Starting a page for one of the largest mountain ranges in Europe is not evident and might sound ambitious. However, my aim is not to describe the whole Pyrenees from the biking point of view all at once, this is just a start and an attempt to give few main lines. The project is open to anyone who feels like joining in.
My own experience of cycling in the Pyrenees is very limited, just a few rides, but I have walked them extensively. During some hikes involving long approaches, I have noticed on many occasions places that would make fine bicycle rides, and, identically, I happened to drive by car many forestry tracks to get to trailheads, fine biking places too. This was one of my motivations to start such a page, if not being able to post, for now at least, proper trail pages.
The Pyrenees ("Pyrénées" in French, "Pirineo" in Spanish) are a range which stretches over 400km from the Atlantic, West to the Mediterranean, East, separating on most of its length Spain with France, and following most of the water-divide line. Aneto, the highest peak, reaches 3404m, and peaks over 3000m are seen along all the central half of the main ridge. Very few glaciers remain, but lots of moraine lakes on granitic ground. Other places are rather limestone and Dolomitic.
Unlike the Alps where the main valleys are large and flat-bottomed, the valleys of the Pyrenees are steep and narrow. Due to its southern position benefiting both from a consequent sunshine, combined to regular rains from the Gulf Stream, forests grow quite high, and the highest trees in Europe, over 2500m, are found there.
Despite the ever-lasting polemic of bears, the Pyrenees both host an abundant fauna, as well as one the most extensive pastoral activity in Europe. More details about the range itself will be found on the excellent page about the range on Summitpost.
Back to mountain-biking but still into geography, we must differentiate the "Low Pyrenees" from the "High Pyrenees". Apart from some exceptions the high Pyrenees are not so much a suitable place for mountain biking, except if we stick to roads in the bottom of the valleys. Most rideable places tend to be rather on the "Low Pyrenees", the forehills : North on the French piedmont, South in the Spanish sierras; but also West and East, where in the Basque country or in Catalunya, where mountains aren't yet too high. The limit where biking terrain tends to stop and turn into hiking terrain is found where tops start exceeding 1800-2000m, with few exceptions to this rule.
Apart from the well-known weather contrast that differentiates the green and humid French mountainside, similar in many ways to the Alps, with the dry and sunny Spanish side with its meridional weather and bush-like vegetation, another capital difference is to be mentioned for the cycling activity.
France always was a wealthy country with rich infrastructures, but Spain has gone out of a dictature in the 70's, and until a still recent past, the regions near the Pyrenees still were extremely poor. This results into a stark contrast with infrastructures, which is mainly translated, for the cycler, by the lack of asphalted roads. While every French village is served by asphalted roads, and beautiful passes link each valley (making all the fame of some of the stages of the Tour de France), the same kind of network tends to be made of forestry tracks in Spain, mainly suitable for land rovers, or small cars high on wheels. A windfall for mountain bikers !
Again, this is not a systematic rule, but the French Pyrenees tend to be more for road-bike, and cyclotouring, while Spanish Pyrenees tend more the terrain for mountain bikers who seek adventure.
This is a vague question for an area as wide as the Pyrenees. You don't go "to" the Pyrenees, you go to a specific place IN the Pyrenees, and depending on it, everything can be different.
* By plane, from far: You must already ask yourself where in the Pyrenees, at least the country, France or Spain. Landing in Barcelona isn't the best when willing to visit Gavarnie ! You can remedy to it pretty easily if renting a car after-while (highly recommended), but not by public transports, which aren't very practical to use in both countries. Many major cities owning airports surround the Pyrenees: Bayonne, Pau, Tarbes, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Perpignan, Girona, Barcelona, Lleida, Saragossa, Pamplona...
* By car. The Pyrenees are made like a fern leave. There are few passes to get from one valley to the next one, or cross the border in few places, but driving the Pyrenees perpendicular to valleys isn't really optimal. On the North, there is a motorway linking Bayonne to Perpignan, and similarly, Pamplona is linked to Barcelona on the south. Few major roads go along the range a bit nearer, but the best is often the same: drive till the mouth of the valley you plan to stay in, and drive it up. this is always the shortest in time and petrol.
* By train: some valleys have railways going until a certain point, but not all of them. Check the network rail map of the country you stay in (SNCF in France, RENFE in spain). In France, the best example is Luchon, while in Spain, Canfranc takes you quite high too.
* Renting bikes: Nowadays, most touristic resorts own one or more shops where renting a bike is possible. Similarly, if you don't feel struggling making hazardous plans and make the best of your time, many agencies propose guided tours too. A pre-requisite to know prior to renting a bike: Mountain-bike is commonly called "VTT" in French (Vélo tout terrain) and "BTT" in Spanish (Bicicleta todos terreno)
Trails, few ideas...
Presently on MBpost, you can see only four trails in the French Pyrenees. Of course you can easily figure out there is much more... Nowadays, more and more people tend to look for GPX traces to load into their GPS devices. Finding such isn't eased in a foreign country. In Spain, the Wikiloc portal seems to be a popular ressource, since I found the corresponding GPX routes of all the places I mention below.
