Whitehorse mountain biking: a social phenomenon

Chains and cables lubed? Check. Gears adjusted? Check. Brakes tight? Yup. Tires inflated? Check. Helmet? Check. Yes, folks, it's that time of year again.

Chains and cables lubed? Check.

Gears adjusted? Check.

Brakes tight? Yup.

Tires inflated? Check.

Helmet? Check.

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. The mountain biking season has arrived, and with it a steady flow of eager riders rush into the local bike stores.

Icycle Sport and Philippe’s Bicycle shop are buzzing with enthusiastic clientele. Everyone is in a hurry to get their new protective equipment and update their biking supplies, to upgrade their current bikes or purchase new hardtails or full-suspension mountain bikes which, according to Icycle’s service manager Jonah Clark are, “the ideal bikes for Whitehorse trails.”

Both Clark and Philippe LeBlond predict a busy mountain-biking season.

“The popularity of mountain biking in Whitehorse is definitely increasing,” says Clark.

After riding the trails throughout British Columbia and Manitoba, Clark moved to Whitehorse from Winnipeg in 2005 specifically for the mountain biking.

Whitehorse’s single-track trails are some of the best trails Clark’s ever ridden on, so it’s no surprise the sport has a dedicated local following, he says.

Mountain bikers come from around the world to ride Yukon trails. Conveniently, they are able to book their sleeping accommodations and mountain-bike tours together, through yet another local, bike-friendly business, Boreale Mountain Biking.

Still, more than 90 per cent of his sales are locals, says LeBlond.

Interest has grown because of Whitehorse’s well-organized mountain-biking clubs, says Clark.

The Contagious Mountain Bike Club and the Yukon Dirt Girls both meet weekly during the summer for group rides, transforming the activity into a social phenomenon.

This social aspect was a huge lure, says Same Reimer, a member of the Contagious Mountain Bike Club.

“Mountain bikers are cool, down-to-earth people,” he says. “It’s all about having fun. It’s just a very friendly environment.”

Reimer’s been in the club two years, and has seen the growing popularity of the sport firsthand. Membership has tripled from last year.

In fact, the sport’s growing status is starting to spark government interest.

Various sports and biking magazines have published articles and photographs presenting Whitehorse as a supreme biking destination. The International Mountain Bicycling Association published an article entitled, Whitehorse, Yukon Reveals Massive Potential, describing Whitehorse and the Yukon as having “one of the most amazing mountain biking trail systems anywhere in the world.”

RideGuide, a popular cable television show on the Extreme Sports channel, which features different mountain biking locations, is coming to Whitehorse over the summer. Again, Whitehorse’s mountain-biking trails will be spotlighted and the Yukon will be recognized worldwide as a killer mountain biking mecca.

The media chatter will only boost the profile of the local scene, and will bring money to the community, says Reimer.

“It’s especially important in years like this one when tourism is lower.”

And, driven by the publicity and local popularity, the Whitehorse’s trail system is being spruced up.

It’s dubbed “the City of Whitehorse Project,” says Clark.

“Right now, there’s a small crew starting to work on the trails,” Reimer adds.

Most of the work being pursued this season is on the existing trails, fixing lines, taking out tight corners, and re-routing sections of the trails completely so that they are more fun to ride, says Clark.

While doing this, a major focus is preserving the fragile environment around the trails.

LeBlond’s personal favourite Whitehorse mountain biking trail, Boogaloo, is undergoing a retrofit already.

Detailed directions and signage is being added to all the established trails. Right now, many are rather confusing, even for longtime local bikers.

Some of the trails are going to be made safer too, says Reimer with a laugh, pulling up his pant-legs to reveal multiple fresh cuts and maturing scabs on his shins.

“Freak accidents happen in any sport, but it’s important to wear protective gear; (the accidents) are usually preventable,” says Reimer.

With safety in mind, another exciting project that local mountain bikers are looking forward to is the bike park to be built near Mount McIntyre in August.

Bikers, especially young male bikers, are always building bike jumps and their own bike parks.

The formal park will be safer because it’s designed by a professional.

“Jay Hoots is a world renowned park designer,” says Reimer.

So, let the season begin.

Heidi Loos is a freelance writer

based in Whitehorse.