On two continents, 6,600 kilometers away from their home countries – we found two guys who literally swapped their lives: one in America, the other in Germany. How does biking feel in each of their new worlds? Who finds the best trails? Who drinks the best beer? Hear their stories and follow their adventures as they hit the trails in their new worlds.
You want to ride those places that you see in the magazines? Do you have any idea how to get there or where to go once you are on a trail? I’ve been drooling for years at those epic photo essays but just couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. It turns out all I needed was to ask some friends.
Where do you start?
I like to ride pretty much everything, I just like to be on a bike. I know a lot of trails and I like to explore, but sometimes I prefer to just let someone else take me out for a ride. I’ve read a lot of stories in magazines about epic rides all over the world and many come with maps and GPS tracks so that “anyone” can follow the route. I’m pretty good with directions, but that just isn’t going to work for me. I’ve been out in the Alps and the only sign of a trail is a painted rock. When I’m that far out from home, I need more than just a painted rock to ensure I’m headed in the right direction. Nor do I want to keep pulling out a map every ten minutes or spend my time staring at an GPS device or listen to it scream that I’m STILL going the wrong way. Meeting up with a local can solve all those problems so that you can take in the view and enjoy your ride.
Last winter I took a snowboarding tour with The Rider Social based out of Châtel, France. This was an introduction to splitboarding trip and it was all native English speakers running it. I suppose they may speak French, but that wasn’t a concern of mine. It was a great opportunity for me to spend a week in the mountains and learn the fundamentals of using a splitboard to get around the Portes du Soleil. It turned out that this holiday was a bit of a high-end affair and we stayed in a beautiful Chalet and all of our breakfast and dinners were prepared … not just prepared though, this was gourmet fare. In fact, the food was so good that after a couple days, I was willing to eat anything that was put in front of me which included my nemesis … mushrooms. Somehow, the cooking was so delicious that I actually enjoyed food that I have avoided for my entire life.
I knew I would be back to the region this summer so before I headed to Châtel in July I sent an email to my snowboarding guides, Paul and Rory, requesting someone take me on a high-alpine mountain bike ride. The main purpose of my trip was to ride the bike parks, but I also really wanted to do a nice challenging lift accessed ride up at elevation. I wanted to pedal, but I still wanted to make it primarily a gravity filled event. With no hesitation, both guys referred me to Lloyd Grace.
I contacted Lloyd and he was happy to take me and my friend Axel out for a ride while we were in town. Lloyd has a busy schedule since he runs his own transfer company, Professional Transfers, which primarily brings people to and from Châtel from Geneva. It was easy to find a time to ride since Lloyd seems to be on his bike every day. But of course I knew nothing about him other than what I’d been told my Rory and Paul, so we waited for him at the main gondola in Châtel at the appointed time.
We postponed the ride by a couple hours to let a rare rain shower pass through the area and right on time two guys came sprinting toward the Gondola like it was an uphill Tour de France stage finish. I consider myself to be pretty old now. I’m 41 and riding better than I have at almost any other time in my life. When Lloyd rolled up and introduced himself with a smile, I guessed that he was older than me, but I could also tell by the size of his calves that he was probably going to make Axel and me feel some serious pain. This guy is no nonsense and you can tell just by the way he carries himself. He brought his friend, Hugo, along for the ride and without wasting any time we boarded the gondola.
Right away Lloyd and I noticed that we were both wearing Allsport Dynamics carbon-fiber wrist braces on our left wrists. He was about 8 weeks out from surgery to repair his distal radius on his left arm while I had my surgery 2.5 years ago. It turns out that both of us went over the bars while wearing the same exact wrist watch – Tissot T-touch Titanium – on our left arms and snapped the bones. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but the easy take away is that maybe it isn’t a great idea to wear a watch when you ride … at least not that one.
We transfered from the Gondola to a chairlift for the second half of the ride up and enjoyed the view. The ridgeline along the top of the mountain is laced with trails that can be seen in the distance. The chairlift takes away the majority of the brutal grinding climbs. I know that there are loads of people who think that pedaling up 2,000 meters is a good way to start a day … I’m just not that guy. This chairlifts meant that we could work our way up and down across the mountain ridges and still have gas left in the tank.
