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Exploring France's Secret Bike Parks - Abries

Sep 24, 2021 at 20:33
by Matt Wragg  




Of everywhere we rode this summer, Abries has to be the furthest away from the classic idea of a bike park or resort. With its stone houses and twisting streets, there is not a single apartment block or cement building to be found. To drive in you have to wait for traffic lights to pass a tiny, single gauge road since the main road was destroyed by a landslide some years back and they are struggling to re-secure it. In fact, it barely counts as a town, more a village nestling amidst the mountains of the Queyras.

The region is mostly popular amongst hikers, although it has a good reputation among riders who search for the higher, wilder trails too - around the area you can scale multiple 3,000m summits with your bike. Yet here, sitting in the field on the edge of town is a chairlift.


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


2020 was our first time riding in Abries, and in many ways it is the spot that sparked the idea for this series. After riding in a few medium-sized bike parks, rolling up to what in truth is little more than a hut in a field with an aging chairlift heading up didn’t seem too great.

That the chairlift is slow and they can’t send people up and down at the same time, so if someone is coming down you need to wait for their entire descent, wasn’t reassuring. Neither were the green and blue trails, they’re ok, well-maintained, but they struggle to put too much of a grin on your face. The black was closed while we were there because the cows were on that part of the mountain.

Then I rode the red run…


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


That morning I think I put in 6 laps on it, a couple more in the afternoon too. As you drop from the lift, through the fence into the trail proper, you are thrown straight into a rollercoaster that spits you out at the bottom of the hill with the biggest grin on your face.

It’s not the hardest trail in the world, I’m not even sure it would keep its red designation in most bike parks. There are no real gaps or technical sections, but there are bucketloads of that ever-elusive thing in our sport: flow. Corners are lovingly shaped and strung together, little fly-offs and dips break up the rhythm so it never gets monotonous.


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


As you learn the track you find you can go faster and faster, brake later, turn harder. On the lower series of berms you can go nuts. They are shaped in a way that means you always have the support you need, and the only limit I could find was my own bravery. By the final run of the afternoon I was cornering so hard I could feel the front triangle of my bike start to squirm and flex under me.

I left that afternoon in love with that trail, telling anyone who would listen that it was the best thing I rode all year. And that brings us back to my idea of big wave surfing. If you were to judge Abries as a bike park, it would not do too well, you wouldn't want to book your annual riding holiday here (you might for the backcountry riding, but not for the bike park). Yet as part of this trip hunting for moments it is a real gem.


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


Coming back for 2021 I was nervous. What if it wasn't as good as I remember it being?

I didn't need to worry, from my first run down that grin was there on my face. It only helped running it with someone I rode with long ago and taking an all-out lap chasing each other down the hill together.

Taking a term from skiing, the French call the people who look after the trail "shapeurs", which I think is a far more fun name than trail crew. Here in Abries that is Florian. Born here in the valley, each winter he works as ski patrol then turns his hand to the trails in the summer. He explained to me that a while ago they had a professional trailcrew come and secure the permissions and build the green, blue and red trails.


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


Originally they built giant bike park berms, but the cows trampled them down over the winter, so what is left now is a small scale replica of their line. Yet while he may not have created it, it is Florian who makes sure each corner is angled and supported so that you can keep pushing harder and harder. Here in the Southern Alps I can think of more than a few bike parks where the trailcrew haven't understood where in a corner you need support. As you approach the corner looks perfect, usually the entry is good, you float through the middle ready to push out of the exit and... nothing. No support on the exit. Your speed and flow are lost.

That never happens here, the trail is always there waiting to catch you. Should I mention there isn't a single braking bump in sight too? That is all thanks to Florian, well on most days it is. He also doubles up as a backcountry guide, so if he has a group his girlfriend and his buddy step up and take turns to pilot the rake. And that is why I love Abries - it is weird and small with one perfect trail.


Abriès mountain biking trails

Author Info:
mattwragg avatar

Member since Oct 29, 2006
754 articles

77 Comments
  • 29 2
 Great stuff, keep this going!
  • 12 0
 There is loads of great riding outside of the big bike parks in the alps, and for the most part it is underused and pretty much deserted. Anything that gets more people out and riding it has got to be good for the sport, and good for the areas. For businesses, being able to run all year round is a massive boost.
  • 11 0
 SMH

“That bike park was good that nobody should ride/ruin it. That way the team that keeps it going can give up and go work at a real bike park.”

