THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO RIDING IN
Québec City, Québec
Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach
I didn't need any further convincing on how rad a city Québec is. I've been banging this drum ever since my first trip here 4 years ago for what was then called East Bound & Down
. I love this place, and in my estimation, the rubber to dirt experience on a lot of these trails is on par with many of those found throughout its West Coast cousin in British Columbia. But when I saw that the Friday night lineup for Festival d'été de Québec - or the Québec Summer Music Festival - would include bands like Sir Sly, alt-j, and Chvrches and
that I had tickets to the show, I found myself at a loss for words. Here I was thinking that this event - one I barely even noticed on my itinerary - would likely just involve someone playing guitar next to someone else playing a keyboard in a Tim Horton's parking lot. Instead, it involved 3 stages set up throughout the city, with the main stage playing to 75,000+ fans, and hundreds of performers from all manner of genres playing on a nightly basis for 2 weeks.
I mentioned the event on Instagram and shortly afterwards received a text from my old teammate and good friend, Antoine Caron, who happens to be one of Québec's fastest exports and was in Europe filming at the time.
"Hell of a time to be in Québec, eh?" he asked knowingly.
"Um," I texted back. "Why haven't I ever heard of this before?"
As far as I can tell, it's always a hell of a time to be in this place. As far as cities go, it's not especially large, but the energy, diversity, and feel of this place is kind of always just right. The warmth and hospitality are to be expected; you are in Canada after all. But the European influence adds a distinction that I find incredibly appealing, and that may or may not have something to do with the baguettes and croissants I tend to destroy whenever I'm in town. Of course, all of this is in addition to the region's greatest appeal: the trails. Spend a day or two riding here, and it'll become abundantly clear why everyone from Québec City is so damn fast.
// Local FlavoursAge:
Wilmington, DE, USAIndustry affiliations:
Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Pearl Izumi, 9point8, Julbo, MRP, Deity Components, Shimano, Dialed Health, Stan's No Tubes, Topeak, Leatt, Cane Creek Cycling ComponentsInstagram: @bricyclesFavorite Trail near Québec City:
Wolverine (Sentiers du Moulin)Riding Style:
Is this climb almost over?
Montreal might be bigger and more well known, but there's a vibrancy here that is impossible to ignore.
A Bit About the Region
Québec City is the capital city of the Canadian province of Québec. Its metro population of 800,000 souls makes it the second largest in the province behind Montreal, which is about 3 hours directly west of town. This is one of the oldest European establishments in Canada, and the fortified wall that surrounds a portion of the city even today is the only one of its kind in North America outside of Mexico. The distinctive architecture combined with the francophone population makes for a decidedly European experience, one of the reasons the city has been listed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a world heritage site
The city boasts an impressive schedule of events and exhibitions throughout all 4 seasons, as well as one of North America's most renowned food scenes, all of which can be enjoyed on a variety of budgets. What's more, there's a natural playground just minutes outside of town; a landscape shaped by glaciers and time, producing some truly stunning forests and hills where you can find hundreds of miles of trails for you to enjoy on your bike. I can assure you that the sounds of joy you'll make while riding here will be easily understood by all, regardless of your native tongue.
Getting to Québec City
Travel to and from Québec is incredibly easy. The Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) is 10 minutes from downtown, and has daily non-stop flights from numerous Canadian and American cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, New York and Chicago. It's my favorite kind of airport, one with plenty of flights in and out (which make it an affordable option), without massive security lines or miles to cover between terminals.
While rail travel isn't as prevalent in North America as it is in Europe, you can pretty easily travel to Québec by train if you choose this form of adventure. Daily VIA Rail Canada service is offered between Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City. Those of us who travel to Québec from the States will need to take an Amtrak operated train into Montréal before picking up the Rail Canada line into the city.
I have always driven to Québec, and now that I think of it, it always seems to come on the heels of a trip to Vermont. It's easy enough, and you can expect a fairly minimal customs delay, and well-maintained highways without a whole lot of traffic compared to what many of us have to sit in south of the border. Montréal to Québec is roughly 3 hours, depending on your driving habits, while Boston is 6 hours' drive time, Toronto 8, and Philadelphia 10. The roads, scenery, and general drive dispositions are all really quite pleasant in these parts, so road trips are encouraged.
