Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Review: Trail Addiction back country riding in Les Arc, France

I've always wanted to ride alpine mountains with open vistas, huge elevation and challenging riding. As a relatively tame mountain biker, it's the stuff of my dreams.

Having made the decision that I was going to tick it off my bucket list, I had a good Google session trying to find the right place. I'm risk-averse and believe in paying-for-what-you-get, so I wanted a decent place to stay, good guides and guaranteed good biking. All the reviews seemingly pointed me to Trail Addiction.

Trail Addiction

The photos on the website really sealed the deal for me. I could imagine myself on the pedals of the riders who were shredding the downhill and traversing the alpine meadows. Sign me up!

The booking process was pretty easy and flexible for payments too. I also emailed Tim, the Ops guys, a few times asking questions and the responses were really helpful (and showed their passion). I had no reservations and booked the Back Country week at the very start of the season.

Totally 'borrowed' from the Trail Addiction website

Back Country week

At the top of one of the up-lifts
Rather than using the up-lifts all week and spending the week descending, which I don't think I, nor my bike, would survive, I opted for a Back Country tour of Les Arc and surrounding areas. The idea of spending the day on the bike up and around the alpine mountains conjured up a sense of adventure and challenge.

And in reality, it was exactly that. We did spend a few days on the up-lifts as they were available, but this offered an opportunity to get relatively familiar with the kind of terrain we would be dealing with and how intense the regular trails are in comparison to my homely-softy-southern UK trail centre routes. I was immediately surprised by the number of rocks on the trails and whilst they would get bigger, more technical and more 'gnarly' later in the week, it was a thrill to be riding something that challenged me straight away.

Van up-lifts FTW!
The duration of the descents was awesome. I won't knock the up-lifts, they provided a serene and comfortable ascent of the mountain and then allowed the group to shred back down refreshed. Whereas I'm used to having to pedal to earn my descents, I don't think I gave each run more than 5% of pedal strokes that I normally would on a regular trail. It's downhill all the way!

The main bulk of the week was spent using vans for uplifting to locations and then either ascending further by bike or dropping down from the drop off location. I don't remember any details of exactly where I was, or even what day it was, but I do remember loving pretty much every trail. I was easily pushing the limit of my capabilities and familiarity with technical terrain. I also hadn't realised quite so much how steep descents affect my bike set-up. For example, I usually run my dropper to allow me to sit in full 'XC-mode' when needed, but for these trails, the post was slammed and the dropper spent most of its time slammed too.

I can't really do the trails justice by describing them, but suffice to say it was like Bike Park Wales or that long descents at Afan, but harder, longer and with more rocks. Lots of rocks. If you love the speed of BPW but want more natural terrain, then you will love Les Arc.

At the Hut

Hut trip

Trail Addiction offer an additional option where you get to stay in a remote hut for an extra £95. It includes an extra few hours of riding, a great evening meal and some awesome views. However, when we heard that the group who weren't going on the hut-trip, and therefore hadn't paid the £95, had gone to the hut the day before we were going, the collective group was a little cheesed off. It didn't quite make sense.

View from the Hut
And I guess this shows one of the fundamental issues I experienced with Trail Addiction, the lack of communication. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it could be that this was the first week of the season and every one was getting back into their roles. It also wasn't helpful that Trail Addiction were host to a bunch of journalists looking at the new Shimano XT 11 speed stuff; and then on top of that too they were also out marking for the Enduro 2 event that they were putting on... But regardless, I'm a paying customer and at times it felt like we could have been communicated with more.  There was no end of confusion around the hut-trip. Plus each day we had no idea what was going to happen and I never quite got the sense of a really fluid business. For example, they ran out of soft drinks on the Tuesday and we didn't get more until the Friday. I don't drink beer, so this was pretty annoying. It wouldn't stop me from not going again, but I'd definitely take the opportunity to ask as many questions up front as possible and get extra supplies any time I went near a supermarket.


