Tag Archives: Mountain Biking

Making Mountain Bikes and a Mountain Town

From the 1960s to the 1980s Whistler really was a one season resort. Outside of the peak winter season many businesses were shuttered because there were not enough people to turn a profit throughout the summer months. During the 1980s investments went into golf courses, tennis courts and lakeside parks to increase summer visitation. Certainly forty years ago, as Whistler village was being constructed, nobody thought the turning point for Whistler becoming a four-season destination resort would come from running the lifts in the summer so people could ride down the mountain at astonishing speeds.

In the 1980s, technical displays of riding were held in Whistler village to help advertise the fledgling sport. This event was part of Labatt’s Can Am Challenge in 1989 which also included Cross-country, Dual Slalom, Uphill Climb, and Downhill Kamikaze race events, and the World Mountain Bike Polo Championship. Compare the bike in the photo to those commonly seen in the bike park today. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

That started to change in the late 1980s. According to a letter to village information in the summer of 1987, Backroads Mountain Bike Adventures was in their third season of running commercial mountain bike tours in Whistler. The language clearly shows that the understanding of mountain biking was still limited for many people. “A couple of hours on a bike tour will open your eyes to the sport of mountain biking and show you the hidden beauty of this 4-season resort. Unlike conventional 12-speed road bikes, 15-speed all-terrain mountain bikes have knobby tires, upright handle bars, and a strong sturdy frame. This allows one to travel with power and finesse through forested trails and groomed gravel paths, typically found on Whistler’s backroads.” At this time, the daily rental rate for a mountain bike was $14.

The Uphill Climb during Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge. Many athletes participated in all events.

Riding the hundreds of kilometres of incredible bike trails around Whistler today on my 1998 Rocky Mountain Spice I can’t help but notice that mountain bike design has also changed. When my bike was released it dominated the trails. Now the tires that seemed wide at the time feel very small compared to those around me. When I was over-eager a month ago and hit Lost Lake trails in the snow, those with tires nearly twice the width of mine managed many of the uphill sections as I slid every direction but forward even on the flats.

Dual Slalom during Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge in 1989.

Bikes have certainly changed over the years. While you could get custom-built mountain bikes earlier, in 1981 the Specialized Stumpjumper was one of the first mass-produced and mass-marketed mountain bikes. With no suspension and cantilever brakes, an early Stumpjumper can be seen in the Whistler Museum. Much of the progression of technology can be highlighted in this one bike. Still manufactured today, but with 40 additional years of competition and innovation the current Stumpjumper comes with full suspension, disc brakes so you can stop when wet, and the tires are larger in width and diameter. The frame is popular in both carbon fibre and alloy. Similar progression can be seen in mountain bikes generally.

Today in Whistler we are spoilt for choice when shopping for mountain bikes, with many of the best quality and innovative bikes designed and constructed in our own backyard. This month the Whistler Museum Speaker Series brings you conversations with Mike Truelove, the mastermind who constructed the OG bike for Chromag and has gone on make thousands of frames. Join us on Friday the 27th of May at 7pm, tickets are available now for $10 or $5 for museum members.

The Downhill Kamikaze followed Blackcomb’s 15km service road. This race was saved for the end of the Can-Am Challenge, but it was so foggy that spectators could only see the racers right in front of them.

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.

Racing Up Whistler

Summers in Whistler may be known for mountain biking today, but in the 1980s the sport was still young and Whistler was in the process of building its reputation as a site for races and events.

The first recorded mountain bike race in Whistler was held on June 20, 1982 and was organized by Jon Kirk. The race had few rules and lots of confusion. According to Jacob Heilbron, who came in third, the race may have been called the Canadian Championship, but, with no governing body for mountain bike racing in Canada until 1984, it would not have been officially sanctioned. The course began with a literal running start and some competitors switched between mountain and road bikes throughout the course.

Competitors cross a bridge in the 1982 race. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

By the mid 1980s, some of the races held in Whistler looked a little different from that first race. In 1985, Whistler hosted the BMX World Championships, which brought 680 riders from fourteen different countries to the resort still finding its way out of a recession. Unlike the earlier Canadian Championship, this race was associated with the International BMX Federation. Whistler also hosted the 1986 North American BMX Championships and CanAm Freestyle BMX Challenge, but the Whistler Question reported that the races were hampered by wet weather and poor turnout.