The Best Trails to Ride Near Québec City
I realize that whenever Canada comes up in most mountain bike circles, it is typically in reference to somewhere in British Columbia. BC is amazing to be sure, but in my estimation, this tendency can be a bit of a disservice to Québec and everything this place has to offer. The weather window might be a bit shorter in this cradle of the Laurentians, but when it's time to ride here it can get really good, really fast. In fact, BC has played a pivotal role in the modern development and design of much of what you'll find here, as many Québecois riders have found a great deal of inspiration riding on the other side of Canada, and have realized that there's plenty of terrain here to build similar trails to what you might find in Squamish or on Vancouver Island, with rock slabs and massive North Shore features scattered throughout. Québec City is surrounded by hundreds of miles of trail, and while you could list close to a dozen trail networks in the region, we're going to focus on 4 primary areas which offer trails that range from remote backcountry raw, to high risk steep and deep, to mach turkey flow. If you're interested in sampling a bit of everything Québec City has to offer on two wheels, you should check out the Québec Singletrack Experience
, a multi-day XC stage race throughout the region. Head to their website
to register for the event and enjoy an all-included week of world class riding in one of North America’s most beautiful cities.Empire 47
This is probably the least known of the major networks that surround Québec City, but that is definitely not a reflection how much fun these trails are. Situated between Lac Delage and Stoneham, and about 25 minutes from downtown Québec, Empire 47 is a rapidly growing and very progressive set of trails. There are currently upwards of 50 km of trail to ride right now at E47, with a 5 year build out plan that will eventually include over 100 km. Fatbiking is a big part of the winter experience on these trails as well, making this a year-round playground.Key trail - Haute Valkyrie: This is easily the most technically challenging trail in Empire 47, and is one of the more high risk, high reward trails in all of the Québec City region. It follows a jagged ridgeline for just over a 1/4 mile, and descends 350 feet in the time along a rocky ridgeline. There are a number of steep slab features, mandatory drops, and chutes and ladders between it all. Some parts are high speed but never for long, as speed control and braking are a big part of the experience here. The line of site is a bit limited at times, so exercise caution when riding for the first time, especially if you're on own your own.Vallée Bras-du-Nord
There are two very distinct networks - or sectors - to Vallee Bras du Nord: the Shannahan Secteur is about 25 minutes from the nearest population center, Saint-Raymond, and a further 30 minutes to Québec City, and the Saint-Raymond secteur, which is right in Saint-Raymond. Each network offers a very different experience for riders. Shannahan is a bit on the remote side with loads of natural tech throughout many of its trails, incredible views of the glacially carved landscape that surrounds it, and as many challenging climbs as there are descents. Oh, and don't expect to put anything up on the gram
while you're here: there's zero mobile service for miles. Saint-Raymond will appeal to those looking for more freeride features and flow, with several directional trails and quite a bit of step ups, step downs, doubles, and ladders to keep you happy for days.Key trail - Tommy L’Paquet: Named after the (incredibly nice) guy who built it, this trail makes great use of some beautiful transitions and woodwork, all of which will help you feel really good about carrying speed from top to bottom. In the end you'll only drop about 200 vertical feet, but expect plenty of sendy features and wall rides while doing so.
Key trail - Boréale: I rode this trail once, and it was a blast. There aren't a whole lot of directional options at the Shannahan secteur of VBN, but this is the longest run available and it's a pretty intuitive trail to ride sight-unseen. It'll offer a variety of cambers, with quite a lot of natural and man-made features to play on, and you can carry solid pace throughout much of it.
