To celebrate its 10th birthday Evoc invited us out to the Val d’Allos in beautiful Haute Provence region of France for a mini adventure.
Based in the pretty mountain village of Villars-Colmars we were introduced to Holger Feist (Evoc’s co-founder) and our guide for our two days of riding, former multiple World DH Champion and bona-fide MTB legend, Sabrina Jonnier.
The mini adventure
We were invited to try out the Neo over the next couple of days as we ventured out onto the autumnal Alpine trails. A few years ago Holger had ridden the route of the Trans Verdon, a 260km route that runs from the source of the Verdon river atop the Col d’Allos down to Manosque. It was the quality of the trails and the scenery that inspired Evoc to return here for this trip.
Retracing Holger’s tyre tracks from the top of the Col d’Allos we could totally understand why he was so keen to return. Every turn in the trail, every rise that we crested revealed another jaw-dropping view, and another excuse for snapper Manfred to get his camera out. From stunning ridgeline singletrack with panoramic 360° views we descended down into the most picture postcard, russet-toned forest, where the trail became less rocky and more sinuous. Not that I saw much of it as I tried gamely to hang onto the back wheel of Jonnier. It’s not every day you get to ride with a World Champion and I was determined to make the most of it! Switchback after switchback allowed for plenty of tight turn practice, using Jonnier’s line as a guide to the angle of the upcoming corner, usually followed by a sprint out of the turn as I tried to keep close to the no-doubt cruising racer.
Eventually we made it down to a restaurant in the village of Allos, our lunch stop. Full bellies made the next road climb less than pleasant but soon enough we were back off road and pointing downhill. More elbows out racer-chasing ensued as be dashed through the forest once more before we ended up at the beautiful fortified village of Colmars, from which it was a cruise back to the hotel and time for a well-earned beer.
Our second day was to be slightly different to our first, Sabrina had a monster 37km loop high up in the mountains to really test us. With our Neos stuffed with full bladders, extra layers and generous packed lunches we jumped in the shuttle vans for the transfer part way up the first climb, saving us 600m of vertical road slog. From the drop off point it was off road all the way, with well over another vertical kilometre of climbing still to go. The weather Gods had been good to us so far and for much of the morning the sun would occasionally pop out from behind the light cloud, illuminating the trees and their beautiful autumnal hues.
After a while we stopped at a stunning viewpoint to regroup. Holger and fellow Evoc rider Wolfie pulled stoves from their packs and brewed a rejuvenating coffee for the riders. Spirits lifted we set of again, but it was to be shortlived as it was then that the rain started to fall. On we climbed, the trail gradually becoming less forested and more open. With the height gained the wind increased and the temperature dropped, and the rain persisted. Our destination was to be lunch at a series of stunning mountain lakes, the Lacs de Lignin, high up at the head of the valley. At 2,270m it would be the end of the climb and the start of a long, long descent. Sadly the inclement weather meant lunch was quickly grabbed behind a tree, the best shelter we could find from the wind. We pressed on, at least this gave us a chance to use the Neo’s rain cover!
The Lacs de Lignin were indeed spectacular but we were cold and tired so we didn’t hang around. Getting over the final saddle required a bit of a push and a carry but finally we were at the top and it was all downhill from here!
Regrouping again behind the only trees big enough to shelter 15 riders Holger brewed up another coffee. Man, that tasted good!
The descent took us quickly back into forest where my hands slowly regained some feeling. Trails had become slick with the rainfall and it took all my effort to not try out the impact absorbing qualities of the AirShield back protector. The trail went from spectacular bench-cut cliff riding (not for the faint-hearted!), to flat-out rocky charging, a group of us nose-to-tail, clinging onto Sabrina’s coat tails as we flew down the valley side. All too soon it was over and we had reached the valley floor. We were buzzing from the descent, it had a bit of everything, and the helter-skelter charge down, blindly following the wheels of the rider in front had us all high-fiving and recounting the many close calls we’d had. It had been a properly hard day on the bike, we had climbed over 1,200m, descended nearly 1,750m and if that wasn’t hard enough the weather refused to play ball. We’d earned our beers that night.
But what of the Neo? Well, the best thing you can say about any piece of equipment is that you don’t notice it doing its job and I can say that about the Neo. It was capacious, comfortable and super-stable. A full review will appear in the magazine next year and I look forward to a few more big days out like these so I can test it further.
The new EVOC Neo
We were also introduced to the Neo, an all-new 16-litre backpack featuring their latest back protector, the AirShield. Evoc have always been an advocator of protective back packs and a lot of work has gone into this new protector.
The external lattice structure follows the contours of your back and works in a wide range of temperatures (-20 to 40°). Being external gives exceptional ventilation despite the closeness of the pack to your back. Rubber grip pads sit against your back to keep the pack in place. Evoc borrowed from the medical industry with its Airo-Flex material used for the hip strap, a material that is superlight, breathable and slightly stretchy for maximum comfort. The Neo features the usual Evoc attention to detail and high quality materials with well thought out pockets, a rain cover, soft-lined glasses pouch, the list goes on, and is set to cost £229.99 when it goes on sale next March.