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written by Noel Buckley
Thirty years ago, the two words "North Shore" were all that was needed to describe a Mecca: Hawaii's northern beach with huge winter waves, rolling pipelines, and the core crowd of surfers. The world has many places to surf, but a journey to the North Shore was a goal of every toe hanging long-boarder. Whether it was a once in a lifetime experience, or a frequent pilgrimage, it was the place to be to develop skills, become one with the scene, and push your limits on the most serious of waves.
Recently, a new North Shore has been receiving its fair share of limelight. Again, the severity of the environment dictated the learning of new skills, forced comradery between participants, and is pushing the limits of what was thought achievable. However at this new North Shore, the closest thing to water is mud, coral reefs have been replaced by sharp granite outcroppings, and getting dumped (or tossed, thrown, pitched, flipped - whatever term suits the occasion) usually ends up with one's body making hard contact with solid ground.
going down a ramp on Bogeyman at Mt. Syemour.
Hawaii is a long way from Vancouver, British Columbia, and the activities taking place are as distant to each other as are these two coastal areas. Vancouver's North Shore is quickly gaining a reputation for having the most serious and technical mountain bike riding in the World.
What makes Vancouver's North Shore (or simply "The Shore" by locals) so different than other riding areas?
Well, to say that the trails are difficult would be a gross understatement; there is more than just hanging it all out to ride a steep drop or perhaps a teeter-totter precariously placed on top of an old growth log. Yes, there is more, much more. The shore demands certain attitudes, certain equipment, and an amount of mental concentration that is unmatched elsewhere. The trails themselves are unruly beasts, needing to be tamed by experienced riders, and quickly buck the novice or inexperienced.
Buckley riding a log bridge on the aptly named Fleshy Wound at
It started in the early 1980's, when a small group of bike riders, on primitive mountain bikes, started trying to ride various hiking trails scattered throughout the mountains that give Vancouver it's picturesque backdrop. Three mountains were the stomping grounds for these pioneers: Cypress Mountain, Mt. Fromme, and Seymour Mountain.
Quickly, they learned that many parts of the trail were impassable without getting off of their bikes, and henceforth started to devise ways of overcoming these obstacles. Rocks and planks were added to trails so that mud pits were filled and riders could ride over fallen logs. A few years later, bike specific trails were constructed, and the rocks and planks became integral parts of these new trails, because these new trails were designed to be technical in nature. The trail builders, free from the constraints of traditional hiking trails, sought out lines that linked significant features together. Big rocks, logs, steep chutes and a healthy dose of man made stunts completed the ambitious lines: technical descents that were unrivaled anywhere in the world and the likes of which had not even entered the imagination of the average cyclist.
As the difficulty of the trails increased, so did the skills of the riders, and as their skills increased, so did the difficulty of the trails. "Ride what you build and build what you ride" became the unwritten rule. Rock faces, logs, and stunts that were originally thought to be too difficult (too crazy?) were slowly being ticked off by the top riders. Just like extreme skiers, they were out hunting the next bigger, steeper, scarier drop. Of course crashing was common as the envelope was pushed and this posed a problem: North Shore riders were getting racked up and hurt more than their Marin County brethren.
with big eyes riding Big Eye on Cypres Mountain
by Lee Lau
Always the innovators, bikes and riding gear were modified to suit the trails. During the 1990's, many advances in bicycle technology were adopted by North Shore riders. First came the Rock Ring, a metal disk that protected chain rings from being ground away on logs and rocks, and protected the calves of bailing cyclists from being sliced open like sashimi. However, soon it was discovered that the big ring was not even needed! Access to the downhill technical trails was uphill via fire roads or trails, definitely not the realm of the big ring. Also, and more importantly, the big ring was hanging up on logs, so it was tossed and replaced by a smooth ring, slightly bigger than the middle ring (the North Shore is probably the only place were you'll see a 34lbs full suspension bike with no big ring, grinding up a hill in the middle ring and riding down a trail in the granny gear). The toothless circumference of this new ring (Damage Control was the first commercially available brand; now also manufactured by Axiom and Black Spire) slides nicely over logs, rocks and legs and enables riders to slide off big drops, sometimes even stalling on the edges to get lined up before plummeting down!
The Downhill scene provided many useful products for the aspiring Shore rider too. Riser bars, hydraulic brakes, short stems, BMX and Shimano 636 pedals, meaty DH tires and rims, and full suspension have all been increasing in popularity over the last few years. Parts are bought cheap and broken, or are heavy, expensive, and strong.
Lightweight has no place on the Shore as component failure can mean serious injury.
Now that the bikes could cope with the terrain, it was time to dial in the riders. Flesh tore easily on rocks and crimson colored socks, however manly, were not popular. Shin, knee and elbow pads - ideas stolen from BMX and trials riders - were sprouting up as experienced riders got tired of visiting the hospital. Only four years ago armored shore riders would have seemed a little out of place; now they are the de-facto standard. Soccer, skateboarding, rollerblading and hockey padding is still worn, but a few creative folks have started to outfit Vancouver riders with more customized gear. Local startups Roach, Core Rat and Hoots are producing full lines of frame and stem pads (protecting the inner thigh and jewels more so than the bike), durable clothing, and body armor. Riders often modify even these designs to fit their own personal needs. Articulated baggy shorts, loose vests and lots of plastic, Velcro, and packcloth adorn the well-dressed shore rider. A current growing trend is the use of full-face helmets, quickly being spurred on by the Giro Switchblade. If it protects you and you can still ride, then wear it.
To many, this may seem overkill: specially modified (evolved) bikes and equipment necessary to ride in a certain area? Well, ok, it's not necessary, but just as using a fully active, 7" travel full suspension bike would make racing a world cup downhill course a lot more efficient, a Shore bike makes the North Shore trails a lot more conquerable. The trails dictate what works and what breaks. It's no surprise that the names of some of these trails reflect their harsh nature: The Hangman, Crippler, Executioner, Fleshy Wound and The Reaper portray nasty dudes. Pink Starfish is another aptly named trail: in your mind, picture the underside of a nice pink starfish in the ocean. Now picture your sphincter as you ride the stunts on this trail. >
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