What type of bike would you choose?
Upon reaching the top I finally took a look at the bikes we would be riding for the day – and wow, we covered the whole spectrum!
- Me – 27.5″ Liteville 601 (190mm of rear travel and a 180mm Rockshox Lyrik fork)
- Axel – 26″ Specialized Enduro
- Lloyd – 29″ Trek Remedy 9
- Hugo – 29″ Mondraker Podium Pro SL carbon hardtail
… And, GO:
Our ride started with gorgeous views of the high peaks on one side and Lake Geneva on the other. A quick downhill across the first ridge ended with a very steep and rocky climb that was pretty much a goat trail. I’ve never actually done a proper hike with the bike across my shoulders, so Lloyd showed us the proper technique for getting everything in place without opening a vein on our necks with a chainring. With a leisure pace we climbed up the exposed face until it opened up to an even more stunning view. The solitude enhanced the experience. A few minutes to better orient ourselves to the surroundings and some photos and we were off for a classic high-alpine trail that weaved across pastures and through trees. I couldn’t have been happier.
Our first goal of the day was the Alpage du Mouet which is a seasonal cheese farm up at elevation. Our light gourmet French lunch was followed by delicious espresso which is said to be the best in the valley. Maybe it is the elevation or the view that makes the coffee outstanding, either way, it was fantastic. While this location is incredibly remote, I still managed to have another “small world” moment when an American college student heard my accent and came over to ask where I am from. It turns out that his home town of Baltimore, Maryland is only about an hour from where I live in America and he was working at the farm as a summer intern project to learn about organic farming. I guess these sorts of coincidences shouldn’t surprise me anymore but I mistakenly thought that 4,000 thousand miles, a Gondola, a chairlift, and a ribbon of singletrack across the French alps would be enough distance to find a truly remote experience with none of my neighbors from America.
Our ride continued with all of the elements that you see in magazine stories of riding in the Alps. We had singletrack, mountain lakes, steep downhill lines, and grueling climbs. Even though Lloyd was still mid-recovery from his surgery, he pretty smoked us at every stage. I thought I was going to throw up on a couple of the climbs but I mostly kept it together. We were surprisingly fortunate that all of our bikes held together with no machanicals. Lloyd showed no signs of injury or fatigue, Axel didn’t destroy the wheels on my bike, I managed to pedal what is pretty much a downhill bike through the mountains, but Hugo deserved the gold star for the day. I rode my big bike as hard and as fast as I could and somehow I never managed to totally shake Hugo even though he was on a carbon hardtail. He never complained even though he literally bounced down the mountain and clung to his bars with a death-grip, but still he was a warrior.
Its not an adventure until something fails
We actually did have one problem but it wasn’t until we were pedaling along the river back up to the town of Châtel. Hugo’s dropper post decided it no longer wanted to stay in the up position, so it looked like he was riding a dirt jump bike. Lloyd thought about the problem as we rode along then we all pulled aside so that he could do some creative trailside maintenance. Reminiscent of some old Macgyver television shows, lloyd pulled out a hacksaw, some gorilla tape, and of course some zip ties. He built a makeshift splint to keep the dropper post raised and to the surprise of all of us, it worked.
Lloyd needed to get back to work and make a run to Geneva and pick up some customers, so Axel and I split of and headed to the grocery store for some beer. In proper after-ride fashion, we found a nice spot along the river to cool off our legs and get refreshed. We laughed about being exhausted and schooled by Lloyd on his home trails. But we were also stoked about how the day worked out better than we had hoped. We didn’t know the trails, we didn’t know Lloyd, we didn’t really even know where we were, but we managed to have a great ride. Our day proved that sometimes the most important element in finding a good ride is just who you know.
Enjoyed this story? Take a trip to the rest of the series: Introduction | Freiburg | Goodbye Germany | Stromberg | What a Small World it is | My First European Bike Trip | Let the Games Begin! | Getting to Know the Shapers of Châtel | Roanoke – A Diamond in the Rough, Part 1
Words & Photos: Evan Phillips
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