Category Archives: Mountain Biking

Because you can do more than ski and snowboard in Whistler… you can also bike.

Crankworx Numero Uno

Eighteen years ago the first Crankworx was held in Whistler Village to roaring success. As the Crankworx World Tour is back in town this month we are throwing back to the original Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival, which started in Whistler in 2004.

We cannot talk about the start of Crankworx without first mentioning Joyride and Whistler Summer Gravity Festival. Joyride Bikercross was first organised by Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye in 2001. Four riders simultaneously jockeyed for lead at full speed down the course featuring tight turns and fast jumps. It instantly drew the crowds. Joyride continued in 2002, then was incorporated into the week-long Whistler Gravity Festival in 2003 – combining all the disciplines of gravity-assisted mountain biking including Air Downhill and Slopestyle. In 2004 the Whistler Gravity Festival rebranded to Crankworx.

Crankworx started as a way to pull together all gravity-assisted mountain bike disciplines and events, bringing all the best mountain bikers together. The idea was also to showcase the bike park. Rob McSkimming who was the managing director of Whistler Mountain Bike Park at the time, approached Mark ‘Skip’ Taylor who had experience working on the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. According to Rob in 2004, “Crankworx was designed so we could strive to be on the progressive edge of mountain biking.”

In 2004, Crankworx took place July 22 to 25, with concerts, pro-rider shows and an expo throughout the four days. Events included the Air Downhill along A-Line which was in its third year. The bike park had newly opened the terrain to the top of Garbanzo and the Garbanzo Downhill was another signature event, along with the BC Downhill Championship and the Biker X.

Definitely the most popular for spectators was the slopestyle. The course, which Richie Schley helped design, featured a road gap, wall ride, massive teeter-totter, step up to scaffolding, and huge gap jumps and drops. Prior to the event Rob McSkimming said of the course, “You should see what they are building for the Slopestyle session. It looks like an Olympic facility. There are some features in there that are hard to imagine riding let alone throwing tricks on.”

There were many memorable moments during the competition. Kirt Voreis left an impression, falling off his bike on top of the teeter-totter. He was able to keep both himself and the bike on the teeter-totter and continue the run after the fall.

Spectators will also remember Timo Pritzel from Germany who went really big, massively overshooting the funbox transition near the bottom of the course and flying over the scaffolding. As the Whistler Question explained, “He did clear the scaffold, but bailed his bike in mid-air and landed the old-fashioned way, which looked to most of the spectators like a guy jumping out of a two story building.” He broke his wrist and ankle in the crash, and placed second in the competition.

In an impressive underdog story, Paul Basagoitia took top honours in the 2004 slopestyle when he was 17 and relatively unknown. He had a background in BMX, no sponsors and no bike, so he borrowed a bike from friend, Cam Zink, and went on to win the contest. In an in interview from Pique Newsmagazine at the time, he said, “It was awesome, it was only like my fifth time on a mountain bike, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Paul Basagoitia during Crankworx 2004 where he came first in the slopestyle. According to an article in The Red Bulletin, following his victory Paul said, “I would like to thank my sponsors, but I don’t have any sponsors, really.” Andrew Worth Collection.

Still on the progressive edge of mountain biking, the evolution of the Crankworx from 2004 to today is evident in the village this week. Whistler has again come alive in celebration of all things mountain biking and no doubt legends will continue to be created.

Racing into the Summer of 1982

On June 20, 1982, Whistler hosted what may have been its first mountain bike race, the (unofficial) Canadian Off-Road Cycle Championship organized by John Kirk. About three weeks later, the Molson Whistler Bike Race also took place in Whistler. Despite some very marked differences, the two events did have at least one thing in common: Jacob Heilborn.

The year before these two races took place in Whistler, Rocky Mountain Bicycles Ltd. had been incorporated in Vancouver by Grayson Bain, Sam Mak, and Jacob Heilbron. The three had already begun modifying their Nishiki bikes to ride trails in the mountains, adding the wider tires and straight handlebars described as “puffy” and “upright” by the Whistler Question. In 1982, the same year that Whistler hosted its first mountain bike race, Rocky Mountain Bicycles produced the Sherpa, the first mountain bike created in Canada.

Competitors reach their bikes after running down from the Le Mans start under the Village Chair. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to the Question and some of the competitors, the Canadian Off-Road Cycle Championship held in June 1982 may have actually been one of the first mountain bike races in Canada, taking place two years before the Canadian Off-Road Bicycle Association was formed in 1984. Seventeen competitors signed up for the race featuring “puffy over-sized balloon tires and upright handlebars.” It began with a Le Mans start down the lower part of the Village Chair to their bikes in Mountain Square. From there, the course headed out to Lost Lake, along Green Lake, and back from the Wedge Creek turnoff to end up on the Lost Lake trail again.

The racer who took first place, Tony Starck, reportedly bought his first off-road bike just three weeks before the race. Russ Maynard came second and third went to Jacob Heilbron, who remembered switching to a road bike on the one highway section of the course and thus picking up about three places before switching back to his mountain bike for the trails. Prizes were also awarded to the first one-speed to cross the finish line, the competitor who finished closest to an unspecified “mystery time,” and the person who did the best wheelie in the wheelie contest held the day before.

