By Carol Watterson, Photos by Brian Argyle
Dust flies as 13-year-old Ethan Surry clears a massive jump. Ethan lives in Parksville and spends a lot of time on the local trails and at the bike park in Qualicum Beach. But mostly, he’s into dirt jumping. Since Parksville doesn’t have an official riding park, many kids like Ethan seek out areas of vacant land with the best dirt (sand) and carve out their own jumps and courses. Like the one that Jake Friesen, President of the Arrowsmith Cycling Club (ACC), has taken me to today, adjacent to the Alberni Highway. Jake says that a sanctioned jumping trail would be great as some of these kids are as young as 12 years old and it’s not the safest environment for them. “There’s a lot of skill going into Ethan’s tricks,” Jake says. “We’ve got 15 kids in his group that can ride like this.”
CONNECTING RIDERS OF ALL AGES
Ethan is one of 60 kids (age eight and over) who make up the youth membership of the ACC, together with over 100 adults of all ages and riding ability. Everyone pitches in and the hard-working volunteers spend thousands of hours on trail building. “The older guys work at building trails and take on leadership roles for the young riders,” Jake explains. “It’s pretty cool seeing new, young riders sharing the trails with the seasoned pros.” He adds that through integrating academics with outdoor activities, kids who don’t necessarily like school understand the bigger picture. “Biking keeps them happy and in school,” he reveals. “Not many of these kids will grow up to be pro-riders like local legend Jordie Lunn [who passed away in a trail-riding accident in Mexico in 2019] but they have fun riding and the club makes them feel part of something.” Jake has raised three children who all share his love of the outdoors. He is the Outdoor Education Teacher for School District 69, which includes running the ROAMS program (River Ocean And Mountain School) an outdoor leadership program that focuses on career preparation, work experience, and adventure education. It is one of the top outdoor education programs in Canada. “I have the best job in the world!” Jake says.
BUILDING THE OCEANSIDE CYCLING COMMUNITY ONE TRAIL AT A TIME
The region has some first-rate mountain bike trails – Top Bridge, Nile Creek – but Hammerfest is by and large the most popular for ACC members and home to a number of races annually. Accessible from Englishman River Falls Park, Hammerfest has at least 50 km of trails of varying degrees of difficulty that cross diverse terrain. Each trail is colour marked; green and blue are beginner to intermediate (85) and black and double black diamond (25), with sections of mandatory rock faces, drops, and gap-jumps, are the most difficult. The ACC is in active talks with landowner Mosaic Forest Management to designate Hammerfest as a sanctioned trail system. First, it must follow set standards based on a model pioneered in Whistler. Jake explains that there’s an art to building trails, they need to have a consistent flow, among other things.
“We design and mark the trails so that people know the skill sets required to do them,” he explains. “If you’re a beginner riding a green trail you should expect no surprises, likewise an experienced rider on a black trail is up for challenges.” Once sanctioned, the club plans to build on existing trails, maps, and signage.
ACC recently partnered with BC Parks on a multi-use trails initiative at Englishman River Falls to open up more trails for beginners. “The big thing we do is get older guys riding with young people to help build their skills and follow best practices,” Jake says. “The commonality is whether you are eight or 78, everyone wants to ride a bike.” Jake also reveals that ebikes have been a big game changer for the sport. A lot of their trail builders use them to get up the trails to save energy and time, and they are getting more riders out on the trails.
Find out more about ACC at arrowsmithcyclingclub.com
THE ELECTRIC BIKE TOUR CO. IT’S LIKE RIDING A BIKE, ONLY EASIER
Not only are ebikes trending in popularity in mountain biking, they’re surpassing non-electric bikes on our local streets and trails too. I met Jeanine Simmens, owner of the Electric Bike Tour Co. (EBT) and her tour manager Paul Trudeau, at the Arrowsmith Brewery in Parksville, the starting point for most of their tours. They set me up with a fat-tire ebike (beefier tires give a boost of comfort and stability, and allow you to ride on rougher terrain) and after a quick lesson on the mechanics, I’m ready for a test run. As we make our way down a quiet street, I catch on quickly.
