Mountain biking it aint what it used to be.
Once upon a time, a mountain bike was pretty much a regular bike with fat tires and flat handlebars. Most riders wore helmets, because of the risk of spills, and a typical ensemble of shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt. Then came the advent of suspension in the late 1980s, and its all been downhill ever since.
The sport has undergone such a rapid evolution in the past 10 years that anyone unaware of this could feel they had stumbled upon another planet when walking near Whistler gondola in summer. The area teems with armour-clad riders with full-face helmets mounted on dual suspension steeds boasting up to 10 inches of travel. Visually it can be confusing: a motocross meet without engines, where the pull of gravity provides the power.
The growing popularity of this new downhill sport has provided a happy marriage between bike manufacturers and ski resorts such as Whistler-Blackcomb. Ski lifts can bring in money in the off-season from bikers seeking a lift to the top. And with new on-mountain bike terrain parks and trails being opened up, more people want to buy bikes and join the sport.
The old school of mountain biking, commonly known as cross-country riding, is still around. That is, biking uphill and downhill or earning your turns, to use skier speak. However with many of the new popular mountain bikes weighing up to 50 pounds, the designs are all about stability on the downhills, landing big jumps and getting big air, rather than puffing your way to the top.
One of the local downhill fraternity is mountain bike pro racer veteran Ted Tempany from Squamish. To many locals he is Big Red Ted, the main bartender at Whistlers Boot Pub throughout the ski season. But come summer, he swaps bar life for the mountain bike trails of the Sea to Sky corridor and the North American racing circuit. Tempany says he enjoys all aspects of mountain biking, including cross-country, but his main passion is the downhill.
"When I moved here in 92 everyone was on hard tail bikes (without rear-wheel suspension) but with the new bikes, brakes, progressive shocks and really good designs, everything that was imagined is starting to come into play," he explains.
"At the recent B.C. Cup race in Mission the downhill racers were double the number of cross country riders. Its getting more and more popular and the younger riders are especially impressing me, knocking the others out of the park."
According to Tempany, the mountainous terrain of B.C. is the ideal place to try out these new dual suspension machines.