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By Fred Dreier
You needn’t ride too far from Andreas Hestler’s house in North Vancouver to reach the long, rocky descent for stage 1 of this year’s BC Bike Race. The trail is called “Pipeline,” as it runs along a gas pipe from atop a pine-covered mountain all the way to the waterline of the Burrard Inlet.
The trail is steep and laden with obstacles. Rock-covered drop offs and slippery roots abound. Riders making the descent must squeeze in between huge trees and navigate long, narrow wooden structures. There are countless sections that are unquestionably scary.
The trail is a two mile-long taste of the challenging “North Shore” style of riding that has earned North Vancouver worldwide fame. The area’s reputation is not unlike that of the North Shore of Oahu within the surfing world — it’s bigger, faster and more dangerous than just about anywhere else. To simply make it down the trail in one piece earns a certain degree of respect.
“A lot of people generalize what ‘North Shore’ style is into all of British Columbia riding,” said Hestler, a 1996 Olympian and the BCBR’s official voice. “This is not the place to come learn how to ride a mountain bike. This is not flowing singletrack. You’re constantly having to deal with a lot of stuff on the trail.”
It’s addition to Sunday’s opening stage marks a change of pace for the BC Bike Race. In its first two editions, the race (which boasts the tagline The Ultimate Singletrack Experience) preferred to slowly wean riders off singletrack onto gnarlier terrain as the week of racing went along, keeping the super hairball trails for the end.
This year, the North Shore and its Pipeline-like trails hit riders right off the bat on day one.
“It’s a bit of a change for us. We’re introducing the challenge early but then backing off for a few days,” Hestler said. “We always wanted to get the North Shore into the race, and we’ve done it.”
Hestler took me up to Pipeline Thursday night for (quite literally) a crash-course in North Shore riding before Sunday’s start. Aboard a Rocky Mountain’s six-inch bike, the all-mountain Slayer, I slogged my way up the fire road to the trail’s entrance, the whole way bombarding Hestler with questions on how I should go about picking my way down.
Hestler’s advice was simple enough: I should keep my weight back on the steeper pitches and hold my arms in a flexed, aggressive position. I need only to let the bike’s fat downhill tires and big suspension eat up the major drops, and just focus on maintaining my speed and balance on the handlebars, and steering around the major obstacles. On slippery roots and rocks, I should keep my weight off of whichever wheel might lose traction, and simply allow the bike to float its way down.
Easier said than done.
I suspect my own mountain biking abilities are not unlike many readers of VeloNews. I ride the fat-tire bike on the weekends, and occasionally toe the line of the local cross-country events. The road bike gets the nod more frequently, so the power of my legs and lungs far surpasses my bike handling skills. And I have no qualms in puckering when the conditions are over my head. I’d sooner walk my way down then be carted off in the meat wagon.
And that, my friends, is part of the allure of the BC Bike Race — in addition to the competitive side, the event markets itself as a weeklong skills camp for riders looking to beef up their bike skills. The BC Bike Race tests everyone. There’s a safe bet that all of the participants at this year’s race — save for the guys and girls contesting for the win — will at some point be forced to ride something that is trickier, more technical or downright terrifying than they ever have before.
I already have, and I still have two days to spare. Pipeline scared the living daylights out of me, and I will admit to having walked down more than a few of its steep pitches, and over its longer, narrower wooden structure bridges. Yes, I puckered.
But I’m heading back today, with the goal of riding more and puckering less. And to snap some photos of the trail.
The school of singletrack is now in session.