Race Travel Feature: BC Bike Race-British Columbia, Canada

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 8.25.41 AMAs the undisputed ultimate singletrack experience, the BC Bike Race (often shortened to BCBR) provides riders with 200 miles of riding and over 32,000 feet of climbing over seven consecutive days on some of the best singletrack in North America. It’s a race and don’t let anybody convince you otherwise—but it’s also a great way to enjoy back-to-back days of shredding singletrack for hours on end in one of the most beautiful corners of the globe. It’s exactly what mountain bikers love to do in a format that introduces us to purpose-built trails outside of our normal routine and allows us to share the experience with over 600 international riders who have traveled from over 20 countries to partake in the camaraderie and contribute their own tire tracks to the famous trails of British Columbia, Canada.

There are two ways to approach the BCBR—race or ride. One involves a single, 34-tooth chainring and the drive to go anaerobic whenever there’s only a short push remaining to reach the top of the climb. The other involves a steady grind in the granny gear and waiting at the top of a featured descent to ensure the dust has settled before dropping in. While the veins of many riders only pump racing blood that’ll never return to a mellow resting pressure, we suggest riders try it out at what we consider “trail-plus” speed in order to get the most enjoyment out of the experience and survive to wear the finisher buckle at the end of the week. Here’s our recap of taking the BCBR one descent at a time. By Clayton Wangbichler

BCRace-intro-spreadSun-dried riders: The first day of racing was the hardest day we’ve ever had on a bike, but we’d do it all over again tomorrow if we could. It may be an invasive weed, but the purple loosestrife sure added to the beauty of many trails. Photo by Todd Weselake

Day 1-Cumberland 

30 miles; 3,816-foot elevation gain

It’s easy to pick out which of us are first-timers at the event as we spend the morning staring at the schedule during our pre-race routine. Rise from the tent, gulp some water, walk to the mess hall, stuff ourselves with bacon, gulp more water, get suited up, pack up our belongings, empty the tent, continue gulping water, drop off our racer bag, and then spend the 1/2 hour before the race expelling extra water and doing everything we neglected to do when we had too much time.

Cumberland is a quaint little town with a vintage bicycle in each shop window and “Good Luck BC Bike Racers” signs pinned to every door. The starting line sits in the middle of the downtown drag and draws the entire town to watch its start.

BCRace-10Motivational rider and legend: Nobody lifts a crowd’s level of stoke more than Brett Tippie. It’s impossible to wipe a smile from your face when he’s in the vicinity. Photo by Margus Riga

BCRace-8

With our ride-not-race mentality in focus, we take it easy off the start and quickly learn our first lesson of the week always ride at your trail pace in order to ensure you’re in a pack with riders of the same skill level. The course spends some time in sparse forests, but most of the day is spent riding through logged clearings that have now been consumed by a mixture of bright purple flowers and weeds. The sun beats down on us relentlessly, and we begin to wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We pass through base camp only to realize we have another 15 miles remaining; oddly, we seem to think a water stop isn’t necessary. Fast forward a few miles and you’d find us curled up on the ground with crippling hamstring cramps. The sun roasts us under maximum exposure as we use momentum and our last ounces of energy to our advantage on the descents. Predictably, we end up imploding at the end with nothing left in the tank. We try to convince ourselves we had a solid day, but the expressions on our faces tell another story. It was short and we didn’t gain much elevation, but it was surely the hardest day we’ve ever had on a bike.

BCRace-bigMoss overload: The densely spaced trees are only connected by tightly knit canopies and massive expanses of moss. This was a good thing, as it left more room for riders to rip through the forest.

Day 2-Powell River

32 miles; 3,589-foot elevation gain

We arrive at camp in the afternoon and stand in the ocean as we watch the sun set over the Strait of Georgia. The next day, we wake up to the morning light illuminating Vancouver Island across the same body of water. Over the next two days, Powell River proves to be our favorite campground of the week in terms of beauty and tranquility. This time our morning is dialed and we’re committed to avoiding the mistakes we made on the previous day. Our body tells us we’re in recovery mode, but we push through to prove otherwise. We quickly realize that a slightly faster trail-plus pace is key to making it through the event.

