Vancouver’s legendary North Shore needs no introduction. Like many other British riders, the North Shore long graced my computer screen with videos of technical, seemingly endless descents, big features, and some of mountain biking’s biggest names. As a kid, I could only dream of riding there, and wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance. The closest thing I had back then was British trail builders’ attempts to re-create the legendary woodwork of the Shore, which became a riding genre in itself.
Early mountain biking on the North Shore started with a bunch of young renegade trail builders like Dangerous Dan Cowan, Todd ‘Digger’ Fiander, and riders on rigid and front suspension mountain bikes. The terrain on the Shore is rugged, full of technical features, with lots of water. As a result, trail builders had to incorporate wooden ladder bridges into their trails to pass obstacles such as creeks, swamps, and fallen trees, sometimes with the obstacles turned into features themselves (think riding along a fallen tree).
Builders started trying to outdo themselves and features got bigger, tighter, slower, harder. The earliest riders conquering these features were like a cross between mountain bikers and trials riders. Videos of this riding style such as the North Shore Extreme series featuring riders such as Wade Simmons, Geoff Gulevich, and Kim Steed went viral around the world and trail builders all over tried to emulate this trail style.
Esher Shore in the UK is a poignant reminder of this evolution of mountain biking. A small member-based trail network located just outside London, the riding area was comprised solely of boardwalk ‘North Shore’ style trails. It lasted only seven years before it closed in 2010, as this style of building was starting to lose its appeal and mountain biking started to progress into what it is now.
Trail building on the North Shore has somewhat gone the same way. The NSMBA (North Shore Mountain Biking Association) was established in 1997 to protect the North Shore’s precious trails and the interests of local mountain bikers from encroaching residential developments (still a threat today) amongst other concerns.
In 2010, the NSMBA underwent radical changes in terms of their vision for the trails on the shore in terms of sustainability, maintenance, and progression. Many trails were permanently decommissioned during this time, with a lot of wooden features torn down or made unrideable in the name of consolidating the trail network with a smaller number of trails but that could be maintained to a higher standard. Many have called it the ‘dumbing down of the Shore’ and other such things, but there are still plenty of challenging trails here if you know where to look.
In many ways, the North Shore riding scene has changed dramatically with the taming or legitimizing of the trails, many more riders and user groups, and more modern bikes. But in many ways, things are still the same. Trails such as Immonator, Boogieman, and Ladies Only still have plenty of that iconic woodwork and technical features. North Shore legends such as Wade Simmons, Brett Tippie, and company can still be seen riding the trails. Many of the long established bike shops such as Steed Cycles and Cove Bikes are still here, and the North Shore is still very much a world class riding destination.
Where should I ride on the North Shore?
The North Shore has two main mountains for riding – Seymour and Fromme. They both have plenty to offer for all levels of riding (though admittedly there isn’t a whole lot for beginner riders). In the interests of protecting the established riding on the North Shore, and the great work NSMBA have done in legitimizing the trail network, this article will only cover sanctioned trails. There is more than enough riding here to satisfy pretty much any rider, from easier trails through to super steep tech!
Both Seymour and Fromme have a singletrack climb, and a doubletrack/fire road climb that you can take to the top, depending on how much of a masochist you are. One of the great things about both Seymour and Fromme is that you can make your ride as long or short as you like. Both have trails high up the mountain, but have lower trails that work well for sessioning. The best parking spot for Seymour is the Old Buck trailhead. From here you can climb up Old Buck and connect left onto the Baden Powell to continue climbing. Or if you prefer technical singletrack climbing, you can take the Old Buck and turn left not far up it onto Bridle Path, which will eventually take you to a signboard where the trails merge. From here you can follow the ‘climbing trail’ signs which take you up Good Sir Martin to the highest point of the Baden Powell, where it joins the Powerline trail. Both these climbs end at the same point.
From here, you can choose multiple trails such as Severed D into John Deere, a relatively easy blue with some small features (and a big optional rock roll called Dear John) or Asian Adonis, another easy blue. There are some harder trails such as C-Buster, Forever After, and Pangor — black trails with some fun technical features, some woodwork, and classic North Shore Tech — plus Boogieman, a double black trail with some raised woodwork. Boogieman is a personal favorite, though it’s a double black, I don’t think it’s that much harder than the others and actually flows better. It has some really cool boardwalk that’s fairly high (maybe 10ft) over a bit of a gorge, but it’s wide enough to walk alongside your bike if you have to. If the weather is bad, the blue trails work really well in all weather and are generally good all winter. Boogie Nights is another favorite down here, it’s recently had a lot of work, with some big (rollable) jumps and drops. This into Empress Bypass is a good flow trail, and probably some of the only decent jumps on the Shore!
