Quebec Craft - Bikes, Trails and Beers in the Heart of Poutine Country

Sep 16, 2016 at 11:15
by Cycles Devinci  
A view of the crew and Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
A view of the crew and Saint Raymond.

The sound of the river’s churning froth drowns out the cyclical click of our rear hubs as we roll along its banks. Its red rust dyed waters polish the granite beneath and slap the mossy green banks. Our wheels bob over boulders and roots, chocolate milk water and pudding-like mud squirting out from under our tires. A verdant blanket enshrouds us, a forest full of ferns, unfamiliar trees, bushes, and plants so thick it’s a jungle. It’s warm and humid. Spotted lime green frogs leap out of the way sensing the vibration of our bodies pummeling along this path. The place feels tropical and the language is foreign. It could be the Amazon, Costa Rica, a far off French colony or some equatorial paradise. But it’s not that muggy, there's no life threatening bugs, reptiles or predators and the trail is far too manicured. The faint strip of the cocoa colored track is perfectly etched for mountain bikes. It flows, banks with berms, pops through corners and sturdy ladders elevate us above the bogs. For half of the year, this whole landscape is spindly, brown and hibernating. Right now, though, here in Vallée Bras-du-Nord, Quebec, the place is thriving.

David Regnier Bourque and Julien Boulais load up the whip after work. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David Reigner-Bourque and Julien Boulais load up the whips after work.
Van bike life. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Van bike life.

Before this scene, things began in a parking lot hundreds of miles away in the short hours once work was done for the week. David Regnier-Bourque, Julien Boulais and I readied gear at Devinci’s headquarters in the small town of Chicoutimi. The large industrial building sits at a gateway to trails and winding country roads, a defining characteristic of the brand, the bikes and those who work there. From sales to welders, designers and builders—everyone rides. The bikes crafted here are simply products of the area’s wheeled pursuits. Getting out for a weekend trip to explore the province’s riding is simply part of the culture.

Roadside dining at its finest. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Roadside dining at its finest.

Julien Boulais aka the chef. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Julien Boulais, aka, the chef.
Julien Boulais aka the chef in action. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The chef in action.

David recently picked up a 1994 Volkswagen Westfalia van and we made sure to stuff it with food, camping gear, beer and no shortage of socks and chamois as we hustled to get on the road. As the sun waned we began peeling southward from Chicoutimi on highway 175 through the rolling highway and uninterrupted wilderness. We passed through rainstorms, rainbows and sunbursts before dipping off the side of the road to utilize the onboard cooking setup and whip up some lakeside souper (supper). Julien’s been perfecting a meat and mushroom risotto recipe and got busy preparing the ingredients as dark rain clouds threatened our roadside dining. While the meal stewed we crushed beers and donated more than our fair share of blood to the local mosquito population. With bellies full we picked up and pushed on into the night, arriving at the Roquemont in Saint Raymond that evening.

Shawinigan fireman and trail destroyer Sam Vallee. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Shawinigan fireman and trail destroyer Sam Vallee.
David Regnier Bourque readying the whip. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David Regnier-Bourque readying the whip.

Breakfast of champions. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Breakfast of champions.
The infamous breakfast hot dog. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The infamous "breakfast hot dog."

The early am drive through the tiny Shanahan Village on the way to Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The early am drive through the tiny Shanahan Village on the way to Vallee Bras-du-Nord.

Early the next morning Shawinigan fireman and trail destroyer Sam Vallee greeted us in the parking lot. After a sunrise meal consisting of coffee, orange juice and what Julien deemed a “breakfast hotdog”—a banana wrapped in Nutella-smothered bread—we loaded up and made our way to Vallée Bras-du-Nord. We passed through the quaint downtown of Saint Raymond and the road began twisting through classic Quebec countryside with lush green grass, old barns, homesteads, and cabins. The hills became higher and rose into mountains as the valley consumed us. Massive granite walls broke through the forest’s skin like a mini Yosemite as we rumbled along the dirt road and into the park’s trailhead where we readied to ride.

Sam letting it rip. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Sam letting it rip.

Trail tools. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Trail tools.
Fragile frogs alongside the trail in Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Fragile frogs alongside the trail in Vallee Bras-du-Nord.

Sam sending it over a blind roll. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Sam sending it over a blind roll.

Trailside riverbank breaks. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Trailside riverbank breaks.
Vall e Bras-du-Nord is a frog s paradise. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Vallee Bras-du-Nord is a frog's paradise.

