Feature: BC Bike Race–Powell River

Old school, cross-country trails that don't disappoint

Saving the day--just one of many BC Bike Race staffers who keep racers in the game. Photo by Erik Peterson

By Vernon Felton

"Man, you won't believe what happened back there." It's Nick, one of the BC Bike Race's moto-mounted support crew who lead and sweep each day's stage. He peels off his helmet and addresses the gaggle of dehydrated and blank-eyed riders who are crowding the aid station-cum-watering hole atop the day’s first big climb.

Nick is so caught up in the excitement of his story that he doesn't realize that about half of the riders around him are not exactly all there in the moment, but are still reeling from first big effort of the day. He continues undeterred.

“So, check this out. There was this guy back there on the climb who just ripped his derailleur hanger off. Just mangled it. I'm thinking, 'Ride's over for this guy, right?' and then I look down and guess what? He's riding a 2009 Fuel EX. And guess what kind of bike I used to have?"

The zombie riders continue to stare mutely at Nick.

"I had a 2009 Fuel EX and I just happened to have the derailleur hanger for that bike. That guy was so happy! Ride saved." Nick actually punctuates this last sentence with a fist pump and it would have seemed cheesy if he wasn't so sincere. He's truly over the moon about helping the rider.

Spend a few days at BC Bike Race—heck, a few minutes—and that's probably the first thing that strikes you about this event. People—the folks busting their humps to stir vats of Cytomax, to scan the code on your number plate—every single person seems genuinely stoked to be working here. Most are mountain bikers themselves, including all of the moto guys who "brrap, brrapp, brappp" their way up and down the course looking for lost, wounded or seriously bummed riders to help. There aren't a lot of bummed people at this race, but the moto guys are there just in case. A few minutes ago, one kept another rider in the game.

This was one really, really long stretch of wood.

You look at the schematic of each day's course in your handy Racer Handbook and you mentally gear yourself up for what's coming in a few hours. Some days are obviously brutal—with jagged peak after jagged peak and humbling mileage and elevation gains. Day Four (Earl's Cove to Sechelt), for instance, looks brutal. Squamish will hit people hard. Today, however, looked like a piece of cake by comparison: 30 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing. A long ride, but not nearly as hard as the first two days or the following four.

But then…sometimes appearances can be deceiving.

The singletrack in Powell River has to be seen to be believed. See it. Believe it. Photo by Margus Riga.

"I thought today was going to be the easy day," groaned one rider after another as they ground through the extremely tight, twisty and root-filled Toad Lake and Frog Alley trails. The single track is amazing: It dips and weaves and ducks through a maze of trees and a layer of moss that covers the forest floor as far as the eye can see. The view, once you peel your eyes off the trail 10 feet in front of you, is absolutely stunning. But when you are clapped out after a few hours of climbing (and days in the saddle), the trail can seem…well, not exactly easy. Take your eyes of the trail and you'll wrap yourself around a cedar right quick.

"When I was younger, I used take a bit of pride in people telling me that my trails were so tight that they were hard to ride," admits Wayne Brewer, the driving force behind today's course in Powell River. "But now, I really work on adding more flow to our trails."

Riders cool their legs after a good long haul on their bikes. A damn fine way to end a ride. Photo by Margus Riga

This is true as well. You can see that Brewer and friends have been working overtime to add new trails to the Powell River trail system—there are no end to the new bridges, re-routed singletrack and buffed out trail sections.

"Powell River is different from all the other places in BC. We're not trying to have the most technical and steep trails out there,” explains Brewer. “At 65, I am likely the oldest of the course directors and after having broken both wrists as well as several ribs and my little finger, all while riding of course, I like to keep my tires on the ground.”

Quite possibly the most beautiful camp spot on earth. Here's where we're staying at Powell River. Photo by Margus Riga.

“My main trail-building partner Dipper (Ron Diprose) is 60 and feels the same way about avoiding more injuries, so I guess our trails reflect that, although we ride with a lot of much younger folk and so have also designed trails or features that scare me. What we're building here are old-school cross country trails."

It's worth noting at this point in the story that Brewer's idea of "old school XC" is probably a lot, for lack of a better word, "radder" than the image floating in your head when you hear that descriptor. True, these trails are (by BC standards anyway) low on the pucker-scale, but they are anything but boring, as is evidenced by the large number of mountain bikers who return to Powell River, hoping to retrace the BC Bike Race route years after they completed the event.

This, it turns out, is hugely important to the small, former logging community.

"When I first moved her in 1988," says Brewer, "the pulp mill was already downsizing and cutting shifts. At first, the talk was all about getting the next big business—something like Boeing or an aluminum smelter—to move to town and provide jobs. That's just the way towns have thought about bringing money to town for decades. Now, the city has come to realize that eco-tourism has huge potential.”

Two and a half million people come to BC each year just for the mountain biking and 1.7 million of them return again. Each time they come, they spend an average of $100 a day. “That," says Wayne, "is a lot of money that can help these towns. The province is paying attention to us now."

The town of Powell River welcomed our mob of riders with open arms...and bag pipes, and free cookies and a whole lot of smiles--yes, that sounds corny, but this is Canada and people really do smile all the time. If you're American, it feels a lot like bizarro world.