FINDING LIGHT ON THE DARK B.C. COASTLINE THE BRIGHT MOMENT IN FREERIDINGâ€™S PAST
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BUILDS A COLLECTION OF CURIOUS BIKES
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LS. R LAURE G O N O U N U P D AT E D IN T S E R A B E E N F E AT U R IN G S T IF F N E S S AV E N â€™T , N D W E H G P L AT F O R M FO R IM P R O V E DR T , A N D W E A , N IO S IN S G GS E N R IN A G R H O A PERS. C ARE SHO E R W IT H P F T H AT G A M E C E , L A R G E R B , C H A IN S TAY S R TRAVEL DROP YOU. S U O M E Y E W N O V N G O A O O N N L L M O N S R E IO L Y O T S W IN M F U C E S S IS N T S A N E V O L P E D A L IN G P E R N D O V E R R E M A N BENEFIT FRO THAT. BECAUSE A A E NA PRO T H E K O S S G 2 R E P R E S IT H S U P E R IO R U M F R A M E . S T OF ALL SIZES CE. YEAH, WE DID P R O C E S IO N D E S IG N WB O N O R A LU M INEPTH SO RIDERSA WATER BOTTL S U S P E N A L L - N E W C A R ST INSERTION DLE? NO? IT FITS A N D A N ED THE SEATPO A WATER BOTT INCREAS ENTION IT FITS DID WE M
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009 C O N T E N T S
photo: ale di lullo
VOL 24 | NO 9
038 IT’S ALL SUNSHINE
056 FINDING THE MOMENT
Three riders complete a grueling through-trudge of British Columbia’s newly opened Sunshine Coast Trail.
Former Bike senior editor Leslie Anthony revisits when freeride took its ﬁrst steps out of the playpen and into mainstream.
048 STONE WALLED
062 DREAM BUILDS
In this land of the free, access dies hard as lifelong riders are plagued by recreational persecution in Massachusetts.
Do you think we’re weird? We sure do, just take a look at our ... ahem ... Dream Builds ... .
departments ON THE COVER
017 START HERE
030 BUTCHER PAPER
034 GRIMY HANDSHAKE
Nikki Hollatz pedals Devil’s Backbone trail as photographer Colin Meagher catpures early morning light within the Entiat Mountains of Washington.
082 OFF LINE
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012 M A S T H E A D
EDITORIAL Editor | Nicole Formosa Director of Photography | Anthony Smith Art Direction | Chato Aganza Managing Editor | Will Ritchie Gear Editor | Travis Engel Online Editor | Amos Horn Video Editor | Satchel Cronk Editors-At-Large | Mike Ferrentino, Brice Minnigh Founding Photo Editor | David Reddick Captain Gravity | Mike Vihon Senior Writers | Graham Averill, Kristin Butcher, Ryan Palmer Contributing Writers | Ryan Cleek, Matt Coté, Kim Cross, Andrew Findlay, Kurt Gensheimer, Lacy Kemp, Devon O’Neil, Tess Weaver Strokes, Ryan Stuart Senior Photographers | Mattias Fredriksson, John Gibson, Bruno Long, Sterling Lorence, Scott Markewitz
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017 S TA R T
battling the pit
ONE RIDE AT A TIME
THE PIT IN MY STOMACH PERSISTED. AFTER THREE days, the constant feeling of dread that grew out of a year that seemingly wouldn’t stop serving up a steady stream of suck deepened. Violence at home and abroad, personal losses, injury, a country divided, natural disasters that stole homes and lives, heartbreaking, senseless death in the exact location our staff and the rest of the cycling industry had gathered just 10 days before—all the darkness clouded the light, the positivity, the ability to remain hopeful. On days like these, it can seem easier to give up in the face of so many forces that are out of our control. But these are also the times when an appreciation for the small things offers enough perspective to combat the funk: the feeling of fresh rubber sinking into soft dirt, the early-morning light rising above the ridgeline to bring a new day ﬁlled with new possibilities, the steady rhythm of breath on a solo climb, a stark reminder of how fortunate we are to be here, alive, on this trail, on this day. This is when the mountain bike becomes so much more than a vehicle for high-ﬁves with friends or the quickest way to reach the highest peak or the most-remote trail. It’s when the bike provides a way to escape the heaviness, if only for an hour—a chance to lose ourselves in the focus of a technical descent or the concentration of an unrelenting climb, providing a brief respite from the anxiety that otherwise envelops our psyches. With each ride, the pit subsides, the pain dulls, the light starts to shine again and hope creeps back in. As another riding season draws to a close, we reﬂect on the long summer days when our bikes ferried us into the alpine to reveal stunning vistas of layered mountain ranges, pools of crystal-clear water and perfectly sculpted trails, offering ample beauty to block out the ugliness of the world. When you, our esteemed readers, delve
into this issue, we hope you also feel temporary relief from the weight of the world. First through the words of writer Andrew Findlay and images of Margus Riga as they document their suffer-fest on the Sunshine Coast Trail, in an attempted through-ride of the 120-mile route (“It’s All Sunshine,” page 38). Next through the research of reporter Devon O’Neil, who wraps up his “Lines in the Dirt” series with the surprising story of how a group of mountain bikers in central Massachusetts lost their home trails after 25 years of access, and what they’re doing to get them back. And ﬁnally with writer Leslie Anthony, as he recollects the birth of freeride (“Finding the Moment,” page 56), revisiting the exact moment mountain biking changed in the late 1990s. Plus, there’s the inevitable ogling over the four unique bikes that make up our annual “Dream Builds” project on page 62. Mountain biking may seem inconsequential in the big picture, but in our tiny corner of the planet—and hopefully in yours—it is so much more than just a sport; sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps the pit from taking over.
by nicole formosa I photo: sven martin
018/019 B U Z Z
jay starnino, sol mountain lodge, british columbia | photo: ryan creary
020/021 B U Z Z
curtis robinson, dylan dunkerton. coastal range, british columbia | photo: haruki noguchi/MOTV
ace hayden. squamish , british columbia | photo: ale dilullo
jonathan cook. squamish, british columbia | photo: rene gouin
022/023 B U Z Z
kc deane. fraser river, british columbia | photo: jussi grznar
026 S K E T C H
EXPLORE ONE ALASKAN’S JOURNEY THROUGH A CHANGING WORLD
BJORN OLSON IS THINKING ABOUT POLAR BEARS. HE’S THINKing about hypothermia and frostbite too, and also sea ice levels, but mostly, he’s thinking about polar bears. “I’m used to black and brown bears, but polar bears are a different breed. They’re more predatory and carnivorous,” Olson says. “This will be the ﬁrst trip I’ll carry a gun.” Olson is walking me through the nuances of his next big ride, which will cover 850 miles along the northwestern edge of Alaska—a route that rolls along the beaches and permafrost cliffs that separate the westernmost ridges of the Brooks Range from the Arctic Ocean. Few people have ever set foot on this particular landscape let alone ridden a bike across it. Olson and his partner, Kim McNett, and fellow bike adventurers, Dylan Kentch and Leyland Wilcox, will explore the area via fatbikes and packrafts, riding when they can and paddling when they can’t, ﬁlming the adventure as well as documenting the fast erosion of sea ice and permafrost from climate change. Beyond the local wildlife, Olson and his team will have to navigate massive cliffs and permafrost bluffs, pedal over strips of sea ice and long barrier island spits that hover in the Arctic offshore, it’s just the sort of logic-defying mission through a hostile,
but gorgeous, environment that gets Olson excited. “This is deﬁnitely polar bear country,” Olson says. “But my concerns might be irrational. A lot of polar bear encounters don’t end in violence. But safety is always a concern here.” By “here,” Olson means Alaska. The 42-year-old photographer and documentary ﬁlmmaker was born in America’s ‘Last Frontier,’ and has lived there ever since, save for a few years when he went to high school in Colorado. During the last decade, he’s made a name for himself by tackling a number of multi-day bikepacking trips through some of the most daunting landscapes in the state. We’re talking about through-rides of the Iditarod Trail, mid-winter explorations of frozen rivers … Olson will spend weeks at a time on his bike exploring Arctic tundras that most of us will only see in pictures and documentaries. Watch his ﬁlms and you’ll see Olson, with his bushy goatee, scraggly hair and forearm tattoos, wearing a lot of faux fur, getting uncomfortably close to brown bears and ﬁshing through small holes in thick ice. You’ll see him interviewing scientists about climate change. He’ll be riding across seemingly endless ﬁelds of ice and snow, his Salsa fatbike loaded down with gear. The more brutal the conditions, the more stoked Olson seems to be. “I wouldn’t call it masochistic,” he says, from his home in Homer. “But there is a pleasure in riding when it’s 30 below, and you only have four hours of daylight; when you know you’re doing something that not everyone thinks is fun.” When we talk, he and McNett are a year removed from their biggest adventure to date, an 1,100-mile ride from Knik to Kotzebue, riding the northern section of the Iditarod Trail and then continuing north across large swaths of sea ice until they reached the Arctic. (Just for fun, try to get directions from Knik to Kotzebue on Google maps. It won’t let you, because there are no known routes.) They spent a month in the frozen wilderness during the heart of winter, carrying a teepee style tent with a center pole and a titanium wood stove. The duo harvested wood along the way for heat, melted snow for water each night and carried inﬂatable snowshoes in case the
“THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TRIP I’LL CARRY
by graham averill I photos: bjorn olson
snow was too deep ride through. If the snow became impossible to pedal through, they had inﬂatable rafts, which they used like trailers to tow their bikes. “It’s a different way to travel, but I’m used to it. I come from a mountaineering and long distance sea kayaking background,” Olson says, adding that even as a kid, he was inspired by great Arctic explorers like Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian best known for being the ﬁrst person to reach both poles. Olson’s heroes were interested in the process of discovery, of ﬁnding out what they—and the equipment of their day—were capable of doing. According to Olson, there’s no better place to recreate this lifestyle than in Alaska. “It still has a wildness to it,” Olson says. “We’re in a state with hardly any roads and very few trails, but we have beaches and sea ice and frozen rivers, which have been the traditional thoroughfares for travel and migration for 10,000 years. The fatbike opens up that same terrain to modern exploration.” Given Alaska’s frigid landscape, Olson was an early adopter of fatbikes. In the ’90s, he retroﬁtted 44-millimeter rims with the widest tires he could ﬁnd. In 2005, he moved onto a Gunnar Rock Hound that was built around 88-millimeter rims and never looked back. Now, he lives on super light, 100-millimeter rims and a Salsa frame loaded with bikepacking bags. Olson typically plans two massive adventures a year, one in the winter and one in the
summer, with countless smaller missions scattered throughout. Like most bikers, he enjoys the two-hour midweek spin around his ‘neighborhood’ (he lives in Homer, on the edge of the heavily glaciated Kenai Peninsula), but he lives for these multiweek quests into the great unknown, most of which carry an element of environmental science to them. Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Meanwhile, the state is the continual target for mining operations of all kinds. Through his ﬁlmmaking and photography, Olson is able to blend truly stunning adventure narratives with shocking realizations about the environment around him. “There’s no better place to see climate change in action than in Alaska,” Olson says, adding that the warm temperatures and increased storm activity add an element of unknown to his adventures. Dwindling sea ice, less snowpack, more permafrost erosion … Alaska is feeling the hard effects of climate change, and these factors have a direct impact on Olson’s adventures. Which brings us back to the polar bears and the 850-mile trip Olson is currently planning along the ‘Roof of Alaska.’ Look at terrain on Google Earth and you may as well be looking at a picture of Mars. The landscape is frozen and pockmarked with craters. It’s hard to tell where the land ends and the frozen Arctic begins. The launching point for the adventure is a small village
called Point Hope (population 699), and there’s nothing for hundreds of miles except for a tiny air strip aptly named ‘Lonely.’ Olson admits that there’s a lot about the expedition that’s still unknown. “We’ll encounter huge cliffs, which we’ll probably paddle around. And then we’ll have to tackle permafrost bluffs that are eroding. And we don’t know how much sea ice will be ridable,” he says. “It’ll be a mixed bag. Nobody’s ever done it before, so we’ll ﬁgure it out as we go.” But that’s exactly the way Bjorn Olson wants it. Much like Roald Amundsen and the great Arctic explorers of the 19th century, if Olson knew exactly what to expect from an adventure, he probably wouldn’t bother.
