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En piste avec une assistance électrique, sur le plus grand espace VTT de France, aux confins du Puy-de-Dôme

On the road with electric assistance, in the largest mountain bike region in France, on the border of the Puys de Dome

On one side is the quiet Ambert Valley, one of the historical cradles of French stationery from the 15th to the 18th centuries. On the other hand, there are the Fries Mountains, where the dairy cows come to graze on the summer pastures during the hot months, in the Hautes Chomes, to produce the Formi Dumbert famous for its blue-veined cheese. And everywhere, fir forests. An ideal environment to launch an attack on hundreds of kilometers of trails that nest there, by mountain bike.

3300 km of tracks and 150 circuits

Aurélien Thizy, a mountain bike coach since 2007, understood this all too well, when he set up his electric bike rental (VTTAE) company, Granit Bike, out of Ambert Station last year. The 36-year-old athlete also offers to go on a trip with tourists, both amateur and experienced.

An activity that has its place because for several months, the Ambert-Crêtes du Forez block has been part of the largest mountain biking region called the French Cycling Federation, under the name “Outside Destination”. Born from the intersection between the expanses of the Bois Noirs block (around Thiers), Ambert-Crêtes du Forez, Vichy Montagne Bourbonnaise and now Roanne Country, this space offers exceptional terrain for mountain bikers: 3,300 km of trails on 150 circuits.

On the grounds of Ambert, Aurélien Thizy invites you to explore part of this vast stadium, particularly with the new, “Heritage” route being offered every Tuesday morning this summer, which includes a visit to Richard-de-Bas, the last Auvergne paper mill still in progress Employment. “The goal, when you go to the tops of Frieze, is to drain the mountain bike battery and do as many kilometers as possible. Today, with this course, we will above all appreciate the riches of the territory without being forced,” the pro calls out to our group of four enthusiasts, including Beginners.

In the morning programme: about fifteen kilometers on a circuit shaded in red. Our coach tries to reassure us:

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Steep slopes but no fatigue

It’s time to get ready. Head-mounted helmet, we put it on both sides of the VTTAE, which weighs 22 kg, which is eight more than conventional equipment. But once you get on the bike, there is hardly any difference with a regular mountain bike. If it is always necessary to change gears with the right hand on the handlebars, the small box allows the left hand to use the electric assist. “If you press +, the power increases and the disc changes color. From green, it changes to blue, then orange and red,” Aurélien explains. Nothing complicated yet. Having taken control of the parking lot at the station, we take the direction of the hillsides.

excellent On their boats, separate lives along the water

As we pass the town of Ambert along a small stream, our guide gives us some technical advice. “To do a VVTAE, you don’t need to be in good physical shape. The assist will help you once you’re up. Put your thumb firmly inside the handlebar, get off the slopes, brake both brakes at the same time, removing the assist.”

Quickly, the first big rock climb appears, after crossing a small wooden bridge. Without battery assistance, half of the group would have done it on foot, bike side by side. But just take off, while pressing the “+”, to see the mountain bike climb as if nothing had happened. “Once you try, it’s hard to get back. The physical effort is there, you always have to pedal, but it’s much softer. It’s perfect to get back on track for those who don’t have any physical activity,” smiles Aurélien.

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Easy access for athletes of all levels

We continue our way on marked paths, in the middle of farms and cows. Before branching out towards the Bois des Chaux, near Saint-Martin-des-Olmes. The path changes the profile, even if the path is not static to “adapt to each group” it defines the screen. The path turns into a path in the middle of the forest. Under the coolness of the trees, the part becomes more technical, with roots and small stones for riding.Thierry Lindauer’s photo

The voltage is more important, but the battery is always there to allow us to move forward without difficulty. “I’m pleasantly surprised, because it’s really a big help, the electric assist,” notes Gayle, one of the participants who was doing her first VTTAE experience. “We can go as a family, together, even on different levels,” she continues.

Once you swallow 300 meters of altitude, the drop arrives. And it’s quite steep: there, the electric assist is useless, so you have to take your time and be careful if you’re uncomfortable, or have fun and go down the slope, if we’re more experienced. “Everyone finds their account, Aurélien Thizy analyzes. We have insane quality in the field. The ground is never dry, which is what enduro mountain biking fans often look for.”

And for the amateurs, we ride in century-old, well-preserved forests, on less rugged terrain than for example the Alps, with access we don’t have anywhere else.

The road continues with a clearer view of the Ambert Valley. A sip of water later, after a quick crossover on RD 996, we plunged back into a softwood forest to reach the heights of Richard-de-Bas Mill. We are greeted by the sound of the Laghat stream, which feeds the plant. After over an hour and a half of riding, we drop off the bikes to start the cultural part of the trail and discover an essential part of the amber heritage.

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Visit the last paper mill in Auvergne

This paper mill is the last mill still operating in Auvergne that manufactures and sells its own paper. The first mention of it dates back to 1463. The living museum was opened in 1943. Since then, more than 4 million visitors have discovered the salvaged white rag baler, the creation of pulp, and the spread of newly created slabs in dryers, on the floor of the wooden building . The current director and grandson of the museum’s founder, Emmanuel Krborsche, mentions the importance of this activity, between the fifteenth century and the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century:

“At that time, Ambert was the Valley of Handmade Paper Silicon. In the three paper valleys that meet around Ambert, there were 150 factories!”

Emmanuel Karborsch (Mill Manager Richard De Bass)

The visit program includes the history of paper and the discovery of the life of paper makers and ancestral production. We end this cultural break with the site shop, while “200 sheets a day” are still made here.

Returning to VTTAE for the last 3 km it takes time to get back in the saddle, but the tourist trip continues on the famous chemin des Papetiers, which allows you to learn more about this ancestral profession. On our way, we also discover the Nawara Mill, a cultural and tourist center completely rehabilitated thanks to the Omrin Business Foundation, which opens this summer. Before descending to the “City of Friends”, passing small pedestrian streets and half-timbered houses.

excellent Chaudefour (Puy-de-Dôme), a mysterious hike in an ice age valley

After four hours of hiking, the feeling is pleasant: no pain or fatigue. And we prided ourselves on crossing trails we wouldn’t have taken before, thanks to the mountain bike’s electric assist, a “miracle product,” according to our coach that day. All while breathing the fresh air of Levrado-Freeze!

Text: Fanny Guinea
Photos: Thierry Lindauer