North Shore Bike Park is for everyone

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      It’s 9pm on a Friday night in North Vancouver, and a group of adults are hanging out at the mall.

      But they’re not here to run errands, or to eat in the food court, or catch a movie—they’re here to mountain bike.

      Tucked snugly within the time capsule that is Capilano Mall, in a cavernous space that used to be occupied by Sears, is the North Shore Bike Park: a giant playground for those with a love of two wheels and endless thrills.

      “Sweet Caroline” plays on the speakers as the bikers, ranging in estimated age from their twenties to their forties, take turns riding the handmade, mountain-style tracks. Some are timid, going slow as they make their way over the bumps and curves; others, clearly avid riders, get airborne. Those waiting their turn stand off to the side, shooting the shit with both strangers and old pals in between laps. The remnants of a kid’s birthday party—balloons, a banner—hang on a wall. A tiny child in a Spider-Man shirt toddles around, his parents not far behind.

      It’s rare to find a place that caters to this many groups, and at one time, no less. Little kids, young families, novice riders, expert ones: somehow they all coexist here. It’s a testament to the intention that the creators of the park—which opened in November of last year and is the largest of its kind in the province—put into it from day one.

      “That was a big part of the design: we wanted to make sure that the park really was accessible,” says Darren Butler, who cofounded the business with his wife Kelli Sherbinin, alongside fellow bike experts James Wilson, Ashley Garib, and Mike Upton.

      The park during construction.

      Butler, a former professional mountain biker, acknowledges that it’s not the easiest sport to get into. There are the bikes themselves, which cost thousands; then there’s all of the safety gear, including helmets and pads and goggles and gloves; then there’s actually getting yourself and your bike to a mountain; then there’s the ever-changing environment, including the weather and the topography of the trails. And then there’s the, um, actual act of getting on a bike and zooming down the side of a mountain like it’s not one of the wildest things you could do with your spare time.

      “It was really important that we break those barriers down and build something that’s accessible—that’s interesting to all genders, all ages, all identities, all abilities,” Butler explains via phone, “while still accommodating a more experienced rider: making sure that they can have a good time and challenge themselves and continue to progress as a rider.”

      Inclusion isn’t just a buzzword here. The park hosts a variety of different events that cater to different subsets of the population, be it Women’s Takeover Nights for the ladies, Lil’ Shredders Mornings for those seven and under, or Boomers on Bikes for riders over 50. There are also Date Nights, when bike rentals are two for one, as well as Shred n’ Sushi Date Nights that include a sushi-making lesson for two plus access to the park.

      It all gives the space a true community feel. Those with a loved one enmeshed in the mountain biking world will already know that it’s a tight-knit, welcoming group of folks, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still intimidating to be the newbie. What the North Shore Bike Park does is topple some of the unease of learning to mountain bike—both the physical and mental aspects.

      “One of the really neat things that it does is it really keeps you together,” Butler explains. “We could both go mountain biking on the same mountain at the same time and not see each other. What’s really cool about the park is everybody’s together, and everybody helps each other. People talk to each other; people are interacting.”

      The venture—which Butler says came together with “hundreds of thousands of screws and about five houses’ worth of wood”—has also helped revitalize a mall that time largely left behind. It’s been so successful that the founders are already fielding calls from other cities interested in replicating the magic.

      Women-only night at the park.

      “Retailing is very different than it was 30 years ago,” Butler says. “Instead of just having a shopping experience, why not have something where people can be a little bit more engaged? If the whole family is going shopping, but there’s a member of the family who’s not into it, there’s something else they can do. So, this has been something that other communities have reached out to us about to see how we did it.”

      He’s coy about exactly who and where, but admits that interest has come from other parts of BC, the rest of Canada, and even the United States.

      “We have been reached out to—because it’s cool, but it’s also not easy. It’s incredibly complex,” he says. “So just the fact that we’ve got it open and running and happening is a huge achievement.”

      True—just getting the park operating smoothly is an impressive feat. But having both skilled bikers and beginners choose to spend their Friday night here is the real win.