The following story was written for Tourism British Columbia by travel writer Margo Pfeiff.
With terrain that winds through old-growth forest, snakes through desert paths and shoots down rugged alpine trails - and everything in between - there's little wonder why B.C. ranks high among hardcore mountain bikers.
"British Columbia offers the most diverse mountain biking experiences on the planet," says Martin Littlejohn, executive director of the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association.
That's a mighty big claim, but it's hard to disagree when you realize you can ride in climatic zones from coastal to alpine, from desert to the radical Rockies; it makes the entire province look like one giant bike park. Littlejohn agrees: "It's hard to find a community anywhere in B.C. without nearby access to mountain biking trails."
For decades, B.C. has had a strong mountain bike culture. The province is synonymous with extreme mountain biking - the internationally renowned North Shore "style" with its bridges, ladders and "teeter-totters" on impossibly rocky and rooty terrain was born in the 1990s in the mountains of North Vancouver.
But there are also softer touring and family routes almost anyone can enjoy, steering those two wheels along a gentle forest path fragrant with the smell of cedar. That is, if you can navigate away from some of the province's wildest rides.
And it's the wild rides that will give you a surge of adrenalin when you launch downhill over a bumpy, sinewy mountain trail, over tree roots and alongside steep drop-offs. You can't help but whoop with joy as you glimpse views from ragged tracks and logging roads of granite spires and glaciers.
This is Whistler Mountain in summer and it's all about biking. Here, easy rides follow the paved Valley Trail, while epic cross-country single-track ribbon the slopes and peaks. Whistler Mountain Bike Park offers more lift-accessed downhill trails - 57, to be exact - and more vertical than any other bike park in North America. Its first alpine bike trail opens this summer, adding another 333 metres (1,091 feet) of vertical to the network: use the Peak Chair to access "Top of the World," a single-track trail from alpine tundra that twists down through mountain hemlock to finish up in coastal rainforest. If you're a newbie, take lessons or sign up for a guided ride. Or to polish your skills join a camp, like the Trek Dirt Series.
Competitive? Head up the SeatoSky Highway for a rollcall of annual biking events and competitions, like the amped Crankworx Whistler.
North of Whistler, in the South Chilcotin Mountains, Tyax Adventures offers up a top bragging rights experience: hopping into a floatplane at its grand log lodge at Tyax Wilderness Resort Spa and landing on a remote mountain lake to start your morning wilderness ride. Watch for mountain goats as you zoom alongside alpine lakes, clear streams and meadows ablaze with wildflowers in the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. Tyax Adventures also offers new three-, four-, seven-or 10-day guided hut-to-hut mountain biking adventures. Start by pampering yourself in lakeside luxury at Tyax Wilderness Resort Spa, then hop on your bike for an epic multi-day wilderness single-track adventure over passes, bordering lakes, through forests and meadows. Carry just a small daypack as your gear is shuttled via floatplane or packhorse to the next backcountry camp 15 to 30 km (nine to 19 miles) away, where you'll wrap up each day with a hearty gourmet meal before bedding down in a cosy wall tent or hut. Finish up by cycling back to Tyax for a sauna and hot tub to soothe those achy muscles.
On northern Vancouver Island, you'll find a serious mountain bike town in the Comox Valley, 2.5 hours north of Victoria. Here, the village of Cumberland is a hub of diverse riding, from the lift-accessed downhill at Mount Washington's Bike Park (where there is a new "easy" trail from peak to parking lot) to the trails of the Forbidden Plateau and the newly protected parkland of Nymph Falls Park. The Riding Fool is a cheerful, cycleoriented hostel in Cumberland with an onsite bike shop for repairs and rentals. There's a bike washing station, locked storage space, maps and knowledgeable staff, like owner Jeremy Grasby, who knows all about the region's 200-plus km (124-plus miles) of trails, including the trails of Cumberland and the Cumberland Community Forest.
"Walk out the front door and you're on a trailhead," says Grasby, a passionate biking advocate involved in the Comox Valley's annual events. "Mountain biking is literally embedded in Cumberland's downtown."
Another hard-core twowheeled community is Rossland in southeastern B.C.'s Kootenay Rockies. More than 200 km (124 miles) of trails run downtown, around town and out of town, including the Seven Summits Trail - a technical and challenging 36 km (22 miles) over the summits of seven mountains that the International Mountain Bicycling Association gives two thumbs-up: "Adventurous mountain bikers will find the epic they're looking for."
With views of the Columbia River Valley and the Southern Selkirk and Monashee mountains, this twisty route is diligently maintained and upgraded by the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society.
Not to be forgotten, Fernie, further east, is a hub for exploring the Rockies on knobby tires with extreme biking guide Sacred Rides, which has earned kudos from the world's top adventure travel publications. Wanna two-wheel for yourself? Their summer SingleTrack Smorgasbord Weekends and Ultimate BC Adventures promise a mix of smooth classics and technical challenges.
Up in the north, the little logging town of Burns Lake - population 2,800 - is making big waves in the mountain biking world. The community was already passionate about mountain biking before a devastating fire recently destroyed the lumber mill that was the main employer, and now the town is putting its energy behind ecotourism. The driving force is the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association, which hosts Northern B.C.'s biggest biking event, the annual Big Pig Festival. This two-wheeled gathering showcases remarkable riding for everyone from kids' mini downhill routes to a cross-country race called "Dante's Inferno," a progressive course that grows by 10 km (six miles) every year for nine years, mimicking novelist Dante Alighieri's Nine Circles of Hell.
Who says water and wheels don't mix? Not the folks at Waterway Houseboats in the Thompson Okanagan region where the Shuswap Trail Alliance is developing a linked system of trails and waterways around Shuswap Lake.
Dock your boat, roll off your bike and hit one of the trailheads for a day of exploring. Then simply float down to your next cycle adventure along the region's lakeshores.
Learn more at www.HelloBC. com/mountainbiking.
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