Is there any better day than new bike day? I can’t think of one. My husband will tell you that I don’t do Valentines' Day, wedding anniversaries or even birthdays, but new bikes? Those are my favourite days. And like any over-excited child there is only one thing to do: play with your new toy until you are too tired to carry on.
Here in France, we have just come out of our third national lockdown, and in the very south, we are have been under a curfew since November. My original plan started under lockdown when I got a delivery date for my new bike. We were confined to a 10km radius, so if I couldn’t go far, how much could I do at home? Could I ride all the trails in our valley in a single day? With the curfew running from 7pm to 6am, I had thirteen hours to see how much I could do.
As anybody who has owned an eMTB for a while will tell you, battery math is a big part of riding one of these bikes. Sure, my bike has a 630Wh battery, but even on eco that was going to limit me to around 3000m climbing and then need six hours charging before I could go again. More than that, I don’t think riding in eco is much fun - the assistance basically compensates for the weight of the bike, so you may as well ride a regular bike. The only way to make this work would be multiple batteries and I need to thank Ben at Shimano, and Fab and Benjy at Canyon for lending me batteries for this, and Olivier at La Roue Libre for having the last two charging adapters in France in stock.
Armed with three batteries, I began mapping routes around the house, with the house as the central point for food, water, and a quick battery change each time. For me, this isn’t a physical challenge like Everesting or trying to scale Olympus Mons in one go (my challenge for the year is revenge at the Trans-Vesubienne
), rather it was supposed to be about fun - how many trails could I ride? How much descending could I do in one day? And could I get some good photos for a story as I went? Even with three batteries, it is not as simple as sticking the bike in Boost and flying up every climb though. If a battery takes around six hours to charge, then each loop needed to be around three hours when a ride in Trail is closer to two hours, and I also wanted to be able to run the final couple of loops in Boost when I would be getting tired. I mapped around six loops and decided to see how it felt on the day.
Heading out the door at 6:09 am precisely, I headed for the piste behind the house to tackle the trail that scares me most in the valley first: Candaniel. It’s not the steepest or gnarliest trail in many ways, but once you get down the descent there is a long, awkward traverse out along the valley with constant exposure, pitchy climbs, and overgrown bushes trying to push you off into the gorge below. All of that before breakfast does a far better job than a quadruple espresso to start your day. The plan was to join that trail onto a loop up to Ze Holy Trail, my second least-favourite, but my GPS bugged on my battery levels, so I popped back for a fresh battery first. Ze Holy Trail is more conventionally nasty, unforgivingly steep, and rocky all most all the way down to the village followed by another short trail to get to the main road. By now I had covered around 40km and 1,500m descending with three trails ridden.
Loop three took me up to the Col de Brouis for Brollercoaster, then down over the Italian border to Olivetta on Polivetta before traversing home along the Botanical Trail - a riverside traverse through a gorge. For number four I popped the bike in Boost and tackled the GR descent and Bangkok Fast on the flanks of Mont Razet and Scuvion, a location that is hellish on a regular bike at midday as it bakes you on the white gravel. Fortunately, zipping along at 20km/h on an ebike there is a bit more wind to keep you cool, making riding on that side far more enjoyable, and the descents are some of the longest in the valley.
The most personal loop for me was number five. It was on the mountain above our house and took in three trails that my husband and I have done a lot of the work to open and maintain. Black River traverses a ledge high above the valley, Serpentin is about as close to fresh loam as we get here, and I then threw in the classic Baisse du Pape descent before finishing on Chez Nous which drops down towards our house.
By now we were past five o’clock and time was running out to get the final loop in on Mont Agaisen - the location most people think of when they think of riding in our valley. From the top of the road at Baisse de Figueira I took the GR up to the edge of the Parc du Mercantour - a national park where bikes are strictly forbidden - and then down Bandite de Berrins, Bramafam, and through the bike park back to the village. It was then a case of racing through the streets to get home before curfew.
Through the day I covered 137km, 6,018m of climbing and descending and a total of nine hours moving. More importantly, I rode 15 trails and I’m not sure you could even manage that with a shuttle. Yes, I could name another 15 or so around the valley so I’m not sure how realistic riding all of them within a day would be. Certainly, I could have done more if we weren’t stopping to take photos, but this was not supposed to be about the numbers. My Garmin GPS gave me just 21 hours of recovery after, something I can manage with an intense hour of running, although my arms and shoulders wouldn’t be as sore this morning, and it is something I think most reasonably fit people should be able to manage (if they can find the batteries this year). This was supposed to be about was celebrating my new bike and I rode it on every mountain in our valley until my hands were almost too sore to hold onto the bars, what more could you ask for?