It’s funny how experiences can change your perspective on life, and how quickly some amazing things can become normal. I had a week at the start of March 2019 that was probably one of the most incredible of my life, and something many people in the mountain biking community would be envious of. I’m doing my best not to be smug here, but it wasn’t until I was partway through that I realized what I had planned.
I was going to be traveling through three different countries in one week, and I made it my mission to ride in all three during this week. My week started in Australia, went to New Zealand, and ended in Canada. Having been in Australia for a couple of months and riding relatively casually, my last ride there was on a Sunday. I was flying to Christchurch on Wednesday to pack up my life for good, riding with some friends in New Zealand on Thursday, and moving to Canada on Friday where I aimed to ride Saturday. Once I had booked my flights and realized what was on the cards, I decided to make it happen!
I had been in Sydney for a couple of months taking some time off work. In the southern hemisphere, it was the height of summer. We’re talking 30°C+ degrees daily. As a Brit, I struggle with the heat a little. It’s one thing getting used to this sort of heat, but riding in it is something else entirely. I don’t think I’ve ever been as hot and sweaty as I have mountain biking in Australia in the middle of summer.
Hornsby is one of the better trail networks in Sydney, and had been closed nearly the entire time that I had lived in Sydney from 2016-17, with a small section opening during my last few weeks. I had to get there to check it out before I left.
The riding in Sydney, and in Australia generally, is pretty unique. The terrain is more hilly than mountainous (though Australia does have mountains), with chunky boulders scattered around. The elevations aren’t huge you but can find some surprisingly technical riding.
Having just undergone an extensive revamp due to access issues around the quarry next to the trails, there is a good network of trails of various levels, from blue to black. There are short punchy climbs, technical rocky descents with some cheeky wooden features, and smooth flowing singletrack. There’s probably around 20km of trail. It’s not huge, but plenty for a morning spin on a Sunday, which is precisely what my riding buddy Obi and I did.
Hornsby is great for sessioning, with a quick return to most points. There’s a slightly hidden black trail with some fun off-camber and technical sections off the start of the main intermediate blue that we rode a few times. There are a few short jump lines that are easy to session, one with a decent-sized gap that runs out into a skills zone that’s still being built.
A few exploratory laps later and suitably sweaty we decided to call it a day and stop by Clovelly beach on the way home for a refreshing swim followed by a coffee and pastries. That’s the beauty of Sydney — there may not be a million gnarly bike trails, but there are some great beaches with amazing surf and some awesome bars and restaurants in between. It’s easy to feel like you’re living the high life here.
Christchurch, New Zealand
I packed my bike up Tuesday and headed to the airport to catch my flight to Christchurch, NZ on Wednesday. I called Christchurch home for a year and had spent a lot of time on the trails there in that year. A couple of months in Sydney really made me appreciate how accessible the trails in Christchurch are, particularly from where I had been living.
Christchurch has a great mountain bike scene, with the Port Hills, a volcanic mountain range complete with lift assisted bike park, just a 10-15 minute drive from the city center.
Since I was only in town for one full day, I wanted to get my bike built up ASAP and get out for a ride with my buddies. March is summer, so I had time on my side, and it was the middle of the week when most people couldn’t ride until the evening. It was only fair that I go out for brunch and coffee (obviously it had to be a flat white – a Kiwi invention), at Addington Coffe Co-Op, before I got out on the trails.
With my bike built, I headed out with my friend Zoe for a ride up Dyers Pass, a steep road climb to the top of Victoria Park. Vic Park is a small but densely-packed network of mostly steep and technical downhill trails, with a few slightly easier ones thrown in to suit more intermediate riders. We spent a little while playing on a step-down jump at the top of what the locals call “The 15,” taking photos and generally enjoying the summer sunshine.
Once we’d had enough fun in the air we headed down Sesame Street, one of the more friendly trails in Vic Park. Not too rocky, not too steep but pretty fast if you want it to be. It’s littered with optional gap jumps, drops, and a fun wall-ride into a drop. It’s not a crazy trail but it’s one of my favorites because it’s one of those trails that just makes you feel like a bit of a hero.