Key trail - Neilson Trilogy: You need more adventure in your life. Ok maybe you already have plenty, but if adventure is what you want, adventure is what you get with this route. It links up the Neilson Sud, Est, and Nord trails, and in doing so gains and loses nearly 4,000 feet over the course of 20 miles, during which you will be challenged by the greasy, technical terrain throughout, while being treated to some stunning views.Sentiers du Moulin
I don't want to play favorites here, but I will just say that whenever someone asks for my short list of "must ride" places on the east coast, this network is always in the top 3, and with the work people like Nic Sauve have been putting in lately, it's hard not to put it at the top. The level of build and design here is so high right now, and the expansion of the network to multiple summits from just 1 over the past year has been unbelievably good. There is so much on offer for riders of virtually all levels that you could and should plan a trip to QC around this place. Build a few days into your visit for laps here. The climb up will only take you 25 minutes or so if you're keeping things tidy without working too hard, and every single trip down will make you very, very happy. Bonus points for being less than 20 minutes north of downtown Québec City.Key trail: Super-G This is one of the most popular trails in the region, and for good reason. It's really fast and really fun. You can expect some amazing corners, and a great mix of natural and man-made features, including some rock slabs, ladders, doubles, and some unbelievably good catch berms. It's a Sentiers classic and a perfect trail to start your day with.
Key trail: Wolverine There are plenty of trails to get rowdy on through Sentiers du Moulin, but this is easily the rowdiest trail with the highest degree of difficulty and consequence. It'll take a bit of effort to get to the top, and you're definitely going to want a riding buddy for your first trip down, but what a trail. Nic Sauve designed this masterpiece, and it's full of natural technical features, including some lengthy rock gardens, Squamish-level slabs alongside some beautiful views of the area.Mont-Sainte-Anne
No introduction is really needed for "The Beast", but you'll get one and you'll like it. It's been my favorite World Cup venue for as long as I can remember, and it's as much fun to ride as it is to watch on race day. You've got 2,000 vertical feet to play on from top to bottom, and hundreds of kilometers of connectivity between the bike park and the additional XC/sidecountry trails that surround it. MSA is a big bike paradise, especially if you like to ride your DH rig on properly gnarly and technical terrain. It's a place steeped in history, from Chainsaw's legacy to the decades of memorable race runs here, and you feel it the moment you hop on the gondola. A bucket list destination to be sure, and less than 30 minutes from Québec City.Key trail: 1837 I like steep and rough, and this trail is just that. Technically it's split into two section: Beauty (La Belle) and The Beast (La bête), but they combine to make for one helluva rowdy ride down the mountain. I believe that the Master's World Championship downhill race will be held on a portion of this track, and that's appropriate. The line of sight is really good throughout, and when you're not pumping out your forearms on the steep and rocky bits, you can expect a few loamy corners to roost in between.
Key trail: La Vietnam Quite a bit faster and flowier than 1837, but with a few sprinkles of root gardens and natural features, Vietnam is a party train trail of choice. It's a "choose your own adventure" trail of sorts, with optional features and easter eggs throughout, making it a great option for intermediate riders and up.
Vallee Bras du Nord is a beautiful place.
Québec City's mountain bike window typically runs from May until early November, with summers that are both warm and wet, which also means that you're going to want to come prepared with insect repellent as those bastards are hangry mid-summer. Fall in QC is really the ideal time for riding bikes in the woods, as not only are the temps comfortable, but the bugs are far less tenacious, and of course the changing foliage makes for some surreal days in the forests. Snow will stay on the ground from late November until the end of March, which makes fatbiking a fairly prominent form of cycling in these parts.
There is so much variety available in Quebec that is reasonable to assume you can find something for every type of bike out there, and you'd be correct in that assumption. In places such as Sentiers du Moulin and the Saint-Raymond secteur of VBN, you'll want as much travel as you can handle pedaling, since those places have plenty of freeride features handy but certainly require a bit of pedaling to get to it all.
E47 and the Shannahan secteur of VBN tend to favor more of an XC build at the moment, although each still have a few trails that can push the modern enduro rig.
If you're planning on spending some time at Mont-Sainte-Anne and you have a DH bike, go ahead and bring it. MSA is one of the few bike parks (in my personal opinion) where the decision to run one is warranted given the high volume of truly technical and high consequence terrain there.
