The Great Peruvian Divide Ride on Gravel Bikes: by Axel Carion

Who never dreamed of exploring the Andes mountains, the longest and the youngest range in the world? For the last five years, I have been lucky enough to spend more than 250 days exploring tarmac and dirt roads of South America. One country stands out from the others though is Peru. 

the great peru divide ride

All photos in this article by Gavin Kaps of Osprey Imagery

It has all the ingredients of Adventure: wild, wide, remote. Since 2015, when I crossed for the first time South America with a touring bike, I dreamt of exploring the Peruvian Great Divide which is known among the bikepacking community as a super wild course at the foot of the Sierra Blanca. Loaded with 60 kilos of equipment at that time, it was a complete no go.

the great peru divide ride

Initially, the Peruvian Great Divide has been made known by an English couple (Neil and Harriet Pike). They called it the Peruvian Great Divide, in reference to the American Great Divide, the main mountain range of the United States running from north to south of the country. It is one of the highest road segments of the Earth. Initially, the Pikes had reconn’d a 1,500 km course stopping 400 kilometers before Cusco imperial city. With Jonas, we couldn’t head there without having a symbolic place to start (or finish!) so I worked on maps to link the Inca Valley to the Sierra Blanca.

the great peru divide ride

Picture a 1,900km course with more than 90% of unpaved roads, 35 passes over 4,000 metres above sea level and 40,000 metres of elevation gain and you get an idea of where we burnt most of our oxygen late July 2019!

the great peru divide ride

Our goal was to attempt to ride this course in record time with gravel bikes. Most of the people who ride this route are taking mountain bikes or touring rigs with loads of equipment to cross the remote sections. It takes to most cyclists between one to two months to ride the entire length and most of them just ride one segment of the entire course as the high altitude is very brutal on the body.

the great peru divide ride

Jonas is an extreme adventurer (check out his latest adventure – more coming from that soon) and is used to covering super long distances over several months. I’m used to super high altitude and remote riding with yearly feats of my own where I search for the highest road segments on the globe to explore. It took us 16 days to cover the entire course of the PGD at a “record time” as Jonas was sharing. The typical day was: waking up at 4:00am and stopping before dark as temperatures dropped below 0°C / 32F.

the great peru divide ride

The gravel experience was brutal on every aspect. Carrying the minimum gear was a big challenge (especially with the cold, down to -15°C we experienced). The weather has been unexpectedly cold in Peru this year and we were missing some key warm equipment. The numerous passes made some days very hard on the mindset where we had to make the call to stop in a town because we wouldn’t be able to take on the +4000 pass ahead before dark. The gravel road conditions were really tough: from packed mud to extreme rocky terrain where you seriously question yourself: “is the bike gonna take it?”

Axel’s Bike for the Peru Great Divide Ride

Despite all the pain and the harshness, the PGD is causing, it has been the most spectacular ride we have ever experienced with Jonas. There is not a single kilometer which is not mind-blowing. From superb lakes to deep canyons, it is most likely the best course to understand clearly how magnificent the Andes mountains are. It is also the perfect expedition to truly understand and witness the Andean lifestyle. We had an amazing time experiencing the Peruvian culture and the hospitality of the Peruvian people. 16 days was fast, we would have dreamt to be slower and spend more weeks (if not months!) exploring Peru.

the great peru divide ride

More about Axel

Note: I run the Bikingman Adventure Series and have been organizing an ultra event for three years in Peru: The Inca Divide. In 2020 the course will be concentrated around Cusco and will be inspired by some sections that we rode with Jonas during this expedition. Learn more at Bikingman.com (Instagram link here) – Axel’s Instagram

Full Route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30582280

Axel’s Strava Profile : https://www.strava.com/athletes/5440476?hl=fr-FR

the great peru divide ride

More Bike Setup Detail

Axel:

  • Frame/Fork: OPEN W.I.D.E.
  • Rims: Stan’s Notube Crest 650b
  • Hubs: DT Swiss 350
  • Tires: WTB Ranger 2.4
  • Handlebars: PRO PLT Discover 44cm/30° flare
  • Crankset: Rotor Oval 36T Chainring
  • Cassette: Rotor 11/52
  • Derailleur(s): Rotor 1×13 hydraulic
  • Brakes: Magura Hydraulic Disc
  • Shifter(s): Rotor
  • Saddle: ISM PL 1.0
  • Seatpost: Zipp Service Course Seatpost
  • Stem: Rotor 90mm
  • Front Bag(s): Ortlieb Special Edition
  • Rear Bag(s): Ortlieb Special Edition
  • Accessory Bag(s): None
  • Other Accessories: Speaker for the high altitude crowd

Jonas:

  • Frame/Fork: Curve GXR
  • Rims: ?
  • Hubs: ?
  • Tires: ?
  • Handlebars: Shimano PRO
  • Crankset: Shimano GRX 40T Chainring
  • Cassette: Shimano GRX 11-42
  • Derailleur(s): Shimano GRX
  • Brakes: Shimano Hydraulic Disc
  • Shifter(s): Shimano GRX
  • Saddle: Brooks C17
  • Seatpost: ?
  • Stem: ?
  • Front Bag(s): Ortlieb Special Edition
  • Rear Bag(s): Ortlieb Special Edition
  • Accessory Bag(s): None

More photos by Osprey Imagery

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