Video: The History of MTB in Finale Ligure with Miranda Miller

Sep 16, 2023
by Miranda Miller  

Words: Miranda Miller

Over the last eight years, I have been lucky enough to visit Finale Ligure seven times. Set on the edge of the Ligurian Sea on the Italian Riviera, Finale reverberates with the atmosphere and scents of the Mediterranean, while also offering a massive network of trails. It’s the one place I recommend without a doubt as the best mountain bike holiday.

Graeme Meiklejohn photo HTE s2 ep.4
From the mountains to the sea, there's something for everyone in Finale Ligure

When I raced the entire EWS circuit, we’d drive down from the mountains, into the hot, dusty town. Horns would be honking, scooters splitting lanes – chaos! And ... we’d relax. Finale made me feel, immediately, as if I, too, was on holiday. It didn’t matter what tracks we raced, or how practice went, at the end of the day there was always something to make you happy. A good plate of pasta, gelato, a swim in the sea or maybe just a cold lemon soda. Italians, to me, always seem like they’re in a hurry to do nothing but sit back and enjoy life. Why not join them?

Graeme Meiklejohn photo HTE s2 ep.4
With more competitive beach destinations, Finale had to 'turn their back to the sea and look to the mountains'

Unlike other places we sometimes visit, we were not a lone group of mountain bikers. Each year I'm floored by how many people are there to ride. Mountain bikes are piled in stacks outside bars, shuttle vans, loaded with bikes, weave through traffic and e-bikes whizz by you on the climbs. Of all the race venues I’ve been privileged to visit, I think I’ve been to Finale the most. Despite my love for it, however, the ‘ride, race, depart’ nature of racing made me realize I had developed no sense of connection. I didn’t understand the history, and how the town had become this bikers paradise.

I wanted to change that! So ... with the freedom to explore afforded by our Here, There and Everywhere format, Graeme and I arrived early for this year’s Enduro World Cup, to spend time with Enrico Guala, Riccardo Negro and Francesco Gozio- three molto appassionato and influential members of the Finale Ligure community responsible for bringing racing to Finale for over 15 years. They’re Italian, so they did what they do best - poetically painted us a picture of Finale. From the beginning.

The trails of Finale Ligure date back thousands of years. You ride past caves which provided shelter for primitive humans and along the paths they built to move between the sea and the mountains. Trails run next to fossil sites, and over Roman roads and bridges. In race mode, due to the pace, focus and exhaustion, there was no leisure to feel that connection to the place - where I was, and who had traveled these roads before me. The significance was lost.

Graeme Meiklejohn photo HTE s2 ep.4

Riccardo became our interpreter, and introduced us to five of the key trail builders of Finale Ligure, each with their own specialty. Fulvio Balbi, often referred to as The GodFather of Finale, is responsible for many of the flow trails found off of the famous Nato Base. Alessandro Massa is known for more rugged, DH trails; Ivo Camilli has built some of Finale’s most iconic, unique and natural trails, Nico Accame directs the development of eBike terrain and Fabrizio Valenti has been building for 25 years and started the very first shuttle company in Finale, ‘Freeride Finale’. The passion and pride for designing, building, riding, and sharing with the world their trails positively emanated from the group, so despite our lack of Italian, it felt like we could understand them.

Graeme Meiklejohn photo HTE s2 ep.4
Fabrizio, Ivo and Fulvio

The economic effects of cycling on Finale and the surrounding towns has been massive. To try to ensure order and a sustainable future, a consortium named Finale Outdoor Region has been created to properly organize trail maintenance and manage the impact of tourism in the area. To help engage the local business population, as well as subsidize and support the initiative, a ‘FOR You’ reward-card has been put into play. As per most reward programs, points are awarded to FOR Card holders who eat or shop at local businesses enrolled in the FOR program. Each point represents a monetary value that will be donated to the Finale Outdoor Region, while the customer may redeem their collected points for rewards. This simple, but well thought-out system could be adopted anywhere in the world as a way to allow businesses profiting from cycling ‘trade’ a way to contribute back into the trail system.

Graeme Meiklejohn photo HTE s2 ep.4

Finale Ligure is brilliant. They have built themselves into one of the world’s largest mountain bike destinations, proud to share what they have created and year after year, they invite the world to visit Finale Ligure. While I will always be a tourist, knowing the names of the builders of my favourite trails, and feeling the energy and passion they have poured into them, has elevated my experience and appreciation for my most recommended mountain bike destination. Enrico Gaulo told us - “you’re a fish, caught in the net of Finale and everything that it has to offer”. Consider me a fish.

