SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Riding With Firem VS

Posted: Monday, 17 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The day didn't start that well, I had to return Wilf's skis to the hire shop in Cluses and just about every numpty in France had arranged to hold me up. Overnight e-mail had arrived from Serge Rachel of Firem, that he would take time to skibike with me at Grand Bornand. I left a voicemail on the number he had given me and focused on the menial chores of the day.

I arrived at Grand Bornand just after 12 and expected that Serge would be waiting for me impatiently at Reves d'Hiver, the skibike hire shop. As luck would have it, somehow the voicemail had got lost, but the e-mail had only just arrived. So he rang to let me know that he would be a bit late arriving around 1:30 pm. What a result!...time for a nice easy warm up then. That meant straight on to the charming L'Abondance run to get everything working in harmony.
I then utilised the Les Fougeres traverse to get me over to Reves d'Hiver and ready for my session. Serge was nowhere to be seen, so I left my skibike there and had one quick run down Le Bois Joli in footskis alone, (think cross training).

By the time I returned, Serge had arrived, so I abandoned my skibike and ski boots and footskis at Reves d'Hiver, who were also kind enough to loan me some snowboarder boots.

They are so comfortable, just like a super high tech version of the tartan booties your gran used to wear in cold weather.

With comfy and safe footwear installed, I was assigned the top of the range Firem VS Evolution skibike and we headed for the Le Chatelet chairlift. This allows access to the Le Lac traverse leading to the expert terrain available from the Le Maroly chairlift. Coming off a chairlift "peggers" have to start running with their bike to avoid being mown down by the chair and the next wave of snow users. It's not rocket science and you adapt pretty quickly.

The excellent and unique Firem system of braking removes all fear and apprehension for a novice; but as they are keen to point out, works equally well for expert skibikers too.

Apparently they tried 40 other iterations before settling on the current design, which leaves a characteristic vertical plume of snow in your wake when in use, yet doesn't seem to destroy the piste.
The ride is smooth as a Cadillac, with long travel front forks and a very slack head tube angle, it felt strong, stately and reassuring, yet still hauntingly familiar to my own humble ride when on the pegs.
The build quality is exceptional, similar to a high end downhill mountain bike, Firem produce custom engineering fabrications in stainless steel and this expertise is evident in the many elegantly machined components.

I had a nice easy first run, I trusted the brakes and only came off once, but emerged totally unscathed and laughing about it. Tip... don't put your feet down till you've stopped!

Next we were on to steeper and much icier terrain; in the world of the pegger when it goes wrong, things happen very quickly...shit this is all happening too time to think...bollocks, face plant x 2. As I put myself back together, Serge patiently explained that you don't try to turn on icy sections, don't carve, just follow the fall line and trust the brakes and the skibike....Of course this is all totally counter intuitive for Brenter trained riders...Once again no damage was done to me, nor the indestructible Firem skibike and the lesson was quickly learned.

Continuing on to the bottom of the hill, I was now able to accelerate to blistering speeds without further mishap.

Then the gauntlet was thrown down...I would abandon the supple Cadillac ride of the sturdy Firem VS and return to my skibike and go head to head to see which was fastest.
Two riders, both around the same age, both ex skiers with blown knees, both in pursuits of the same dazzling blue and white Alpine dream; from backgrounds as different as English Breakfast with strong cup of Tea and a Croissant with Coffee and a Gauloise.
Who could be fastest downhill? the English AC Cobra with its bizarre combination of American made adapters, thrifty home-made skibike engineering and sundry off the shelf components or the French Renault Alpine; all Gallic bespoke engineering incorporating state of the art high tech carbon fibre composites and titanium.
Would the pegger show up the bobber or vice versa?

For me this represented the pinnacle of around 6 weeks skibiking, 2 years of research, development and networking; but for Serge it was just another day at the office. I considered it to be an Alpine test with a heritage that could be traced back to eccentric Brits heading down the hill on their drinks trays or riding around on carved skis with cable bindings and bamboo poles whilst being pelted with rocks and snowballs by the locals.

The moment of truth had arrived, on almost empty pistes at 4 in the afternoon the trials began...

I innocently suggested the Les Tetras run for the first round; I knew from previous visits that this would be icy and fast, a roller coaster ride of bumps and twists. I calculated that Serge would have to back off on this run, he couldn't make turns for control and would have to ride the brakes the whole way. I threw myself down the first section like a loon, I may even have taken off at one point, it was all too quick, blimey perhaps I was going to win this. I looked around, where was Serge?...bugger, he was right alongside and came sailing past at an improbable speed and overtook me by the junction with Piste 2000.
I was just about able to keep a grip on the handle bars, but he was miles ahead and still accelerating.

Next he opted for the easy blue of Les Airelles, I have done this run many times now, but never like this. We toyed with each other on the traverse, then it was hell for leather to the bottom. I could see when he was applying his brakes by the plume of snow and tried to get ahead by going straight down the fall line in those brief moments. Whatever advantage I gained, would then leave me needing to throw a few quick turns to regain some stability and he would be off in front again. He was at the lift first yet again, although I noticed that he had to get the Kleenex out for his watering eyes and nose.

I had already lost, but that wasn't going to make me give up, roll over and admit defeat. Last was the best red run on available, Les Chardon Blancs, a motorway made for skibikers.
Off we went, I can't recall much about the next 5 minutes, watching the video scares me enough! Suffice to say that no innocent parties were hurt, I somehow retained my composure, dignity and footskis but Serge was still at the chairlift first.

It was the end to the perfect day, I could have used the lifts for at least another half hour on this perfect late afternoon, but what would be the point? How could any run compare to that?

It was time for a gentlemanly hand shake and as Serge sagely pointed out, it is each to their own style of skibiking and the most important thing is to enjoy the experience.

Firem offer three models for sale:
- vs junior - 930 €
- vs evolution - 980 €
- vs carbon 3450 €

I was able to test the vs carbon and Serge was riding his personal custom model.

Hire is available from Reves d'Hiver +33 (0)4 50 09 49 07 and costs around 25 € for a half day, lift pass not included.

Le Grand Bornand are offering a selection of lifts for use by skibikers which give access to a large part of the resort on an experimental basis. This includes both "pegger" and "bobber" styles of skibikng. If it is successful they may be expanding the area next season and offer mountain biking in the summer months too. It is just over 1 hour from Geneva by car and has a pleasant, lively, yet relatively unspoiled Savoyard charm about the place.
It is very popular with families and has ESF tuition facilities for skiers. It would appear to be favoured mainly by locals and visiting French nationals, English and Germans voices are relatively uncommon; for this reason you may find it easier if you can ask for your basic needs in French. Avoid weekends and public holidays as it can become quite crowded, at other times you will have the place to yourself.