Published by Lyn on 25 February 2011
Ian Fehler runs a mountain bike tour company from his base in South Australia. He's an annual visitor to the trails of the Alps.
How many years have you been coming to France to ride?
Since 2006 my wife and I have been coming to the French Alps every summer to ride – our first two years we worked in the Alps for the whole summer running mountain biking holidays, and since then we've been coming back each year for a month to bring a group of mountain bikers from Australia.
Can you tell us about the first time you went mountain biking in France?
We were passing through the ski resort of Courchevel in the summer in 2000 to visit some friends we had worked with the previous winter, and thought we'd hire a few bikes and make the most of the few chairlifts that were open. It was a great experience, although a bit overwhelming at the time as the terrain was much harder on a bike than on a snowboard.
What’s your most vivid memory of France from that trip?
Although mountain biking in ski resorts at that time was still quite new, it was clear how amazing the possibilities for riding in the area where, and how great the network of footpaths and trails could be for mountain biking.
What makes mountain biking in the Alps so special?
2000m descents over 15km on a perfect singletrack! There are some amazing areas with really great trails that have been there for hundreds of years. The best bit is getting away from the popular areas and finding some of the hidden gems that haven't been ridden for ages.
If you could ride anywhere in the Alps, where would you go?
We just love the Samoens valley in the Grand Massif area. The area is pretty new to mountain biking, and there are loads of quiet natural trails to explore, but then just over the hill is the MTB Mecca of Les Gets and Morzine to get some downhill action.
And in the rest of France?
A good friend of ours is hoping to set up a new mountain biking business on the Riviera, so we would have to give that a go!
Why is mountain biking so addictive?
The mix of being able to challenge yourself both physically and mentally, whilst enjoying being outdoors makes it unbeatable. Plus you never know what is around the next corner!
How fit do you need to be to mountain bike in the Alps?
It depends where you go and what type of riding you want – there is something for pretty much anyone. However to make the most of the more technical riding, you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness and technical ability, even if you intend to use a lot of chairlifts to avoid the climbs.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about a mountain biking trip to the Alps?
To make the most of the trip it's definitely worth going with a tour group with a local guide, as this will save a lot of map reading, and make sure you only ride suitable, great trails. At the same time, it's often worth looking at getting off the beaten track to truly experience some of the best trails away from all the crowds.
What about advice for road or other leisure cyclists thinking about trying mountain biking?
Just get out there! Firstly see if you can borrow a bike to get out on the dirt before you buy a bike, and try to save up to get a decent first bike – there's nothing worse than riding on a cheap bike with bad suspension or components as it can really put you off. When you're looking for a first bike, a good quality hardtail (no suspension on the back) is often better than getting a cheap dual-suspension bike which will be much heavier and harder work for the same price. Get some skills training, too – it's far better to learn correct techniques early before you pick up bad habits.
What’s the number one misconception about mountain biking?
That it's all about adrenaline-seeking youths crashing down mountains! The bulk of mountain bikers now tend to be in their thirties to fifties, people who just love getting out into the countryside on a mountain bike whenever they can.
Finally, what three items do you never ride without?
1. A pump and tube. 2. Spare derailleur hanger. 3. $10 note – useful in case of a sidewall split, and even more useful at the pub at the end of the ride to buy a pint!
Ian Fehler and his wife Deborah run Escapegoat Adventures, a mountain bike tour company based in Adelaide, South Australia. They run an annual trip to the Alps for mountain bikers based in Australia. Ian is an occasional contributor to Australian Mountain Bike magazine, a bike maintenance instructor and a current committee member of the South Australian Mountain Bike Association.