Category Archives: Mountain Biking

Epic rides

On Friday I headed to Whistler with Epic Rides. I’d been meaning to try this company on my next solo outing, since at $35 it’s considerably cheaper than round trip gas. It was an excellent service – prompt, comfortable and quick, with no extra charge for bringing the bike. I do enjoy the early morning drives with the tunes cranked and a leisurely breakfast stop at Galileo, but this was far more cost effective.

And then: dust and dirt and sunshine and sweat and a bike that flies. More speed, more air, the bike easily clearing big doubles and touching down on the other side like I’d never left the ground at all. Huge berms and staggering views in the Garbo zone. It’s all about being in the air on this bike, looking for every opportunity to get the wheels off the ground and go higher, faster, longer. It’s a joyride from the first moment to the last.

It’s funny that I fell in love with Whistler in the summer right after I fell out of love with it in the winter. The ski resort holds no appeal for me anymore, except as a means of accessing the backcountry. The crowding and gouging is too much. But the bike park? It’s still not that cheap, but it’s cheaper; and it’s not that crowded in comparison. Not at all. And for someone like me, who’s still learning, the opportunity to bang out laps and just keep working, working, working on skills is pretty great. The only thing I miss is the uphill.

Heart of Darkness, Whistler

More, now, again

Monday: a hot morning on Fromme knocking out laps on the lower mountain and checking out the new Expresso. I surprised myself by being able to ride about 90% of it; obviously it’s no longer an old-school Shore black, although it retains a few stunts. There were more technical spots than I was expecting based on descriptions I’d heard, but nothing unmanageable and overall it was a lot of fun.

ExpressoWednesday: an after-work Squamish mission. Leaving downtown at 5pm gets us to the Ring Creek FSR in time for two solid laps. Trying for a third was a mistake; in the gathering darkness I missed seeing the branch that snagged my handlebars and whipped them around as I rode onto the final stretch of Pseudotsuga. My elbow and knee pads did their job but the boulder I landed on bruised everything in between. Fortunately it was a beautiful night and the riding more than made up for the tumble. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the views on the climb to Half Nelson.

Ring Creek FSRFriday: day off and bike park! The weeks of cloudless skies have taken a bit of a toll on some of the trails, with B-Line and Heart of Darkness looking particularly beat up. Fortunately the Flatline proved up to the task of handling the washboards, and the lower half of Crank It Up was in much better shape. It was a day of heat and dust and sweat and airtime, and I’m fairly sure I didn’t stop grinning all the way home.

Bike park friendsI can’t get enough of this right now. I’m trying to give myself a day off to let the bruises from my fall on Wednesday recover a bit, but all I want is to be out riding.

Enter the Flatline

Last Friday I took the day off and headed back to the Whistler Bike Park to practice my downhill skills. I’d decided that it would be fun to rent a proper freeride bike for the day, and see how much difference it made to the experience.

Flatline

8 inches of front and rear travel and a double crown fork changed the game completely. I found myself charging over things I would have balked at before, and rattling over washboard entrances to berms at full speed. And jumps! This bike *loved* the jumps. It leapt into the air at the slightest opportunity, and landings – even the ones where I overshot or fell short and came down flat – felt cushioned and soft.

There was no way I was giving that experience up. As soon as I realised the bike shop had the same model of bike for sale at a huge discount (last year’s model, identical except for the paint job) financial restraint was forgotten. I loaded the Flatline onto the back of my truck with a grin a mile wide.

Flatline at Whistler

And so now I own a park bike. I realise I’ll probably only use this bike a dozen times a year, if that. But I have absolutely no regrets. How could I? If Friday was anything to go by, the days I spend on the Flatline will be the most ridiculously fun of all.

Heating up

Thursday night in the BC heat wave. An after work Squamish mission with the bikes. A sweaty, lung-searing climb up the endless switchbacks of the legacy trail; an ungainly plunge interspersed with off-the-bike moments down Angry Midget; another broiling climb back up the logging road to Psuedotsuga; happy, hollering turns all the way down to the parking lot.

Ring Creek FSR

It was so much fun that I came back the next day to do it again, this time in baking 32 degree heat in the middle of the day. The legacy climb was even hotter than before, and I was grateful to descend to Half Nelson where the wind of my passage cooled me as I whipped through the trees and over jumps.

