Col de la Machine is a mountain pass at an elevation of 1.011m (3,316ft) above the sea level, located near the tip of the remote Combe Laval in the Vercors massif, and is situated in Rhone-Alpes and belongs to the Alps. Even if you’ve cycled a lot of mountain roads, and a lot of extreme mountain bike trails -this is the only road you’ll feel exposed enough and you’ll make sure that you’re in the centre of the road just to avoid that feeling of vertigo and the drop calling out to you. It’s one of the French balcony roads.
This pass connects the towns of Saint-Jean-en-Royan and Bouvante, by the D76 road, it is slightly marked and is cut into the steep mountain side and has some nice short tunnels. It runs as a single track road along the mountainside for some distance with nowhere to pass another vehicle. Here one says a prayer that nobody is coming towards you until the road widens some kilometres further. To reach the summit there are 2 possible ways. From Saint Jean en Royans, the ascent is 12.3 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 761 meters. The average percentage is 6.2 %. And from Saint Laurent en Royans, the ascent is 17.5 km long with an elevation gain of 699 meters. The average percentage is 4 %.
This road is one of the most famous balcony roads in the country. A balcony road is a hair-raising lane cut into the sides of sheer cliffs. It’s a kind of road not for those who fear heights. There is little room for error on these roads. Drive with care as this is a mountain road with hairpin curves and narrow unlit tunnels. When you take this road as picturesque as it is narrow, with its many suprising meanders, drive carefully, and above all don't miss the parking spaces that have been provided.
The pass is located half way between the North Pole and the Equator, in the 45th parallel. The road is an amazing rock-candy confection, with the road etched into the face of towering cliffs...tunnels, natural arches, and standing stones galore. In a car you don't quite get how sheer the drop is until you pull over and take a look. On a bicycle (and presumably a motorbike) the fact that there is what appears to be a 3000' sheer drop is all too obvious -and if you get a corner wrong, that low wall you will hit will not protect you, just guarantee that as you topple over it you will go screaming to your death head first.
Road suggested by: Steve Loughran
Pic: Steve Loughran