DJI_0844.jpg

Foto Story

  • THE EVOLUTION OF A BIKE PARK

    SITTING NEXT TO CRANKWORX AND RAMPAGE RIDERS ON THE SHUTTLE.

     Words & Photos Hoshi Yoshida 

Sitting next to Crankworx and Rampage riders on the shuttle, looking out across a unique landscape carved by trails from double-black to blue. Seven slopes in total. It’s most likely Whistler or Gravity Park. Right? Wrong! We are in Europe, more precisely we are in France at the EVO Bike Park in Digne-les-Bains.

In 2015, three bike friends from Digne-les-Bains, Romain Baghe (27), Hugo Schoonheere (28) and Thomas di Giovanni (30) faced a decision: to build a bike park or not? Up to this point, they’d been shoveling their jumps and lines on a leased property in the nearby mountains.

From left to right: Hugo Schoonheere, Thomas di Giovanni und Romain Baghe.

To build or not to build?
They built the tracks mainly for themselves, tailored to the level of a passionate downhiller and Crankworx slopestyler. But for a bike park to be successful, it has to offer trails to all types of riders, from beginners to pros and ideally, everything else in between. Well, they went for it, and in 2015 launched a crowdfunding
campaign to raise funds for the construction of a blue beginner and a red advanced trail.
To grab people’s attention from the video, they built the Double Black Mamba, a track with stonking jumps and shark fins, (steep adjacent berms running off into jumps). They added a few worldclass
freeriders into the mix, wonderful golden sunsets and amazingly stylish riding. The video became an instant hit. The Crowdfunding campaign raised €20,000, enough to pay for the building equipment with some left over for an old army truck for shuttling. SR SUNTOUR is delighted to have been supporting the park since its early days and proud to be part of the EVO family.
In no time at all, three biker friends had become entrepreneurs. The thread tying these three differing characters together is of course, the bike. It’s what brought them together in the first place.
Without it, they probably wouldn’t have met. Romain Baghe is the quiet, reserved type, keeping himself to himself, preferring to let his riding and trail-building do the talking. Drawing on his international DH race experience, Hugo Schoonheere is responsible for the natural, technically demanding tracks, similar to
the World Cup routes in Val di Sole and Champéry. Thomas di Giovanni completes the intriguing trio. A qualified architect and more of a professor than a freerider. He is Evo Bike Park’s photographer
and film-maker, responsible for media portrayal and PR. Of course he’s an ambitious rider himself and knows exactly what makes a great video and photo. Three experts in their own fields and one team when it comes to track design, construction and promotion.

What’s in a name?
In 2016, the EVO Bike Park opened its doors for the first time, offering four trails - Blue, Red, Black and the Double Black Mamba. The concept of evolution is ever present in the philosophy of the park, not just present in its name. “Built by riders for riders” is the real deal here. Over the past few years, three further
trails have been added, ensuring that riders are able to evolve with the trails. Consequently, the Evo Bike Park has caught the attention and respect of riders from the relative beginner to the international pro-elite. The challenge was to build slopes which are fun for beginners and advanced alike. Every autumn, as the season comes to a close, the park plays host to a freeride jam session. For this year, the three guys have been dropping hints about a triple black jump line, an evolutionary step in the Fest Series, plus a small but exclusive field of elite riders signaling the arrival of Olympic level riding at the Evo Bike Park.

The road-gap at the end of the chainsaw run feels like the finishing jump at a World Cup. Hugo's favourite track.

What makes the EVO Bike Park so unique?

A few things really. It’s a bike park by bikers, for bikers, whichmeans track maintenance is a high priority. When you’re ridingthem, almost all of the routes feel like they’ve just been built,pristine. There are no rattling braking bumps or pot-holed anchorcurves. On the blue slopes you could also ride with a hardtail. The “Chainsaw” Downhill course, however, as natural ascan be; ideal for World Cup riders. Another difference is that inaddition to the usual route signs you can also see right from thestart what to expect. If you don’t trust the first three jumps onthe Double Black Mamba, then you should switch to a simpler route. You want to show people in advance, and offer an alternativeride rather than despairing halfway through. Having widelandings general gives you the chance to roll-out if something goes wrong. Another feature is that the pros use the beginner lines to get creative. It’s a result of rider built trails.
The EVO Bike Park borders the famous “Terres Noires”, BlackEarth. Both the downhill track and “Savage Train” (new blue line) thread their ways through this extraordinary landscape. It feelslike you are in a freeride video miles from civilization. The locationof the park, deep in the south of the French Alps, means we have a very long season (April – Nov). Another difference between EVO and other parks. Then in the ‘off’ season, we get stuck into the trail building. Finally, the size of the park makes a difference. With a maximum shuttle capacity of 60 people with bikes, the trails and infrastructure is manageable, the life of the park is sustainable. The tracks aren’t crowded and the shuttle times matches the average lap time, with a small breather.

How else can you tell it’s a really good bike park?
It’s when you find yourself sharing the shuttle with Crankworx Slopestyle and Rampage riders talking about the sick lines on the last run,(even if you did not ride the same route).

Does a bike park have to be huge?
No, absolutely not. It must manageable. We’ve got 250 meters in altitude, seven runs, two of which are blue, two red, two black and one double black with shuttle trips every 30 minutes. It’s possible to fit in 14 runs, but then you’re finished, seriously finished. If your aim is to keep on raising the bar, you're options previously were Whistler or the Coast Gravity Park in Canada.
Since 2016 however, the EVO Bike Park has been steadily evolving, whilst keeping to the original philosophy of a rider led project. There is something for every rider’s evolvement at the EVO Bike Park, Digne-les-Bains, France. Allez! On y va!

»It feels like you are in a freeride video miles from civilization.«