There never seems to be any shortage of weird and wonderful inventions that permeate the world of outdoor recreation.
Take Jean-Yves Blondeau (a.k.a. Rollerman), a French downhill mountain enthusiast who constructs suits of body armor with skateboard and rollerblade wheels attached to the torso and every limb. Watching Blondeau's Transformer-like shift while hurtling down roads in Europe is an entertaining YouTube distraction, but I don't quite see this ultra-niche method of descending mountains taking off with the mainstream. But if you're curious and rich, you can order one of Blondeau's roller suits for about 4,500 Euros.
He also makes a snow-specific version with butchered skis, which would make you an instant Whistler celebrity.
When mountain bikers first lay eyes on the A-Ride (a new two-wheeled thing-a-ma-jig that came to Whistler under the brand Alpine Riding), there's an almost obligatory eye roll or shaking of the head in disbelief. Owner and operator of Alpine Riding Audric Lacour (who also happens to be a very enthusiastic Frenchman), is trying his best to avoid the term "scooter," but for better or worse, that's the term people seem to identify with. You stand on the A-Ride much like a scooter; feet close together on a platform a few centimetres off the ground. The rest of the A-Ride is more or less like a mountain bike with 24-inch wheels; front and rear suspension and a riser handlebar with hydraulic disc brakes. The design is of course, French.
To mountain bikers, this already sounds weird. Yet another hare-brained device is here to invade our sacred trails and bastardize our noble sport! But you can all relax. Alpine Riding is a guided-only experience on certain trails in the Whistler Bike Park. They're chainless and rely on uplift, so you probably won't find them scooting up Stonebridge. The appeal of Alpine Riding is not to mountain bikers—they have enough fun on their bikes—but to sightseers. Those thousands of people that ride the gondola, cross the valley on the Peak 2 Peak then ... download. Alpine Riding fills that gap by providing a safe, accessible and ... wait for it ... fun way to descend Whistler Mountain.
OK, so just how much fun is Alpine Riding? Not one to judge a book by its cover, I joined a few other media and marketing folk on the signature Peak to Valley tour last week to try it out, so you don't have to (but you totally should).
After the requisite introductions and safety speech from Audric, he watches us roll down the slope one by one to make sure everyone can brake their A-Ride properly. We pass with flying colours and take off down Upper Whiskey Jack, the steeper gradient making me realize a couple of things:
1. My feet and centre of mass are quite low to the ground, so I feel really stable. This will make beginners a lot more confident than their first time on a mountain bike.
2. I look ridiculous, but I'm going with it. Audric leads us down Una Moss, one of the blue flow trails where he's sanctioned to guide this tour. The A-Ride makes it feel almost effortless to lean the bars over while my body stays closer to upright. While they may not look it, these A-Rides are more than capable.
We pause at the Dave Murray Flats area and Audric explains that this is one of the spots where he does the interpretative part of the tour, talking about the geography and history of the Whistler Valley. A group of kids roll up on their mountain bikes, their coach not far behind.
"Why're you guys riding scooters?" asks a tactless 10-year old from behind his full face helmet and goggles.
I'm about to hand the kid a witty retort, but Audric beats me to it, well used to the curious jeers and queries from Whistler Mountain Bike Park clientele.
"Because they are fun!" he exclaims, followed by a couple clever kid-friendly comments on how they should try it for themselves.
"Huh," grunts the 10-year-old before dropping into Blue Velvet at an impressive speed.
As we continue down the mountain I start testing the limits of the A-Ride a bit, cornering higher in the berms with greater speed and locking up the rear wheel to drift a bit into sharper corners. Both come easily. I leave some distance before dropping in behind the group on Del Boca Vista, the green flow trail perfect for the chainless A-Ride. I exit onto Easy Does It, convinced that I just pulled my fastest time ever down that trail.
Back in the village, we line up the A-Rides next to the gondola download exit and say our goodbyes. A group of Ziptrek clients walk past, each of them stopping dead in their tracks to stare at the parked A-Rides. Audric turns to us and says:
"You see this? This is what it's like all over the Alps. People are always so curious about them, how they can get down the mountain with the whole family in one group."
He then walks over to the group of Ziptrekkers with a big smile on his face and gives them the Alpine Riding elevator pitch, easily netting himself another handful of new customers.
Alpine Riding isn't here to cannibalize the sport of mountain biking, but it does serve as an excellent "gateway drug." Bike parks the world over struggle with converting low-impact activity guests into entry-level mountain bikers.
A-Rides will serve that purpose well.
Vince Shuley won't be buying an A-Ride, but can't wait to try the electric version. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram @whis_vince.