We’d only been pedaling a few miles up the road before we came upon a trail crew and their truck. Within a short exchange of language that I couldn’t understand we were soon piled in the Ford F250 and hitching a ride up to the start of the Neilson trail. At the entrance, we spotted pea-sized frogs popping through the grass as we prepared to tear into the dirt. It was hard not to ride like frogs, bounding off of the many root and rock bumps that lined the dirt path as we worked into the trail. The terrain became rougher and ladders carried us over lush green waterfalls while the obstacles grew taller and the river’s rushing sound amplified. The path carried us along the riverbank where we stopped to take it all in; the undulating route, the lush environment, the churning red-toned water and the bulging granite peaks. After bashing our bodies and bikes through the rest of the rough riverside section we rolled back to a packed parking lot. As we peeled off our sweaty gear and snapped open some Archibald brews, cracks of thunder echoed in the valley, and raindrops began tapping on the ground.

Trail building transport. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Trail building transport.

This is Jerome Pelland of Sentiers Boreals in his mobile trail building trailer. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
This is Jerome Pelland of Sentiers Boreals in his mobile trail building trailer.
This is Jerome s sidekick Junior Belleville a project manager for Sentiers Boreals. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
This is Jerome's sidekick, Junior Belleville, a project manager for Sentiers Boreals.

Post ride refreshment. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Post ride refreshment.
Post ride fuel Quebec style. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Post ride fuel, Quebec style.

As rain pelted the ground two trail workers emerged from the woods, one on a two-wheel drive utility motorcycle laden with tools and the other on a chainsaw strapped ATV. In the shelter of their mobile trail-building trailer, we caught up with the two, Jerome Pelland and Junior Belleville of Sentiers Boreals, a local trail building company. Pelland has had his hands in the dirt as a professional trailer builder for nine years and has put his fair share of work into these trails. Neilson is one of the rubies of the 65 kilometers of singletrack in this area. It’s the brainchild of Pelland, mountain biking advocate and Vallée Bras-du-Nord Operations Director Mathieu Dupuis-Bourassa and a handful of others. Whether it’s through wielding a shovel or navigating politics the two have been pivotal in creating the massive web of purpose built trails in the area. “Right here we pride ourselves in the pure singletrack experience, a connection with the forest, with nature, following the river,” says Pelland. “There’s a connection you can have here that you will not find anywhere else.” The intimate, yet progressive trail here is the result of a lengthy permitting process combined with a careful approach to trail building. Generous government grants, donations, and proceeds from mountain bike trail permits have funded their efforts. It’s the dream architecture for legit trails anywhere, the results of which are blatantly evident once you spend a little time behind the handlebars.

Not your average hotel landscaping job here. This is the first of what will be a pumptrack circle around the Roquemont. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Not your average hotel landscaping job here. This is the first of what will be a pump track circle around the Roquemont.

The basecamp for biking around Saint Raymond and Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The basecamp for biking around Saint Raymond and Vallee Bras-du-Nord.
The in-house brews of the Roquemont. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The in-house brews of the Roquemont. Note the Singletrack IPA.

As the rains hammered down we returned to the Roquemont, a retreat built around bikers. With the collaboration of seven people, this old accommodation has been transformed into a microbrewery, restaurant and hotel complete with pump track landscaping, a bike shop next door and trailhead access from the parking lot. Spurred by the growth of mountain biking and trail building in the area, the Roquemont and the town of Saint Raymond as a whole have embraced this outdoor crowd, beginning a transition from its logging and pasture past to a mountain biking and outdoor hub. Later that afternoon we see exactly why as the parking lot brimmed with riders of all types. Some headed out for rides, others rolled back in, groups rattled about their rides over food, others dropped bikes off at the shop and one by one riders washed their bikes at the free wash station.

David letting it fly around Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David letting it fly around Saint Raymond.

Do you know much about mycelium PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Do you know much about mycelium?
Trail refections. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Trail refections.

Follow the leader. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Follow the leader.

Puddle blasting. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Puddle blasting.
Sam exiting one of many berms at Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Sam exiting one of many berms at Saint Raymond.

Julien and Sam rolling boulders. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Julien and Sam rolling boulders.

Julien and David tearing through one of Saint Raymond s root sections. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Julien and David tearing through one of Saint Raymond's root sections.
Sam Vallee tears through a tacky berm at Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Sam Vallee rails through a tacky berm at Saint Raymond.

Julien and David ripping through the early morning dew. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Julien and David ripping through the early morning dew around Saint Raymond.

That afternoon we joined the masses and made our way into the web of trails. Although more tame and traveled than the Shanahan zone, the routes in Saint Raymond did not disappoint. The dirt was tacky and buff and the lines were fast and smooth. The tracks skirted cornfields and cow pastures, weaved through a root-infested forest and railed through berms. Rock slabs and root holes occasionally interrupted the buff soil. We were able to let it loose on the flow trails and loft off the lips of the jump lines. You could ride all day long here, linking trail after trail together, without having to embark on a far-flung mission out of town. The place was chock full of real dirt, a rarity at times in the rock and root grounds of the glacial scraped northeast.