Collapse in the shade

The climb back up the fire road was intense, with pockets of shade providing painfully brief relief from the sun. Fortunately the second lap on Half Neson made it all worthwhile. This trail just keeps getting more and more fun as I drop time and gain speed and air on each lap. This time I sped over the road and down Another Man’s Gold, a rolling, loamy trail that took me all the way down the side of the valley to Ring Creek, where I went for a much needed cool down.

Ring CreekAfterwards I’d planned to trundle along the final stretch of the Ring Creek Rip and then take the access road to the car, but after the cold plunge I felt a lot better and I ended up riding back up to Pseudotsuga for a final run. In total I managed 2,400m of elevation gain over 33km on the two hottest days of the year so far, which left me exhausted but incredibly happy. The Half Nelson addiction shows no signs of letting up yet.

Not according to plan

A couple of weeks ago my friend C and I had intended to spend the weekend participating in our first 24 hour race. But life intervened as it sometimes does, so instead she flew to Vancouver and I promised we’d spend as much of her visit on the trails as possible to make up for the change of plan.

Cass in Squamish

We hooked her up with a little full suspension ETSX-70 from the wonderful West Point Cycles, and after a getting-to-know-the-bike afternoon in Pacific Spirit Park, headed out to Squamish. I’d shown her a video of Half Nelson and we’d decided to make that our first goal. It mostly went very well, minus one slight mishap.

To give C credit, she dusted herself off and rode out the rest of the trail. The next day she took a break to rest her shoulder, which had gotten pretty banged up in the close encounter with the tree, and I went for a quick spin on the Test of Metal course with my ski buddy C and his wife.

Fifty Shades of GreenThe following day C and I headed for the Whistler bike park. It was my first time in the bike park too, and we had an absolute blast. We mostly rode easy greens in the morning in deference to her shoulder, which was still not feeling great, then moved on to some fun blues and small jump lines in the afternoon. I was also able to convert all of my unused Edge card days to bike park tickets, so there will be much more of this to come.

EZ Does ItAll in all we had an excellent few days, and it was great to give C a small glimpse into the world of west coast trail riding. Hopefully she’ll be back in spite of the close encounter with the tree.

Half Nelson

The biking has been very fine lately. More dirt jumps, a Monday night mission to Alice Lake to holler our way down the newly reconfigured Rob’s Corners and Cliff’s Corners, lots of late evening detours through Stanley Park to try out new skills on the singletrack.

Alice Lake trails

And then there was the Sunday afternoon when we took a chance on the weather and set out on the Ring Creek side of Squamish on a mission to find Half Nelson. It was a trail that had assumed slightly mythic status from the various videos and photos that I’d seen, and previous unsuccessful scouting missions.

This time we did manage to find it, although we did it the hard way: climbing the entire legacy trail (a fantastic fitness ride with great views, though also a sad showcase of my lack of switchback skills) and then descending back down to the trailhead. Two bikers we ran into there assured us that we were in for the ride of a lifetime, “better than A-Line.”

Half Nelson trailhead

They weren’t kidding. What followed was 3km of steep, huge berms and jumps that curved down through the forest in one massive, flowing line. It was by far the most fun trail I’ve ever ridden; in spite of the size of some of the features it flowed through so smoothly that not much in the way of speed control was necessary. When we tumbled back out onto the road at the end we were both grinning like maniacs and all I wanted to do was go back and ride it again and again.

On a trail like that I almost – almost – didn’t miss the snow quite as much.

Balance

It’s true that things have been mostly focused on work recently. I have a new job to learn, I’m working much longer hours, and I’m fully committed to doing whatever I need to do make this a success for the fantastic team I’m working with. But having less time to get out means that I have to be more strategic, more focused, more careful with the hours that I do have. Every minute has to count.

Richard Juryn

With that in mind, it’s been a fantastic start to a new summer of trail riding. I’ve been hunting down new singletrack in Stanley Park, hammering out technical downhill laps on Lower Seymour, hitting bridges and skinnies at SFU, and riding through cloud and light on a push up Fromme that felt strangely effortless on the 29er.

Ghost ride on Fromme

Last night I felt like doing something different, so I pedaled out to the Burnaby skills park after work and rode dirt jumps for three hours straight. I went from barely getting air on the greens at the start of the evening to comfortably clearing the blue line by the end. It was a ridiculous amount of fun; and to my surprise, it was easy. That I really didn’t expect. Learning technical skills is a constant challenge; being in the air feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Burnaby bike skills park

But my mind keeps drifting back to rock and ice and skis. After all, dirt season never really stopped this year. On the winter mornings when avalanche ratings kept us away from the mountains, I was out skidding off icy roots on frozen trails. There’s still snow in the high passes, and a big storm just swept through and pushed the freezing level right back to 1700m. I’m not sure if winter’s really over; I think it’s just higher up.