Here, There, Everywhere is a 6 part film series that explores creativity and progression, competition away from performance, exploration and pushing the limits of what we believe we are capable of. Original concept by Miranda Miller, created by Graeme Meiklejohn and made possible by SRAM.

Author Info:
mkem avatar

Member since Jul 8, 2006
35 articles

  • 21 0
 Love this kind of content. Thanks Miranda
  • 2 0
 Spending a lot of time trail building in another area of the Alps I find it encouraging to see a prominent rider like Miranda Kerr pay a video tribute to those without whom Finale would still be the rather confidential climbing spot it was 15years ago. It is an amazing riding destination not just because of the immense trail network but also because of the cultural riches of the region and the amazing local Ligurian food (if you dare try something else than pizza+gelato+coffee).
  • 3 0
 Francesco was our guide many times! He is amazing as a guide - and as a person!
  • 5 5
 Dunno, I would personally disagree with the assessment that Finale "is not a bikepark". Shuttles are the option that 99,9% of the riders went for when I was there and trailheads are usually only accessible via those same roads that shuttles drive on. Pedaling in the clouds of diesel exhaust fumes was not fun. When taking a shuttle, I had an impression I was doing a disservice to those people that do not directly profit from tourism.

With that said, it would be really interesting to know what kind of a rider is the target market and what the future holds in general, as the trails are very good indeed.
  • 1 0
 Also, it seems more bikepark-like from year to year. With the numbers of riders these days there‘s probably no other option. If shuttles form a traffic jam at the trailhead all day, then you have to have more hardpack than forrest earth as a surface, otherwise the brake bumps would become even worse, but that and the highly organized shuttling really make it feel like riding in a park.

As for using the shuttles, I don‘t think, there are not too many people in that region that do not directly profit from tourism, it‘s the main source of income.
  • 12 0
 There are more trails in Finale than the ones most of the people shuttle to, easy to avoid the crowd with a bit of pedalling and Trailforks.
  • 2 0
 @tobitobi: Depends on when you are there. In holidays of major European countries or for example around Christmas there are no uncrowded trails ;-)
  • 4 0
 @FuzzyL: like they say in the video, finale stretches as far as you can reach in one day. Have you ridden pietra ligure? Or the hills beyond? The quality of trail stays the same, but i can assure you, you will not see many riders or shuttles
  • 1 0
 @qualms23: I know. It‘s just the grumpy old man in me, that‘s complaining that in the good old days you could ride perfectly alone on pristine trails an hour from the beach, while these days you have to pedal half a day to do so ;-)
  • 4 0
 @tobitobi: THAT.
If you do your research, or book a guide, there are plenty of uphill trails that make you avoid asphalt roads and diesel engines smell.
As much as I love the occasional shuttle day, there's no denying that doing shuttle laps, you end riding always the same trails, and they're just a fraction of what Finale offers
  • 4 2
 Sure, but what is the alternative? Without an e-bike or extraordinary fitness, you won't be able to sample too many of the trails. The area is vast. Pay a guide, eat in a local restaurant, be friendly. I did a day of guiding with Finale Freeride and lunch is at as local a place as you can get, not a seaside tourist trap. If you go in the summer months, the coast is lined with cars and parking spots and streets are jammed with beach goers. I wouldn't really worry about hopping on a bus with 10 other bikers. Economics is more complex than directly working in a particular industry as well. Your bike mechanic shops and eats in town. He can pick up cheap accommodation in villages that are increasingly elderly. Etc etc.