Forests for forest s sake. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The dense forest around Vallee Bras du Nord.

Julien and David enjoying some much needed chill time. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Julien and David enjoying some much-needed chill time.
Riverside accomodations near Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Riverside accommodations near Vallee Bras-du-Nord.

David taking in the view at Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David taking in the view at Vallee Bras-du-Nord.
David tearing down one of the more Jurassic Park trails at Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David tearing down one of the more Jurassic Park trails at Vallee Bras-du-Nord.

Morning lake mist. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Morning lake mist.

The road. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
The road.
Mark Wallace off the race course. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Mark Wallace off the race course.

This steep and scoured land is also home to one of the nastiest downhill racecourses on the planet, at the nearby Mont Sainte Anne. As this World Cup event loomed, professional riders began trickling into the area. Mark Wallace, the up and coming ripper from Vancouver Island, joined us for some less serious trail time around Saint Raymond. Our bike posse grew and so did our exploration of singletrack.

David navigating a tight chicane on the Boreal trail. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David navigating a tight chicane on the Boreal trail.

Mark floating over roots on the Boreal trail. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Mark floating over roots on the Boreal trail.

Mark a wheelie and a tree growing out of a tree. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Mark, a wheelie and a tree growing out of a tree.

David whipping up some chocolate milk or chocolat au lait . PHOTO Ben Gavelda
David whipping up some chocolate milk, or "chocolat au lait".
Wheelies n waterfalls. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Wheelies 'n waterfalls.

Riverbed like trail at Vall e Bras-du-Nord. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
A riverbed like trail at Vallee Bras-du-Nord.

Fueled by poutine, coffee and whatever else we could turn into pedal fuel we continued the back and forth between the trails of Shanahan and Saint Raymond. We rode in the dusk and dark swampy forest until we could barely see. We brushed by dew soaked grasses in the pale morning light. We rolled over granite boulders, peeled by moss-covered grounds and ranch pastures. We pedaled alongside rushing trailside waterfalls. We escaped the piercing mouths of mosquitoes, a lot. We ate trailside framboises (raspberries) and bleuets (blueberries). The midday heat and humidity led us to cool in the waters of the red and earthen toned Bras-du-Nord arm of the Sainte-Anne River as kayakers drifted by. Under clear skies, we camped by its shores and remained close to the trails, the simple escape from reality, spinning lap after lap around the hub of Quebec mountain biking.

Mark Wallace flying and floating over roots at Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Mark Wallace flying and floating over roots at Saint Raymond.
Mark Wallace in the berms at Saint Raymond. PHOTO Ben Gavelda
Mark Wallace in the berms at Saint Raymond.

Two Wheel Tools
The trails in Saint Raymond and Vallee Bras du Nord have all types of terrain, from buffed out berms to nasty root and rock gardens. Our crew had a solid mix of bikes - all capable of crushing the trails. Here’s what we used:

- Devinci Django 29
- Devinci Marshall 27.5+
- Devinci Marshall 29er
- Devinci Troy

Notable Trails - There are trails to satisfy all riding types at Saint Raymond and Vallée Bras-du-Nord. These are the ones that we hit:

Vallee Bras Du Nord - Nielson, La Boreale, Cratere and Chute a Gilles

Vallée Bras-du-Nord mountain biking trails

Saint Raymond - Pente Cote, La Jolie Jaelle, Chevalier V.R., La Monsieur Rolland, Coq Rond – Allez, Carburateur, Montee La Grosse Glen, Le Grand Eggen, LaVraie Montee Valais/Berne, Montee de berne, Mt Laura – La 9, and La Roche-Mere