I stayed in a room shared with 3 other guys. The room was very spacious and had a decent sized en-suite. The cleaning service was pretty basic and I only had the one towel for the week, but otherwise no complaints. Well, apart from the flies. If you go in June, expect loads of the buggers.

Food was great, in fact it was so much better than I would have expected at a decent hotel. The chef had prepared delicious salads to start, a tasty main and gob-smackingly awesome desserts. The only issue we faced was that the portions were pretty meagre at the start of the week. Discussions were had and the sizes improved pretty quickly. Lunch was a baguette, fruit, biscuit and some chocolate. All fine and all devoured.

Bike and kit

I brought my regular trail bike, a Cannondale 2013 Trigger 1. I upgraded the wheels to Flow rims and Chris King hubs for that added sense of durability and robustness, but so long as your wheels are straight and strong, even a regular set of trail wheels would have been fine.

I had XT brakes on my bike and went there with a used set of pads on and, whilst I brought 4 spare sets of pads just in case, I left with the same set and with plenty of life left in them. I did ding my rotor, so would definitely take a spare next time.

I wish I had brought a quick release seat-clamp, and that's with a dropper post too. There are plenty of up hill trails that require your seat to be as high as you can comfortably go. There are even hike-a-bike sections too, but few and far between.

I rode on XT trail SPDs as that's what I'm used to, but the group was roughly a 50/50 split between flats and clipless.

Hans Dampf certainly seemed to be de rigueur for tyre choice. I used those too and loved them. If I went again, I'd put a Magic Mary up front for even better control at the expense of rolling speed.

I wore baggy shorts, tech jerseys and padded shorts. The weather is changeable and at times I had my waterproof jacket on and on some cold mornings two jerseys on as well. The afternoons were warm enough to get away with a single layer. Oh and bring knee pads. Elbow pads were rare, but bring them if you have 'em.

No one wore goggles that I saw. It was all sunglasses.

Also, don't go 'full euro' either. I kid you not, I saw a group of guys on downhill bikes, armoured up to the hilt and wearing full face helmets and goggles, but... wearing lyrca shorts. Oh heck. It was possibly the most ridiculous thing I've seen on a trail.

The views never got old


You can never be sure what kind of people you'll meet, but I have to say that this was one of the best groups of random strangers I've encountered. Overall great people, with a few nuts rolled in for good measure.


A great mix and everyone was genuine and pretty nice. There are a few who comes across as mad hatters, but getting to know them during the week was a fun experience and they were great guys; eclectic choice of music and driving skills aside...

Getting there

I flew into Geneva via British Airways (there's a decent lounge in the airport) and took the £45 transfer (each way) from Trail Addiction. It was easy, no fuss and worth the money. I was on holiday and didn't want to faff with getting my own transport or relying on taxis.

Would I go again?

Sure I would. They have another place called 'Destination X' which offers similar back-country riding, but more technically challenging. I'd even be tempted to go back and do the same holiday because it was that good. Apart from a few trails on day 1, we didn't ride the same trail twice! - I want to go back and session some of the trails to get better!

The cheek of the Irish!

Top 10 recommendations for a holiday with Trail Addiction

I'll leave you with the top 10 lessons that I learned from my stay and hope they're good recommendations for your holiday.
  1. Take the airport transfers Trail Addiction offer; it's the easy choice
  2. Be honest about your skill level on the booking forms
  3. Set your bike up for descending; big front tyre, tubeless, slammed post
  4. Bring a quick release seat clamp if you need to raise your post / dropper for the hill riding
  5. Don't forget your bladder (you'll drink a lot during the hot days)
  6. Bring extra snack food for in-between meals
  7. Bring swim shorts for the hot tub
  8. Bring a euro plug adapter for charging your tech
  9. Get bike insurance (and the good stuff too!); we had two hospital visits in the week
  10. Bring a positive give-it-a-go attitude

Photos from the week

Could this BE any more Alpine?
Garmin traces for the nerds

Here are all my Garmin traces from the week. I kept forgetting to start my watch, so they're quite erratic, but it gives you a sense of the locations and elevation.