Next, we dropped from Vic Park into Christchurch Adventure Park and rode Shredzilla, a black-diamond trail, to the bottom. Stoked with watching Zoe send it down there (she wouldn’t have ridden anything near this difficult when I’d met her months before!) it was time for celebratory beer and fries in the CAP cafe.
The beer finished, I had to dash off to meet some other riding buddies for a post-work ride. While grinding up the Port Hills again this time on Huntsbury track, we got to chatting. I realized that for one reason or another (probably people telling me how gnarly it was), I had never ridden Lava Flow, Christchurch’s signature downhill track. Lava Flow does what it says on the tin: it follows an old lava flow down the open hillside. It’s steep, rocky, and gnarly, perfect for my last ride in New Zealand!
Dropping in I was a little nervous, but pushed that to the back of my mind and followed my old housemate and local track builder Milty down the trail. First straight, plowing through rocks, getting all kinds of loose and my worries vanished, I was having way too much fun for that! I had forgotten just how good Christchurch trails are and was having the time of my life.
Halfway down I was frothing, having the most fun I’d had in ages, and we come across a large group of runners. We could see that they had stopped by the side of the trail for us, so we gave it the beans. Drifting around the corner and through the runners, they were cheering us on and videoing us on their phones. The stoke levers were all-time high, blasting down the final section of trail, down a big roller drop off that I usually would have ridden around, into the end of the trail. We all had giant grins on our faces by the end. Perfect.
When the ride was done, we headed straight to the pub. For anyone visiting Christchurch, the Moon Under Water is a great post-ride pub. We met with the rest of my old workmates who didn’t make the ride for copious beer and food. I probably had a few too many beers, but it was worth it. Perfect day status achieved.
I landed in Vancouver at around 1 pm Friday, itching to get off the plane. It took a while to get my work permit and get out of the airport, but thankfully I was greeted by the welcome sight of my buddy Casper and his trusty old Toyota pickup waiting to take me to my accommodation for the next few weeks, which was his RV in Squamish.
Upon stepping out of the airport, the first thing I noticed was that it was freezing cold. I figured that arriving in March I’d be catching some nice spring weather, but having just spent summer on the other side of the world, I was not ready for just how cold it was.
I couldn’t believe I was finally in BC, after years of dreaming about riding in Canada. To be honest, I still can’t believe I’m here; it’s absolutely as beautiful as you’d expect. I was totally stoked to get out riding. I only had one day to ride, as Sunday was going to be spent driving around and Monday was my first day of work. So Saturday was the day. The day after I arrived, another lightning fast bike build followed. Thanks to the guys at Commencal Canada for letting me borrow some tools and use some floor space. They’re a good bunch.
Casper introduced me to his friend Will, another Brit, and we left in Will’s truck to see which trails were good. Turns out I was a tad optimistic. The road to the bottom of the main trails was completely covered in ice and totally impassable. Not a good sign…
We decided to ride some lower trails, starting with one called Roller Coaster. The pedal up to the top was short, but it didn’t take long until the fire road became mostly ice. Hoping for the best, we carried on. Sitting at the top of the trail it was evident that again we had been a little optimistic. The trail was pretty much entirely ice. Again undeterred, we used the age-old “tripod” technique to slither down the trail, possibly setting the world’s slowest Strava time. Thankfully, halfway down, just as the trail became steeper and had a bit more natural flow, the ice disappeared and gave way to beautiful grippy dirt! Stoked about my first ride in Canada, I ripped down, grinning all the way to the bottom. It wasn’t gnarly or technical, but boy was it fun!
Once we regrouped, we decided it was a better idea to session some shorter trails even further down the hill called Coho. A tiny area of forest, Coho is jammed full of short trails. We spent an hour or two sessioning some small doubles and found a few steep rutted corners to practice railing, finding joke lines, and drifting round tight loamy turns. I forgot how much fun it can be playing on short trails and just mucking about with your mates in the woods. It may not have been Whistler, but it was still a great day on the bike, and an awesome intro to Canadian riding.
It turns out that riding in three very different countries in one week isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I feel very lucky to be where I am and can’t wait to explore BC some more. Stay tuned for some ride reports to follow!