028 D U S T
elegant strength JULY 6, 2017 | 6:04 P.M. | REVELSTOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
by will ritchie I photo: robb thompson
PHOTOGRAPHER ROBB THOMPSON couldn’t help but notice Casey Brown removing her shoes while climbing up the rugged, rocky pitches of Revelstoke’s Mount Cartier. “There wasn’t anything forced about it, it wasn’t for show, they just came off,” says Thompson. “I wasn’t going to cover that at all, but it happens and then you just kind of can’t help but start shooting.” Thompson saw Brown pass the corner pictured above after skirting a narrow cliff-hugging section leading up to it. The trail—fewer than 3 feet of width benched into sharp rock—didn’t make for an easy climb and the crew had a long list of deliverables combined with dwindling daylight. A quick snack next to the lookout, some
musing and Thompson knew they had to recreate that moment. Photos taken from inside the hut shooting back toward the corner didn’t capture the sheer scope of the terrain, so Thompson stepped outside, working in the reﬂection of snow-pocked jagged peaks directly behind him while shooting diagonally through the windows of the lookout. A late ray of sun starkly illuminates Brown’s right exposed foot, a subtle clue that it is indeed the barefoot Brown hefting her bike, overcoming the mountainside.
030 B U T C H E R PA P ER
ﬁeld of one WHEN WHAT SETS US APART BINDS US TOGETHER
by kristin butcher I photo: tyler roemer
I GOT A MESSAGE FROM A WOMAN THE other day. She wrote to tell me that we’d crossed paths 15 years before. She saw me riding my mountain bike, but I never saw her. Like usual, I was in a world of my own, practicing skinnies and trying to ﬁgure out the elusive wheelie drop. She told me that I was her ﬁrst. I was the ﬁrst woman who she ever saw on the trails. Just like me, she would have kept riding even if she never saw another dirt-covered female outside of the one in the mirror. But in that moment—a moment I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a handful of times—she experienced the heartening feeling of seeing oneself in another rider. I remember my ﬁrst time, too. But for me, it wasn’t just one woman I encountered. Instead, it was a pack cranking along in a crass-talking train weaving through pines in an undulating wave of ponytails and chatter. I tagged along with them for the rest of that ride, and for years of rides afterward, never tiring of listening to them laugh, talk bikes or
make more lowbrow jokes than Eddie Murphy in a red leather bodysuit. For the ﬁrst time, I was with riders who paired skirts with bruises and had their own opinions about preventing long hair from getting insanely knotted during rides. I enjoyed my male riding partners so much that I’d never craved riding with women until I was in the midst of riders who were just like me, even if they were nothing like me. Growing up, I was more than familiar with the moniker ‘tomboy’ due to a love of athletic endeavors and stupid human tricks that persists today. Riding with those women was the ﬁrst time I didn’t feel like an outlier. I wasn’t the token taco at the sausage party. I was just another rider, made of sugar and spice, skirts and dirt and everything in between. The irony is not lost that feeling like an outlier is one of the most universal experiences—it just happens to be one shared in isolation from within imaginary silos. At some point or another, most of us end up
feeling out of place, especially when we feel like we’ve ﬁnally found our home. I imagine it’s all part of the universe’s puckish sense of humor, the same mischievous whimsy that ensures ﬁrst dates and gastrointestinal distress are a match made in Tinder heaven and why ‘interrobang’ and ‘bumfuzzle’ are real words for real things, but ‘testiculation’ and ‘hugenormous’ aren’t. The feeling of not belonging clings to some of us like thick Georgia air on a summer evening, but remains little more than a faint echo for others. Sometimes we don’t even notice its existence until we’re getting ready for a ride—like we have a thousand times before—and catch a ﬂeeting glimpse of an unfamiliar face in the mirror. On one side stands just another cookie-cutter rider, dressed in baggies stained with last year’s mud and wearing whatever cuff-length socks are currently in style. And yet, reﬂected is an outlier—someone almost like the rest, but somehow different. Sometimes the person looking back went
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Designed for Your Journey
032 B U T C H E R PA P ER and got old on us, and is now made of wrinkles and scars and bones that break easier than when we were made of rubber and dumb luck. The adult who stares back at us now carries the weight of responsibility, and is too damn old to still be wondering what they want to be when they grow up. In darker times, an impostor appears. A shape-shifting troll. Someone who doesn’t ride enough to call themselves a mountain biker. Or we see a juggler on the verge of dropping all the balls, and is sweating it out because the show must go on. We see someone trying to look alive while hiding the feeling of dread inside. The mirror shows us a smiling conﬁdent facade, and an utter shitshow underneath. And sometimes it shows us the opposite. The thing about mirrors is that they are masterful liars, always reﬂecting just enough truth to make the deceptions believable. A while back, I crossed paths with some-
one who followed my same path through the woods, but her footsteps ﬁt within my own, making me mistakenly believe I was the only one traipsing along this trail. When she said she was doing her ﬁrst downhill race since retiring from pro racing years before, my interest was piqued. “You should give it a try,” she suggested. The thing is, I’ve never raced downhill and my competitive biking experience has always fallen into one of two categories: capes or jorts. I’m damn near 40. I haven’t ridden a lift in years and a signiﬁcant amount of whiskey and pork may or may not have been consumed the night before. Obviously, I had to do it. As I rolled my bike up to the pack of riders listening to pre-race instructions, I felt out of place for all the reasons above and more. A few feet over, two middle school girls chatted away with goggles around their necks and full-face helmets hanging off
their handlebars. They talked about whether they were going to do the big jump and how riding makes their hair so knotted that they’ve given up on brushing it entirely. I couldn’t argue with their logic. The chatter in the crowd revealed that I was far from the only one who was nervous. We all had our reasons. Together we listened as individual names were replaced by race numbers. Standing on the small wooden platform that acted as the starting gate, my heartbeat kicked up a notch as the countdown began. And just like that, all of us—our individual stories and lives—converged around a singular shared experience. With one foot on the ground and the other on my pedal, half the pack waited down below while the other half waited to go. In that moment, the mirror revealed the truth. None of us are truly outliers. We’re just waiting to ﬁnd our tribe.
... MY COMPETITIVE RIDING EXPERIENCE HAS FALLEN INTO ONE OF TWO CATEGORIES: CAPES OR JORTS.
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FO R M O R E I N FO R M AT I O N
034 G R I M Y H A N DSH AK E
making sausages THIS COLUMN HAS A CURTAIN TOO
by mike ferrentino I photo: haruki noguchi
THERE ARE A LOT OF VAGUELY ATTRIButable references to the joy of eating sausages as opposed to the knowledge of their making, but perhaps the clearest is that mentioned by Frank W. Tracy in 1898, when he recalled, “Some 20 years ago, as I was sitting in the House of Representatives of the Illinois Legislature, watching its closing hours, a member who had never spoken during the entire session arose to address the House ... He said: ‘... I have come to the conclusion that the making of laws is like the making of sausages—the less you know about the process the more you respect the result.’” So, waving farewell to any remaining shreds of self-respect as the year winds down and the entire world lights itself on ﬁre, I think it’s high time we made some sausage. First up, how this column gets made. Much like sausage, the process is not pretty, there may be sawdust and gristle hiding inside, but the ﬂavor is usually passable albeit with a tendency to sometimes cause mild indigestion in delicate stomachs.
Usually, the idea for a given column is one of a few that are all rattling around in my mind. I sucked some acorns up with the Shop-Vac the other day, and the sound of them clattering up the hose and ricocheting off the insides of the drum sounded a lot like my regular thought processes, so ‘rattling around’ isn’t so much me trying to craft a cute metaphor as it is an attempt to describe the brittle noisiness that clouds my thinking most of the time. Aaanyway, these different ideas will be taking shape in a very non-linear way inside my head, not unlike those ‘Stanimals’ that you ﬁnd inside your tubeless tires after not paying attention for half a year (okay, now that was an attempt at metaphor.) At some point not long before the magazine goes to print, Nicole or The New Guy Named Will sends a polite but slightly urgent email asking when they might expect to see a draft of Grimy, and what topic they might be able to plan around. They need a topic in order to forward that along to Anthony, so he can decide on an appropriate photo to go with the column.
The polite but urgent email tends to send me into a panic, in spite of the timing of this email being trains-on-time dependable and regular. This state of panic leads me to arbitrarily shake one of the acorns/ideas loose and hastily type back something like this: “At the moment, I am thinking something along the lines of the nature of character assumption, misunderstanding, disconnects caused by committee based ﬁring squads, and how things like this manifest for people like Mark Weir.” Now, it’s pretty obvious that this will make zero sense to Nicole, That New Guy Will, Anthony, or most of you. But, in the case above, that was exactly what I had been thinking about for three weeks, ever since getting a text message from Mark Weir. It said: “Still don’t know how I got on ur story. #redhanded #thatsnotme” In a state of relative confusion, I texted in reply: “What the hell are you talking about?” To which he responded: “Picture of me holding my phone up like some kind of tech kid. Wake the fuck up,” followed
STATEMENT OF OWNERSHIP, MANAGEMENT, AND CIRCULATION
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THE POLITE BUT URGENT EMAIL TENDS TO SEND ME INTO A PANIC, IN SPITE OF THE TIMING OF THIS EMAIL BEING TRAINSON-TIME DEPENDABLE AND REGULAR. by a snapshot of his appearance in the photo alongside the September ‘Grimy Handshake.’ The article in question had been a rant about how so much of the nowadays riding experience has been taken hostage by our compulsive need to catalog every second of it, and had been titled ‘Selﬁe Indulgence.’ It’s something I have zero regrets about writing, and my desire to slap the phones out of the hands of strangers walking backwards across bridges while ﬁlming themselves remains as strong as it was before the catharsis of writing the column. But, here’s the thing. About the same time that Weir was texting me, other mutual friends were calling, texting, emailing, mentioning that was a pretty funny column I wrote about Weir. I wasn’t writing that about Weir. Here’s why: He has ridden and raced harder than I or most of you ever will, and is a better rider than I or most of you could ever hope to be. He has also put more hard hours/miles/ years into riding than the vast majority of the rest of us, amateur and pro alike. He doesn’t take a whole lot seriously, but his dedication to riding mountain bikes is one of the things he does take seriously. And while there is a whole lot I love to give him shit about, riding isn’t one of them.
