North Shore mountain bike trails get smoother as cyclists get older
"Trails for all, trails forever." That’s the mission statement of the 2,500-member North Shore Mountain Bike Association, or NSMBA, a nonprofit volunteer organization formed in 1997. Reached by phone in North Vancouver, NSMBA program director Mark Wood told the Georgia Straight that his group’s motto has never been more apt.
“We’re writing the book on modern trail-building techniques and how it’s applied in the Pacific Northwest,” the 44-year-old said. “Mountain biking on the North Shore has grown from its infancy 20 years ago into adolescence in the early 2000s and, since NSMBA renewed our trail-building efforts in 2009, is now in the adult stage of progression.”
B.C. Bike Race organizer Dave Howells backed up Wood’s assessment with one of his own. “When it comes to mountain biking, we’ve only just begun to reinvent the North Shore,” he said by phone. “The sport is always evolving in a constant state of flux. We may never figure out exactly what it is. Mountain bikes are built completely different now—lighter, more nimble—than four, five years ago, which is why so many more Vancouver riders love the sport and why the new style of building buff, smooth, fast trails is attracting such attention.”
Reflecting on NSMBA strategy, the group’s volunteer marketing manager, Norma Ibarra, told the Straight that the trail-adoption plan (TAP), whereby groups of company employees commit to maintaining specific North Shore trails over the course of a year, has grown from a dozen participants in 2012 to 31 this year. “Local bike shops, MEC, Arc’teryx, Bank of Montreal—they’re all signing on to the TAP program that Mark helped create. It was also his idea to start our builder academy to train members in the theory and practice of creating sustainable bike paths.”
The North Shore—and B.C. at large—is recognized globally as the crucible of mountain-bike trailriding. Want proof? Check the success of the B.C. Bike Race, which bills itself as “the ultimate single-track experience”. Now in its eighth year, the week-long stage race held between Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island communities attracts a field of 500 riders from 35 countries.
For the first time in five years, the race kicks off in North Vancouver on June 28. “There’s more consistency now with local trail surfaces,” Howells said, “and less roots and rocks. Since this is the first day of the race, we don’t want to throw everyone into the deep end of the pool. The Shore is more ready for us now than before, a reflection on the sport and what people in general want to ride. Originally, the Shore’s reputation was built on woodwork: ramps, jumps, and drops. That’s old-school. With the bigger 29-inch wheels everyone’s using, riders want to pump their way along energetic trails.”
Howells also cited the fact that innovative approaches to trail-building speak to greater rider accessibility. “I can take my eight-year-old son, Rhys, and ride the Circuit 8 Trail in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve without fear of going over the handlebars and landing in emergency.”
Based on his recent observations, local trails are becoming more universally accessible. “I see riders now waiting to take their turn on Expresso, one of the most heavily ridden trails on Mount Fromme. It’s all going that way. No one’s lining up on the black-diamond-rated ones. Guys are sick of going out and crashing hard. When you’re in your late 30s, early 40s, the repercussions are not good when you have a job and kids. Smoother trails eliminate the risk of cracking your head. The liability goes down, fun goes up.”
For newcomers, the North Shore’s network of bike routes lies hidden behind an evergreen curtain. Information is best gleaned from bike shops or guided tours offered by companies such as Endless Biking, now in its 10th year. Co-owner Kelli Sherbinin, a B.C. Bike Race winner in 2010, told the Straight that growth in ridership is fuelling increased trail-building.
“We start off by asking our clients a series of questions about their prior experience and match their abilities with what’s suitable. Often they join a tour that features the history of North Shore trails and its scenic points. We start kids as young as six on bikes with 20-inch wheels and hand brakes on trails like Bobsled on Mount Fromme. That’s been getting a lot of attention with its whoops and ladders but isn’t too crazy.”
Wood’s summation: “Success begets success. We’re engaged with volunteers on so many levels. The amount of trail maintenance borne on the shoulders of our members is incredible. People want to get on that train. That’s strengthened our relationship and engagement with local land managers on both the municipal, regional, and provincial levels. We speak the same language. Building to the same standard heightens trust with everyone on collaborative solutions.”
Wood admitted that although he loves riding expert-rated runs, trails are a shared commodity. “To give beginners a chance to progress, we need to guarantee universal access. That’s what our benevolent approach is all about. To that end, we’ve just built an all-mountain adventure trail—Forever After—on the lower slopes of Mount Seymour.”
Trails forever and ever, amen.
Access: For information on the North Shore Mountain Bike Association, visit their website. For details on the B.C. Bike Race go to their website. For guided North Shore mountain-bike tours and lessons, consult at the Endless Biking website.