The Birthplace of Quebec Mountain Biking

Riding the French-Canadian singletrack of Coaticook and East Hereford.

Photos by Bear Cieri
Words by Vince Hempsall

Rolling hills stretch out before us like waves on a green sea. Forests of jack pine and spruce carpet the hillsides and ordered rows of balsam fir line the Christmas tree plantations in the tiny valley town of East Hereford. We were paused on a loamy singletrack above one of the most lush fern gullies I'd ever seen, and, everywhere I looked, moose and deer tracks mar the dirt.

The riding, however, started the day before on the Parc de la Gorge trail system, just a 20-minute drive away near the quaint town of Coaticook. This trail system offers 12 miles of tight, twisty singletrack with short, steep ascents. Our favorites that day were The Marmot trail (arguably the first bench-cut in Quebec, completed over 20 years ago) and The Archer trail, a fast, flowy ride through beautiful fern glades that begs to be ridden at Mach speeds.

After the ride, we stopped in downtown Coaticook for some of the best eats this side of France. The downtown core looks like Disneyland's Main Street, with its charming storefronts and narrow streets, except no-one's hawking $28 Goofy hats. Instead you'll find homemade ice cream and cheese curds (the secret ingredient in the famous Quebecois dish poutine) at The Laiterie de Coaticook and delicious craft beer at the Ailleurs Resto-Bar (the Other Place).

Lets get back to the rolling hills of East Hereford. We were less than 120 miles from Montreal, Canada's second largest city, but I couldn't help think this is as backcountry as it gets for the 49th parallel. This is why the mountain bike trails here are called the "Circuits Frontieres." They snake along the side of Mt. Hereford, coming to within a mile of the New Hampshire state line and, like most frontier towns, East Hereford has a rich history of bootlegging. It's also where mountain biking was born in Quebec. Around the same time Gary Fisher was clunking his way down California's Mount Tam in the '80s, a local by the name of Jean D'Avignon was pedaling his modified cruiser between the many logging roads on the hills around East Hereford and in the nearby town of Coaticook (from yesterday's ride).

We rode 15 of the 21 trails that day and encountered everything from root-riddled, cross-country singletrack and technical ascents to machined pump tracks and gnarly downhills like Maitrise (the Master), which starts with a rock roll down to an eight-foot wooden banked berm.

Circuits Frontieres encompasses 40 miles of singletrack. Despite the fact the riding is of such high quality and over four million people live within a two-hour drive, you'll probably encounter more wildlife than riders on these trails. In fact, the day we visited, David Lauzon, President of the Quebec Trail Association, told a great story of how he once drafted behind three galloping moose while on Chainon-Manquant (Missing Link).