When mountain biking took hold in the loamy, wooded petri dish that is western Canada, a uniquely gravity-focused aesthetic emerged. Gravity was already kind of a big deal, given the high concentration of world-class skiing and snowboarding. And during what was once the off-season, the dirt and topography were ideal for experimenting. Experiments that were made easier by a network of access and logging roads. Shuttling quickly became a huge part of mountain biking in the region, and much of that shuttling happened in pickup trucks. The stats vary year by year, but pickups tend to sell better per-capita in Canada than in the U.S. They also tend to sell better in rural areas, and at the time of the 2001 census, British Columbia housed about 11 people per square mile. For reference, that’s just a smidge more crowded than South Dakota.
Canadian freeriders of the early 2000s may not have been the first creatures to ever hang a bike’s front wheel off of a tailgate, but the conditions were ripe for that to be the case. We might never know exactly where it began, though. “I’m reading this book about technology spreading to different societies in the Stone Age,” Kamloops native, Matt Hunter digresses. “It’s just like that. I feel like that’s what we’re talking about.” Wherever it started, it had humble beginnings. “Bit of a harsh learning curve on how to tailgate properly. Losing bikes or denting full racks of them while rallying too hard. You know. Kids and bad decisions.” Hunter had an ’89 Ford Ranger. “I took the ‘R’ off. That’s how my friends know it.”
“We would just throw a blanket over there, or a rug or some cardboard. Looked a bit janky, but it worked,” recalls North Vancouver’s Andrew Shandro. “Before, we were just kinda leaning our bikes on the inside of our trucks.” Shandro had a late ’90s Tacoma. Blankets, rugs and cardboard were a common theme in early tailgating. For a long time, it was all that there was.
“There’ve been a couple trips over the years when we had to fashion something pretty primitive,” remembers fellow North-Van resident Thomas Vanderham. “The go-to was to fold up the bike box that you had flown with and drape that over the tailgate.” Vanderham also had a Tacoma.
I wasn’t just cold-calling all the 604 phone numbers in Bike mag’s rolodex. Hunter, Shandro and Vanderham have something in common: They all were DaKine athletes in 2005, when the first purpose-built tailgate pad was brought to market. And the man to talk to at DaKine is Chico Bukovansky, current VP of sales and merchandising. “We worked closely with the key team guys at that point, and our local shuttle posse here in Hood River, Oregon. Team guys at that time with heavy influence on the pad were Thomas Vanderham, Andrew Shandro, Dave Watson and Matt Hunter. All heavy shuttle guys at that time.”
This wasn’t the first time DaKine had made products for putting toys on tailgates. We often forget, but DaKine started making surf accessories in Hawaii more than 40 years ago. “We offered a tailgate longboard surf pad at that time, along with some other soft racks/accessories, so we were comfortable designing around tailgates and such,” Bukovansky says. That may be why it didn’t take very long to get a truck pad to market. “We developed the first tailgate pad in the summer of 2005. First delivery to retail was late 2005 and full on in 2006,” he said.
Few other products have gone from conception to widespread use that quickly. But it helped that pickup trucks were a little simpler 15 years ago. “Nowadays, the design is much more difficult, working around curved tailgates of varying thicknesses, rear-view cameras mounted in different spots across all manufacturers, steps popping out of tailgates. Getting a test Tesla Cybertruck to build a pad for it has been taking some time too,” Bukovansky said.
Originally, there were just two DaKine tailgate pads, and they fit pretty much everything. Today, there are seven. And as Bukovansky notes, it’s not just the pickup trucks that have changed since 2005. “With the addition of lighter and more carbon-based bikes, securing them to the tailgate pad has become ever more important. Downtube protection, bikes and pedals hitting each other, wider axle placement that limits how many bikes will actually fit in a truck.”
An odd side effect of the tailgate-pad proliferation is their role as status symbols. A roof full of bike trays on your Subaru used to be our sport’s version of a Thrasher T-shirt. A way to tell the world you’re in the club. Now, it’s a dusty canvas flap on the back of your Ford F-series pickup which, for anyone keeping track, is the best-selling vehicle in Canada. For 11 years running.