Photo Credit: Amanda Follett
Wheelin’ in the North
Road trips are great, but there’s really no better way to see a new place than from the seat of a bike. Whether you’re spinning your wheels on a deserted stretch of seaside highway, hurtling down the side of a mountain or towing your home and all the belongings you’ll need for a stint on the road, there’s not much that beats pedal propulsion to get from A to B.
If you’re considering a trip to or through northern BC, bring your bikes—all of ’em. While the region has seen massive trail development in recent years, it also offers spectacular views for road riders, bike tourers and commuters alike. When you arrive in a new biking community—helmet-clad and bike in tow—it shouldn’t take long to get excited locals to tell you about the best rides. If all else fails, find your way to the nearest bike shop or cycling club for directions.
Distances can make bike touring in northern BC a daunting task for the novice cyclist, but if there’s one place to rely on pedal power it might just be this stunning archipelago off the west coast.
If you’re visiting Haida Gwaii, save yourself hundreds of dollars by parking your car (for free!) at the BC Ferries terminal in Prince Rupert and boarding with your bike (five bucks extra!) and all the camping and rain gear you can fit into your panniers. From the Skidegate ferry terminal, communities to the north—Tlell, Port Clements, Masset—are spaced a convenient half-day’s ride apart, making this a great destination for doing a little biking mixed with a little relaxing and sightseeing.
On your travels, don’t be surprised if you pass a herd of road bikers. The islands have a small-but-dedicated road-riding community, which meets informally on weekends to ride breezy Highway 16 as it follows the shoreline and undulates across the island.
“I enjoy going up to Tlell, right along the ocean,” says local rider and carver Ben Davidson, who owns All About U Arts in Skidegate. “This time of year if you get a nice sunny day you can pretend you’re in Hawaii.” Davidson was one of 40 riders who recently pedalled from Masset to Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital to deliver a totem pole he’d carved. The trip raised $400,000 for the hospital foundation.
Terrace’s mild climate and compact downtown make it a commuter-friendly community, but this northwest city isn’t inclined to stick to the pavement.
“Terrace has always had a really committed mountain bike community,” says Tara Irwin, vice president of the Terrace Off-road Cycling Association (TORCA). “As the community grows, the mountain biking community grows.”
Two local trail riding areas, Terrace Mountain and Copper Mountain, offer a variety of riding styles for different skill levels. The former, which offers cross-country riding, has seen much development in recent years, with a $117,000 grant in 2011 from the province. TORCA, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, the City of Terrace, the Terrace Community Forest and the Wildfire Management Branch have joined forces over the past decade to develop 16.5 km of single-track trails in the area.
Copper Mountain, which offers steep downhills with the option to shuttle, was recently sanctioned by TORCA, allowing the association to direct more funding and trail-building efforts to the area—watch for more work in the area in the coming years.
“It’s great for families. We’ve noticed an increase in families using the area—moms shuttling with kids,” Irwin says.
TORCA covers both trail and road riding, organizing events for both each year, and Irwin’s quick to recognize the area’s immense road-riding potential: “I think a lot of people are really surprised by how good the road biking is here, too,” she says, counting six directions a rider can leave town and pedal paved roads with stunning scenery. “It’s a mecca for road biking.”
Smithers is another northern community that has seen extensive trail development, with more than $500,000 in funding over the past six years, resulting in a new network of cross-country trails at the popular Bluff area and two downhill trails, Huckin’ Eh and Pump Daddy, at the Ptarmigan Road Trails.
But this year, Smithers Mountain Bike Association set its sights, well… a little smaller.
Smithers’ latest—and much-used—trail addition has become known simply as the Kids’ Trail. The loop, which leaves the Boardwalk Trail entry to the Bluff’s cross-country and downhill trails, takes about 20 minutes to walk and has berms, a skills park and a gentle, flowing grade. “It’s perfect for children and anyone new to trail riding,” C.O.B. Bike Shop owner Dave Percy says.
“Folks can get there with kids, grandparents can get up there with the kids,” Percy says. “With that trail on the Bluff, it’s awesome because all skill levels can go there.”
According to McBike & Sport owner Peter Krause, the many gravel roads in the Smithers area have also spurred an interest in cyclo-cross bikes, a hybrid that’s light enough to travel quickly on pavement but durable enough to withstand rough-and-tumble, off-road cyclo-cross racing.
For those who would like to get out and see the countryside, Krause suggests visiting www.strava.com, a website that works with GPS to map your ride, track your distance and record your stats.
For a longer ride, he suggests taking Tatlow Road from Smithers to Telkwa and, if you still have energy to burn, continuing down Lawson Road to Quick. From Quick, cross Highway 16 and tour around Round Lake and Tyhee Lake, before heading back toward Smithers. The entire loop is roughly 50 km.
