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Grin and bear it



Glorious BC backcountry singletrack

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for nearly 15 years. I’ve seen some strange things on the trails, burnt out cars, steamed up cars, cows, cats, shopping trolleys, and even a Pagan ritual, but nothing could prepare me for what I encountered in when I rode the trails in British Columbia in 2004.

Every year for the past six years I’ve been on a summer mountain bike holiday. This has usually been a two week jaunt in the French Alps or, when money has restricted me, a week in Scotland or Wales. The promise of biking in the sun in new and exotic surroundings is often what gets me through the long winter months when I’m trudging through puddles and bogs and spending half my life cleaning and lubing my bike.

In 2004 I thought I’d try something different. If you’re into mountain biking like I am, you can’t escape the hype that is surrounding British Columbia at the moment. This has always been a hotbed of mountain bike brands, riders, and biking trends, but has previously been inaccessible to most of us, until recently. With the price of airfares falling into my budget I booked my flight to Vancouver and packed my biking stuff.

Ride free

I don’t really like the term ‘freeriding’. Far from riding free as it suggests I think it actually categorises riders. The image of the modern freerider seems to be merely a downhiller who’s not racing, whereas I like to think that I’m a mountain biker who enjoys all types of riding, be that XC, trail, trials or downhill. I ride what I want because I enjoy it – that to me is freeriding. With this disposition I felt totally at home in British Columbia as I met many other like-minded riders. The riding in Canada is the best I’ve ever experienced, but I’ll remember my trip equally for the mountain bike culture. Canadians just love mountain bikes and riding them. Fashion biking is not a priority to Canadians – just getting out in nature with your bike (whatever it is) and having fun is more important.


Out there

The Whistler Bike Park is the biking hub of the region (excuse the pun). I stayed in Whistler Village with Ticket2RideBC, a UK-based company offering accommodation, guiding, airport shuttles, helibiking, floatplane trips, and skills clinics. This was a friendly environment to be in for a lone traveller and I quickly made friends with other riders staying with them.

Although you could easily ride in the Bike Park for a few days, it would be criminal not to mountain bike in BC without exploring further afield. Some of the remote singletrack trails in the surrounding mountains of nearby Pemberton, Chilcotins and Squamish are some of the best in the world, and with my hosts’s guiding experience on hand this was the ideal opportunity to get into the backcountry.

Bear essential

Although I’ll remember my trip to Canada for riding some of the most breathtaking trails and the relaxed mountain bike lifestyle, one experience stands out. Having taken the floatplane to the Chilcotin mountains (an experience in itself), I found myself riding some of the most remote and enjoyable singletrack I had ever come across. This was biking nirvana. The trails undulated and flowed beneath me and I felt perfectly relaxed amongst the beautiful mountainous scenery. My trance-like state was abruptly ended when I took the wrong fork at a trailhead, having dropped behind the main group. After a rock drop and a tight switchback I turned a corner and slammed the brakes on as I confronted a grizzly bear starring back at me. I froze on my bike as the bear and I exchanged looks. After what seemed like minutes, although it was probably seconds of being frozen in time, I slowly began to retreat – although I couldn’t seem to engage the elusive reverse gear that Shimano been developing for me. As slowly as I could, I turned the bike around and cautiously walked back the way I had come, my only noise being my SPD cleats on stones beneath my feet. With a change of shorts and a cool Kokanee beer in my hand, I was able to laugh the experience off with my riding buddies that evening.




Test your inner ear

My reaction to my bear encounter was totally involuntary, as I had already been informed that I wasn’t in any danger as bears are more afraid of humans than the other way around – funny how that didn’t come to mind when I was eyeballing a 35 stone carnivorous mammal which can run at 30mph! Grizzlies are more docile in the summer months however, when their flesh-ripping claws are mainly used for scratching their furry hides.

I’m all for new experiences, and this was definitely a new one for me! Where else in the world can you ride such brilliant trails and be so close to nature? There’s only one mountain biking destination for me in 2005, and that’s British Columbia. Whether you want to jump and huck the brilliant Whistler bike park, or test yourself on the remote singletrack in the BC interior, or just hang out with relaxed like-minded riders who simply love their riding, then this has to be the place to go. I’ve already booked my return trip, I just hope that the bears are as friendly as last year…

Ticket2RideBC

I travelled (and will be travelling again) with Ticket2RideBC. It offers accommodation, guiding, shuttles, helibiking, float-plane trips and more for the 2005 season which runs from May to September. The Whistler accommodation is comfortable and they should have a hot tub installed for 2005… For more details and to book online, visit www.ticket2ridebc.comor contact them at info@ticket2ridebc.com.

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