Victoria, B.C.: a mountain bike secret no more

The secret is getting out: western Canada is a great mountain biking spot  Credit: Robert Laberge /Allsport
I have a friend from Vancouver who, whenever talking to people from other places in Canada, makes a point of mentioning how much rain the West Coast gets.

It is his attempt, however futile, at keeping outsiders from discovering this "paradise" he calls home. Some do believe him I've seen it myself.

Here on Victoria, people have been bragging for years about the incredible single track and the pristine trail conditions, but mostly to themselves. Islanders pretty much got used to everyone raving about the North Shore and the Rockies heck, we heard a rumor that there was mountain biking going on in Manitoba!

To make a long story short, Islanders figured their trails would remain a secret forever. The only trouble was, they forgot about one guy: Andreas Hestler.

You know Andreas. He went to the Olympics. He represented our country in the first ever Olympic competition of mountain biking. Yeah, that guy.

Well, that has pretty much put Victoria on the ol' cycling map, so to speak. The secret is out. The success of riders like Andreas Hestler, Roland Green, and Martin Vale, has attracted a great deal of attention.

"These trails must be unreal for those guys to have developed such incredible riding prowess", said riders like Adam Walker, Seamus McGrath, and Elladee Brown all of whom have made Victoria their winter training haven.

With all these great riders spending so much time here, the powers that be figured they had better send someone out to make sure things didn't get out of hand. Iouri Kacherine was the man for the job being the National MTB coach and all.

When the dust had settled, Victoria had a National Cycling Centre, a hefty portion of the Canadian cycling talent, and all those beautiful trails. Now that you're up to speed, let's take a look at what you could be riding the next time you sell a few used bike parts to finance a voyage with BC Ferries to Victoria.

We start our day at Benny's Bagels with a strong cup of joe and a breakfast bagel, accompanied by this morning's crossword and the daily word jumble. As finely tuned athletes, we climb aboard our steeds at the crack of 11:00 a.m.

The first part of the ride goes over the Johnson Street Bridge and meets up with the Galloping Goose Trail. This reclaimed and resurfaced railway is now a multi-use path which will take us out of town with only minimal contact with traffic.

Once on West Saanich Road, the pace will increase until we hit Hartland Avenue. One gut-wrenching climb later, we arrive at the Hartland Surplus Lands' newly installed parking lot. Here we can converge with those who have chosen a motorized form of transport to this point, and head into the park.

At the trailhead, we pass the only signpost in the park; it has a non-descript stick figure aboard a single-speed cruiser. Noticeably absent is the red splash running through it. O glorious day!

We are in bike-friendly territory here. We ride an incredible array of trails: twisting single track on Snakes and Ladders; buffed, bermed corners on the Ridge Trail; heinous near-vertical drops on Hot Cherry Bendover and the taxing climb known only as the Switchbacks.

As we ride back on the parking lot on an unnamed fire road, and keeping rubber-side down is no longer an all-consuming task, we can reflect on what we have witnessed it was pretty cool.

The parking lot comes equipped with toilets and bike wash facilities. We use both. At this point, there are no maps or official markers in the park to direct or guide cyclists.

The South Island Mountain Bike Society (SIMBS) is working with the Capital Regional District to implement a park plan for this area which will designate it as a mountain bike park with permanent race course, a map and signs throughout the park. When it is completed, it will secure a training ground for Canada's top mountain bikers and a playground for Victoria's recreational cyclists.

As we make our way back to town through the rolling hills of the Saanich Peninsula, and marvel at the highway lined with roses while basking in warm sunshine, I have to keep reminding myself it always rains here on the wet West Coast.

Lorraine Hebert is the president of the South Island Mountain Bike Society and Race Director of the Island Cup Mountain Bike Series. SIMBS can keep you up to date on the trails around the South Island. Give them a shout on their hotline at (250) 477-2455.

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