North Shore mountain bike trails get smoother as cyclists get older

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      "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.




      Jun 12, 2014 at 10:56am

      The North Shore's biggest mountain bike club...

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      out at night

      Jun 12, 2014 at 2:20pm

      It should be mentioned that the "old school" practice of riding away all the mud and exposing roots and rocks didn't just make the trails more difficult to ride, it was also a completely unsustainable attack on the local ecosystem. The new approach of dumping dirt back onto the trails, better soil retention and more frequent maintenance is an indication of eco-conscious maturity as much as it is about newer bike designs and an aging ridership. Thankfully the days of shredding the Shore literally, are over!

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      Jun 12, 2014 at 4:46pm

      Honestly I have mixed feels. Trails for all shouldn't mean lowest common denominator. The shore should retain hard, rocky, rooty challenges. It's good to be able to take our kids out but not all trails need to accommodate 8 year olds. And if there is no progression to truly challenging stuff, the proving ground for so much innovation and and so many world class riders will be lost.

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      Should have

      Jun 12, 2014 at 10:01pm

      bulldozed the the whole mountain flat years ago. Would make for a great new subdivision for two hundred thousand or so.

      Setting the Record Straight

      Jun 12, 2014 at 10:03pm

      While Mark & the gang at the NSMBA are to be given huge credit for their work his opening statement is far from true: “We’re writing the book on modern trail-building techniques and how it’s applied in the Pacific Northwest,”. Organization likes WORCA, SORCA, IMBA Canada, SIMBS, Burns Lake MBA, etc. and countless professional trail builders have been implementing techniques for many years which the NSMBA has only recently adopted.

      The Shore is no longer driving the style of riding in the world, they are playing catch up... what the NSMBA is is an amazing example of community engagement, trail-adoption program implementation, etc. Shore maturation is rad and I wish them all success but a little less ego, a little less 'living in a bubble' and a little more humility seems warranted.

      sad mountain biker

      Jun 13, 2014 at 8:15am

      While i support building trails for all. nsmba is only looking after older, slower, greyer, and their young kids. Another example of baby boomers only caring for themselfs. Some people want the north shore to continue to be the leader in mountain biking, not a follower. Build your training wheel and scooter frendly trails, but support the trail builders that want more. It will not be long before people will progress beyong the "new trail beside expresso". Then they will find that all the trails that could challenge them have been decommissioned by this same group. Think beyond your own interest and really commit to trails for ALL.
      P.S. the 29er has already jumped the shark.

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      The Shore is TAPped Out

      Jun 13, 2014 at 10:26am

      NSMBA's consumptive trail building and freeride habits are still inflicting an unsustainable attack on the local ecosystems. Too much damage happening off-trails now. Time for the NSMBA to become a **legitimate** organization and start real dialogue with the three ski hills on the North Shore. Time to pay to play, kiddies! The freeride mentality is about as long in the tooth as the "old school" NSMBA types that tout it.

      "Ski resorts nestled in public parks such as Cypress and Mount Seymour, as well as Manning Park, are in need of new permits that account for the burgeoning popularity of snowshoeing and **mountain biking** as well as the **public appetite for year-round use**, according to a release from the Ministry of Environment." - See more at:

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