It’s exhilarating as we get on a straight stretch of path and I boost the power to level four (not quite the max of five). It takes less exertion to ride an ebike and the ease of the ride frees you up to take in the scenery. An ebike doesn’t modify the activity of cycling; it makes it easier. And, some say, more fun.
CONNECTING WITH COMMUNITY BY EBIKE
As a fishery biologist, Jeanine travelled globally researching and working on environmental initiatives and giving talks on sustainability. In Europe, she saw first-hand how ebikes became a more sustainable mode of transportation and means of navigating congested city streets and parking. When the pandemic hit she found herself both retired and back in the area on a permanent basis. It gave her time to take stock and decide how she wanted to spend the rest of her time. “It was important to me to share stories and showcase local business,” she explains, adding that people were losing touch with their communities, herself included. From this mindset, coupled with a desire to create something gentle on the planet, the EBT was born.
It was important to Jeanine to hire locals like Paul and his wife Stacey, and Frank Mrack to help run the tours. “There’s so much in this region that people don’t know about,” she explains. “My team has a wealth of knowledge of the area and our tours showcase the best local attractions and businesses.” For local tours, which are typically about three hours long, Jeanine and her team take advantage of the many regional trails connecting the parks and communities of Parksville Qualicum Beach including the seven-kilometre Parksville to Coombs Rail Trail which is ideal for groups and beginners. On their day trip to Denman/Hornby Islands, riders visit galleries, artisans, a winery, a craft cidery or brewery, and cool off in Tribune Bay. The EBT has a fleet of 15 bikes, a mix of fat-tires and hybrids. All levels of riders over 16 years old are welcome. According to Paul, the bikes travel up to 32 kilometers per hour which is the maximum allowable speed for a non-licenced vehicle.
ANY DAY IS A GOOD DAY FOR A RIDE
Tours and rentals run from March till October, but they can accommodate special groups or requests through the year. “Any day could be a good day for a ride,” says Paul. “We’re all about flexibility and a willingness to do new things.” Jeanine is proud of the fact that they’ve never received a bad review. “There’s something about getting on a bike that puts a smile on your face and immediately enhances your mood,” she exclaims. “When we take someone out of their cars and put them on an ebike to see new places, beautiful scenery, and wildlife, that feeling is amplified.”
Visit electricbiketours.ca for more information
LIFE IS MORE FUN ON TWO WHEELS
A recent newcomer from the lower mainland, Don Barbeau, sales manager for Parksville Qualicum Beach News, discovered that cycling was the ideal way to discover the area. A life-long cyclist, last year he made the switch to an ebike. “I’m 65-years old and the ebike changed everything for me,” Don claims. “Even though I still pedal like a normal bike, the ebike gives me a boost on the hills and allows me to go further than I would normally go without worrying about getting back huffing and puffing.”
He can also keep up with his 17-year-old son, Koen, who, according to Don, is a cardio fanatic and rides a regular suspension mountain bike. “With my fat-tire ebike, not only can I go off road and climb hills and go over rocks, I can keep up with him on the local cycling trails too.” They often ride together on the 13-kilometre Parksville to Qualicum Beach Links community trail that lets them explore without having to ride on the highway. “There are so many different ecosystems on that trial,” Don explains. “You travel through quiet residential areas, forests, farmlands, a river, and you can grab a drink in town.”
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS ON THE TRAILS
Don and Koen also ride the nature conservation area of Top Bridge Regional Trail. The trail is five kilometers each way (from Parksville Industrial Park to the Englishman River) and offers an instant getaway to a nature-connected environment. Recently, Don and Koen found themselves a bit too close to nature. “We were riding together when about 100 meters ahead of us as we were going up a hill there was a black bear,” Don recalls. “Either we turn around or stand our ground.” Turns out Koen’s a quick thinker and while Don stayed on his bike staring down the bear, Koen hoisted his bike over his shoulder – like a peacock– and pretty quickly the bear turned around hightailed it out of there. “There was no way I was picking my 85 lb ebike over my head so it was a good thing Koen was riding old school!” Don laughs.