It was a pretty good photo though, a couple dudes holding up a phone, obviously looking at something on the screen. And if it hadn’t been Weir, it coulda sorta ﬁt the column. Wedged into the back of the phone case was a folded up $100 bill. Knowing Weir, they were watching a video compilation of people lighting their farts, or maybe cage ﬁghting fails. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Ale Di Lullo was. He took the photo, two friends having some fun in between riding lines for the camera, probably. Classic Weir, toting around $100 in his phone case, just because. But to be placed in a column written about the whole notion of posing, the wires of imagery and intention got crossed, and Weir got rightfully bummed out. How could I, someone who could never hope to keep him in sight uphill or down, who hadn’t even ridden with him for a solid decade, call him out like that? That, my friends, is what can happen here in the sausage factory. There may be snouts and bones and ﬁngertips inside, and if you ask how they got there, it leads to some unsavory places. The end result may look good, but sometimes it’s needlessly messy getting there. Weir, I am sorry. Anthony, you owe Weir and me many beers. Good luck ﬁguring out a photo to go with this one!
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I HELP OUR BOAT OPERATOR STRAP BIKES TO THE INFLATABLE FOR A 20-MINUTE OCEAN CRUISE TO THE TRAILHEAD AT SARAH POINT. AS WE NUDGE OUT OF LUND HARBOR, BRIGHT MORNING SUN GLISTENS OFF THE STRAIT OF GEORGIA SEPARATING VANCOUVER ISLAND FROM MAINLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA. BEFORE TWISTING THE THROTTLE, JAN SURVEYS OUR GANG OF FOUR MOUNTAIN BIKERS THEN SAYS MISCHIEVOUSLY, “EAGLE IS NOT GOING TO BE HAPPY WITH YOU.”
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Trans-Sending. The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 120-mile point-to-point route linking large sections of old-growth forest hugging remote coastline.
INSPIRATION I’m excited, the way a kid is on Christmas morning. Our present—new trail with a mystery around every corner. But I’m apprehensive about this quest for the El Dorado of singletrack. The Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) is a newly completed, 120-mile point-topoint route running from the summertime yachters’ paradise of Sarah Point by Desolation Sound, down to the lonely southern ferry terminal of Saltery Bay on the Sunshine Coast. I’m apprehensive because I’ve drawn inspiration for this journey from a pitifully tiny sample of trail taken the previous summer. I hiked a 2-mile section of the SCT next to the plunging pools of Appleton Creek with my wife and two daughters. While Zola and Sabine tried to capture a toad in a side pool, I visualized—the way only a mountain-biking-obsessed person can—traveling this narrow piece of technical singletrack on two wheels. I’m a sucker for wiggly lines on a topo map. They wiggle their way into my imagination like a worm to an apple core. If Appleton Canyon was that good, could the rest of the Sunshine Coast Trail contain similar glittering nuggets of singletrack gold? Blind faith is all I have. I subscribe to it. I once chased a beautiful woman to the far reaches of eastern Nepal after a
brief autumn romance; 20 years later we’re still together, and she’s the mother of my kids. Blind faith works. In this case, for trail mates, I needed stubborn riders with horns growing out of their helmets unwilling to take ‘No’ for an answer and eventually, the appropriate candidates surfaced. Jeremy Grasby, who has played a key role in forging a unique mountain biking culture and trail network around the Vancouver Island village of Cumberland, and Andreas Hestler, who rode for Canada at mountain biking’s Olympic debut in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Hestler has helped build the BC Bike Race into an internationally renowned multi-day stage race. We’d be with photographer Margus Riga—and, well, I was told he’s an ox. So scant was my beta on the suitability of this trail for bikes, that I may as well have posted a version of early 20th century South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton’s alleged job posting: “Men [or women] wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.” SQUARE PEG, ROUND HOLE “Can you actually ride d’is trail? It eez very
narrow und bushy.” So says the earnest young German backpacker as he watches us incredulously, bench-pressing bikes up moss-covered ladders and stairways in the rainforest toward Confederation Lake. Yesterday it took us 12 hours to cover 36 miles. Rideable sections blurred into grueling stretches of hike-a-bike. I remember portions vividly—technical and entertaining rock slabs threading through dry Arbutus and Douglas ﬁr forest south of Sarah Point. A stunning view from Manzanita Hut. The dreamy Appleton Canyon trail that delivered as promised, winding through handlebar-tight trees above a rushing stream among a grove of cedars that were seedlings when Genghis Khan ruled. Then euphoria switched to nightmare with slow torture while grunting past Sliammon Lake. Reprieve doled our ﬁnal reward—beautifully grippy rock and tasty hairpins from Scout Mountain to the shore of Powell Lake. We were chased by darkness to last call at Townsite Brewing, steps away from the massive paper mill of Gotham City proportions that is Powell River’s original reason for being. Finally, deep sleep. The next day starts with a casual pedal around the south arm of Powell Lake, our heads a little fogged from last night’s DEC2017 041
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THE HIKERS WE ENCOUNTER LOOK AT US AS THOUGH WE ARE THE DEFINITION OF ABSURDITY. BIKES ARE MEANT TO BE RIDDEN,
I E D.
celebratory pints of Tin Hat IPA—as it turns out, a premature celebration. We are deep in the pain cave, heaving loaded bikes up the mountainside. The hikers we encounter look at us as though we are the deﬁnition of absurdity. My shins are shredded, it feels like Canada’s national animal, the beaver, has gnawed them. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not carried, I think to myself as I ascend yet another decomposing ladder, and peer through the rungs below me at skin-shredding devil’s club thorns and a bone-crushing fall. If I were to pause and ponder circumstances too closely, doubt might start to take root. Instead, I obsess over minute details and achievable goals. I peer at massive moss-covered tree stumps upon which you could build a small house, completely transﬁxed. At another junction, I pick a line through a 50-foot-long mineﬁeld of roots and rocks as though my very future as a mountain biker rests upon cleaning this particular section of trail. Each instance its own feat. Brief relief comes with a thankfully level section of trail, enabling a dozen or so rejuvenating pedal strokes in the saddle. I ponder Jan the boat driver’s ominous warning yesterday about Eagle: Should we be worried? Higher up, the terrain evens out near the lake, but the trail is smattered with unforgiving and unrelenting rock step-ups, knee-high drops and short anaerobic ascents—tight corners that feed into another climb. The branches of blueberry bushes claw at our legs. Presumably this is the supposed “narrow and bushy” part. The Confederation Lake cabin is hard won, but this battle is only half over. A Hughes helicopter is parked temptingly next to the hut. Surrender? Nothing more than a couple out for a honeymoon heli-accessed hike. We break to refuel, ﬁlter water and swat mosquitoes. Then we are back on the bikes, pedaling again. MOMENTS OF SUBLIME My brain expects an immediate descent, but for 20 frustrating minutes beyond Confederation Lake, the trail continues climbing to bypass cliffs. Then ﬁnally it drops, switchbacking forever, riding what feels like virgin singletrack. We weave down in a train of four and I’m barely able to hang onto the caboose position. I notice the bag of Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips strapped to the outside of Hestler’s pack, uncrushed and perfectly intact—how could that be? Powell Lake is visible 2,500 vertical feet
below, and beyond it, the glaciated wilderness of B.C.’s Coast Mountains. I keep expecting the specter of Eagle to appear suddenly from behind a mountain hemlock, his mattock held ﬁercely aloft to joust me from the saddle. Ominous Eagle, where was he? At the valley bottom we pedal through the crumbling ruins of Fiddlehead Farm, the ghosts of idealistic hippie utopian dreams long reclaimed by unstoppable West Coast rainforest. In the late 1970s, Mark Vonnegut, son of famed American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, journeyed here to create a brieﬂy self-sustaining commune. Against this backdrop of B.C. wilderness, Vonnegut battled his bipolar mental illness, an experience that provided fodder for his novel “Eden Express.” Hestler, Riga, Grasby and I are in a battle of our own. We lean our bikes against trees, sit down on the ground and smoke a joint. I unfold a map to examine the tight contours that lie ahead. Option one: push our bikes up trail for a few thousand vertical. Option two: pedal Theodosia logging road to connect the last few trail miles on the ridge to our destination, Tin Hat Mountain Hut—a much more sane approach. The latter gets nearly unanimous approval, with Riga being the only dissenting voice. “I don’t know man. We said we were going to do the whole trail,” he says. Damn him for taking the purist line, I think to myself. Overruled—the majority prevails. After a bone-jarring day on the trail, I welcome the relative ease and monotony of pedaling up a logging road. But it also gives me mental space to consider how raw my butt cheeks already feel, just two days in. I had bitten off a doozy for my ﬁrst bikepacking trip and had overlooked a critical item on the packing list: chamois butter. Rookie move. Many things are shared on the trail, but chamois butter isn’t one of them, so I suffer quietly. It’s after 11 p.m., dark as the day has been long. A light drizzle ﬂickers in the beam of headlamps as we angle upward on a narrow slice of trail among stunted subalpine conifers. We must be close. Through dark mist I spot a trio of lights. As promised, the father and son duo of Wayne and Russell Brewer, our informal support team, are at the hut to greet us with growlers of beer and chips. Local hospitality—they drove logging roads for an hour-and-a-half and hiked 45 minutes to meet us. The Brewers are pivotal players in Powell
Totems arenâ€™t just for freeriding.
Mount Troubridge Hut provides reprieve for the crew.
Allow myself to amend ... myself. Tough routes make for tough calls.
Genghis Khan’t touch this.
“You see, thing is, we actually like bad ideas ...”
River’s mountain biking community, which hosts day two of the annual BC Bike Race within the Duck Lake network. They graciously championed our cause early on and word of our quixotic quest spread quickly in this tight-knit community. Even our young server a few nights ago at the Coastal Cookery in Powell River knew about us. To some, we were just mountain bikers doing what mountain bikers do—trying to bite off as much (more) than we could chew; to others, like Eagle, we were fools, idiots and imposters. That night Hestler and Grasby snore ferociously. I want to strangle them. Morning can’t come quickly enough, but the expect-
ed panorama from Tin Hat—the very one featured on promotional material for the SCT—is obscured by fog and rain. We pack quickly and negotiate our way, constantly on and off bikes, down the rocky trail dropping steeply off Tin Hat’s Summit. Later we ﬁnd more of the sublime, an old rail grade leftover from logging of a different era. It sweeps through a mature stand of second-generation forest, the forest ﬂoor luminescent green with ferns and moss. Silent, except for the crunch of tires over fallen twigs. The trail transitions harshly into recently clear-cut forest, a brutalized landscape that sours my mood. Machinery drones
somewhere nearby, but when we re-enter the deep green of standing forest, serenity returns. The Japanese have a word for the mental and physical beneﬁts of being among trees, shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” The serenity is short-lived. Another punishing hike-a-bike stands between us and Elk Lake Shelter. The four of us exchange knowing looks, preparing to enter the hurt locker. Eagle would no doubt relish the suffering that awaits us. THE CONFLICT When I hatched the idea of riding this trail, I inadvertently kicked the hornet’s nest. The Sunshine Coast Trail is the impressive 20DEC2017 045
Grasby lichens the descent.
