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The Outsider: Prioritizing mountain bike spending

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Columnist Vince Shuley knows no trail comes free and urges all users to do what they can to support trail associations like WORCA.

Bikes are back with more and more trails opening up every week. Pemberton is in its element ahead of the dusty blowout that arrives with summer. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park—after a premature early opening attempt—is set to start loading one week from today. A big high five to all those trail crews for moving metres of snow to get the Fitzsimmons Zone ready for the annual opening weekend migration of mountain bikers from all corners of the Pacific Northwest.

Another arrival is that of some long-awaited shipping containers—which means new bikes are kicking around this year. The industry ain’t out of the supply chain woods yet, but it is making headway on the long catch up. So congratulations to everyone rocking shiny new frames this summer. You’re either patient, lucky, diligently early at ordering your stuff or a combination of the three. 

Whatever price you paid for your bike, there’s always more expenses looming around the corner. Torn tires, smashed derailleurs, cracked rims, exploded freehubs… These are just a few inevitable fixes that await mountain bikers that ride in the Sea to Sky. Then there’s all the luxury upgrades: shiny bars, stems, pedals and grips that personalize your bike and give you that pride of looking more core than other bikers on the trail. Start getting into electronic shifting and carbon wheels and a sub-$10,000 bike can turn into a sub-$15,000 package. And I won’t even start talking about high-end e-bikes.

Wherever you are on the spending spectrum or wage bracket, it’s all relatively expensive. And having spent my share on mountain bikes over the years, I get it. But what I don’t get is how spending gets prioritized. 

For example, take a destination mountain biker travelling to Whistler from California. Seeing and hearing about the legendary Whistler trails and bike park, he rallies his buddies, buys a flight, packs up his bike worth well over $8,000 and spends a few more thousand dollars on accommodation for the week. While a few fancy dinners and après patio sessions are considered essential luxuries on vacation, the crew spends the week floundering through the trail network, making sure they ride the do-not-miss trails of Dark Crystal and Lord of the Squirrels and get lost countless times trying to find the best uphill route or downhill connectors. For the price of a handlebar each, this crew could hire a qualified mountain bike guide to not only show them the most efficient way to ride the best trails, but coach them on technique to get the most out of their $8,000 bikes. It boggles the mind how many financially capable riders think that replacing their capable gear with more expensive gear will make them a better rider. 

Now let’s look at an example of the Sea to Sky mountain biker. They live here and have enough friends clued in to where the latest trails are so they don’t need a guide. They’re skilled enough to ride almost anything they want without coaching (even if coaching would probably make them faster). These riders might also have $8,000 bikes, but sometimes pay less through their connections and pro deal networks.

How many of these people won’t spend $60 on an annual trail association membership?

When I wrote about the joys of riding A-Line last year, a commenter opined “or you could just ride great trails outside of the park for free.” Newsflash: public trails don’t come free. You only need to read a few of Dan Raymond’s (WORCA’s lead trail builder) newsletter updates to realize that trails don’t maintain themselves. They require constant upkeep, especially after severe weather events such as the fall floods of 2021.

“Ah. But my friend knows the guy who built this unsanctioned trail, and he doesn’t get any money from WORCA or the Muni.” Well, if you ride that trail regularly and you know the crew that built it, consider reaching out to see if you can contribute some labour. Or buy the builders some beer. And if you come across them working in the woods, stop and offer to haul some buckets of dirt.

There are more than a few karma-rich riders who attend trail nights, volunteer for the trail associations or even dig their own trails. But for every one of these trail fairies, there are hundreds that don’t lift a finger, or worse, don’t even buy a trail membership. Don’t be one of them.  


Vince Shuley would love to see the return of the WORCA Bike Swap, where he most enjoys volunteering his time to raise money for trails. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email [email protected] or Instagram @whis_vince.