Many theories exist about the development of human relationships amongst humans. Malcolm Gladwell made some hay with his idea of "connectors." Robert Zemeckis won an Oscar for his movie about one human's involvement with every major historical event of the mid- 20th century. And some jackass ruined Kevin Bacon's life by providing a tangible example of the six degrees of separation. My theory is British Columbian mountain biking specific and can be simply stated as this: Cory Leclerc knows everybody and is involved in everything. He's a connector -- Forrest Gump and Kevin Bacon rolled into one.
It started in the late 1990s, when freeride was blowing up B.C. Forests were thick with wheelie drops and haphazardly built wooden structures, and downtown Vancouver was over-run with knobby-tired stair-gappers. The spark was "Kranked," where names were made and careers were launched. And Leclerc was there for it all.
"As with most things involving Cory Leclerc, my memory of when I first met him is shrouded in confusion and chaos," says freeride legend Wade Simmons. "I definitely remember one of the first times being in Kamloops in the mid-'90s, and it involved a BMX track and us jumping some berm-to-berm gaps. From there, Cory had rented this old punk-rock house in Vancouver’s downtown eastside and I moved in. In those days, life was awesome: working at bike shops, racing/living mountain biking, partying and so on. Back when urban riding was a thing, we would go ride downtown Vancouver late at night, pushing each other on lines. Cory had always been a talented rider, and he and I, both being very competitive, would always battle at whatever we did."
Take Leclerc’s involvement with cult clothing brand Roach as a microcosm of this premise. Anybody who was somebody was wearing Roach, and Leclerc was was the dysfunctional glue holding it all together: team rider, investor, designer. There he was, second place to Tyler Klassen in the first-ever Race Face UFC. He followed that up with an invite to the 2002 Red Bull Rampage before injuring himself and gifting the spot to Darren Berrecloth. From there, he went to Red Bull Freezeride and was the only person that year to hit a full loop on a mountain bike.
These events create an interesting tale of their own, but the real story is about what happens when somebody with talent and ambition runs up against the ugliness of depression. If Leclerc's interests had been in any other sport, he would be retired by now, probably sitting on a fat bank account. He'd be Dany Heatley or Allen Iverson, an undeniably talented player shuffled between organizations because he couldn't - or wouldn't - fit the team mold. But mountain biking doesn't work that way. There’s not enough money at stake to incentivize people to paper over the cracks or deal with the bullshit. It's a world of one strike and you're out, and Leclerc is generally able to threaten most of his opportunities before he arrives at the pitch meeting. So instead of a long career as an established pro, Leclerc's incessant self-sabotage and bouts of isolation forced him down a different path.
"Many times I caught myself saying things like, 'If they paid me, I wouldn’t cause so much trouble,'" Leclerc admits. "This is where my young brain had it all backwards. They wanted to pay me, but I was too much of a risk. I needed to act like a pro first, and then they would have treated me like one. It's weird that somebody like me could so badly want to be in the spotlight but be so incapable of dealing with it."
Out of necessity, Leclerc Cory made his own program. Even if nobody wanted him on the official team, his skills as a rider and a talker created a steady avalanche of bikes and parts, with sales of the overflow used to fund his adventures. Hungry for coverage, Leclerc and his long-time partner, Ambrose Weingart, decided to make things happen on their own. In 2001, they made the inappropriately named "Pedalfiles," and shortly thereafter, they launched the equally inappropriately named Pist-N-Broke (PNB) Productions. This led to a couple of "Back in the Saddle” releases before culminating in the PNB swan song that was "Collectively Kranking Up the Disorder." With a negligible budget, Leclerc and Weingart created films that rivaled the big guns of the industry. This also lead to Leclerc’s landing on the July 2003 cover of this magazine.
“I was lucky enough to get to do some rad trips into Cory and Ambrose’s hometown of Williams Lake, and build segments and search into some amazing zones," says photographer Sterling Lorence, whose images defined that era in the sport. "On one trip, over the course of a few days, we were shooting a really cool wall ride with [Dave] Watson, Thomas [Vanderham] and Cory. I had shot it from multiple angles and it was in the bag except for one angle that I really liked, but was best suited for a sunset, and we got clouded out on our last day of the trip. I told Thomas and Cory that I wanted to do the six-6 hour drive back up there to return to this spot in the next weather window of sun.
"We went back and we scored an evening of primo summer sunset light to finish off this wall ride. Cory could smell the opportunity … and I also think he valued some of these special zones that were close to his hometown … and wanted to ride them as well as present them in his film. Those two guys sessioned it hard for me and were going way higher and more stylish than ever before. It was kinda like a boxing match between those two, as they were one-upping each other, tabling out off this wall."
As he produced movies and dealt with more and more riders, Cory Leclerc started to figure out that he had an eye for talent and, despite his own shortcomings, was good at making things happen for other people. Geoff Gulevich was one of the young guns impacted by Leclerc.
"It was hilarious working with them," Gulevich says. "Ambrose was always quiet and positive and Cory was anything but. Shooting with those guys definitely pushed me to do my best, and it was OK to mess up, as long as you tried again. Our part was actually nominated for 'Best Line' at the first and last Bike magazine awards, but lost to a line that Berrecloth had shot with the Collective. Either way, it was extremely memorable to know that something we had done at 16 years old was competing with the best in the game.
"Cory was super motivating. He loved to ride as much as we did, and he would learn things along with us and push us harder."
But mountain bike films are not an easy way to make ends meet, so Cory Leclerc augmented his parts sales income through brief interactions with the real world. He flirted with success in acting, and he was a mainstay in TV commercials for a number of years before moving on to stunt work after jumping a dual-sport in a Juicy Fruit spot.
But even though his large personality seemed perfect for an on-screen life, the fit wasn't right, and and thus began a brief period of confusion for Leclerc. As he and Weingart drifted apart and PNB dissolved, Leclerc started to think that it might be time to grow up and get a real job. He got his Real Estate license, but never pursued the profession, then cycled through a few more ventures, each one reinforcing his true strength in seeing the potential in others and coaxing the best out of them. Leclerc began to formalize his coaching, starting with a relatively haphazard program that he put together for a young Nick and Zander Geddes, which evolved to what it is today: C4 Rider Training.
Oddly enough, many of Leclerc's flaws help make him an effective coach. Turns out, yelling loudly across expanses of forest is actually an efficient way to quickly get a point across. A microscopic attention span keeps the program fresh, interesting and exciting. And being in charge is exactly what is required when you aren’t really interested in taking directions from anybody. But most of all, when Leclerc is on, his energy pulls effort out of people. He convinces them that there might be something to that crazy thing they’re pursuing, and that they can kick open doors and tear down walls. With Leclerc, the ups in life are seldom a problem, but managing the downs creates challenges. In learning to do so, he’s created a more stable platform for success -- his and others.
The result is C4 riders littering the top five of every downhill race in Canada. His crew gets the benefit of his years of knowledge and experience without having to live through the bad choices and missed opportunities.
"I'm still myself and have fun with my crew, but we have codes of conduct that they have to adhere to," Leclerc explains. "Most people know the loose wheel on the C4 team is always me, but it’s a part of why they connect with me. I am not perfect and I make a lot of mistakes. I am honest with them about my life and my struggles in the hopes that they can surpass me in their own careers."