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See big mountain bikepacking in action here:
Learn how to set up a trail bike for bikepacking here
CARS WHISTLE PAST ON THE SLICK SUNSHINE COAST HIGHWAY, A NAME THAT HAS ASSUMED A
A POOL OF MUD FORMS AT OUR FEET, AND I LOOK APOLOGETICALLY AT THE WOMAN BEHIND THE CASH REGISTER. year dream of local, retired school teacher Eagle Walz and a handful of longtime members of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society. Thousands of volunteer hours have been poured into this point-topoint trail, as well as many thousands of dollars donated from local businesses for materials and the building of more than a half-dozen huts and shelters. The trail’s ofﬁcial designation, under Section 56 of B.C.’s Forests and Range Practices Act is non-motorized, multi-use. Eagle wants it designated as hiking-only. Ain’t going to happen according to Robert van der Zalm, the B.C. government’s recreation sites and trails manager for the coast region. “The trail is a collection of previously existing trails that were linked together. Some sections are in provincial parks, others are in Sliammon treaty lands (the Sliammon are the local indigenous inhabitants) and some are in working forest,” van der Zalm, says. “As far as the government is concerned, it is a multi-use trail.” Eagle is not a fan of mountain bikes. A rift has formed between Eagle, with his hiking-only allies, and the local mountain bike community—folks like Russell and Wayne Brewer. As I learned later, Eagle viewed the four of us as vanguard crusaders—with a wave of mountain bikers to follow that would overwhelm the SCT.
THE REALITY That night we share Walt Hill Hut with a Victoria couple and their dog. I step outside after eating my formerly freeze-dried repast of Thai Chicken Curry. Far below, the Strait of Georgia is grey and choppy, a reﬂection of the sky above that is a swirl of dark, foreboding clouds. As forecast, we wake in the morning to steady rain and dropping temps. Setting off on the trip, I had packed light, taking only the bare minimum for clothing as to not compromise riding with excess weight, leaving little margin for comfort should the weather turn truly foul. Back on the bikes after oats and instant Starbucks coffee, we begin unwrapping another gift—Suicide Pass, an unexpectedly wonderful, sustained, singletrack descent on loamy trail through a misty forest draped in old man’s beard lichen. The gift keeps giving and I take it all in from my now-familiar position at the back of the pack, watching the wheels of Riga, Grasby and Hestler disappear around corners. Occasionally an ecstatic yell erupts spontaneously and rings through the trees. The beauty of the descent distracts me from the rigors of the route and the reality of ugly weather. I’m soaked to the bone, borderline uncomfortably cold. Now we huddle inside the Lang Bay store, stufﬁng our mugs with donuts, coffee
and chocolate. It hoses rain outside. Cars whistle past on the slick Sunshine Coast Highway, a name that has assumed a particularly cruel irony. A pool of mud forms at our feet, and I look apologetically at the woman behind the cash register. “Where are you guys heading to?” she asks, surveying us with a look of maternal pity. “Troubridge Mountain,” I tell her. She shakes her head. “Have fun.” We buy beer and chips, ﬁlling empty voids in our packs. Then step out into soaking, 50-degree air. An old F-150 rolls past slowly then pulls into the parking lot. “Do you guys need a place to dry off?” says an older guy, peering through an open window and a tangle of white beard. We decline the generous offer. In any other circumstance the answer would be a resounding yes, but the quest has taken on a life of its own, propelling us forward on schedule to catch a ferry back to our homes tomorrow afternoon. We pedal down the road, a quartet of drowned rats, destined for the long, and punishing ascent to Troubridge—our ﬁnal summit. If only Eagle could see us now—all his fears about an invasion of mountain bikers on the Sunshine Coast Trail would dissolve like a speck of salt in a West Coast deluge. This is type 3 fun, only for fools, idiots and dreamers on mountain bikes. DEC2017 047
See the series intro here
PART THE BATTLE FOR TRAIL ACCESS (CONTINUED)
BY DEVON Oâ€™NEIL
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T H E
D I R T
STONE WALLED HOW A MASSACHUSETTS WATERSHED BECAME THE NATIONâ€™S FIERCEST FAT-TIRE BATTLEGROUND
DEC 2017 049
Brett Russ peers down at a small patch of dirt beneath a blanket of dead leaves. The dirt becomes a trail that winds through the forest for four glorious miles, he explains on this sunny November day. Some think it is one of the ﬁnest singletracks in central Massachusetts. Russ grimaces as he stares at it. “It’s crazy how quickly the trail disappears when nobody’s on it,” he says. The singletrack stems from Prison Camp Road outside Rutland, a colonial town that was settled in 1722. Russ, who is 42 and has close-cropped hair like a cadet, moved to Rutland 15 years ago for its schools and open space. It wasn’t long before he discovered on his mountain bike the 35-mile trail network inside the Ware River Watershed. The network spiders through vast tracts of open space and ﬂora, with a soft, sandy, glacial underbelly allowing for smooth dirt trails instead of the rockier tundra that exists most everywhere else in central Mass. It’s seasonably chilly today, but a perfect day to ride a bike. Just down the road from this singletrack, scuffed trees and oil smears on the ground linger from a recent clear cut. Hunters chug by in pickups with their dogs in the front seat. Soon those dogs will ramble through the 25,000-acre watershed in search of game. A man motors past on an ATV and waves. Russ and other local residents used to be able to pedal 050 BI KE
from their homes to the Ware River Watershed then continue riding here for hours, often without seeing anyone else. Some of the network dates back 30 years, what people in the area call “legacy trails,” originally worn in by dirtbikes. But recently it had grown to include some new routes, user created again, though it is hard to say by whom. In all, about 10 new miles of trail got added over a decade, and everyone agrees that multiple user groups were involved in their construction. A lot of the Ware River Watershed’s story bobs and weaves from there depending on the source, but this much is clear: The new trails drew the ire of the wrong people at the Commonwealth. And in September 2014, effective immediately, all trails suddenly became off-limits inside the watershed. Technically, they had been off-limits since a law prohibited off-road mountain biking in the watershed in 1994, but the ban was not enforced for 20 years. Now, mounted to a tree just overhead this glorious singletrack, a sign reads: “Trail closed to all access.” If Russ wants to ride his mountain bike, he has to drive 30 minutes each way, he says. So do about 50 other once-regular WRW riders. Ranger presence Bruno Long
Editor’s note: This is the final installment of our fourpart series, “Lines in the Dirt,” chronicling mountain bike access around the U.S. You can read the first three chapters on bikemag.com
at the watershed has increased substantially. Surveillance cameras dot the forest canopy in hidden locations. Some at the Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP), which manages security in the watershed, and at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), which manages the water once it’s in the pipes and on its way to Boston’s faucets, will tell you the water may not be potable anymore if people don’t stop rolling their rubber tires through the forest. Local mountain bikers will tell you they are still waiting for any facts to back up that claim. “It’s the fox guarding the hen house,” Russ says. The dispute has erupted into a proper public ﬁreﬁght, waged via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and newspaper op-eds from Worcester to Boston, as well as unnerving encounters in person. It has pitted state government ofﬁcials against each other and provoked accusations of fear mongering and prejudice from local mountain bikers. As Russ says, “If you’re looking for as bad as it can get for access, I’d say this is it.” The night before Russ lamented his favorite trail’s decay, he and a handful of friends got together to ride in Millbury, a half-hour southeast of Rutland. They met after work and followed one another up a deadend residential street to a bony singletrack that wove through the woods for an hour, past glowing deer eyes and along colonial-era stonewalls. Then they went to A&D Pizza to talk about it. Sitting around a table of
IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE SIGN, THE TRAIL MIGHT BE INVISIBLE.
pies and pitchers, the group includes a software manager, a truck driver for Dunkin’ Donuts, a plumbing and heating technician, a laser salesman and a college professor. It doesn’t take long for the conversation to land on the WRW situation. “It’s ego,” someone declares. “It’s Yankee stubbornness, too,” another replies. Here’s how the conﬂict unfolded: In late summer of 2014, a group ride leader associated with the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) advertised a ride in the Ware River Watershed. The trails’ existence had been common knowledge for decades, and public ofﬁcials were on the record stating there was no problem if people rode them. But in a move that would later be cited as an indication of his feelings toward mountain bikers, the director of the DWSP, Jonathan Yeo—who manages a 150-person team—called the rider himself to explain loud and clear that mountain biking on watershed trails was strictly prohibited. “I can’t even fathom why someone of his stature in that organization would get involved as personally and deeply as he did,” says Tom Bratko, an organic farmer who serves on the Ware River Watershed Advisory Committee. Russ had always feared the trails would come under legal scrutiny and offered to take the reins for NEMBA as vice president of the local Wachusett chapter. He and a handful of other advocates attended a meeting with Yeo and the DWSP. It didn’t go well. Russ typed out an email to local riders summarizing his takeaways. Among them: that his encounter with Yeo was the most unprofessional encounter he’d ever had with anyone, that there was obviously no hope of
ﬂexibility or compromise with Yeo, that Yeo was arrogant, and that despite Yeo’s claim that he was a mountain biker, there was just no way he actually was one. The email ended up in the wrong inbox and was eventually forwarded to Yeo. It is hard to know exactly how damaging this was to the mountain bikers’ cause, since Yeo did not reply to multiple interview requests, but sufﬁce it to say Russ regrets his choice of words deeply and has been playing catch-up ever since. “It cast mountain bikers and NEMBA in a very bad light,” he says. In that meeting and in others since, Russ and NEMBA made what they thought was a fair proposal to the DWSP: to jointly evaluate all the trails in the watershed, determine which ones were sustainable and which ones weren’t, decommission the unsustainable trails and continue using the ones that made sense. Their hope was to go through the ofﬁcial channels and amend the 1994 ban, which was imposed between the 1988 and 2000 watershed access plans. “We gave them some documents from their own agency”—the DWSP is part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which balances two conﬂicting missions—“that basically show that their agency [DCR] believed that mountain biking and hiking had the same impacts and should be managed in a similar fashion,” NEMBA executive director Philip Keyes says. “And their response was fairly negative about that. In fact, I think I recall them saying: ‘Well, we have our own scientists.’” MWRA executive director Fred Laskey called mountain biking a “highly damaging activity” in a letter admonishing Yeo to
enforce the ban. At a Ware River Watershed Advisory Committee meeting in October 2014, Yeo told attendees—many of whom had come to speak in favor of keeping the trails open—that mountain bikes do more damage to the watershed than logging and motorized vehicles. (It should be noted that all uses are still permitted on watershed dirt roads.) Leveraging its momentum, the DWSP soon banned all user groups from virtually every trail, including equestrians and hikers, who had never been prohibited before. This ended any hope of uniting the locals against DWSP. Instead, other users blamed mountain bikers for their sudden exclusion. “Unfortunately, from my perspective, the biking people say, ‘Oh, you let horses over there,’ and they drag us into the problem,” says Bratko, an equestrian. “So all of a sudden [the DWSP says], ‘We’re closing that trail now.’ That trail, T3, has been open for 25 years, and all of a sudden it’s closed because of erosion?” No one was immune. When Chris Stark, a local middle school teacher and mountain bike coach, showed up to a meeting to explain how the closure had impacted his team—enrollment dropped from 55 to 15 once they had to start driving to trails—he says Yeo pointed him out and scolded him. “It was pretty tough to swallow,” Stark says. “To have somebody say, ‘You’ve been an evil man for taking kids out and teaching them to mountain bike.’” The DWSP has spared little expense in carrying out its enforcement. Between the signs and hidden cameras and increased ranger patrols, locals say they feel uneasy even riding the dirt roads anymore.