A team of BMX freestyler cyclists added to the weekend’s festivities and gave Whistler just a taste of what things will be like here next summer when the BMX World Championships come to town in 1985. Two young performers on BMX bikes travelled from Pitt Meadows to represent the Lynx factory team. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge, which was hosted on Whistler Mountain on July 5 & 6, 1986, did not have the same challenges. Over 70 racers entered the mountain race on the Saturday and the valley criterium race on the Sunday, with sunny but not hot conditions for both.

The mountain course followed an access road up to the Roundhouse (a climb of 1,200 m over 7 km) and then descended back to the valley. While those competing in the expert category completed the same course as the pro racers, those in the “sportsmen” category cycled only as far as midstation and then rode the Red Chair up to the top. The 40km criterium course took competitors on laps around the Lost Lake trail system.

Competitors appear to have enjoyed the Whistler Mountain course, comparing it favourably to the course in Crested Butte, CO. Jeff Norman, who raced for the Schwinn team, described it was “smoother,” while Tod Switzer of Ross Bicycles told the Question, “It’s much faster. Crested Butte is rocky and rutted. It’s definitely better here. I had a lot more fun.” Racers also commented on how their tires could hand on to the soil during the climb. One racer, upon crossing the finish line, even jumped off his bike to exclaim, “I like it, I like it, I like it!”

Paul Rawlinson cycles up the mountain during the Cheakamus Challenge a few years after the CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

By the end of the weekend, American teams for manufacturers such as Ross, Schwinn and Fisher had dominated the pro categories, taking home the cash prizes on offer. Despite this, Whistler riders were well represented in the expert and sportsmen categories. Merve Stalkie took first place in the expert category of the mountain race, followed closely by Paul Rawlinson, also of Whistler. Whistler rider Sharon Bishop came fifth in the women’s category and Eric Gunderson of Whistler took first in the sportsmen category.

The CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge marked the end of Whistler’s “Fat Tire Week,” which had begun with the BMX Championships. At the closing ceremony, president of the National Off Road Bicycle Association Glen O’Dell challenged Canadian racers to do better. O’Dell also hinted at Whistler’s future, referring to Whistler as “a mecca for the new sport.”

Crafts in the Park is Back for 2019!

Crafts in the Park is back!  Each week we partner with the Whistler Public Library to present a story and craft in Florence Petersen Park.  This year’s theme is “When I Was In Whistler, I Saw…” and each week will feature a different animal, activity or object that could be seen in Whistler, either in the present or in the past!

Crafts in the Park runs on Wednesdays from 11am-noon.  It is a drop-in program for all children ages 4-12, with a chaperone present.

Week 1: July 10

Have you ever seen a beaver in Whistler?  In making their home in the valley, beavers made dams along waterways and changed the landscape for many years to come.  Many of the rivers and streams in Whistler are still the way they are because of beavers.  For our first craft, we’ll be creating cone beavers and paper bag dams.

Week 2: July 17

Traveling to Whistler became a lot easier in 1914 with the arrival of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  Instead of 3 days, the trek from Vancouver now took about 9 hours (still a lot longer than we’re used to today).   The railway had a major influence on making Whistler a popular resort destination, and we’ll be making our very own train engines in any colours you want.

Week 3: July 24

For this week, we’ll be collaborating with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to make animal headbands!

Week 4: July 31

Alta Lake became a popular fishing destination in 1914 and people caught many different kinds of fish.  Just like those early visitors, we’ll be making our own mini fishing rods and fish.  You’ll even be able to catch these fish with your rod, and fish can be designed however you want!

Week 5: August 7

Before the train came to Whistler, it took 3 days to reach Alta lake.  The first day was spent on a steamboat from Vancouver to Squamish, and from there you would have to walk all the to Whistler, accompanied by a pack horse.  When fishing lodges began opening on Alta Lake, some lodges kept stables and would take guests on rides around the valley.  This week we’ll be making our very own horse, who can stand all by itself!  For ambitious crafters, we’ll also be making clothespin riders.

Week 6: August 14

Sailing has been popular in Whistler for over 100 years and Alta Lake residents enjoyed taking all kids of boats out in the summer.  We’ll be making our own sailboats out of sponges, corks and paper.  Just like real boats, these really do float!

Week 7: August 21

While Whistler is very well known for its winter sports, in the summer mountain biking takes over the town.  This week we’ll be making pipe-cleaner bikes and bikers!

Week 8: August 28

Downhill skiing came to Whistler in the 1960s and has been wildly popular ever since.  Snowboarding was introduced to the hills in the 1980s, and now both sports are found on the mountains each winter.  We’ll be making our very own skiers and snowboarders this week, as we look forward to another snowy winter!

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesdays!