August 16, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Growing pains 

Downhill mountain biking; an evolution not without protest.

It all started in the Boot Pub. The idea of chalking up six downhill mountain bike rides between sunrise and sunset of a single day at locations from Vancouver’s North Shore to Pemberton. The riders – an elite team comprised of professional downhill racers from the region as well as young up-and-comers from the Squamish area.

As was covered in last week’s Pique feature From the Bar to the Car to the Gnar’, the epic one-day’s ride went off without a hitch, save a few trips to bike repair shops. The challenge took the riders from the worn bedrock trails of the North Shore, to the "friendly" dirt of the Squamish region, to the rocky alpine trails and an extreme technical course in Whistler, and finally to the steep silty trails of Pemberton. All rides were very technical, all were downhill and all were completed.

Yet as successful as this trip was, it is still a far cry from what some people consider to be true mountain biking, since 95 per cent of riding was downhill, rather than the traditional cross-country style. Professional downhill racer and organizer of the "epic one-day ride," Ted Tempany, says unfortunately old attitudes persist and can cause rifts in the mountain biking community.

"I don’t understand when people look at the evolution as a bad thing," he says. "There are people who put us down for not climbing up, but what they don’t realize is that mountain biking is something different to us. I know people who climb and couldn’t care less about the downhill and that’s great too."

The growing divisions within the mountain biking community are not surprising given that the two main disciplines, cross-country and downhill, have effectively evolved into separate sports. Claire Buchar competed in the last Bear Mountain Challenge, and says the two groups don’t really mesh.

"There’s mutual respect but you are looking at two different extremes between the sports," she says.

While both sports require fitness, strength and co-ordination, the sheer adrenaline of downhill racing brings its own requirements.

"You have to overcome fears to get things done on the trail," explains Buchar. "Obstacles or jumping are especially mental. You can’t hesitate."

Creativity is also something judges are looking for, especially in the new slopestyle mountain biking events where riders gain points for stunts and jumps, similar to half-pipe snowboard competitions. Then there’s four-cross, which is similar to boardercross, where four riders leave the start at the same time and pick their own line down a 45-second course. The racing is very aggressive as riders jockey for position down the course around berms and over jumps. An initial qualifier followed by a round-robin elimination format sees the fastest four fighting it out in the final.

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