State senator Anne Gobi, who hikes in the watershed and lives in Spencer, one town away, says she does not believe mountain biking has any more of an effect on water quality than other activities that take place there. She called the crackdown “a bit of an overreach” in a phone interview last fall and “made some follow-up calls” when word spread of verbal altercations between rangers and riders. Still, it is hard to argue the campaign’s effectiveness. Just ask Paul Simoes. Simoes, a 49-year-old mountain biker from Hubbardston, was one of many WRW regulars who pedaled from home multiple days a week, including after the ban was enforced in 2014. Then one day he got a ticket in the mail for riding an illegal trail. He decided to challenge it, if for no other reason than to ﬁnd out how they caught him. So in October 2016, ﬁve months after he got his ticket, he showed up
Yeo told attendees— many of whom had come to speak in favor of keeping the trails open—that mountain bikes do more damage to the watershed than logging and motorized vehicles. Leveraging its momentum, the DWSP soon banned all user groups from virtually every trail, including equestrians and hikers, who had never been prohibited before.
to East Brookﬁeld District Court for a hearing. To his amazement, three DCR rangers were there to oppose him. The lead ranger—the only one who spoke—brought a ﬁle on Simoes that he estimates was three-eighths of an inch thick. At the time the hidden camera captured him riding the closed trail, Simoes was wearing his shop jersey. He learned at the hearing that the rangers had looked up the shop online, found his name and photo on the team roster, then mailed a ticket to his home address. Despite his obvious guilt, the judge let him go with a warning, citing the fact that the “trail closed” signs had only been installed ﬁve days earlier. Simoes didn’t have to pay his $25 ﬁne. The Ware’s sanctity, if you can call it that, cuts two ways. And no one explains them better than Steve Brewer, 69, a former state senator and third-generation Barre resident who served the state for 34 years before retiring in 2014. When the Commonwealth decided to preserve the area as a watershed for greater Boston’s drinking water, it took the villages of Coldbrook, White Valley and North Rutland by eminent domain, dug up 39 cemeteries and paid residents pennies on the dollar for their properties. That was in 1939, but bad feelings remain. So does a sentiment throughout the area that locals deserve access to the land their ancestors had taken from them. “We understand the sacriﬁces of the people,” Brewer says one morning in a local museum. “So we try to make a balance for what is on both sides of the pipe: the people who sacriﬁced their heritage for the water supply, and the people who drink the water.” DEC2017 051
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chopping up deadfall to ride the singletrack. “Knock yourself out,” the ranger replied. Snowmobiles, ATVs, hunters, dogs, horses, mountain bikers— everyone used the trails, and still the water supply ﬂourished. In 2014, Boston’s tap water was named the best tasting water in the country by the American Water Works Association. Nevertheless, there were warning signs. When longtime local mountain biker Alf Berry tried to get permission to ride the gravel roads in the neighboring Quabbin watershed, a state forester rebuffed him with photos of riders in full-body armor skidding around corners. “They said the paint might chip off of your bicycle frame and get in the water supply, or the oil might drip off your chain,” Berry recalls. “They totally threw me under the bus in that meeting.” It took him six years to get permission. So even as the Ware became a destination, the fact remained: Mountain bikes weren’t ofﬁcially allowed on the trails. Which made them vulnerable to the wrong state ofﬁcial taking an interest at the wrong time. Down an old country road in
Spencer, 15 minutes south of the Ware, a hilly driveway leads to a one-story home on 15 acres. A small man with wire-rimmed glasses and a horseshoe of white hair emerges from the study. He looks like Benjamin Franklin, but he’s actually a 65-year-old mountain biker named Bill Dobson. And you could argue there is no sharper thorn in the state’s side than he. When the crackdown began in 2014, Dobson, who had been riding the WRW trails for 18 years, heard about the claims being made by DWSP and DCR ofﬁcials regarding the impact of mountain bikes on the watershed. He wondered why they were so adamant despite the absence of facts. “If they came back to us with reasoned arguments and could show that, yes, this is dangerous to the watershed, or yes, you are damaging it—any good science-based or logic-based arguments—I would agree with them and I think the other bikers would too,” Dobson says. “But we see this arbitrary banning of bikes in the watershed for no legitimate reason.” A forensics engineer who Dave Silver
The watershed is managed by the DCR, which, DCR commissioner Leo Roy says, does not have a speciﬁed hierarchy to guide the tug-o-war between conservation and recreation. But because so much funding comes from the MWRA, whose sole purpose is to provide pure, unﬁltered water to its 2.5 million ratepayers in Boston, it is easier to justify protecting the source than it is to provide more recreational access. Mountain bikers understand that, even while they continue to request proof that their presence endangers the water quality. They also point out that the WRW has contributed an average of 1.85 percent of Boston’s water in the past decade, with a high of 4.3 percent and two years when it contributed nothing. That’s because most of Boston’s water comes from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs (the Ware River enters a diversion aqueduct and ﬂows into the Quabbin). The Quabbin alone has enough water to supply all of Boston’s water for ﬁve years with zero rain to reﬁll it. “The Ware is a redundancy to a great degree,” Brewer admits. That doesn’t mean it is OK to trash the water. But, bikers argue, it can be a bit misleading to say that 2.5 million people’s drinking water is affected every time someone rides a trail near the Ware River. Locals pedaled there for decades, and the DCR knew. “It hasn’t come up as a problem so it’s not something we’ve dealt with,” DCR superintendent Bill Pula told the Worcester Telegram in 2003. In the same article, DCR environmental engineer Matt Hopkinson said, “I don’t think [enforcing the bike ban] is a top priority.” One local rider claims he and some friends took out chainsaws to clear the trails after a large ice storm in 2011. They ran into a DCR ranger and asked if the ranger minded that they were
made a career out of tracking down obscure facts for law ﬁrms and testifying in court, Dobson decided to shake the tree and see what fell out. Beginning in November 2014, he made a series of FOIA requests related to mountain biking in the WRW. Massachusetts public records law states that a request must be fulﬁlled within 10 days and at a cost of $50 or less, barring unusual circumstances. It took the DCR 163 days to fulﬁll Dobson’s ﬁrst request, at a cost of $1,200. He raised some of that via a GoFundMe campaign and paid about $300 himself. Subsequent requests have taken anywhere from 32 to 146 days to fulﬁll, he says. As Dobson sorted through the thousands of pages of emails and internal memos, a pattern emerged. The year before the crackdown, a DCR environmental analyst named Kelley Freda emailed the chief of Baltimore’s environmental police, Luke Brackett, who oversees watershed enforcement there. Freda told him she was having a hard time justifying the mountain bike ban in the Wachusett Reservoir watershed. “Do you know of any studies that have been done on the effects of mountain biking on water quality?” she wrote. “Most information that I can ﬁnd state that impacts are no worse than walking (not a great resource or help when you do not allow biking and are trying to explain to the public why).” In other emails, Yeo was found to have contradicted himself on a series of claims made about an illegal bridge his staff found in a WRW wetland and blamed on mountain bikers—despite having no proof. Dobson would later come to refer to this episode as “Bridgegate.” Yeo also disparaged mountain bikers internally and, in July 2015, upon learning that his correspondence was being FOIAed, directed other state ofﬁcials to no longer email about mountain biking. What’s more,
Dobson learned that DWSP employees, in an apparent effort to make the problem sound worse than it was to their parent agencies, had claimed there were 88 trails in the network by breaking them into tiny sections and calling each section its own trail. “When I narrowed them all down, I came up with 16 trails,” Dobson says. In June 2016, Dobson built a website—wrw411.com—to display some of his key ﬁndings as well as a heavily rebutted PowerPoint presentation that the DWSP was using to characterize mountain biking as a destructive activity. He got some hate mail through his comment form that he suspects came from DCR rangers, but says the site has recorded more than 3,000 unique views. “Because of my public document requests, it becomes pretty obvious that there’s a propaganda campaign by the DCR against mountain biking,” Dobson says. “My philosophy here is to tell the DCR: We’re watching you. And every time you mislead, lie, or put out a piece of propaganda, we’re going to be there to counter it and show why you’re wrong.” Dobson’s site also attracted the attention of DCR commissioner Leo Roy, who invited Dobson to a meeting last November. Dobson brought a friend as a witness and later said Roy seemed fair and committed to ﬁnding a solution. Roy was particularly interested in Yeo’s directive to not email about mountain biking, Dobson said, as well as the inﬂated trail count. “On more than one occasion, Leo said, ‘This is not the kind of behavior we want in our agency,’” Dobson said. “He was also troubled by the change in attitude—we had a peaceful coexistence with the rangers for years, and he wanted to know why that changed.” In early December, marking another milestone, Roy agreed to meet Russ and Dobson for
“This is a scam,” Kelly says. “There should be mountain biking in there, and the secretary thinks there should be as well. That’s your real story there.” ... “I’ve been in a meeting where the secretary has sat there and said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re not doing this,’” Kelly says. “I’ll never forget it. He looked at the pictures Jonathan Yeo provided and he held them up in the air and he goes, ‘Are you serious? This is the only evidence you have of abuse?’
a tour of the watershed. Both Russ and Dobson later said the commissioner was in fact-ﬁnding mode but pledged to be fair to them. They believed him. For the ﬁrst time in two years, they felt like they might actually have a chance at a rational outcome. But it may not be that simple. According to a source who has worked on the WRW conﬂict for the Commonwealth, Yeo is not the only prejudiced state ofﬁcial involved. Remember the 1994 law that ﬁrst banned bikes on watershed trails? It turns out commissioner Roy—the man who is deciding whether bikes will be allowed on the trails now—reviewed and approved that law. So did Ned Bartlett, the current undersecretary for environmental affairs, which was the same job Roy held in 1994 under Governor Bill Weld (Bartlett was a DCR attorney at the time).
According to the source, whom we’ll call Kelly and who spoke on condition of anonymity, the most powerful ﬁgure involved at the state level is actually in favor of granting mountain bikers access to the WRW trails. That would be Commonwealth Secretary Matthew Beaton, who oversees the DCR’s parent agency, the Executive Ofﬁce of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and is a mountain biker himself. “This is a scam,” Kelly says. “There should be mountain biking in there, and the secretary thinks there should be as well. That’s your real story there.” According to Kelly, both Roy and Bartlett have lobbied Beaton to maintain the bike ban because they view the 20-yearold law—ofﬁcially known as the 1994 Massachusetts Watershed Protection Regulation, or 350 CMR 11 for short—as a personal legacy. Beaton relies on Bartlett and Roy too heavily in his daily workload to risk alienating them over a battle this insigniﬁcant, relatively speaking. “I’ve been in a meeting where the secretary has sat there and said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re not doing this,’” Kelly says. “I’ll never forget it. He looked at the pictures Jonathan Yeo provided and he held them up in the air and he goes, ‘Are you serious? This is the only evidence you have of abuse?’ And then I watched Ned and Leo, like, horn him out of it.” “There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be mountain biking in the watershed,” Kelly adds. “The argument against it is paper-thin. It is not an impact on the natural resources. It’s a bunch of rubbish.” As for Yeo, some in the bike community have wondered why he is still employed after his tactics were exposed through Dobson’s FOIA requests. Kelly says this is likely because of his close ties to Fred Laskey of the MWRA, which funds DWSP’s $27.1 million budget.
