B.C.'s mountain-biking parks keep on evolving

From Kamloops to Whistler, cycling parks are courting newbies and experts alike as technology and riders’ expectations continually change

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      Imagine floating downhill through a near-desert landscape creased by erosion and infused with the heady smell of sagebrush. That’s the reality at the Kamloops Bike Ranch, a cycling park like no other.

      The Georgia Straight recently met mountain-bike coaches Monique Vek and Jim Flux as they put a group of young rippers through a free Wednesday-afternoon training run. “In actuality, the bike ranch is four bike parks in one: separate downhill and cross-country trails, a dirt-jump park, and a BMX track,” explained Vek, who runs a local bike-touring company, Monique the Mountainbiker.

      “Last year, we started taking our son and a couple of friends down the trails here to get them used to the challenge. Now as many as 20 show up at a time,” she said. Nearby, Flux guided riders outfitted in full-face helmets and padding along wooden boardwalks and off ramps of varying heights. “All kids need bring is a bike. There’s always extra gear.”

      Situated in the weathered folds directly above where the Trans-Canada Highway leads east beside the South Thompson River, the bike ranch beckons both as a destination in itself and as a pause during a longer trek in the region to bike parks at nearby Sun Peaks Resort and Silver Star Mountain Resort in Vernon.

      When reached at Sun Peaks, events coordinator Devin Knopf had just wrapped up the second of two mountain-bike contests hosted by the resort this summer. Next up, he and his four-person crew plan to concentrate on giving the mountain-bike park a makeover.

      “Our park is in the middle of big changes,” Knopf said, “with machines working round the clock to improve old trails plus groom our new Smooth Smoothie beginners’ trail. For years we’ve been the go-to park for serious riders. That’s what Kamloops is known for. Check out legendary downhillers like Wade Simmons and Richie Schley and world champion Catharine Pendrel. But now we’re creating trails that appeal to every aspect, from beginner to expert.”

      On the phone from Silver Star, summer business manager Ian Galbraith categorized the Silver Star bike park as “the most progressive park around”. The 32-year-old told the Straight that he and his crew work constantly to maintain and upgrade 18 trails spread over 44 kilometres. “The seven-kilometre, top-to-bottom Paradise Trail is the longest and easiest, perfect for the ‘never ever’ crowd who have been waiting for the right opportunity to cycle in a bike park.”

      Asked to profile a typical rider, Galbraith, who first rode the Silver Star park in 2004, said that would be a 25- to 35-year-old male. “That being said, we’re seeing massive growth in the same age bracket among young women. Increased media exposure of purpose-built bikes for women probably accounts for that. It’s no longer a boys-only game.”

      Since its debut in 1999, the Whis­tler Mountain Bike Park has steadily built a reputation as the biggest, gnarliest, baddest mountain-bike park in the world. That does not necessarily surprise Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb’s vice-president of business development and the bike park’s first manager. “The park has grown in leaps and bounds,” he explained by phone from his office at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain. “I’m not surprised it still keeps growing, whereas by now I would have expected there would be other parks its size. As it stands, ours is several orders of magnitude greater than anyone else’s.”

      As to what accounts for such growth, McSkimming cited the evolution of cycling technology and the rise in interest in downhill mountain biking generally. “The two are joined at the hip. There’s been a massive leap in mountain-bike technology, with better suspension systems and lighter-weight materials that can still handle all the bumps. Riders’ expectations continually change. If we do our job right, we’re in sync with what they want.”

      Meanwhile, an emerging fad this summer is the practice of yoga on standup paddleboards, but if anyone could perform yoga on a mountain bike, it would likely be professional trials rider Ryan Leech. For mere mortals who prefer to practise on two feet, though, Port Coquitlam–based Leech has his own take on where to stretch.

      As documented in his new DVD, Yoga for Cyclists, Leech offers four cycle-specific posture routines, varying in length, from 16 to 40 minutes, that he performs in the alpine settings of the West Kootenay’s Monashee Mountains. At a Vancouver launch party in July, Leech explained to the Straight that when designing his routines, he drew on anatomical wisdom gleaned from work with sports physiotherapists plus a healthy dose of “blissology” from yoga teacher Eoin Finn.

      “My director…really captured the serenity of practising yoga in the al­pine. This DVD is one way to bring the outdoors inside to incorporate into a daily workout.”

      And without any pesky insects to break your focus.

      Access: Details on the Kamloops Bike Ranch are posted at the Kamloops Bike Ranch website. To contact Monique Vek, visit the Monique The Mountainbiker website. For Sun Peaks Resort, see the Sun Peak Resort website. For Silver Star Mountain, see the Silverstar website. For the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, see the Bike Whistler website. For information on Ryan Leech, see the Ryan Leech website. In Kamloops, the writer stayed as a guest of the Plaza Hotel.