BCRace-2They come in pairs: If you’re a fan of rocks and roots, B.C. should definitely be a place on your bucket list. It’s impossible to be on a single section of the BC Bike Race route and not have your sights filled with both. Photo by Margus Riga

Our new tactic enables us to fully take in the experience and enjoy our surroundings. Dense canopy replaces the exposure of the previous day and provides a little more moisture to help keep the dust down. Ferns line sections of the trails, and we visualize what it would be like to ride in Jurassic Park; however, instead of being chased by raptors, we have a few hundred mountain bikers hot on our tails. Roots keep every rider active as we all funnel into Death Rattle for a rowdy descent that has us pulling hard through loamy corners and boosting stumps to gain every little bit of trail advantage. Intermittent views of the ocean mix up the scenery and provide a sense of progress and accomplishment at numerous checkpoints.

BCRace-5How to win the BCBR: Tristan Uhl is one of those guys who not only wins the race but does so with plenty of style along the way. He finished the week with a first-place time of 16 hours, 29 minutes and 58 seconds. Photo by Dave Silver

Day 3-Earl’s Cove to Sechelt

37 miles; 5,240-foot elevation gain

By this point our routine is dialed, allowing for seamless mornings that build a solid foundation for the race. We begin the day’s race right at the ferry terminal and embark on a long day of punchy climbs rewarded by short but technical descents. The trail offers very little respite, but we keep on the pedals. Larger gaps enable us to enjoy the descents more, since there is now less dust on the trail. This is the day we realize we consistently end up riding with the same group of individuals after around 45 minutes of riding. Though a few of us are in different start groups, we end up leveling out into a pace that seems to kick in at about the same time for each of us. We spend the following hours making conversation and passing each other back and forth as we make our way along the Sunshine Coast. It’s a micro-community that ends up holding strong through the rest of the week and creates friendship in the moments we’re chasing each other’s tails on the trail.

BCRace-3Too fast for photos: Smooth sections of trail have riders motoring along at speeds that feel out of place in the dense forests. It all becomes a blur of excitement after day two. Photo by Margus Riga

Day 4-Sechelt to Langdale

31 miles; 5,348-foot elevation gain

Straight back into maximum sun exposure and heat, we’re thankful to at least have trail conditioning on our side by this point in the race. It’s as if our bodies fought us the first three days of the week but have finally understood and accepted what we’re putting them through and are now willing to help. Our legs go into a state we call “jelly mode” where they don’t feel like they have much in them but pleasantly surprise us with crank after crank of solid pedaling until, next thing we know, we’re in our best groove of the week. Loose, extended descents test the skills of each racer, and we flow back and forth across power-line clearings that divide one ripping trail from the next. It’s a long day out on the trail for all, but everybody is in good spirits and full of smiles back at camp. Each rider has his or her own post-ride routine. Some lie out and stretch for hours on end while reading a book; others join a group doing yoga in a field, and others find a beverage with a little bite of food to be their preferred post-race recovery method.

BCRace-big-2Master of many skills: Wade Simmons has a history of showing up full-page in a Rocky Mountain ad, but maybe he should have also considered the Super Soaker industry. Check out that accuracy! Photo by Margus Riga

Day 5-North Vancouver

24 miles; 5,000-foot elevation gain

North Vancouver puts us right back in the thick of civilization. A hefty portion of the day’s start is spent on pavement but then heads straight to the world-famous trails the area is known for. They seem to strike a surprising balance between tight and flowy, which requires riders to be on their game as they dodge through trees and rock gardens at high speeds. The claim to fame is well deserved, as each of the trails are so incredible that they leave us daydreaming about living in such an area. On the last descent, Wade Simmons sits on a couch at the top, jumping up to shoot every rider with a super soaker as he or she passes by him. Maybe he knew what we had ahead of us and was simply trying to pre-cool us for the ripping descent named Expresso. Wood features dot the trail and riders analyze each of them, deciding on a “hit or pass” course of action.

