Feature - Growing pains 

Downhill mountain biking; an evolution not without protest.

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Naturally this makes it an exciting spectator sport, and major sponsors are increasingly coming onboard. Supporters of the freestyle movement are also lobbying to get downhill and four-cross into the next Summer Olympics.

Cross-country mountain biking has already been included in two Summer Games. Those races typically last around two hours.

Tempany says the new freestyle approach mirrors what has been happening in other sports.

"It’s the same new technical slopestyle that we are seeing with freestyle skiers, BMX hopping, skateboarding, in snow parks with rail slides and gibbing, and even with snowmobiling, where the principles of motocross are being applied," he says.

"The activities are different but the same physics apply so it’s only natural that mountain biking is being influenced, especially as the bikes are getting better."

But are the bikes evolving quickly enough? Not according to former cycle courier and bike mechanic James Barrett of Katmandu Sports in Whistler. He says too many bike manufacturers are capitalizing on the downhill craze while still trying to cater to the cross-country market, which calls for light weight machines. The result: bikes that are dangerously ill equipped for the Sea to Sky terrain.

"It’s annoying to see a lot of bikes coming out of the United States especially, with six to eight inches of travel and a pair of cross country rims. Riders come to the resort on these Gucci carbon fibre or titanium cross-country bikes and try to keep up with the guy on the big 40-50 pound dually (dual suspension) and absolutely trash their bike because it’s just not made for it," explains Barrett.

"It’s like driving your Porsche off road. This is Hummer terrain."

Barrett says a lot of advertisements perpetuate the myth by showing cross-country bikes hucking off huge drops. He believes manufacturers should portray more responsible and realistic images of what their bikes can handle.

"Guys are riding stuff that 10 years ago they wouldn’t have even thought of riding, so the bikes have to be designed to accommodate this. Or at the least, stop letting heroes put across false messages."

If acceptance of downhill mountain biking by traditional riders and builders is still a work in progress, acceptance of some downhillers within the fraternity is also evolving.

Much of this summer race officials have been bombarded with protests surrounding North Shore rider Michelle Dumaresq, who has won several pro women’s downhill races. The problem: she used to be a man.

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