Chaz Romalis, owner of the Deep Cove Bike Shop in North Vancouver, leads the pack during the race. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

In contrast to the unofficial championship with few rules, the Molson Whistler Bike Race held in July 1982 had 120 competitors with road bikes, a well-marked course with marshalls, and even corporate sponsorship. While mountain biking was still a very new sport, road cycling was well established and 1982 was reportedly the twelfth year the Molson Bike Race was held (it is unclear whether all twelve races were held in Whistler). The event, which featured a two-stage course from Vancouver to Whistler and then on to Pemberton as well as a 50-lap criterium race around the Town Centre, was organized by the same Jacob Heilbron who placed third in the Off-Road Cycle Championship.

The racers in the Molson Whistler Bike Race head through the Whistler Village on much skinnier tires. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Despite some criticisms of the criterium course, Ross Chafe placed first overall in the Molson Whistler Bike Race, followed by Tom Broznowski, then the US national road-racing champion. In third was Beau Pulfer, a member of the Canadian National Team. Genevieve Brunet took first in the women’s category, with Sheila Cavers and Kelly-Anne Way taking second and third places. Most racers and organizers agreed that the event went “exceptionally well.”

Forty years later, mountain biking has arguably replaced road cycling as the dominant form of recreation on two wheels in Whistler. There continue to be many riders, however, who participate in both sports and both continue to be well represented in the summer months, with Crankworx returning this August and the GranFondo scheduled for September.

Getting into Gear: Have Bike, Will Ride

Like much of the Whistler community, we have the Whistler Mountain Bike Park on our minds. When talking about the history of the bike park we often hear that mountain bike design and rider ability had to catch up before the bike park could take off. Thanks to generous funding from 100 Women of Whistler, and the local community who have been generous with their time, we have heard some great reflections on that recently through oral histories.

An unidentified rider heads down Blackcomb Mountain in the late 1980s or early 1990s, cut-off jeans the only armour required. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Not interested in road biking, Jim Kennedy, preferably Jimbo, was inspired to buy a mountain bike after watching the ET movie where they ride through the forest. Purchasing one of the first bikes when Doris Burma opened the door to Summit Cycles in 1983, Jim was the proud new owner of a $500 Nishiki Bushwacker. Not everyone was thrilled with his purchase, however. Mountain biker riders regularly copped abuse in the Village in regards to their choice of transport, as expletive laced “get a real bike” rang out.

In the mid-1980s, long before the bike park opened, Jimbo and friends were taking their bikes up the gondola to mid-station to ride down as part of a stag party. Luckily for them, a friend was working at mid-station, and with much encouragement let them stay on until the top of the mountain. A group filled with many former downhill racers, the ride was fast, wild and they didn’t see a single other person. Starting on snow and then following Jolly Green Giant, Jimbo remembers, “We were on these bikes, just handbrakes, no shocks or anything like that. By the time you got down your hands were just seized.” Additionally the rim brakes could get so hot they would burn or cause the tires to blow. So to ride more comfortably the bike technology had to catch up.

A few years later, the Kamikaze Descent down from the top of Blackcomb as part of Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge in 1989 followed the 15 km service road down the mountain, still no features involved. When Backroads Mountain Bike Adventures started to offer commercial downhill tours on Whistler Mountain many of the trails ridden were still the gravel access roads dotting the mountain, although Eric Wight and other passionate individuals had started to build some mountain bike specific trails across the mountains.  

Mountain bike riders cruising down Blackcomb. The marketing photos for on-mountain riding adventures have also changed in the last 30 years. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

The opening day of the bike park in 1996 saw 500 keen riders take to the lifts. Then when Intrawest took over Whistler Blackcomb in 1998 they were convinced, with much lobbying, to further invest in the bike park. However rider ability and gear still had some catching up to do. After the first staff demo day an employee from Guest Relations remarked, “After trying the trails I couldn’t believe some of the people who had been getting on the lifts, even the greens are much harder than we were led to believe. We warn people that they need enclosed, appropriate footwear and I’ve seen people in slip-on flats go up, completely unprepared for what they are about to do.” Today it is recommended that every rider has a full face helmet, gloves, armour and a full suspension downhill bike.  

Some things change while others stay the same. A commonly heard adage in the 1990s was “You can tell if someone is a Whistler local because their bike is worth more than their car.” In many cases this still rings true today.

You wouldn’t want to crash in these outfits. Part of the Whistler Question Collection from 1992 this photo was captioned ‘All the nudes that’s fit to print: Whistler’s newest acapella group bares their wares.’ We’ve seen enough, but we want to know more. Whistler Question Collection.

May Speaker Series with Mike Truelove

Mike Truelove has welded thousands of mountain bike frames (over 1,000 for Chromag alone!) and, though some things stay the same, seen a lot of changes along the way. We are very excited to be joined by Mike this month to learn more about the bikes we ride and the evolution of mountain bike design!

Event begins at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 ($5 for Museum or Club Shred members) and are available at the Whistler Museum or over the phone at 604-932-2019.

There will be limited tickets available for in-person Speaker Series in accordance with the capacity of the Whistler Museum. Speaker Series events will also be streamed live – contact us to register for the livestream at 604-932-2019 or events @ whistlermuseum.org.