This gives the area an alternative to 2 months of summer congestion and an extra option in terms of employment. As to bike park or not, you're right that there's only a few main drop off spots, but that doesn't limit you in choice. I also wouldn't call the trails bike park like. Finale has decided to go down this road and they need to be applauded for it. It's also a major climbing destination. The rest of the coast, and you can include Spain and France, is just trying to make a buck from people who want to drink and bake in the sun. Here's to another Finale popping up somewhere.
  • 6 0
 @vp27: I'm not sure you need an ebike or shuttles, but you probably need to be riding in mountains or at least intensively the rest of the season to make the most of it.
First year there was 2007. It was a climbing area and there weren't even any trail maps really. There were nowhere near as many trails, but we still had enough of a good time to go back almost every year until 2022. If the trails had been better and more plentiful - and we'd had maps - it would have been amazing, even pedaling every climb. If you can't climb at least 1000m comfortably then maybe uplifts are needed to warrant dragging your ass and your bike to Italy from northern Europe.
  • 1 0
 @tobitobi: Indeed, the "region" is vast and there are pedal-able uphill trails. But I personally see the very same trails in every promotional material -- Rollercoaster, Base NATO, etc., as evidenced by the video in this article as well. And apparently many people, just like uninformed me, go to Finale the city and are riding park.

@vp27 Economics is more complex than a bike mechanic shopping and eating in town. First, the pricetag is yet to be put on the particulate matter pollution, disruption of wildlife etc., since capitalism does not incentivize the discovery of these externalities. Second, infrastructure costs dwarf whatever bike mechanics of Finale are making/spending and that might well be the reason for the collapsing bridges and the fact that they only manage to slap an additional layer of tarmac over potholes instead of doing something more sensible. And in the end I do not see how an experience akin to riding a bus in rural soviet union is something to be applauded for. I can see it being fun when you're 20 and already have money for guides and food, but it is demonstrably unsustainable and looks like a just another case of privatizing profits/socializing losses.

On another note, I fail to see how making a buck of mountain biking is in any regard "better" than making a buck of drinking and baking in the sun.
  • 2 0
 @vp27: like @BenPea already stated, being fit enough for a 800/1000 mt climb is not extreme (to me) in any way, don't require an eMtb or a shuttle and, in the right seasons (i'd skip the lowest trails in summer's heat), open up to you some great trails in the Verezzi, San Bernardino or le Manie areas.
A big day connecting various points or exploring the higher trails (Monte Carmo, Isallo extasy, and so on) can easily add up to 2000/2500 mt climb for a day and here you need to be quite fit, to make the most of it.
Shuttle laps can be great, but aren't the only way to mtb through the area and, luckily, there are many people still doing it the old fashioned way
  • 1 0
 @Skinnyman: "I fail to see how making a buck of mountain biking is in any regard "better" than making a buck of drinking and baking in the sun"

For Finale i think it makes a great difference! While baking in the sun is a seasonal treat, outdoor activities keep your business open all year long
  • 4 0
 thank you Miranda, especially love your write up!
  • 3 0
 keep bringing this Miranda, you've created a special filming niche for sure
  • 2 0
 Allora! Man that spot looks amazing. Love the Ligurian Sea. Great series keep it coming
  • 2 2
 Great review of one of the best places in the world to ride, fro the early years I was following the races there, but now....UCI killed the Enduro, 2024 will show what's coming to this great place and riding.
  • 2 0
 Thanks Miranda, a great perspective on Finale and particularly enjoyed the interviews with the people behind the trails.
  • 2 1
 I just got to Finale after 10 years of dreaming of coming here. So stoked to shred and eat gelato all week!
  • 3 0
 excellent video as usual
  • 2 1
 Beautiful! Millennia of culture shaped the trails in Finale Ligure.
  • 2 1
 What? Those trails were built exclusively for mountain bikes in the last twenty years. I don‘t think there was much influence of any kind of culture.
  • 2 0
Millenia of MTB culture, that is
  • 3 0
 @FuzzyL: Jerry's just quoting from the video I believe about 2:30 "Trails have been there for 1,000 years..."
  • 1 0
 @FuzzyL: yep not
many herding paths there
  • 8 0
 @cxfahrer: Exactly! It is a little known fact that the Romans actually invented MTBing and Finale was the Caesars secret MTBing getaway......

Sendius Maximus was the most well known MTB racer of the time.....
  • 1 0
 @donaarblitzen: I noticed only later that it was basically a quote. It‘s mostly wrong either way. Yes, of course there were trails thousands of years ago. But of the 200 trails currently being ridden in Finale maybe 5 actually are repurposed hiking or herding trails.
  • 1 0
 @FuzzyL: well we found the one rain cloud in Finale.
  • 1 0
 @Struggleteam: Actually, there are no rain clouds in Finale ;-) I’ve been going there for 20 years, first climbing than biking, and it never rained (and before anyone asks, it didn’t pour either…)

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