Yeo worked for the MWRA for 15 years before he took his current job in 2005. “So the big fear about ﬁring Jonathan is if you piss him off, you’re gonna piss off Fred Laskey, which means DCR doesn’t get any money from the MWRA,” Kelly says. You can bet Yeo hasn’t forgotten about Russ’s email from two years ago, either. “This is a grudge between Yeo and some of the players out there,” Kelly says. “Yeo is driven purely out of spite here. I don’t think he actually has an opinion one way or the other. I don’t think any of them actually believe this bill of goods they’re selling.” Secretary Beaton did not respond to multiple interview requests. An email to two DCR spokesmen asking whether Kelly’s account was accurate did not get acknowledged. Roy, who answered questions by phone in November, before Kelly’s story came to light, also declined to make Yeo available for an interview, saying: “I’m not the kind of person who likes to search for the guilty.” “[The state has] zero facts,” Kelly says. “Zero, zero, zero. And if the governor knew what his people were doing in blocking this, I think he would be amazed.” When Roy toured the watershed with Russ and Dobson in early December, he hinted that the solution could entail creating a new network much farther north, away from the intake zone where the water enters its diversion tunnel—and signiﬁcantly farther from where most local riders live, likely requiring a drive. “That obviously gets the DWSP off the hook,” Russ says. “They don’t have to compromise at all.” Meanwhile, in early January, Joe Favaloro, executive director of the MWRA’s advisory board, picked up where Yeo left off. He wrote an op-ed that ran on the board’s blog then in more than a dozen newspapers where MWRA ratepayers live. Among DEC2017 053
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the Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s ofﬁce. Russ, meanwhile, has rallied equestrians against the state’s “insufﬁciently checked power” and started a petition that had 1,148 signatures at press time. “We did not choose this ﬁght,” Russ says. “We offered win-win solutions from the beginning, years ago, but were laughed at, ignored, accused, and now made the object of a public smear campaign. Enough is enough.” The trails in the Ware River Watershed fade more each day. Locals have been out looking for replacements, sometimes together, sometimes alone. You can drive to Uxbridge and ride the user-created and mostly unsanctioned singletrack at Goat Hill, where DCR rangers and mountain bikers have a mutual respect and understanding— and where it’s not a watershed. Massachusetts’ access, lest one forget, is generally outstanding. “Every area except for central Mass has an incredible assortment of riding,” says Keyes, NEMBA’s executive director. That doesn’t help Gary Brigham, who lives on the edge of the WRW in Barre. Which is why Brigham, a 70-year-old former iron worker/powerlifter/ bare-knuckle boxer, has driven his girlfriend Lisa and dog Leilu up to the Cutthroat Brook Tree Farm today in Petersham, 15 minutes north. He stopped riding the WRW trails when they closed, and stopped walking them after a confrontation with a ranger led to a late-night “attitude adjustment” from a state trooper that left Lisa with nightmares. The tree farm offers one of the closest potential replacements for the Ware. Its owners, a lovely gnomelike couple named Ben and Susie Feldman, placed
300 of their 350 acres into a Mt. Grace Land Conservation Trust last summer, after 10 years of trying. In doing so, they opened 15 miles of trail across a colonial landscape of stone walls and punchy hills, each junction marked by a handmade sign and a renewed hunch that you are about to ﬁnd an 18th century musket. It was a timely gesture by the Feldmans, who are not mountain bikers and have no ties to the sport. “These are people who are paying taxes on their property, and yet they’re letting us use it,” Brigham says. There remains a sense of bitterness, of being squeezed out, due to the way things stand in the Ware. Senator Gobi set up a meeting between all parties in February to help mediate the situation. “The mountain bikers have a very strong case. We need to send a message for where mountain bikers can ride on state land. In other words, public lands that are maintained by state tax dollars,” Gobi says. Yet nothing has happened since the meeting, and mountain bik-
a handful of claims that Russ later refuted in an op-ed of his own, Favaloro compared the threat from mountain bikers in the Ware to the lead contamination that poisoned the water supply for 95,000 people and led to widespread criminal conspiracy charges four states away. “Everyone remembers the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan!” Favaloro wrote. He also wrote a “call to action” encouraging ratepayers to pressure Roy to uphold the bike ban, and threatened that if bikes are allowed on the trails a $500 million ﬁltration plant might need to be built, costs that would come out of their pockets. Not to be outdone, NEMBA president Adam Glick sent a series of emails to Yeo requesting any factual basis for the DWSP’s stance against mountain biking on trails. He also asked Yeo to conﬁrm his agency’s annual reports that tout increasingly cleaner water and zero instances of recreation having a negative effect on water quality—all while mountain biking was rampant. Glick copied, among others,
NEMBA president Adam Glick sent a series of emails to Yeo requesting any factual basis for the DWSP’s stance against mountain biking on trails. He also asked Yeo to FRQÀUPKLVDJHQF\·V annual reports that tout increasingly cleaner water and zero instances of recreation having a negative effect on water quality—all while mountain biking was rampant.
ers worry that a revised Public Access Plan for the Ware—with newly drafted protection zones by the DWSP to justify its bike ban—might doom them before they have a say. The WRW planning process was scheduled to start this fall, but it as of mid-October, it still hadn’t. Advocates are as weary as they are wary. Dobson stopped making FOIA requests, he says, “because I think we know everything we need to know at this point, and [the state’s] new tactic is to say all communications are privileged under an exemption that excludes from public records requests ‘policy documents.’ So all their e-mails now are ‘policy documents.’” He and others attended a meeting in September regarding the Quabbin Public Access Plan, where Yeo said in a presentation: “The mountain biking culture is if you are not muddy, bloody and wet, it wasn’t a good ride.” Yeo also reiterated his belief that bikes damage the forest and streams. “So Yeo is saying the same things he said three years ago, and since he is in charge of the Ware River Public Access Plan, I see little reason to believe there will be any change in the next plan,” Dobson says. Says Russ, “I’ve just been prioritizing my work with trails on private property, speciﬁcally Treasure Valley Scout Reservation, because they’re just so much easier to work with and progress is actually attainable.” On his way back to his car after a tour of the Petersham farm, Brigham bumps into the Feldmans. He thanks them profusely. They blush and giggle. Mountain biking access doesn’t happen so easily everywhere, Brigham says. Ben seems confused. “Why is it a problem?” he says. “That’s what I don’t understand.” Read the first installment of this series here
RIDER: LUKE STROBEL / PHOTO: PARIS GORE
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R E V I S I T I N G
BY LESLIE ANTHONY
F R E E R I D E â€™ S
PHOTOS BY ERIC BERGER
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Below: Richie Schley points out the original talus slope lines of Todd Pit to author Leslie Anthony; shirts versus skins: Christian Bégin, Schley, Brett Tippie and Anthony in Lillooet, British Columbia, in 1996.
FIVE RIDERS LINE UP ALONG A RIDGELINE, TINY ACTION FIGURES WAVERING AGAINST A SETTING SUN. UNCERTAINTY IS what it looks like, though there’s little doubt what will come next. One by one, they push off, their passage a snail’s pace at this distance. Cresting a breakover in the upper part of the slope, their bikes pick up speed, spreading out across the face. One straight-lines while the rest execute the kind of sinuous turns one might make in snow. All ﬁght the rim-deep sand and gravel, leaving smoky rooster tails to hang in the still, searing air. As the group descends, a clutch of onlookers at the bottom cheers them on; cameras follow from every compass direction. If you’re old enough to remember, as I am, it looks like a scene straight out of the “Kranked” trilogy, the original freeride mountain bike series launched by Radical Films in the late 1990s. And when the group 058 BI KE
ﬁnally rolls onto the ﬂats at the bottom of Todd Pit outside Kamloops, British Columbia, and the dust—quite literally—settles, the reason for that assessment is clear. Right down to the high-ﬁves, it is a scene out of “Kranked,” one ﬁlmed in this exact spot some 20 years earlier. Or at least as reasonable a facsimile as could be staged by Darcy Turenne, director of “The Moment,” a new documentary that traces how a handful of radical mountain bike movements in B.C. came together to launch the freeride milieu that now deﬁnes the sport. “There were so many pivotal moments in making the ‘Kranked’ series, and in bringing freeriding to a larger audience,” she notes. “But everyone involved in the current project thought it was important to try and re-create a memorable scene from the ﬁrst
ﬁlm—the gathering at Todd Pit.” That original gig—in July 1997 for “Kranked: Live to Ride”—saw directors/ producers Christian Bégin and Bjorn Enga invite riders from three separate B.C. freeride scenes to meet in Kamloops for a group shoot. Locals Richie Schley and Brett Tippie would share their favored playgrounds with Aaron Knowles and Wade Simmons, another Kamloops-born pair then living and riding in Deep Cove on Vancouver’s North Shore, as well as Dave Swetland and Chris Lawrence from Rossland, deep in the Kootenay Mountains. The group shred that day was rife with friendly one-upmanship, an expression session that offered a precursor of freeride comps to come. “As much as I could, I wanted to gather that same group,” says Turenne. “I came pretty close.”
Clockwise from top: Darcy Turenne leads a production meeting of laughs; a time before Fro Riders: Tippie piloting a Marin mountain bike and matching jersey down Dragon Schleyer in Lillooet in 1996; Schley’s XC hardtail deﬁnes freeride in 1997 with 63 millimeters of Judy XC travel and cantis in Kamloops.
Lawrence, Simmons, Tippie and Schley were on hand for her shoot in late August 2017, along with Elladee Brown, another “Kranked” star who graciously stood in for Swetland, her K2 bike teammate who died in a car accident in 2008. The footage will make up the ﬁnal scene of “The Moment,” bringing freeriding’s arc of humble beginnings full circle. “I wanted to show that these pioneers still ride bikes, still love it, and are still friends,” offers Turenne, adding, “… even if they mostly act like a bunch of mean siblings with each other.” Indeed, watching their instant camaraderie, listening to their smack talk and taking in the day’s proceedings from the base of the pit brought on my own memories, closing an entirely different circle. In the spring of 1996, I occupied a
desk in Southern California as senior editor of Bike e. A young magazine (launched in 1994,) it had nevertheless gained fast footing by ﬁlling a noticeable void. Where other mountain bike magazines placed tried-and-true closeups of top-name, Lycra-clad riders in cross-country, downhill or night races (a strangely common motif) on their covers, and populated the contents with similar fodder, Bikee borrowed its ethos from sister publications Powderr and Surferr to channel fat-tire culture and the feel of riding. Without trying too hard, Bikee quickly owned the experiential niche—adventure mountain biking, foreign travel, beautiful scenery, stunning photography, irreverent commentary and grassroots scenes. Being all about the sport’s fuzzy edges and farthest-ﬂung singletrack (well-framed, if you
please) it wasn’t a huge surprise to receive phone calls from my Whistler-based friends Bégin and photographer Eric Berger, both insisting there was something going on in a place called Kamloops we should know about. Berger’s take was that what was going on there was so far outside the box of mountain biking’s public perception (a received view solidiﬁed when cross-country racing debuted at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta that year) that it begged journalistic investigation. Bégin—though wont to say the same of anything he was ﬁlming—excitedly told me: “What these guys are doing will change the sport.” Well. That alone might have convinced me, but there was a pièce de résistance. Bégin’s B.C. footage had been packaged for an edgy mountain-bike ﬁlm that Specialized DEC2017 059
Left: Andrew Shandro riding Boogieman trail in 1997 on Mount Seymour in North Vancouver, British Columbia; dark times: Eric Vandrimmelen navigates an early slippery skinny on the North Shore in a time before disc brakes.
