The ultimate free ride

🕔May 28, 2007

Ride, hike or shuttle. It doesn’t matter how you get there—just get up the mountain so you can ride your bouncy bruiser bike down the trail as quickly as possible again and again and again.

Don’t mind the dirt. Don’t mind the roots and rocks. And don’t even think about your bruised thighs and the pinky finger you jammed when you endoed over your handlebars on your last run. It’s all part of the sport—and it’s all part of the fun.

As Terrace’s McBike owner Bruce Martindale puts it, “I love crashing. If I don’t crash every time I go out, I’m not trying.”

Not every mountain biker has the same daredevil attitude, but almost all can relate. Mountain biking is not for the timid or the faint-of-heart. It’s a sport of constant challenges: mentally, physically and emotionally.

Kristian Grey, an avid Terrace biker, explains: “Depending on the weather, it might get you, it might not. You never know. You’ve got to be on the ball all the time.”

Mountain biking—cross-country, downhill or freeriding—is a sport enjoyed by all ages and both genders. Some riders take it quite seriously while others are more casual. What they all share, however, is a passion for the sport and an almost integral need to do it.

“It’s a self-motivated sport. I like the thrills and just being outside and being with other people that are seeking the same enjoyment. I like the feeling of just ripping down a mountain,” Grey says.

Grey started biking when he moved to the North in 1995. He started riding cross-country, which encompasses climbs and descents, but now mostly freerides. Freeriding is a more aggressive riding style, mostly downhill, that entails jumps, big drops and manmade structures.

Mountain biking can be dangerous but precautions do wonders. Helmets are a must and many freeriders wear full face ones. Most also wear body armour for their arms, legs and chest.

But Grey doesn’t think about falling. “Usually when you don’t commit to something is when things go bad, so you have to make sure you are mentally clear.”

“I have been hurt, but that just happens,” he adds. “And usually you are so pumped full of adrenaline that you don’t think about it until afterwards.”

B.C. is known worldwide for its biking trails and though the Lower Mainland has the most developed terrain, Northwest BC has a lot to offer. A low population makes for no crowds, letting riders enjoy the natural environment—a big reason most bikers like the sport. The region has massive tracts of undeveloped land with huge potential for trail building, and the trails already here are excellent.

According to Grey, Terrace’s trails are tight, technical, steep and usually wet, forcing riders to develop skills quickly. “Once you have that accomplished it makes you a better rider,” he says.

Another major advantage to biking in the area is the outstanding support. While in some communities bikers are pitted against the local government and residents, fighting for land to use, the City of Terrace and its residents are along for the ride. Last year, on its own accord, the City built an eight-kilometre bike trail that wraps around Terrace Mountain, a popular hiking area close to downtown. More recently it agreed to maintain a new bike skills park, slated to open at the end of June, on a three-acre chunk of city land,.

Terrace’s director of leisure services, Ross Milnthorp, says that’s because the city has committed to creating a healthy community. “Supporting the biking community is a very positive way to do that,” he says. “Any time you increase the opportunity for a healthy activity, you create a more vibrant community, a creative community.”

City councilor Brian Downie agrees, saying that biking is an activity in which residents of all ages and fitness levels can participate.

Downie, who runs a small tour company, also sees economic opportunities.
More recreational activities could help attract working professionals as well as visitors. This is especially important now when the whole country, including the North, is facing worker shortages. Terrace is looking to tourism to boost the economy since the town’s main sawmill closed last year.

“Most people appreciate that if you develop a tourism product—things for tourists to do—you enhance your ability to attract them,” Downie says.

Terrace already has hundreds of hiking and biking trails of varying lengths. Not all of them are official, but they are there. In town, the Millennium trail runs along Highway 16 while others snake up, down and around Terrace Mountain. More crisscross through Ferry Island, along the Bench and near Howe Creek. And in Thornhill, just outside the city’s border, Copper Mountain offers the more aggressive downhill trails.

“I think that this is just a start, and we’ll just keep adding to those trail systems,” Downie says.

The city hopes community groups such as the Terrace Off Road Cycling Association (TORCA, which spearheaded the new bike skills park) will continue to push for more recreational development.

TORCA president Kate McCarron is more than excited about the new park that will stretch along Tetrault Street from Haugland Avenue to Graham Avenue. “It’s a positive addition to the local neighbourhood,” she says. “On the south side of the city there isn’t much for kids to do. Biking is something anyone can do.”

She also believes the park will do wonders to advance the skill level here. “Not only does it make a place for kids and adults of all ages to go, it provides a place to teach people. If you can maneuver your bike and be balanced on it and confident on it, it just makes things that much more fluent when you are out there biking.”

McCarron has four kids—two girls and two boys—under the age of seven, all of whom bike and will be using the park.

The skills park will be free for anyone to use and offers different areas for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders. It will also have a series of tabletop jumps, dirt jumps and practice structures such as skinny wooden bridges and teeter-totters.

Like others, McCarron thinks this is just the start—for Terrace and other Northwest communities. “Everyone is really into learning how to promote this way of living.”

Lucy Praught lost 50 lbs. when she started cycling regularly five years ago. She fell in love with the sport and last year opened the second bike-only shop in Terrace. She knows the scene here is growing because her store is already doing better than she expected.

She thinks biking is catching on because of its calming nature; the sport can be aggressive, but during the ride your mind is consumed and stress is released. “It’s kind of my Zen time, my time when I don’t have to think about my family, my kids or my bills,” she explains.

Praught also thinks people love biking because it reminds them of their childhood.
For many, cycling is a great early memory, she says. It’s the first time they felt independence; the first time they felt freedom.

And who doesn’t strive for freedom, or in biker lingo, the ultimate free ride?