The Outsider: The highs and lows of bike park season
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This Friday (May 16), Fitzsimmons Chair will spin again to the delight of hundreds of mountain bikers, all foaming at the mouth in anticipation of bike park season kicking off for 2014.
Bike park manager Brian Finestone and his team of dedicated trails crew, machine operators and patrollers have been slaving away to get as much open as they can by May 16, and if it’s like every other year, they will exceed expectations once again.
I love riding the park. There’s no quicker way to amass vertical on your bike, which Adam Billinghurst proved last summer when he rode one million vertical feet in 57 days. There are few places in the world that could let you pull off that much riding in a season, which is why the Whistler Bike Park attracts riders from every mountain biking nation.
The lower mountain has some of the most famous trails that people gravitate towards, like A-Line, Crank it Up, and Ninja Cougar, plus there seems to be more appearing in various nooks and crannies every year. But the real meat in the sandwich is the riding off of Garbanzo.
Intermediate trails like Blue Velvet now give people the option of taking the higher chairlift —without risking themselves on the advanced trails — to the longer, steeper and more featured trails. Original Sin to In Deep — with a detour down Goat’s Gully if you’re feeling the mojo — is a link up that separates the sheep from the goats. There are bike park regulars who will storm through these rock and root-riddled gauntlets at scary speeds, sometimes even in wet conditions.
But with all the awesome riding and potential for endless vertical, there is a down side to the bike park. As any local bike shop mechanic will tell you, the Whistler Bike Park will eat your bike. I always carry a tube, pump and tire levers these days, having done the awful walk out after a flat tire too many times.
It gets much more costly than that. Broken derailleurs, taco’d rims, blown shocks, these are all part of the bike park experience. You can damage all this stuff riding cross country too, but the sheer impact of the beaten bike park trails, coupled with said limitless vertical, means you need to allocate 15 – 20 per cent of your bike’s value for repairs every season.
The other end of the double-edged sword is the crashes. These can involve breaking something expensive on your bike as mentioned above, but more importantly, crashes can shatter confidence and very easily break bones. One stop at the ER room at Whistler Medical Clinic and you’ll see how many bikes are chained up outside, the owners seen walking around the Village later in the day in casts and slings.
In five seasons of riding the bike park I’ve only had one visit to the ER, which was on my third day of riding during my first summer. I like to think that I’ve learned from that experience, that trying to keep up with my friends who are faster than me will probably result in another expensive breakage of my bike, or myself.
Know your limit and ride within it this Friday.