leaving Ribes de Freser the road immediately narrows and you come across a large signpost that warns you that the road ahead amongst other things contains N bends for 45kms!!and that’s just to the Col de Toses , there are a further 22 kms after the Col to Puigcerda that is nearly the distance from Oxford to London! with only a car passing every ten minutes or so. This makes the cat and fiddle with its over policed roads simply pale into insignificance. One cannot attempt to describe this road, it is a dizzying collection of every kind of bend and turn, which progress ever upward giving just enough time between bends for a gulp of air. There is no respite at all and just when you are starting to have trouble losing concentration you arrive at the Col de Toses (1800M) where the wise will take a break to discuss what they have just experienced. It is a humbling bit of road and more than one or two get all religious when they describe what they have just been through. Most simply stop, look at the magnificent views along the Serra de Cadi (one of the largest valleys in Europe) and go over and over again in ones minds eye what they have experienced in the last 40 odd kms. After this it is downhill toward Puigcerda but a word of caution! starting just after the Col the local council has repaired cracks in the road with tar overbanding the result is what looks like masses of black snakes on the road these are in fact the slipperiest bits of road I have ever come across, touch a black line is to court a big slide and a tight ring piece so beware! This overbanding continues most of the way to Puigcerda but becomes less frequent and easier to dodge the further you go.
From Puigcerda you can take a well earned rest along the next 32 miles via la Seu dUrgell to Adrall, however the road is full of fast sweepers with plenty of visibility and as smooth as a babies derriere and that inevitably tempts one to push on, so one does! there are one or two speed cameras but these are only for use against the locals, not tourists, but one must keep an eye out for the the local men in blue near the towns as they dont suffer fools gladly and fines can be steep, but hey, unlike the French they take credit cards, that will do nicely sir!.
Once you turn right for Sort at the village of Adrall you must don your concentration cap again, limber up the knees elbows and neck because immediately you are once again under the cosh. This section of a mere 30 miles again throws every kind of turn at you, like Henry Cooper twisting in the ring with Mohamad Ali, bends were coming from every angle some are very slow indeed others can be taken quite quickly but only open up at the last second the speed limit signs near the bends give a good idea of how fast you can take them a general rule of them is use MPH instead of the posted KPH but if you come across a 40 or a 30 sign then it is nearly bottom gear stuff! The views if you can dare take your eyes off the road for a second are spectacular, this particular section of road is used by many of the local sportsbike owners on the weekends. All to soon or not soon enough depending on your numb bum you arrive in Sort where we stop for lunch (there are many restaurants and cafes) and have a well deserved break. Mileage so far? 157 miles, number of bends? Lost count 2 hours ago, number of scares? Oh just a few! Did you get your knee down? The knee sliders bear silent witness.
At this point most people who are not into masochism call it a day but it is amazing what a meal and some renewed blood sugar levels will do. Do I need to remind you we have only ridden half of the road! You want more?
By now you know the form and the next bit of road isn quite flat but it is a bit easier than the last 2 hours. Bear in mind much of the riding has been over 3000 feet high and some of it is well over 5000 feet so water intake to aid concentration and avoid dehydration is of paramount importance.
Approaching Pont de Suert the road once again commences its Jekyl and Hyde manner and really gets back into the swing of it by the time you get to the Col de Espina and when we reach the col de Fadas once again it is time for a break this last section has been another 61 miles and by now lack of concentration is again causing problems. However the N260 has perhaps saved the best to the end the last section another 75 miles of roads has many tunnels , cols over 2000 metres high, amazing lakes, with strange coloured water, and eventually in the aptly named National Park of the lost motorcyclist, (sorry, Lost Mountain ed.), the final act is played out over the last 15 miles to Biecas by which time every muscle and nerve and all other unmentionables are screaming enough! The last 17 miles into Jaca where we have a superb biker friendly hotel with garage reserved, seems to take forever, but after a shower, and over a good meal, and a drink or five, all the stories of the days experience come out.
So there you have it, the greatest motorcyling road! Not convinced? Lets look at the competition take the famous route Napoleon it is less than 100 miles with far fewer bends, yes it has some good sections with good views as well, but its a pussycat in this company. The greatest road as selected by the BBCs Top Gear team? well that was simply pathetic! There are good roads in Italy between Naples and Salerno, in the Alps, in southern Spain the road to Ronda is well known, and in Scandinavia as well there are good roads, in fact there are good roads in most countries but they are only 20- 50 miles long this is the granddaddy of them all forget the Pirbright bends, forget the A-whatever in Wales, forget the Cat and Fiddle, This road is the same distance as the road from Carlisle to London with hardly a straight section worth calling a straight , if that doesn make this the greatest road, what does?, wimps need not apply!.