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The Outsider: Reigniting the Toonie flame

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The weekly WORCA Toonie Rides have everything you could want out of a community bike race.

The WORCA Toonie Rides have always had a special place in my heart. I don’t have any of the OG, early ’90s tall tales of drunken descents in the dark from the Crystal Hut or anything, but ever since I moved to Whistler for year-round recreation, Toonies have been a summer staple.

Like most new mountain bike experiences, my first Toonie was a disaster. I missed a piece of flagging tape somewhere in the woods near Cougar Mountain and ended up lost, rolling up to the après not only exhausted but disappointed in my own inability to follow trail markers. Good thing the party was awesome. I returned to the race the following week and finished with a much better result, which also meant a more fulfilling beer and bite afterwards.

What I love about racing the Toonies is you can always get what you’re looking for. Want to suffer shoulder-to-shoulder with the elites when they’re not off racing on the national or world stage? Best of luck to you. Want to chill at the back and chat with your crew for the entire ride? It’s not only accepted, but encouraged. Want to find the Goldilocks sweet spot somewhere in the middle where you feel like you push yourself, have a couple of friendly sprints with fellow racers and fist bump on the far side of the finish line? You’re in the right place.

I’ve always tried to find my sweet spot somewhere near the back of the fast crowd. Like any well-organized XC race, Toonies generally start with a fire road or doubletrack climb, naturally spreading everyone out and separating the proverbial sheep from the goats. During this lung-busting, crank-spinning uphill grind, I try to gauge my ideal placement for the upcoming downhill sections. The downhill fast folk aren’t necessarily the fastest going uphill, so I want to get enough distance ahead so I don’t have a train of enduro bros breathing down my neck on the descents. Such pressure can cause me to take risks on the corners, which I really don’t need to do for a weekly community race these days. If I’m neck and neck on the climb with fast-looking riders, I’ll let them charge ahead on the descent and happily chase them instead.

By about halfway through the race, the course has gone through a couple of climbs and riders have more or less found their field. At this point, I’m a bit more confident about holding my place, not necessarily pulling over if I know I can get distance ahead on an upcoming sprint section. The way I see it, we’ve all earned our spots at that point in the race. So if you’re going to challenge another rider and pass, be ready to back it up for the rest of the race.

The other reason I like to be at the back of the fast crowd is an earlier arrival at the après. The popular Toonies can have hundreds of people queuing up for food and beer, so if you’re quick on the course you can usually get your refreshments before the rest of the rank-and-file members arrive.

While I was pretty religious about the weekly Toonies for about 10 years, there came a point where other summer activities—whether recreational or social—were starting to take precedence. That could be a ride with mates who aren’t fans of Toonie races, hitting a patio or barbecue or just taking advantage of a quiet evening in the bike park.

But when the pandemic took the in-person Toonie races away, I began to miss them. I never really bothered with the virtual Toonie courses, even if they did have socially distanced après events. It just didn’t feel the same. Last week I hit up the Chromag Show n’ Shine Toonie in Function Junction, and while the course wasn’t the best trails that Whistler has to offer, I had great chats both during and after the race with people I hadn’t seen in months. The party in front of Chromag HQ had hundreds in attendance with DJ music, Coast Mountain pouring a new beer and Whistler Cooks handing out great food. So yeah, Toonies are back. And I think I’m back, too.

 

Vince Shuley tries to keep it rubber side down these days. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince.shuley@gmail.com or Instagram @whis_vince.