26 January, 2018

The Occam adventure in Quebec

A few weeks ago, we decided to explore a place that is not very well known in Europe by Mountain Bike fans: Quebec. This is the account of the experience alongside Dani Pérez from soloBici, Olivier Béart from the magazine Vojomag, Simone Lanciotti from Mtbcult and Altino Lourenco from Sram, without leaving out Yohan, the fabulous winner of the Vojomag contest.

Our cousins from the other side of the Atlantic are known for organizing events like the MTB World Cup. Some of them, like our sales rep Fred Poulain, convinced us that this region had much more to offer, and that we had to come discover the trails in Quebec (a true trail paradise, according to Fred) on our Occam bikes.

So we set off with a dream team made up of Dani Pérez from soloBici, Olivier Béart from Vojomag magazine, Simone Lanciotti from Mtbcult and Altino Lourenco from Sram, and not forgetting the grand winner of our Vojomag contest, Yohan.

We equipped ourselves with our new 2018 Occam TR, with SRAM components adapted specifically for this trip.

Day 1: Exploring Oka Abbey, at the Montreal city gates.

We had barely left the beautiful megalopolis of Montreal when we found ourselves already in the countryside. We arrived at an abbey that would be our home away from home for the night. Not a common place for cycling. But lo and behold, in the early morning hours we find that the Oka trails start in front of the gate to that very same abbey.

Being the good fans that we all are on the team, we can’t resist the call of the trail for long; we barely take time out for a coffee before mounting our bikes, fresh out from under their protective covers. We'll make the necessary introductions a little later; there will be more than enough time once we’re on the trails. We set out to explore the land that lay before us, outside the city gates. Fred, our sales rep and guide, was right. Here we can take part in a truly easy, recreational MTB.

After a few kilometers, the adjustments were finished, the introductions made and we picked up the pace a bit to try out all the trails we come across. The trails are winding, with barely any change in elevation, every last meter was sheer enjoyment. We spent the entire morning like kids in a candy store, going all out, forgetting that we have a long week of pedaling ahead of us…

Day 2: Saint Raymond

Here we are in Tommy Paquet’s hometown of Saint Raymond, in an area full of fun and easy trails.

Saint Raymond is a small town of fewer than 10,000 people, not very well-known by tourists, but we have a special guide waiting for us there. Tommy is a bike fan, of course, but more importantly, he’s the one who built the trails where we will ride and also owns some of the land. The most striking thing upon arriving in the parking lot at the entrance to the Saint Raymond trails is the ambiance. The parking lots are full of cars belonging to riders.

We’re right next to a microbrewery where the guys enjoy a local beer before or after their ride. It’s impossible to be more immersed in the MTB world, North American style. We feel good, eager to discover the trails. We’re sure we won’t be disappointed! Each climb and descent is more fun than the last.

Here, Tommy has also optimized the profile of the hills to make the climb less difficult and to ensure more fun on the descents… You have the impression that you’re descending more than what you’ve climbed. The trails are all perfectly maintained and have funny names… the day flies by as you chat with the locals and discover all the trails.

We can't get enough of this giant amusement park for our Occams. We finish up our excursion at dusk as the cold sets in, because even though it’s very nice during the day, it’s still late October in Quebec. Luckily, that evening for supper, after also sampling the riders’ beer, we were able to try the famous and gargantuan Poutine du Roquemont. This culinary delight would soon cause us to drift off to sleep before tackling the tough day that lay ahead.

Day 3: A day in the luxurious nature of Shannahan.

We stayed one more day in the Bras du Nord valley to discover a place the locals characterize as magic. It has a mysterious name: Shannahan. It was a complete surprise. To access it, the paved route turns into a gravel road and then plunges into a thick forest. We arrived at a small square with a few cottages, not far from where a majestic river flows. Here there are fewer paths, but they’re longer, allowing us to explore more territory. Our guide, Jerome, an expert on the place, advises us to follow the famous Neilson trail, doing the full East/North and South route, in addition to the Boréale route. We set off on a long day, but one we’re eager for, with the sensation of a pioneer discovering a new territory.

The first climb is long and steep, but the scenery is magnificent. We finally arrive at the start of the eastern stretch of the famous Neilson trail. We understood right away that we were in for an excellent day. The trails are magnificent, in the middle of wild vegetation where you cross small bridges over rivers and where the rocks form sculptures… However, the northern part of the trail is the real show stopper. It runs along the riverbank, the typical image that you have of Canada, right up to the sumptuous waterfalls.

We rode along with big smiles on our faces, frequently stopping to marvel at the landscape and take pictures. Unfortunately, time went by quickly, and we still had a ways to go to keep up with the initially planned itinerary. We continued on along the southern part, which is just as pleasant. Unfortunately, we were overtaken by nightfall and we couldn’t do the famous Boréal trail, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll be back…

It was an unforgettable day that will remain imprinted in our memories for the rest of our lives… We even forgot to eat!

Día 4: Beauport Lake

Beauport Lake and the Sentiers du moulin (mill trails) are the essence of Canadian nature.

We continued our adventure in Quebec, heading back to the northeast.

