An unapologetic excuse to go and ride hidden singletrack in the Aravis mountains.
Words: James McKnight
With a sizeable clump of hillocks surrounding my home in France – quite a big range also known as the Alps – it was time to get out and explore the ‘proper’ local trail network. That is, the highly difficult to get to ones that can’t be shuttled, pedalled on a road or ski lifted.
For this sort of macho mountain biking I would need partners in crime to ensure absolute stupidity and underestimation (of distances) at all times. And fortunately I knew just the duo: Chris and Travis, aka two thirds of Kingdom Bike, who happened to have a new bike that needed testing (any excuse).
After a frightening week having been caught seriously close to death, stranded deep into a valley in the midst of a surrounding lightning storm – at night, on my own, naturally – it was time to man up and brave the world beyond my front door as the comedy pair arrived from Denmark (where Kingdom is based).
For Travis and Chris’s visit I would revel in the opportunity to show them my local area, learn a little more about it myself and generally act like 12-year-old idiots on the side of a hill for a few days. That is what mountain biking is all about after all: forgetting your woes, having a laugh with friends and exploring far and near. We’d be heading back to that dangerous valley I’d been caught out in, we’d be hiking thousands of metres into the skies where no café latte has ever been seen, and we’d be caning the sh1t out of a load of really bloody good trails. And all along the way we’d be fuelled by local produce – cheese and strong alcohol – and tracing the footsteps of these mountains’ long-lost communities.
My story of the trip is over on OWN’s Journal, but for a little insight from the men from the flat north I asked Travis and Chris to write a little account of their own. This revelation of my inexcusable lack of direction and total miscalculation of distance or height I chose to ‘disinclude’ from the story.
But after much peer pressure and feeling sorry for Travis’s twisted, cheese-attacked intestines, I have finally caved and here are the honest words of Travis and Chris:
As usual, I was promised sunshine, scenic descents and sane amounts of pedaling up. And, as usual, the weather was variable at best, the trails were seldom-ridden walking tracks of doom and 1000m of pedal up was ‘about half way.’
Chris is responsible for dragging me into the world of big wheels, suspension and exotic materials. For a good 15 years, 4130 and a 20" wheel was all I required for a good time. Bikes that could, if needed, be brought back to life with a 6mm Allen key, a couple of spanners and the occasional rock/ledge/bang-stick-of-opportunity. Simpler times with simpler price tags.
So here we are again, somewhere in the French Alps at the intersection of optimism and naivety. The materials are exotic, the tools required are multitude and complex (although I did use an axe to realign my brake) and the price tag on the frame is not far off what I would once have paid for an entire bike. Which is actually kind of the point: I'm currently aboard a frame that exactly resembles the Vendetta LS I normally ride, but it costs about half the price. It's still not the cheapest sled on the mountain by any means, but it just might be the most affordable quality Titanium frame to date.
None of that matters though: I'm too terrified to think about price tags. A quick stop at a mid mountain cafe for some deth-root-descent recovery turns into cheese and charcuterie plates, multiple coffees and generally avoiding the inevitable.
‘Have you actually ridden this trail before James?’
‘Well, I've walked it. Some of it anyway...’ Brilliant. It is now officially a Kingdom trip. And that, ladies and gents, is the way our trip panned out. Long, lost, cold, hungry good times in the Alps on a bike worth thrice its price tag.
At this point in the story Travis was lost to a terrible cheese-related illness – a monstrosity of Alpine fromage twisting his intestines to oblivion due to an out-of-season fondue on the final night. He will thankfully live to tell the tale thanks to an emergency remedy provided by a passing farmer – a concoction of rum, vanilla and cow hooves (OK no hooves were involved). The moral to the story: wine, not water with fondue, and don’t wait until you’re full to stop eating, otherwise it’s too late and a cheese doom is already upon you
It’s 15.30 and, as we're stood on a mountain with the first ever Vendetta X2, I have just been reminded by James that it was almost 10 years ago to the day in Morzine when we decided to make a Titanium hardtail that would really be able to take on the mountains and do justice to the type of trails we were riding. That summer in ‘07 the Vendetta was born.
It’s somewhat fitting that for the X2’s first real outing we’re in the Aravis mountains, just 60km from Morzine, and riding some very similar Alpine singletrack. Travis and I are here on a bit of a jolly thinly disguised as work, to catch up with old friends and ride. We don’t really need to test the geometry or handling on the X2 as its a carbon copy of the much-tested and loved Vendetta LS, but none-the-less it’s always interesting to find out how a new frame design feels on true mountainous singletrack.
One of the things that makes the Vendetta X2 so special for me is that it’s the culmination of a 10-year vision to make a great handling, high spec Titanium hardtail that is affordable for more riders. The reason I wanted to make this is that I think more people should experience the unique ride and handling characteristics that Titanium hardtails have, especially Vendettas, and also simply that I understand all too well how inaccessible the high prices of mountain bikes are to the average rider. We can’t give the things away, but at least we can now offer a Vendetta that we are still proud of and will happily ride ourselves, with a price tag that’s just that bit closer to something we ourselves could afford to buy.
It’s very close to Nirvana riding the outstanding trails in Aravis with two (very) good friends on two almost identical Kingdom Vendettas, sitting at either end of the price spectrum, and seeing them both perform and handle superbly on the super technical trails without any real differences. Quite simply, mission completed.
X2: A great handling, good value Vendetta. Check.
Now I can die.
Head over to OWN to read the full story of Kingdom’s visit to my home mountains.
Here’s to cheese, booze and bikes.