Accommodations and Food:
Québec City has countless lodging options that cover all bases, whether you need some space for the entire family, or want to rent an apartment for you and your pals, or are looking to travel on the cheap. Saint-Raymond is about 40 minutes outside of the city, and is a great place to base yourself if you're keen to explore Vallee Brass du Nord. The Hotel Roquemont
is located at a trailhead, with a bike shop across the parking lot, bike storage, a bike wash, wifi, and a washer and dryer. I also spent a few evenings at Auberge du Littoral Hotel
which is right across the Saint Lawrence from Old Quebec, and 25 minutes to both MSA and Sentiers du Moulin. It's a bike friendly hotel with crazy good coffee, and easy access to downtown as well as the trails surrounding the city.
Additionally, Airbnb searches will yield hundreds of results in and around Quebec City, and if you're preference is to van life it or pitch a tent, you can do so throughout the region. Mont-Sainte-Anne has several lodging options as well, including some fairly affordable slopeside condos, a great option if you're looking to bring the family or a bunch of pals up for a few days.Breakfast
: Café Les Cousins
is in downtown QC, and if you're anything like me and you love bread and coffee, well then you'll love this place. Pascal Le Boulanger
has a ton of tasty pastries and sandwiches, and is really conveniently located if you're riding E47 or Sentiers du Moulin.Lunch
:Boulangerie du Lac
is a perfect spot for a grab and go sandwich. They also have these savory-cheese-baguette things. Yeah, go ahead and get those too.Les Trois Becs
is just a couple of minutes down the road from MSA, and has really great sandwiches, salads, drinks available.Dinner
:Archibald Microbrasserie Lac-Beauport
is a staple whenever you head to QC to ride. Their menu is extensive and tasty, as is the drink selection. Grab a couch by one of the half dozen fire pits outside and enjoy an awesome meal with your pals.La Souche
is right in Stoneham, and is the perfect place to refuel after a day in Lac-Beauport or Lac Delage. Their beers are awesome, and the poutine here is next level.Ciel Bistro-bar
is a rotating restaurant on the 28th floor of Le Concorde hotel in downtown Québec City. If you've got a night or two dedicated to hanging out in the city, then try and put this on the to-do list. The views and menu are world class.
Local Bike Shops:
Québec has more fast riders than you can shake a stick at, and as a result there are a lot of shops in and around town that keep the wheels rolling for people of all skill levels. You can check out our comprehensive list of QC bike shops here
. Shout out to Genetik Sport
for helping me out so quickly after smoking my rear derailleur on something sharp while filming one of the POV runs for this piece.
1. Live Music
. If you're a fan of music, then it's a good idea to plan around the Festival d'été de Québec
. Two weeks of music that will suit virtually all tastes, with three main venues across the city and plenty of bars and clubs to catch acts as well, and all for $100 CAD. That is an insanely affordable ticket, especially when you consider the amount of access it grants.
2. Try the poutine
. I'm going to go ahead and say that even vegans have options when it comes to poutine. The famed caloric heavyweight got its start here in Québec, and while you can now find this french fry/cheese curd combination elsewhere, it's kinda like ordering a Philly cheesesteak in Los Angeles: it ain't the same thing. When in Québec, you owe it to yourself
to indulge yourself
at least once. If you're crushing miles while in town, hell, maybe even twice.
3. Visit Old Québec
. Québec City is pretty old by North American standards, and with walled fortifications still in place, it's ok to grant the inner tourist in you some time to play in Old Québec. It's easily one of the prettiest cities in Canada and in addition to loads of great places to grab a bite or a drink, the narrow cobbled streets and distinctive architecture go well with some awesome views of the Saint Lawrence River and Laurentian Mountains, the same hills that are home to some of the best trails in the country.VBN Secteur Shannahan mountain biking trailsVBN Secteur Saint-Raymond mountain biking trailsE47 ÉcoSentiers mountain biking trailsSentiers du Moulin mountain biking trailsMont-Sainte-Anne mountain biking trails