These places need more press. Period. Thank you PB/MW for being an ambassador on behalf of the forgotten bike parks!
  • 3 0
 Ha, cheers.
  • 9 0
 Please show us the smaller villages in these towns, I'm really interested in drinking coffee and eating pastry's in small french towns and maybe doing some bike park laps.
  • 6 0
 You've understood everything my friend: if you come here, it's not ONLY to shred but also to enjoy the local wonders we have: charmful villages, delicious meals and pastries as you said, wonderful landscapes, singing torrents, inspiring paths... and we also can sell you 1 or 2 submarines if you need some (private french-australian joke Smile
Cheers mate!!!
  • 3 0
 @danstonQ: Wrong flag mate. Us Kiwis have no use for nuclear subs.

We do however like delicious pastries and coffee in beautiful landscapes.
  • 2 0
 @vunugu: our nuclear subs are powered by blue cheese, that's why they didn't buy them. No offence. Cheers!
  • 3 0
 @vunugu: Speak for yourself mate I have many uses for nuclear subs.
  • 1 0
 @danstonQ: This is the dream.
  • 2 0
 Shredding is a tiny part of the attraction of places like this. I like to tell my US friends that what they call the super chic and expensive French bakery is just one of 3 in my tiny town here. And the pastries here are a LOT better!

Also, mountain towns do tartiflette - potato, bacon and cheese. Lots of cheese! I believe it is Bruni's food.

Come riding in France and you will put on 5kgs per week Smile
  • 1 0
 @chriscowleyunix: Bruni is from down here in the South, where we don't eat like that, it's more tomatoes, olive oil and chickpeas... Wink
  • 3 0
 Vars and Abries were the 2 places with the best local cakes we visited. Vars had some kind of shortbread with raspberries or blueberries sauce. Abries had a nuts tarte
  • 1 0
 @danstonQ: None taken. I don't think I even want to think about what a blue cheese powered sub would smell like inside.

@inside-plus: I guess you could even park one in Akaroa harbour. Maybe the locals wouldn't mind if it was powered by blue cheese instead of uranium.
  • 1 0
 @vunugu: poor thing...
  • 6 0
 Everyone loves going to a bike park or riding area with a variety of trails, but there is something to be said for lapping the same trail for a whole day, perfecting your lines and squeezing every ounce of speed you can out of that trail.
  • 3 0
 "...ready to push out of the exit and... nothing. No support on the exit."
Guys, he's the one. That dude is the one that will give you some good times on the down and give you that smile on your faces.
Keep it going and thank you for those articles and those tracks for the "shapers" !
  • 3 0
 www.alligatti-biking.com
This is Florian’s guiding company, we had a really good time with him in Queyras and we spent half a day in Abriès « Enduro » park as they call it ! Can’t wait to go back with them to explore more !
  • 1 0
 I cannot disagree, Florian is really a nice guy, and he knows every square inch of the surrounding moutains. Abries bike park is great, and the 3 other days spent exploring the backcountry quided by Flo were amazing. Only top end trails, from flowy sections to technical steep switchbacks, in a beautiful place.
Strongly recommended (with extra thumbs up for locals and food) !
  • 6 2
 Love exploring the smaller parks, Bormio was a favourite from our last trip. Keep up the good work Matt!
  • 2 0
 Bormio 3000 is epic!!!!
  • 2 0
 My wife runs MTB trips to this area. It's truly amazing, check out the Cathedral of Flow on www.theinsidelinemtb.com for more info. PS Good to meet you on the chair lift Matt Wink
  • 1 0
 That was such a good lap! Hope you guys are well.
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg: we're all good thanks, looking forward to our next random chairlift liaison
  • 4 0
 just pleasant little stories of happiness, chapeu!
  • 1 0
 I can be vouching for a local guide here too should you want to discover the area... knows a thing or two about these trails and the best bakeries too !!!

en.gregmtb.com
  • 3 0
 Looks like this place has the beef.
  • 1 0
 Bon Appatit
  • 3 0
 But did you ride the black this time???
  • 3 0
 Yes we did, and it was one of my favorite on the whole trip
  • 2 0
 Great stuff, Matt! Please keep it coming!
  • 1 0
 A see a corner without a berm!! They still exist! Lac blanc Bikepark isn't bad either
  • 1 1
 Big wave spots: Now a shit-show, over run with tow skis, incompetent fame chasers, and media exploitation. Someone needed to say it...
  • 3 1
 You mad bro? Lol
  • 2 0
 Love how you captured the steepness of the trail. I could feel the flow!
  • 1 0
 Love this type of riding, great write up, thank you!!
  • 1 0
 @mountainsofsussex I am 100% cool with it.
  • 2 0
 Nice!
  • 1 0
 Stunning scenery!
  • 1 2
 I guess it's no secret now
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