Wrapping up the cycling season

I’ve had some serious fun on the bike during the past few weeks. I’ve been riding the Fromme fire road up to Grouse a lot, sometimes hitting a trail or two on the way back and sometimes just ripping as fast as I possibly can over the loose gravel and bumps. I love this ride. It’s such a glorious slog on the way up, and so much fun whichever way you come down. The light there is never the same twice.

Light on FrommeB and I went back to Alice Lake for another enormously fun day, which also highlighted just how much progress my downhill riding has made this summer. I was able to clean almost all of the rooty, technical stretch through the trees that I’d walked significant parts of last time, and pick up speed and confidence on almost every trail. This remains one of my very favourite places to ride.

Dead End Loop

Last weekend I decided to head over to Seymour and see if I could find some trails that would be challenging without too high a probability that I would kill myself. My route took me out along Richard Juryn, Bridal Path and (I think) Bottle Top, which was perfect. I still had to walk sections and periodically scared myself witless when I took on something I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it down, but I had such a blast that I ended up doing the whole circuit over again before blasting back through the easy, loamy trails in the Seymour Demo Forest.

20131104_121208I’d left the car at Inter River Park, and under the influence of trail adrenalin I decided it would be fun to try the dirt jumps while I was there. To my surprise they were easy – far easier than some of the very technical trails – and a whole ton of fun.

Inter River dirt jumps

It’s been a good dirt season. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be riding once the snow flies, but I’ve enjoyed my time on the bike this summer more than any other year. And it’s all thanks to the trails.

Trail riding in the Methow Valley

Back in March, we went on a trip to Winthrop, Washington that established it firmly as one of my favourite places in the world. We liked it so much that before we left, we booked another visit for the fall. This time we were able to take the North Cascades Scenic Highway, which was still under winter closure in March.

Diablo Lake, Washington“Scenic” turned out to be a bit of an understatement. We stopped at Diablo Lake where tiny islands dotted impossibly green glacial water, and Washington Pass where mountains towered above the tiny curve of the highway. It looked unreal, but I’d find out soon that we hadn’t yet come anywhere close to seeing the best of the North Cascades.

P1050822

A few miles further on we left the mountains behind and emerged in the sagebrush and wide open skies of the Methow Valley. It’s one of the things I love most about this area: the sheer variety of terrain and the abrupt transitions between wildly different landscapes.

Chickadee trailhead, Sun Mountain
Early the next morning, we set out for the same gorgeous trails we’d explored on snow bikes and snowshoes in the winter. In the summer, with the ETSX under me, they were even better. As a technical rider I’m fairly firmly in the begintermediate category, which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the highly technical riding around Vancouver; I love the challenge and the steepness of the learning curve. However, sometimes all you want to do is rip the dirt as fast as you can without needing to think, and that’s how these trails begged to be ridden.

Rodeo trail, Sun MountainSmooth, flowing doubletrack took us around a lake, through a small creek, and then into a stretch of forested singletrack where I forgot that my bike had brakes and just whipped through the trees as fast as I could, slingshotting between the trunks and bunnyhopping off roots and yelling for joy because it was so ridiculously awesome. While the rest of the group caught up I circled back and rode it again, just for the hell of it.

Yellowjacket trail, Sun Mountain

Riding with me was our fabulous friend Cecily with her brand-new Rivendell Betty Foy. It was a fantastic area to introduce someone to singletrack riding, with plenty of trails that were more than soft and smooth enough to get used to being on the dirt and accommodate a bike with a rigid fork. While we rode J and our friend M, who are runners rather than cyclists, ran the trails behind us.

Cecily rides singletrack

Our path eventually led us down to Patterson Lake, where the others started back toward town on the road while I climbed a longer trail back to the area where we’d left the car. Even the uphill was a ton of fun, switchbacking steadily up through the sagebrush above the lake before re-entering the trees and curving back around to the trailhead.

Cabin Trail, Sun Mountain

I loved the trails so much that I couldn’t bear the idea of being done with them after just one day. So on our final morning in town, we got up at the crack of dawn and snuck a final hour’s riding in before heading back to the cabin to clean up and pack. It still wasn’t nearly enough; I can’t wait to ride here again.