contracted ski-movie impresario Greg Stump to make. From the minute staff gathered to watch an advance copy of “Pulp Traction” on the ofﬁce VHS, I was booking a ticket north. The insanity of the off-trail descents it depicted, the high speeds and edge-ofcontrol turns, the BMX-style jumps, the crushing wipeouts and the sheer joy and energy of rubes trying to out-duel each other in a ‘bike-off’ was as stunningly fresh to our eyes as it was horrifying to Specialized, which would never release the ﬁlm. Though the seeds of everything the sport would become can be found in “Pulp Traction,” it was nothing compared to what I would see on the ground. Joining Berger and Bégin in Kamloops, what I witnessed was so crazed, so heartin-mouth terrifying, that ‘Sick’ became the logical title of my February 1997 cover story, on which then-editor Rob Story upped the ante with an enormous cover blurb: “Drop Everything: B.C.’s sick riders do it wilder and faster than anyone on the planet.” The accompanying photo of Schley on a clay feature called Devil’s Peak did everything to reinforce the proclamation. Inﬂuenced by snowboarding and skiing, these renegade riders were echoing that same freedom of the hills by challenging themselves with big, steep descents on natural mountain terrain, clay badland features and open gravel pits. Outside the box, yes. Interesting, ditto. Worth documenting, deﬁnitely. What couldn’t be known was how this vision would indeed change the public’s view of mountain biking’s potential. Imagery of riders dropping 20-foot ledges and railing high-speed lines down talus slopes were unheralded, improbable, 060 BI KE
even death-defying in an age where bunny-hopping a log was considered rad. But praise and respect wouldn’t accrue easily: This devil-may-care, landscape-ripping style was as upsetting to the mountain bike community as it was eye-opening. Bike companies and trail associations freaked, and the industry wanted nothing to do with what seemed a reckless, equipment-destroying, liability-plagued, redneck milieu. But the Kamloops crew weren’t the sport’s only pariahs. At the same time, on Vancouver’s dank North Shore, an enigmatic group inﬂuenced by trials-riding were engineering and building elevated, high-consequence structures above the rainforest ﬂoor. No one in the industry wanted anything to do with this circus, either. And so these very separate subcultures, connected at ﬁrst only by the spirit of freedom and challenge each fostered, would be gathered together with other fringe elements by “Kranked.” When the ﬁlm became a mega-hit, it forever changed the way mountain biking was marketed. The industry keened to public interest, and the “Kranked” crew became the sport’s ﬁrst sponsored freeriders. This slice of time in 1996-1998 was a passion-fueled moment that could only happen once, a story ﬁlled with both gravity and gravitas that has long begged telling. Which brings us back to Todd Pit. Turenne had just ﬁnished a long-term ﬁlm project and wasn’t sure she wanted to get into another when Bégin approached her with a movie idea. “He said he had this freeride ﬁlm he wanted to do but felt he was too close to it, and needed an outside ﬁlmmaker. He appreciated my focus
on storytelling, and we agreed that it was a documentary and not a sports ﬁlm, and that we should go much deeper than just a chronological history.” In the end, Turenne, a former mountain bike pro herself, couldn’t resist, and jumped in. Soon, as predicted, it became her life. “My background helped me to handle the subject matter, but it was funny how little I knew about the history. I grew up in the mountain bike community as a competitive freerider, but came in just past the ﬁrst generation of freeriders. So, I basically thought freeriding always existed and it never crossed my mind how it evolved. That part has been really enlightening.” “The Moment” premieres at this month’s Whistler Film Festival. “There have been ups and downs but in general it has been fun. These characters have been my companions for a whole year,” she chuckles. “I just edited the helmet cam stuff and was laughing my head off. Also, the movie’s opening with Greg Stump talking about ‘Pulp Traction’ is way too funny.” And her takeaway after 30 interviews and scanning hundreds of hours of archival footage? “What I realized at Todd Pit was that even if they weren’t being ﬁlmed, these guys would have been doing this stuff regardless. They were just a bunch of passionate riders who wanted to share what they were doing, and none of them had any idea what they were starting. If it wasn’t them it would have been someone else … but how it became them is the story I’m telling.” See “The Moment” trailer here as well as behind the scenes Q&A with Turenne
Endure & Enjoy.
062 DREAM BUIL DS
The cowboy hat wasn’t invented. It evolved naturally, perhaps inevitably, out of its own unique time and place. Its nearest ancestor was a rounddomed, ﬂat-brimmed oddity called the Boss of the Planes. It had a functional size and shape, and it was all the rage in the late 19th century West. But it was expensive. If you had one, you held onto it. Then, over time, you’d wear dimples into the dome by taking it on and off. And you’d curl up the sides by falling asleep in it on the range.
DREAM BUILDS ~
That world-worn shape is what endured through the ages. The cowboy hat is so perfect because it belongs not to its inventor, but to the environment that surrounds it. This year’s dream builds have similarly organic origin stories. Each of us started by considering our favorite local trail. One we could ride with our eyes closed. Maybe one we even do, if only when daydreaming at our desks. We chose every part on each of our builds with that trail in mind. meant to kill quivers. They’re just meant to kill it.
These four bikes are the perfect tools for the perfect jobs. They aren’t
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Photo: Sebas Romero
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DEVINCI MARSHALL YEP, THAT’S A FRAME BAG. BUT LET’S ignore it for a minute. First I want to cover the other freak ﬂags my dream build is ﬂying. Most notably, the 2.8-inch tires. When we decided this year to rely on our favorite trail to inspire our creations, I knew immediately that mine would run on plussize rubber. Less than 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, standing 5,000 feet tall is Mount Lukens. Behind it, winding down 2,700 feet into Tujunga Canyon is an 8-mile hot mess called Stone Canyon Trail. It’s a loose, narrow, often exposed, rarely ﬂowy greatest-hits album of every style of rock section you can imagine. It’s perfect for plus-size tires. My canvas is the Devinci Marshall Carbon because of its 110-millimeters of rear travel and directly progressive leverage curve. The standard spec 130-millimeter fork got me thinking. Like nearly all plus-size bikes, the Marshall runs a 29-inch/27.5+ fork. The 2018 regular 27.5-inch RockShox
Pike, however, fattened up enough to ﬁt 2.8inch tires while still stacking nearly 20 fewer millimeters of height from axle to crown compared to the equivalent 29-inch/27.5+ Pike. The devil on my shoulder pulled out his little red calculator and whispered in my ear, “You could run a 150-millimeter fork without changing the bike’s geometry.” “That’d be sick!” Said the other devil on my other shoulder. “And at that length, RockShox makes a Dual-Position air fork. Think of how much easier the climb up Grizzly Flats would be with the fork dropped!” So I went for it. And while I was thinking about the climbs, I opted to swap the rear shock to one with a remote lock-out. I went for alloy rims because mistakes can get costly when you’re running 18 PSI on carbon hoops. The drastically offset drilling and inter-spoke milling drew me to the Mavic XA Elite 27+. The moderate tread on the Onza Canis tires is perfect for clinging to the crumbling, narrow ledge sections that punctuate the loose, rocky chutes of PHOTOS: ANTHONY SMITH/SATCHEL CRONK
Stone Canyon. Also they’re skinwall. Skinwall is cool. For stopping, Code brakes offer more power than Guides but with the same modulation. For going, Eagle XO1. Really nothing more to say there. I’m running Sram’s oval chainring because I’ve optimized my Marshall for steep, techy climbs, but I’m still not sold on the oval concept for all applications. The frame uses a press-ﬁt BB92 bottom bracket. I prefer threaded, but Hope’s PF41 connects its cups internally with a threaded sleeve, so I’ve got the next best thing. The Marshall was just shy of ﬁtting the 200-millimeter 9point8 dropper post I’ve been riding all year, but RockShox’s new 1x lever made the 175-millimeter Reverb the perfect alternative. The Enve DH bar is one of the few 800-millimeter wide carbon bars that still runs a more comfortable 31.8 clamp diameter. Ergon’s new GA2 Fat grips take that comfort all the way to my palms. And, yeah. That frame bag. The coolest, ugliest part on this bike. No matter how I
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IT’S A LOOSE, NARROW, OFTEN EXPOSED, RARELY FLOWY GREATESTHITS ALBUM OF EVERY STYLE OF ROCK SECTION YOU CAN IMAGINE.
Read the full review here
Watch the 2017 Bible roundtable discussion here
loop into Stone Canyon Trail, the ride is too big for a single water bottle. Especially during the hot L.A. summer, when packs become the most uncomfortable but also the most necessary. A 70-ounce hydration bladder ﬁts neatly into the bottom of the bag, with the hose tucked in just above it. And I’ve still got room for tools, a pump, a compact windbreaker, a couple bars and a turkey sandwich. But I don’t always pack it to the gills. With a light load, the Marshall can do things you wouldn’t expect from a plus bike. You get a better sense of the trail than on longer-travel options, and there’s a more deﬁned base to the suspension for pumping and jumping. And although plus bikes are naturally harder to skid, the Marshall’s ﬁrm platform makes the breakaway point relatively well-deﬁned.
I’ve ridden the Marshall before. None of the aforementioned handling was a surprise. That 150-millimeter fork, on the other hand, was a bit of a gamble. I was afraid the extra travel’s softer top-end would rest the bars too low. I added some volume spacers to help keep it from diving, and I even tested it using a 160-millimeter air spring assembly just in case. But with the frame’s adjustable geometry in the low and slack position, the 150 length felt perfect. The 27.5-inch fork also comes with a shorter crown offset than the stock 29-inch version. Reeling in fork offset got my weight on top of the front wheel where it can help dig it in. The extra travel was the biggest treat. Those rare ﬂowy bits on Stone Canyon are more frequent on a bike this capable. Two-position forks will always have their critics. The extra parts come with some ex-
tra drag, but much of it gets masked by the soft tires. Anyway, no other feature will have a bigger impact on a bike’s climbing efﬁciency, and efﬁciency is at a premium on 27.5+ bikes. It’s also at a premium on long rides when I had my frame bag full with ﬁve pounds of water, food, and tools. That changes things. The bike is expectedly less nimble, but also less chattery. That extra sprung weight calms the bike down through Stone Canyon’s worst. But I wouldn’t have tried this on a dainty XC bike or a slasher like the Evil Calling. It suits the nature of a plus-size bike perfectly. The nature of plus-size has a broad deﬁnition. Just like the early days of 29inch, plus-size is still evolving. It may take a while before they ﬁnd their audience. I’m just stoked to be in the front row.