We were told about a place with plenty of trails near a lake. Local riders were waiting for us at a microbrewery; beer is the local beverage of Quebec. We left accompanied by a pro enduro rider, track setters and an ex-pro snowboarder; all in all, a fine selection of champions. The Lake Beauport trails are among the oldest in Quebec and are quite technical, with and endless number of offshoots.

We had thought we would find a rather flat place on the shores of a lake… a big mistake. This place is also a winter ski resort and you need a lot of gas to make it up to the summit, because the climbs are steep. The descents are along the same lines. It was a technical ride in a bleak land that kept us pumping away on the pedals of our Occams. We made our way back to our point of departure and enjoyed with immense pleasure a local beer. In the end, it is a very athletically demanding place in a bucolic setting in the middle of a luxurious forest and houses belonging to millionaires.

In the afternoon, Nico, our guide, a new mountain biker, but a former freestyle snowboarder, recommended we visit a spot called the “Sentiers du Moulin” (Mill Trails).He told us about a place in full expansion that has made the region famous, and that is sure to be known throughout Canada.

We were more than happy to follow him, and we wouldn’t be disappointed. We only stopped riding at nightfall. The trails are very fun, and certainly require a technical and physical level that we hadn’t seen since we arrived, but our Occam TR stood up to the challenge without protest. The trails are all simply great and represent everything that Canada is known for in mountain biking: large flat rocks, bridges, banked turns, hairpins and jumps. It wasn’t exactly a day of rest and relaxation, but we discovered a tiny gold nugget and it put the gleam back in our eyes.

Day 5: Saint-Anne, a paradise for mountain biking

The discovery of the trails at the famous MSA ski resort: a paradise for mountain biking.

The Mont Saint-Anne ski resort is the place in Quebec best-known by Europeans for mountain biking, having hosted World Cup rounds and world championships for many years in our discipline. It is a place full of history were magnificent sporting feats have written the history of our young sport.

Want to know what the experience was like for Dani Pérez from Solobici? Click on this link to see his report

We were received by a group of very high-level fellow mountain bikers who were also enduro competitors and trail-builders, as we’ll soon see.

One look at the calves of our guides for the day, and we asked them to go easy on us and show us the easiest trails. The truth is that MSA consists of a phenomenal network of trails, but unfortunately, we would have only one day to explore it…

We set out on a first lap around it in order to familiarize ourselves with the terrain, which is rockier than the rest of the places we’ve ridden. We once again discovered some perfect paths for trail riding and we were glad to have our Occams with 29” wheels.

But to show us more trails and the key points of the resort, our guides suggested taking a shuttle van up to the summit of the mythical resort. From there, we could take any of the many trails leading to where our hosts live. It was a brilliant idea, because our guides had prepared a route that was not for the faint of heart.

The landscape is magnificent, with the Appalachians in the distance to the south, the Canadian Shield to the north, and the Saint Laurent River in the middle. The next part of our journey shows us a richness and variety of trails that we never could have imagined. We thought Mount Saint-Anne was elitist, which is the case on the black tracks, but the network of trails is so impressive that there’s something for everyone, with any type of bike, in the purest Canadian trail tradition. We’ll take away a very good memory from this resort that is so mythical to us.

Day 6: Bromont

The Bromont resort is extraordinary to ride, with trails that sprout up like mushrooms.

Our trip has reached its end. We descend towards the south, hugging the Saint Laurent River, approaching Montreal. We make a small detour to explore one last crucial place in Quebec for MTB: Bromont. This ski resort is known for its natural environment. MTB is firmly established as an activity here, and it has even hosted a World Cup.

But above all else, Bromont is known for having started to build trails a long time ago, sometimes even illegally, all over the mountainside. Our guide, Bob, is one of the pioneers who moved to this land twenty years ago for some peace and quiet and to satisfy his passion for mountain biking. Together with a handful of friends, they started to lay out illegal tracks to expand the trail network. Today, most of the trails have been made official, making Bromont one of the top MTB centers in Quebec.

Want to experience this trip from the perspective of Olivier Béart, co-founder of Vojo? Part1Part2Part3

As proof of this, the national federation has set up its infrastructure there. But rest assured that the trials continue to be developed. Personally, we had the chance to meet the patriarch of the Quebec trail blazers, a certain Mr. Balanger, for whom we’ll preserve a certain amount of the mystery surrounding him.

We were lucky enough to see with our own eyes a large part of his work, such as a track he built the week before our arrival. We can't hide the pleasure we felt from blazing a trail in this area. For us, Bromont will always be the resort that perfectly represents MTB in Quebec and the experience we had there.

In conclusion, it can be said that Quebec is characterized by its magnificent hills and mountains, with colors only seen in books. The trails are superb, with a colossal amount of work invested to make them fun, in what is sometimes a rather unfriendly environment. But it is also a place of unique encounters with people who have a real desire to share. It can be said that Quebec knows how to receive visitors.

We all experienced, within our different strengths and limitations in MTB, one of our most beautiful experiences.

We achieved the main mission of our adventure, to enjoy ourselves.

Our Occams made it even better. We are eager to return, to set off on them once again in search of other far-off lands.