Must Read This Week

58 Comments

  • + 20
 Damn those trails and that dirt look good. Adding this to the evergrowing list...
  • + 4
 Going next week - should be awesome!
  • + 9
 Found out about VBN last year at Kingdom and then read an article on here after that trip. Decided I wanted to go this year for my annual bike trip. Eight of us went and had an absolute blast. The hotel, the food, the craft brew and the trails were all amazing. Live music every night we were there, the trails at St Raymond were similar to Kingdom, fast and flowy with nice machine built berms and flowy jumps for us "trail/xc" riders. Shanahan Secteur was a whole other ball game. Le Neilson is an amazing east coast style technical xc trail, with some nice flowy sections, but for the most part picturesque tech trail all the way down the mountain (it did start with a 10km climb though!). IMO, VBN was way more fun than Kingdom, just for the variety of trail types and no brutal exchange rate to deal with when crossing the border. Every trail at VBN was equivalent in difficulty and fun to the best black diamond trails at Kingdom like Tap N Die and Troll Stroll, Sidewinder, etc for comparison. Will be making this place an annual trip for sure!
  • + 12
 I clicked for poutine.
  • + 3
 Two nice things about the T4 Eurovan generation Westys are the front 2.5 audi Inline-5 engine / FWD layout makes a rear trailer hit/rack mount a lot easier to accomplish than than the previous generations rear mounted 2.0L Flat-4 engine / RWD layout (anyone who owns one knows how messy it is under the back of one in terms of exhaust headers, pipes and muffler arrangement) and if you HIT something head on, the front powertrain helps shield the driver/front passenger better. I just replaced 25 feet of brake lines on my 87 Westy a month ago.
  • + 8
 I just replaced my 91' Westy with a Sprinter. Talk about room, and indoor bike storage. And now its time for a 5 week road trip through the States via the Trans Cascadia vroom vroom
  • + 1
 @pedaler: been looking at the Sprinter. The 4x4 version looks tempting. But for now I'm sticking with my '89 Westfalia California. 1.6 turbo diesel isn't the fastest engine, but it hasn't let me down yet.
  • + 4
 "...hitching a ride up to the start of the Neilson trail."....

Ya gotta 'earn your turns'...should have pedalled up the road...it's a great warm up pedal before dumping into Nielson trail.

Great riding there!
  • + 2
 I was here a couple of weeks ago camping and riding the Shannahan Sector. It's an eleven hour drive one way for me but I loved it! Very impressive indeed! Spectacular scenery ...amazing trails ... and very friendly, helpful people!

goo.gl/photos/5dFesusrvC4hipex6
  • + 1
 Nice pictures!! Smile
  • + 2
 @Timo82: Thank you! Not hard to get great pics here lol!
  • + 4
 - Amazing photos overall ! Couldn't stop scrolling down.
- Superbe article. Je ne connaissais pas du tout ce coin de pays avant. Merci. Très bien fait!
  • + 2
 Nice report on VBN!! Quiet some years ago, it's now very popular. We met a lot of riders last month. Want to say thanks to the builders. Amazing jobs and amazing trails! And my friend Sam riping trails again!!!
  • + 3
 I visited these trails from Toronto in August. I will be returning every year.
  • + 2
 anyone know what five ten shoes sam is wearing (red and black). they look like the flat pedal freerider contact, but he seems to be on clips?
  • + 3
 Five Ten Kestrel Lace, sweet riding shoes!
  • + 2
 Kestrel Lace
  • + 2
 @jakevw @dlornie cheers guys!
  • + 2
 VBN is a magical place. Tent camping at Sector Shannahan is nice and quiet. Chute Delaney is beautiful. Neilson trail is epic. Microbrew is yummy.
  • + 4
 Brewery with a pumptrack??? YES PLEASE!
  • + 4
 Chasing poutine in poutine
  • + 3
 Nice to have all this Quebec coverage. Looks veey worthwhile for a road trip
  • + 3
 Yes it is!! Leelau from bc who ski tour a lot with tons of useful reviews about gear and stuff? Man I would like to ski with u
  • + 1
 @Mattf00: yah. Would come out with Sharon
  • + 2
 We'd sure like to have you over at some point. Bras du Nord is about to invest massively in trails (not just mtb) and your input would be invaluable.

-Jérôme, the one in the article
  • + 2
 @HypNoTic: Jerome - see PM
  • + 3
 Thanks for sharing these epic photos! I know Whistler is Canada's Mecca but my next destination will be Quebec for sure.
  • + 2
 "The infamous breakfast hotdog"...
If lunch and diner is Poutine based, pass me another hot-dog please.
  • + 2
 This is the kind of trip I look forward to with me bro's! Thanks for the awesome write up.
  • + 2
 "we were goin' to Canada for some French fries and gravy, sir." ......." Canada, huh? Almost made it."
  • + 3
 Shout out to Pinkbike for poutine this article together!
  • + 1
 This stunning pump track could convince even my wife to have one at home... *startingtodream*
  • + 1
 There is something unique about riding the Canadian Shield. Maybe it is how the trails oscillate no nicely?
  • + 1
 So many rock rolls Drool
  • + 1
 I did a little video of the Neilson if you want to have an idea how it looks...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1WinUXrZ80
  • + 1
 Where's the climb up!
  • + 1
 @mmorriso: 25min of climbing... That would be fun as hell to watch!! Razz
  • + 1
 That mushroom is a flying agaric, eat that shit you'll be seeing reindeer for sure...
  • + 2
 Something isnt right, these guys are smiling in every single photo!
  • + 2
 Just ordered my new Spartan alloy frame! Your guys rock!
  • + 3
 East is a beast baby!!
  • + 1
 Great article and super photography...Well done!!!
  • + 1
 Sick mon Boulais!
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