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JULIANA STREGA ONE ROCK. That’s all I had in mind when I chose Juliana’s burliest bike yet as my Dream Build. A single rock drop that makes up the most consequential move on one very short, fallline descent. The trail is less than a half-mile long, but it cascades 425 feet from the ridgeline in one continuous rock garden with varying levels of commitment and speed required to emerge unscathed. It’s one of my favorite trails in the local network, and a cheater line that skirts the drop had allowed me to keep my lines clean, but conservative in recent years. I wanted to be faithful to the steep, speed-required section, but each time I crested the point of commitment, fear revealed my weakness and I chose the
less-consequential option. That weakness being drops requiring a mandatory front wheel lift. Mind you, this is not huge air— we’re probably talking equivalent to what a 10-year-old in Whistler would huck—but the mental jump it requires of me rivals that of the drop itself. After spending a few days on the 170-mil-travel Strega on a press trip to France and Italy in late May, I returned to California wondering if going back to 27.5inch wheels was my ticket to ﬂight. While I’ve been happily rolling on a 140-mil-travel 29er for the past year, I occasionally miss the playfulness of the smaller wheels, and the Strega, with its 65-degree head angle, low bottom bracket and whippy chainstays, had been a wicked weapon for the ancient
European trekking trails. Three days and some 30,000 feet of descending later in the Maritime Alps, it became clear that this women’s version of the Santa Cruz Nomad 4 tackles descents like a linebacker mowing down an unprotected quarterback. But the Strega is a big girl and I wondered if I truly needed that much bike. Plus, we had hardly gained any elevation while testing in Europe and steep climbs are inescapable where I normally ride. Still, it was so adept at descending that the conﬁdence it instilled made me want to test my comfort zone, and I knew it was the right tool to tackle the dreaded rock drop. Although the Strega CC1 frame I started with comes built to the hilt, I strayed slightly from the standard spec, starting with the
… YOU’RE DELIVERED SQUARELY INTO A SEQUENCE OF LARGE ROCKS COVERED IN A FINE LAYER OF DUST …
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Initial ride thoughts here
See the Strega release video here
drivetrain. Sticking with SRAM Eagle was no question—with so much travel, I wasn’t going to sacriﬁce anything that could make climbing easier and Eagle is the widest oneby drivetrain on the market. I took it one step further, swapping the 32-tooth front chainring for a 30-tooth. This setup may not be ideal on ﬂatter, faster trail networks, but it’s perfect for the grueling ups in Laguna Beach—I’ve been relieved far more often than frustrated while climbing—spinning, but not spinning wildly in place while riding in the opposite direction. In fact, climbing has been surprisingly pleasant on the Strega, which I assumed would feel heavy and dogged in any position except down. The revamped VPP suspension platform and movement of the shock placement to the lower link á la the Santa Cruz V10 no doubt plays a role in that, as does the shock itself: the new Fox Float DPX2 shock, which offers traction and efﬁciency in trail mode without sacriﬁcing support when it’s fully open. When I chose the shock and the complementary Fox 36 fork—updated this year with the EVOL air spring for improved small-
bump sensitivity—the idea was to match them to the Fox Transfer 150 dropper post, which has quickly become among my favorite for its quick actuation and smooth engagement. What I didn’t think about, though, was the seat tube of my size medium frame being compatible with the length of the dropper, which it was not. Instead of downgrading to a 125, I swapped in a 150 KS Lev Integra, which ﬁt perfectly, and topped it with WTB’s new Koda saddle. For rolling duties, I took the upgrade that Juliana offers on every Strega, swapping the stock e.thirteen TRS 30-millimeter rims for Santa Cruz’s new Reserve carbon rims, at the same width, which are laced to quickly engaging Industry Nine Torch hubs. Santa Cruz developed the rims to be less harsh than the ultra-stiff Enve rims Santa Cruz previously offered as an upgrade, and in my ﬁrst few rides, it seems they succeeded. I wrapped the wheels in Onza’s Ibex 2.4 tires despite the Maxxis Minion DHF/ DHR rubber that come on the Strega being perfectly suited to the loose, steep, rocky terrain inherent to Southern California trails.
Going with Onza saved some weight and if I’m being honest, I thought the tan sidewalls would look really sweet next to the Strega’s striking green frame. Stopping is handled by SRAM’s powerful Code brakes paired with 180-milimeter rotors. So, back to the rock. Like many relationships, ours is complicated. The drop is much more signiﬁcant than I remember—this is either due to erosion after an unusually wet winter last year or my imagination—and I’ve determined that it’s not so much the drop that has my palms sweating, but the landing. After carrying the speed required to clear the drop, you’re delivered squarely into a sequence of large rocks covered in a ﬁne layer of dust, and absolute control is paramount to staying upright through the steep, slick rollout. This is the part that makes me nervous. Ultimately, I did make it to the end of the pucker party, though it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t take the down-the-middle, full-commitment line. But now that I’ve got that rock’s number, it’s only a matter of time.
[A] -NICE_TO_MEET_YOU AFTON_FA2017
The Keegan - We developed our own proprietary mono-directional shank which is stiff over the pedals but allows you to walk naturally. It also reduces vibration, gives more pedal power, and helps with hard landings.
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EVIL CALLING EVERY NOW AND THEN I HAVE A BRIEF encounter with a bike that I can’t get off my mind. Last year at our Bible of Bike Tests in Bentonville, Arkansas, the mint green Evil Calling was that bike. And that came as a total shock if I’m being honest. When I heard about Evil’s new short-travel 27.5 bike, I only had one question—why? It seemed like such a ridiculous concept. With the modern trend of progressive trail bikes pushing the boundaries of big travel with big wheels, why would they produce a bike that essentially did the exact opposite? What was even more puzzling about this bike was that Evil had arguably one of the most exciting long-travel 29ers in our test with the Wreckoning. So yeah, why make the Calling? It was the ﬁrst bike that I rode at last year’s Bible. Subconsciously I think I wanted to be the ﬁrst to ride it so that, when my Bike mag colleagues asked the inevitable question, ‘So, how was it?’ I could back my argument as to why this bike was a dud. That didn’t happen.
All the attributes that I was so convinced that I would hate were put together in such a way that all I could do was love the thing. The snappy, short-travel Calling turned the low-grade ﬂow trails in Bentonville into a playground. It gave me what I love about the big-wheeled big-travel bikes in the long, low, and slack department, but in a short travel package that created a type of bike that I had never ridden before. All I wanted to do was jump, jib and generally just mess around at every opportunity. It was a childlike experience that put a grin on my face from ear to ear. Fast-forward and I now ﬁnd myself living just a stone’s throw away from Bellingham, Washington’s Galbraith Mountain trail network. This perfectly manicured and maintained web of trails are tailor-made for a short-travel shredder, and ever since my tires hit dirt in the northwest, I haven’t been able shake the question of what would the Calling do to these trials. With this dream build, I’m giving the
short-travel movement a cautious embrace. First off, I’ve given the 130 millimeters of rear travel a coil upgrade with the Rock Shox Super Deluxe Coil RCT. It’s sublimely supple off the top, but still ramps up quickly and has plenty of support to dig your heals into for jumping and jibbing. I also bumped up the fork travel from the recommended 140 to 150 millimeters of travel with the new Rock Shox Pike RCT3. Those subtle changes have eliminated any doubts as to weather the Calling would be capable on mulitple types of trails. Sure it’s not a full-on enduro racer, but it sure ain’t scared. Like all Evils, the Calling has two geometry settings with the ﬂip chips in the D.E.L.T.A. system—low and extra low. Before I even got the bike on the trail I switched it into extra low, a setting I hadn’t actually ridden yet. It’s a pedal-smashing 330 millimeters, perhaps a hair higher with the longer travel fork. It’s certainly noticeable how much lower this is compared to more moderate geometries. But for me, it only adds to the
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… PERFECTLY MANICURED AND MAINTAINED WEB OF TRAILS … TAILORMADE FOR A SHORTTRAVEL SHREDDER
Check out Ryan Palmer and Travis Engel’s review here
Watch the roundtable Bible discussion of it here
unique ﬂavor that the Calling has to offer. Another standout from the last year was the e.thirteen TRS Race tires. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to tires, and it may take just one bad ride for me to write off certain treads or compounds. My ﬁrst experience on the e.thirteen rubber was in wet and greasy conditions, exactly the type that can make me hate a tire, but the TRS Race tires were shockingly conﬁdent in the wet—a perfect match for a bike in the Paciﬁc Northwest. I have them matched to the e.thirteen TRS Race Carbon Wheels with a 31-millimeter hookless inner rim proﬁle. The vertical compliance on these wheels makes for a supple ride without sacriﬁcing lateral stiffness. Be warned though, these wheels are talkative. The freehub body
won’t let you sneak up on anyone, but perhaps that’s ﬁtting on a bike called the Calling. By looking at the Hope Tech 3 E4 brakes, you might think that these are all raw on-off power, but the control and modulation is second to none. What sets them apart for me are the lever controls. They’re precise and assertive and really allow me to ﬁnetune the lever throw. To make sure the short-travel Calling still has a tall stance I’m running the 38-millimeter rise Deity Blacklabel bars. Add 10 millimeters of spacers under the Deity Copperhead steam, and I’m sitting in a similar position to a much longer-travel bike. With the bars at 800 millimeters wide with a stubby 35-millimeter stem, I have all the
leverage and snappy steering characteristics that really make the Calling come to life. After punishing the same Eagle drivetrain for an entire Northwest winter, it was a no-brainer to spec the Calling with the magic bird—it’s truly remarkable how durable it is. Even though I rarely if ever drop a chain with an Eagle front ring, I do appreciate the integrated Evil top chainguide. Matched to a custom e.thirteen lower bashguard, it’s prepared to handle anything the low-slung Calling can smash into. I’m still not sure if I can categorize what kind of bike this Calling is. It seems to break down the barriers of labels and categories to its purest form. It’s all about having the most fun, and for right now this Calling is just that, the most fun.
Niner Bikes (b. 2005) RIP 9 RDO, 2017 Dream Big Clear coat and acrylic on carbon fiber
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ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT EVEN IF I STILL LIVED A THOUSAND miles away from the legendary McKenzie River Trail, there’d be a good chance I’d have it on my mind when devising the perfect bike build. With its mix of uber-techy lines over lava, dark duff in old growth forest and screaming fast hardpack descents, McKenzie is a singletrack dream come true. Add to that insane views of crystal clear lakes, commanding waterfalls and massive conifers—it exempliﬁes the very reason I love mountain biking—even complete with a trailside natural hot spring. Now that the start of this gem is just a 30-minute drive from my doorstep, there’s no way it wouldn’t inﬂuence this year’s dream build. 29-inch wheels were the obvious starting point because of their ability to simultaneously provide maximum roll-over on technical trails and stability at mind-numb-
ing speeds. Plus, I already knew that I wanted Mavic’s XA Pro Carbon wheels—the best riding and best looking carbon wheels on the market. From there, I zeroed in on the right amount of travel for my needs. I ﬁgured that something in the mid-travel range would be ideal. Something short enough to be light and agile, but with enough balls to take on road trips to British Columbia. The Evil Following MB would be an excellent choice—and I should know, I have one—it’s one of the best bikes I’ve ridden. But then I got a look at the clean, unobstructed lines of the new Rocky Mountain Instinct. Its form was simple in comparison to the Evil, and it had almost the same color orange I’d grown to love on my Following MB, but with the addition of a beautiful olive color. Best of all, it had 140 millimeters of travel front and rear—the same as the dis-
continued Trek Remedy 29, which I loved. Rocky Mountain offers a “BC Edition” Instinct with 155 millimeters of travel. Actually, the BC is the only option if you’re just looking to get the frame. But I wasn’t interested in that much travel, so I swapped the swing link to bring the travel back down to 140 millimeters. The non-BC link also has Rocky’s Ride-9 adjustable geometry chips, while the BC Edition link doesn’t I deﬁnitely wanted to keep the Fox DPX2 shock, but it needed to be resized ﬁrst. Once that was done, I bolted it together in the steep geometry setting, which would give the bike head and seat angles of 67 and 75.5 degrees, respectively. The ﬁrst thing to install was the Cane Creek 40 headset that I upgraded with 110-series bearings, which will keep the Fox 36 Performance Elite HSC/LSC fork steering
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80 B I K E S H O P
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Bike (ISSN 1072-4869) December 2017, Volume 24, Issue 9. Published nine times per year (January/February, March, May, June, July, August, September/October, November, and December) by TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC, 261 Madison Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Copyright © 2017 by TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved. Periodicals Postage Paid at New York, NY and additional mailing ofﬁces. Subscription rates for one year (nine issues): U.S., APO, FPO and U.S. Possessions $19.97. Canadian orders add $9.00 per year and international orders add $18.00 per year (for surface mail postage). Payment in advance, U.S . funds only. For a change of address, six weeks notice is required. Send old as well as new address to Bike, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. POSTMASTER: Send all UAA to CFS. (See DMM 707.4.12.5); NON-POSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: Send address changes to Bike, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235.
ÂŠShimano Inc 2017 / Photo: Sterling Lorence