These are areas I only walked, but where I noticed interesting biking terrain. As mentioned above, the central high part of the range is less proper to biking due to being too sharp, these are the exceptions, and riding in these places is generally very exhilarating. Not always for the technical difficulty, but for the landscape, being surrounded by high peaks and so on.
The list below is a sort of "dream list"...
- Spain, Aragon: Over the village of Nerin, many tracks and paths spread across the wide plateaux separating Añisclo Canyon and Ordesa Canyon, amongst Europe's largests. Starting from Nerin, there is a popular loop via Cuello Arenas, partly on tracks that belong to a cross-country ski domain in winter. The return offers stunning views to the Cañón de Añisclo.
- Still in the same area, with a similar start, one can ride way-and back along Cañón de Ordesa along the south rim. Stunning views. The ride can be made from Broto too, and the toughest will perhaps consider the loop returning by the road and Fanlo pass. See the Youtube video of local folks riding the edge trail over Odessa, Europe's largest canyon. Certainly a #1 ride.
- France, Néouvielle: There is a way to reach the Bastan lakes (see this route but not till the peak) from the Aure valley, see the video as well. Since the gradient of the trail is quite steady once in subalpine level, this makes a very rideable singletrack in a sumptuous place. Kind of short but we can start from Saint Lary via the Grascouerou barns, east from Portet pass.
- Spain, Chistain valley. Local mountains are known for having an extensive network of non-asphalted tracks. Those going into the Cotiella, to the Santa Isabel and Llavasar huts (possibly till Ibon de Plan !). Those going to Viados, the Tabernes hut and Collado de Sahun. The loop around the Peña Montañesa...
- Spain, Val d'Arran. There is a land-rover track linking the valley of Circo de Colomers, and the next valley on the West, Pont de Ressec, via the Pruedo pass. Drove it once with a small Clio but swore myself not to repeat it anymore by car. Locally known as a #1 ride. A variant here.
- Spain, Aragon, around the Punta Suelsa. Ride up the track to Ordiceto dam from Bielsa, and ride down the singletrack descending the other side via Collado de la Cruz de Guardia. Complete the loop by returning to Bielsa... if you only dare :)
- France, Pic du Midi. Ride one of the highest places you can get by bike in Europe, 2877m !
- Spain, Aragon, from the villages of Vio and Buerba, ride south towards Morillo de San Pietro via a superb track that crosses an antic roman bridge in one place.
- Spain, Aragon (Sestrales, Castillo Mayor): the area of the Escuain gorges owns many tracks. A significant ride.
- France, Bas-Luchonnais. Mountains surrounding Luchon are low, neighbouring 2000m of height. Rounded and topped by pastures, they are featured with many tracks.
- France, Baronnies (forehills of the forehills). Hiked once in the area. Rounded hills, pastures, countless tracks. Buy a local map and just go !
- Sierra de Guara, Spain, forehills. Vast area. Buy the map and go !
- France, the Albères. Vast area. Buy the map and go !
Putting few links of portals having route descriptions would be a rich idea... feel free if you have some to propose.
On the French side, the author Georges Véron published many guidebooks with tour descriptions. However, these guides are from the early age of the mountain-bikes, when frames were of iron and suspensions only for the luckiest ones. Some may find this vision of riding a bit outdated.
Many portals also propose the description of the traverse of the Pyrenees, a two weeks-ride, that can be made on the French or on the Spanish side. One of the guidebooks of Georges Véron (above) describes the french one, but the Spanish version seems far more exciting. Few links here (spanish) and here (french).
Bikers can accommodate in a vast range of accommodation types, from the simplest to the the most comfortable. But unless you camp, mind to book long in advance when coming during the season.
* Hotels: they are found in every major resort, especially where there is ski activity in winter.
* Guesthouses (Gîte rural / Casa Rural): this is perhaps the type of place you'll encounter the most often in less touristic areas, and possibly what you'll find the most pleasant. Green tourism is the keyword in the whole range. Alas portal listing them and allowing to search easily by region are rare, and many are badly referenced on the web. The best method remains to type a locality name and Google on it.
* Campsites: each valley have at least several, from large terrains made to welcome vans, to the piece of grass in the backyard where one can pitch a tent. Don't wildcamp, unless you are high in sub-alpine area.
* Mountain huts (Refuge/Refugio): Very few are the huts one can reach entirely on the bike. Huts aren't cheap in the Pyrenees. Biking to huts isn't common as well so be prepared that there is no local to store them in safe place. Mind also that unlike other countries where it is widely spread, stopping at a hut only to eat there isn't a local custom.
* Shelters and other unguarded huts: The Pyrenees are full of them, which makes a good alternative to the tent when bivouacking. But beware, use only the open ones (many belong to the shepherds). This is also unlikely that one will want to sleep in such place (lots of gear to carry anyway), but who knows...
Some links recommended by Diego Sahagún:
Official web page of the Bera Town Council : Though actually under construction, this is the place to find tourist data and accomodation
Lodging in Burguete / Auritz : Spanish language info from the town council of Burguete, offering data on available "casas rurales" (bed&breakfast, though they might refuse to lodge people for more than a single night) and hotels
Casas rurales between Bera and Isaba : Just type the name of the village where the stage ends in "Search by place"... you will get the names and contact details of the local houses (if there are any) offering accomodation