When I got the call from Ryan at Monster Energy asking to join him and Eric Palmer (aka Mr Shin) to cover an event in Belgium, I was a bit confused. I quickly scanned my memory for any trace of decent mountain biking trails in Belgium but came up blank. After being told it was for Loosefest, the

from the 2015 event came flooding back. "****, yes!", was my response.

Loosefest is part of the Fest Series. A group of events that seek to push the sport of freeride while still having fun. What it boils down to is the world's best freeriders building and pushing each other to ride huge jumps, with a smile.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 72.jpg

Loosefest is hosted by Belgium mountain bike legend Nico Vink and boasts some of the biggest jumps in the Fest Series (and possible the world). Other renowned freeriders like Graham Agassiz, Andreu Lacondeguy and Kurt Sorge are part of the series and host their own event each year.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 74.jpg
Kiwi Conor McFarlane swapped XC racing for downhill jumps and it seems to have worked out well for him. A standout at Loosefest and one of the few riders to trick the larger jumps.

Nico Vink's Loosefest is hosted in Malmedy, Belgium. An idillic European town, close to the German border, with beautiful old buildings lining the streets and restaurants and bars encircling the town squares.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 50.jpg
Malmedy has dealt with its fair share of violence during its history.


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 52.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 51.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 65.jpg
Our visit coincided with Belgium Independence Day which saw the streets swell with visitors enjoying the national holiday.

Walking around town, there was little indication of the festivities going-on at Ferme Libert Bike Park just 3 kilometres from the town centre. The bike park is small but manages to fit in six trails each running for around a kilometre, a 4X track, a Fest Series jump line, and, very importantly, a rickety bum lift. The park use to serve as a ski slope in winter but in recent years there has been little snow.

Loosefest bike park Eric Palmer.jpeg
The view from the top of Ferme Libert. The Loosefest and downhill jump lines go down the middle while more trails branch off into the forests on either side.

For Loosefest, the bike park becomes a campsite. People come in from all around Europe to witness the Loosefest jumps and enjoy riding the bike park for themselves. Venture into the campsites at night and you're bound to find a good party or two around of the campfires.

Loosefest Campfire Eric Palmer.jpeg

A big problem for events like Loosefest is finding a piece of land to build the gigantic jumps. Most bike parks do not have space for a huge line of jumps, especially for jumps that only a handful of people in the world can ride. Thankfully the owner of Ferme Libert is a fan, and happy to hand over his excavation equipment to Nico Vink.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 92.jpg
Because of high winds and forecasts of rain, Nico Vink (in picture) built this perfect forest jump in just a single night.

The Loosefest course is one of the burliest in the series with the main line featuring three huge 80 foot jumps leading to a 90 foot drop down (the most terrifying mountain bike feature I've stood on top of), finishing with a huge berm leading around to an uphill facing hip jump. If that description makes no sense, check out Nico Vink and Kurt Sorge's course preview video:
Pe

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 23.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 27.jpg
Sam Reynolds warming up on the 'smaller' features in the woods.

Coming straight out of the Cape Town winter, the Belgium summer was a bit of a shock for the African contingent. We happened to arrive in the middle of Le Heat Wave with temperatures averaging in the 30's at night. In summer the wind blows throughout the day in Malmedy which makes jumping the Loosefest line unsafe. Thankfully the wind dropped religiously at 7PM which allowed the riders three and a bit hours before it got too dark to ride. This meant most of the day was either spent recovering from the heat or sessioning the bike park trails in the shaded woods.


Loosefest drop Eric Palmer.jpeg

Loosefest Ryan corner Eric Palmer.jpeg

The day time downtime meant that Ryan and I could drag Mr Shin into the woods to shoot some fresh profile pictures.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 10.jpg
There is no pedalling back to the top with these big bikes - at Ferme Libert the uplift is provided via a old ski bum lift. There is no way to look stylish on one of these.

With the sun hugging the Northern Hemisphere horizon, Eric Palmer was in his element with the late evening light holding out for a couple hours each day (instead of the 20 minutes we usually see back home).

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 81.jpg


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 19.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 20.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 22.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 30.jpg

Motocross rider Tyler Bereman dropped in at Loosefest on his way to race at Zwarte Cross in Netherlands. It was a treat seeing him ride the bike jumps. He even got involved in a train following five downhill bikes down the course. The contrast of the sound of bicycles rattling and humming down the hill with the grumble of the motorbike echoing off the forest was surreal.


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 37.jpgOne

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 38.jpgTwo


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 39.jpgThree (Four ... Five)

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 40.jpgMoto

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 66.jpg
Andreu Lacondeguy hopped on his dirt bike to get a feel for the jumps. Unfortunately he only had time for one evening at Loosefest before having to rush back to Spain.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 84.jpg

The jam session on the jump that Nico built in the woods was something special. Being a (relatively) smaller jump, some of the more skilled fans were able to join in with the Loosefest riders. Away from the gnarliness of the mainline jump, this session optimised the values of the event, sharing the love of being free on a bike.


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 86.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 102.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 100.jpg

The warm and fluffy stuff aside, Loosefest is also about going big and that is exactly what happened. Nico's inspiration for these jumps comes from his motocross experience and at Loosefest he tries to bring this to downhill bikes. A bit different to dirt jumps, the Loosefest line is flatter on the lip to help the riders propel themselves forward over the 80 foot gaps.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 47.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 32.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 110.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 115.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 16.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 13.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 78.jpg
Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 80.jpg

When the rain finally arrived, the Loosefest crew headed for the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps circuit for some karting action.

Loosefest Karting Eric Palmer.jpg

Coming off the hill after a late session often meant wandering around town taking in the night-time sights of Malmedy.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 118.jpg


Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 116.jpg

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 119.jpg


Having spent all our time in Malmedy, we had to squeeze in some big city sights before jumping on our flight home. We headed for the first thing we spotted on the horizon, the big shiny balls of Brussels.

Loosefest 2016 Eric Palmer 120.jpg