Also not to be missed are spectacular views from the Telkwa High Road, which stretches between Telkwa and Moricetown and offers the chance to loop back along Highway 16.
“Those are all really cool routes with little traffic,” Krause says. “That’s the beauty of that type of bike—it’s so versatile.” Every Tuesday from April to October, a road-riding group meets at 6:30 p.m. at McBike on Main Street to ride.
Last fall, the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) announced that Burns Lake’s Boer Mountain Trails would be Canada’s first-ever IMBA Ride Centre, a designation that recognizes large-scale mountain-bike facilities offering something for every rider. While the announcement may raise the popular trails’ profile internationally, the area is already a favourite for mountain bikers in northern BC.
Burns Lake has been developing bike trails since 2006, when the Burns Lake Community Forest purchased 160 acres on Boer Mountain, which it then leased to the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association. With more than 40 km of trails, the area was designed by the same professional mountain bikers who created the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
Located next to great camping on the shores of Kager Lake, this year local musician and mountain biker Rachelle van Zanten took the local biking scene up a notch by creating a women’s-only mountain bike and wellness weekend, Babes in Balance. The retreat-style biking-and-yoga weekend will be an annual event, she says.
“I started mountain biking back in my days with the female rockers, Painting Daisies. I needed a way to stay fit and sane on the road and strapping a bike to the van worked perfectly,” van Zanten says. “My home base is now back in the Lakes District, home to epic, world-class trails. Babes in Balance seemed like a great way to get women stoked on riding.”
Also at Boer Mountain, the annual Big Pig Mountain Biking Festival happens Aug. 15-17 this year, including shuttles, kids’ events, races and relays.
Prince George offers a variety of biking options. Last year, the Prince George Cycling Club invested nearly $80,000 in funding to expand Pidherny
Recreation Site with a five-km trail expansion and new wooden structures, for a total 30 km of trails. The result, a new trail called Papa Woods, features berms, skinnies and steep drops. The area also boasts a skills park.
Club president Steve Wyer describes Pidherny as “old school cross-country climbs” that are steep and rooty. An upper parking lot, recently cleared by Ministry of Transportation, offers access from both top and bottom. “Typically, what people do is take longer travel suspension bikes and ride up the road,” Wyer says.
The region also offers mountain biking at Cranbrook Hill (steep and often shuttled) and Otway, which is operated by Caledonia Nordic Ski Club and offers “fast flowy, undulating cross-country trails,” according to Wyer.
While mountain biking here is as active as anywhere across the North, Wyer adds that, “urban biking is just as active right now,” with road races and events garnering the greatest turnout. This spring, the club was busy advocating for urban cycling by holding the city to its promise to add paved bike shoulders along North Nechako Road.
“We’re very active making sure the components of the Active Transportation Plan are included in new projects,” Wyer says. “We got the paved shoulders in the end.” The club is now focusing on creating networks between isolated bike routes.
If you’re passing by Mount Robson with your mountain bike, take the time to stretch your legs and ride the first seven km of the Berg Lake Trail. Graded easy to moderate, this is one of the Rockies’ most popular hiking trails and biking is allowed until Kinney Lake. If you want to continue past Kinney Lake, secure your bike at the metal bike rack and continue the remaining 15 km to Berg Lake for spectacular views of Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The trail starts at the parking area two km past the Mount Robson Visitor Centre.
Getting into the spin
Interested in doing more cycling and not sure where to start? Consider contacting your local cycling club or bike shop for information on clinics and group rides. As well, these programs are a great way to get you pedalling.
Bike to Work Week
Bike to Work Week started 10 years ago in Victoria and now has more than 35 communities participating province-wide, including nearly a dozen across the North. The program—which includes events and prizes—encourages commuters to ditch their cars and ride to work, either in teams or individually. To get involved or find out if your community participates, visit www.biketowork.ca.
Women’s-only mountain bike clinics are gaining popularity and provide an encouraging, supportive environment to develop trail-riding skills. Women’s weekends in the North include the SMBA Women’s Weekend in Smithers (www.smithersmountainbike.ca) and Babes in Balance mountain bike retreat in Burns Lake (www.burnslaketrails.ca).
Developed 25 years ago on the Sunshine Coast by schoolteacher Doug Detwiller, Sprockids teaches children the skills, values and strategies to succeed in mountain biking, as well as in life. With programs in 19 countries, Sprockids is offered in Smithers, Burns Lake, Prince George and Vanderhoof, and several other northern communities have expressed interest in the program. For more information, visit www.sprockids.com.