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Blue Belle’s last freeride

A history of mountain biking, from the cross ditches on Franz’s run to the sidewalks of Moscow



The first real live mountain bike I had seen outside of a magazine. The bike looked really tough, fat tires, chunky frame and just the thing to fly through the rocks or blast through the mud. It was the early '80s on the stairs at McConkey's shop at Creekside. When they came up with the phrase "early adopter" they were thinking of Finn Saarinen so it was no surprise to see him on a mountain bike. Finn, the eminent salesman, gave me the full pitch: sealed hub bearings, 21 gears, hell this thing went uphill as fast as the Red Chair. And those sealed bearings, you could ride it all day on Long Beach and wash it off in the ocean when you were done. The bike you had dreamed to own when you were a kid. This thing thrived on bad treatment.

I had to have one and within a week my new blue Nishiki was delivered. We became immediate friends. I reveled in what this bike could do, the stability, gliding through the forest, it was fabulous, a bike I had dreamed of without knowing such things were possible.

The blood sweat and beers shared with a bike should really earn them a name but for some reason I never have been able to tag a name to a bike, but this blue Nishiki should have had one, gladiator-ish or Columbus the great discoverer.... It was the beginning of a great adventure.

I worked at the time on top of Whistler Mountain, so I dragged that blue buxom beauty up the mountain and tried to ride it downhill, using the lifts to get it back to the top. Going downhill was exciting - no suspension and caliper brakes, I got pretty good at going over the handlebars but landing on my feet.

It wasn't long before I got a call from Georges Tanguay, the manager at McConkey's shop. "Allo Rojay, I want to try some real mountain biking, ride up the lifts with the bike and take the bike down some ski trails. We could rent some bikes and maybe sell a few more and give people something to do around here in the summer," he said in his silky French accent.

I recounted my early trials with the challenges of the drainage cross ditches, the inadequate brakes. But I said: "Hell yes Georges, come on up, it's tough but maybe we can find something."

We headed off from the top of the Red Chair in the direction of Franz's. Once on the pitch it took every bit of skill I had to even stay near the bike. Brake fade was losing the battle with gravity and by the time I hit the third cross ditch there was another flying lesson... over the front. Somehow I landed on my feet and broke into an essential sprint, the kind used in escapes from bears. I sprinted downhill as the bike wind-milled in the air, touching down just enough to get more air on the next bounce.