BCRace-7Hogging the spotlight: As if the sun were illuminating a path just for him, this racer takes center stage and makes the trail look like it’s a breeze. Photo by Margus Riga

Day 6-Squamish

33 miles; 6,375-foot elevation gain

Without a doubt, today offers the most singletrack climbing of the week. Riding in shade the entire time, we enjoy the pace of whomever is in front of us, trying to keep a slow but steady crank while the group bunches up through technical sections. Fifty Shades of Grey is among our favorite climbs ever. Its smooth and winding terrain puts us at the top without making us feel like we’re holding onto the caboose of a pain train. Quick sections of roots, lined by ferns, have us popping our front tire up and putting power into the cranks for brief seconds, only to return to a comfortable seated climb right after. Rupert provides the rowdiest riding of the week, but only if riders push it to do so. Tight sections of trail make passing impossible but then open up on rock faces offering A, B and C lines for passing at various speeds. Half Nelson provides a full dose of trail ecstasy as we hit the first sender with an excess of speed and realize mid-air that we’re about to descend on a built-in ladder landing. At that moment, we realize we are in for a roller coaster of a trail. It is fast and flowy, with endless g-out corners funneling into hip jumps that have us setting up into the next corner sideways. Letting our gravity-fiend side shine through, we enjoy our favorite day of the week in Squamish. In fact, we end the day looking to ride more of what the area has to offer.

BCRace-6Man-made waterfall: Record temps made for hot days of racing, but plenty of access to water off the bike, as well as aid stations along the trail, kept riders hydrated and occasionally soaking wet. Photo by Margus Riga

Day 7-Whistler

13 miles; 2,808-foot elevation gain

It seems as if Whistler has typically been a parade lap to seal the deal after a week of wear and tear in the saddle. This is not the case this year, as the steepest climbs of the trip are littered with roots woven into the surface of each descent. Riders go all out for the last day of the race and see the shorter distance as an opportunity to push themselves from start to finish.

BCRace-9Replenishing salts: Not only was it amazing to come across bacon mid-race, but the remote location on the course also added to the excitement. We may not have been able to smell it from a mile away, but our bodies sure enjoyed it for many miles after. Photo by Margus Riga

As we turn the last corner of the race, we have the final finishing arches in our sights. Brett Tippie, a freeride legend and fixture in the mountain community, stands as the final obstacle of the race, wearing a massive afro wig while waving a checkered flag with more energy and devotion than a prepubescent kid after two Mountain Dews and a handful of Pixy Stix. He’s likely the one obstacle every single rider hits, as he gives an enthusiastic high-five to each and every rider as he or she crosses the final line of the week. The finishing buckle is placed around our necks by a group of supportive volunteers, and we feel a bittersweet sense of accomplishment. Does it have to be over? Where is day eight? Turns out, even a full week of riding in British Columbia isn’t enough!

BCRace-11Our patriotic finish: With the BCBR ending on the Fourth of July, we were sure to sport the colors of our country while spending the day with our brothers and sisters to the north. Without a doubt, this moment finalized the greatest mountain biking achievement of our lives. Photo by Todd Weselake

Don’t Miss Out

We’ve heard many people express interest in the event, but they are discouraged by the cost. There’s no getting around the fact that $2500 is a hefty chunk of cash out of your pocket, but all we can say is each dollar spent is well worth the services provided. The logistics and coordination of the event alone are worth it, as over 600 people are transported by bus, ferry and seaplane (for some lucky individuals) to a new location daily to find their tents set up and belongings waiting for them. Showers, medical expertise, massages, charging stations and WiFi access are all at racers’ fingertips after crossing the finish line each day. The gourmet meals were among the best we’ve eaten all year and were the icing on the cake.

BCRace-4Bring the whole family: The BC Bike Race isn’t only for grownups and veterans of the sport. Kick bikes also have a place at the event, as a few of the days include kids’ races to get them started young. Photo by Erik Peterson

BCRace-1All are welcome: While each of the trails was incredible, the local favorites were all marked with unique signs. We can’t think of a better way to be welcomed to Gnome trail. Photo by Dave Silver

The event creates a community that feels more like a mobile town than a bunch of mountain bikers punishing themselves. With each year selling out in a matter of days, it’s important to plan far in advance to ensure you reserve a spot at the starting line. While nothing about the race is predictable, we’ve heard rumors of organizers increasing the length of some of its stages next year for the 10th anniversary of the BC Bike Race.


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