Words :: Feet Banks.
Let’s face it: the Monday to Friday, nine-to-five work grind is obsolete. It’s getting harder to disconnect from the ever-present digital workplace, but unplugging is just what we need. That’s why people like Jonathan Lo escape to the mountain biking trails around Vancouver.
Lo, a lifelong mountain biker, has been shredding trails in the Vancouver area for decades. He grew up on the North Shore near Mount Seymour, and notes that the region is a mountain-biking paradise. “You can count Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish, West Van, Grouse Mountain, all the way to the [Fraser] Valley in Mission,” Lo lists. “You wouldn’t even be able to ride all the trails if you had all week!”
The adrenaline-pumping release of mountain biking is key for ridding yourself of city stress. “Biking is super important for freedom because I close off my work mind and just focus on riding my bike and enjoying life,” says Lo. He’s outfitted his Toyota Tacoma—which he’s affectionately nicknamed “Taco”—with a bike rack to get him to and from the best trails. “It’s just better for efficiency for adventure days,” he says, noting that the truck is a dependable choice for mountain bikers.
Lo notes two keys to a stellar mountain biking trail. The first: “You have to have good views.” That can mean a rewarding view at the top, or a mountain-side alpine trail. And the second: “The descent has to be technical.” Lo states that challenging descents up the excitement for experienced riders.
The diverse geographical radius around Vancouver yields dozens of different top-notch riding networks. Here, Lo walks us through his favourite spots to disconnect from the city and connect with the wild.
This popular North Shore mountain is celebrated for hiking, but it’s also a mountain biking hotspot due to its proximity to downtown Vancouver and broad range of trails. Lo explains that Seymour is home to a strong web of sanctioned trails maintained by the North Shore Mountain Bike Association. Two main trailheads, Hyannis and Old Buck, provide access to the most well-known trails. “Once you enter those, it’s choose-your-own adventure,” says Lo.
Mount Fromme provides even more riding opportunities on the North Shore. Lo says to follow the switch-backed gravel Mountain Highway up Fromme. “Part way up, they’ve built a whole bunch of bike trails,” he says, explaining that the area is a top destination for beginners.
“It’s super easy access, they have a big parking lot, and the trails are marked with posts and signs.” These trails are wide, hard and well-manicured. “It’s the ‘golden dirt strip,’” jokes Lo.
This mountainous region an hour north of Vancouver is a well-known hive for hikers, and it offers just as much excitement for mountain bikers. “Squamish is known mostly for what we call slab trails, which are rock faces that you can ride,” says Lo. These trails are primarily rock face rather than dirt, which makes for a smooth, steady ride.
“It’s kind of like rock climbing, but the rock isn’t vertical,” he laughs. Lo highlights Alice Lake Provincial Park as a good starting point, but notes that plenty of trails can be found behind the infamous Stawamus Chief, too.
A short pace north from Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler is a mountain biking mecca for good reason: their bike park. Lo calls it one of the most famous biking destinations in the world, explaining that the trails range in required skill level from beginner to expert. Riders hop on a chairlift to the top of the hill and then descend, removing the arduous incline portion of mountain riding. Since these trails are all descent-based, Lo recommends a bike with bigger shocks and brakes.
For those looking for a more unique Whistler experience, the west side area on Mount Sproatt and Rainbow Mountain offer more intense pedal-up trails. Lo recommends a new trail in this network called “Lord Of The Squirrels,” a challenging alpine ride that can be reached from three access points: Function Junction, Creekside and Rainbow Park.
Most riders head to the mountainous spots north of Vancouver, but Lo also spotlights Kamloops, a popular biking destination in the province’s interior. Its arid climate provides fast, hard-packed trails for speedy rides. Lo notes that it’s a vastly different riding experience. “If you like jumping, go to Kamloops,” he says. “[Around Vancouver] the bike trails are more bumpy and rocky, whereas in Kamloops, they like to go fast. They don’t like bumps, they like big jumps.” Lo directs riders to the Kamloops Bike Ranch, a sprawling mountain bike park with tons of trails and technical park riding.
Bellingham is a small city in Washington state, and though it’s just a stone’s throw south from the border near Vancouver, Lo says many riders have yet to discover the area’s trails. He likens it to Squamish’s terrain, with a large network and machine-built trails. These trails are wider and faster when compared to Seymour’s narrower, hand-built trails. Lo also notes that these are accessible trails for all skill levels, including kids.