If you’re feeling fit, you can carry on climbing above the powerlines up the Mushroom climb. This gives access to a whole load more super cool trails. At the top of Mushroom is Corkscrew and Pingu, fun rocky single black trails that drop into Pangor/Boogieman. A long fun descent that I quite often ride after work is Corkscrew > Pingu > Pangor > Boogie Nights > Empress Bypass. It makes for a solid hour or so ride with a good 15-20 minute descent. Also dropping off Mushroom climb is Dale’s which leads into Forever After, another a great example of janky North Shore tech with big optional features (look out for a massive rock roll). Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is a flat-out dash down a rock-strewn corridor, most likely old skid road. It’s lots of fun, but can go wrong quickly and has potential for ruining tires and wheels, so go carefully!
If you’re feeling a big ride, you can ride up Corkscrew after Mushroom (it’s two-way, be careful) and join the road to the top of Seymour. A couple more switchbacks up the road and you will come to CBC, a North Shore classic black trail, admittedly a little blown out but still fun with lots of rocks and old wooden features. At over 800m above sea level, it’s a long old descent down from here, and you can pretty much take your pick of any of the trails on Seymour after CBC and Cabin Trail. A fit rider can ride to the top in 60-90 minutes and descend almost a thousand vertical meters. For those inclined, you can also shuttle the road up to CBC (make sure you park in the parking lot on the next switchback) or Mushroom.
Fromme is a little less of a maze of trails than Seymour, but it does have two distinct climbs. The forest service road is definitely a lot easier to figure out. The parking for the service road climb is on Mountain Highway, as far up as you can drive. The climb simply follows Mountain Highway further up the mountain. If you’d like to climb on singletrack, head to Braemar Road East where you can park curbside by Braemar Park Reservoir. The trail starts past a gate next to an unused tennis court. Follow the signs for the climb trail, which is approximately an hour uphill on technical singletrack.
If you choose to ride up Mountain Highway, you essentially get the best choice of what you want to ride down, as you ride past all of the trails. Heading up, first off the left after the first switchback is Floppy Bunny, a single black trail that starts with a steep roller that can be dropped. Lots of fun with some jumps and roots, this trail is fast and fun in the dry. Next up is Bobsled, a blue trail, probably the easiest on the Shore, and the one to ride to warm up or if you’re not feeling too confident. It’s a machine-built trail, with smooth with big well built berms, bumps that can be pumped or doubled, and rollers that can be sent as step downs if you’re fast enough. In short, it’s fun for everyone. It comes back out in the parking lot so is super easy to session too.
Keep riding up and the next trails dropping off on the left are Ladies Only and Pipeline, after the fifth switchback. Classic black and double black North Shore trails, they’re full of steep jank and technical features. Ladies Only has more woodwork including a teeter totter that was the first in the world to be a mountain bike trail feature, followed by plenty of tricky features including an uphill skinny over a fallen tree. Pipeline also has a teeter that’s even bigger, and lots of steep, technical, rocky terrain. If you want to challenge yourself and ride some world famous classic North Shore, both of these are good fun. Keep heading up Mountain Highway and you’ll find Expresso, a single black that’s smooth in places but contains some cool optional features including a couple of rock rolls off big boulders and some fun roller-coaster woodwork near the top. Expresso is probably the most ridden trail on Fromme and for good reason, it’s a 5 minute thrash down the perfect mix of flow and tech.
Further up you’ll find Grannies and Upper Crippler, two more black trails that are a little harder. They’re super steep all the way down with tight turns, super challenging and fun, but for advanced riders only. Be careful in the wet! Lower Oilcan is next and is another fun and fast trail with some technical rooty sections thrown in with a bit more of a modern trail feeling. The singletrack climb comes out just above Lower Oilcan.
Beyond the climb trail you’ll find Executioner/Dreamweaver, black and blue respectively- they both criss-cross the climb trail and create a super long descent. Above the sixth switchback is Pile Of Rocks — an old skid-road turned descent — and Upper Oil Can, a steep feature-filled janky tech trail that runs into Lower Oil Can. Bookwus is a classic Shore trail with slow tight skinnies and steep tech and Seventh Secret is a heavily-armoured and heavily-used trail that’s steep and tight but flows a little better than the others. Again there are some cool features to look out for including a 40-foot long log ride.
All of these trails drop back onto Mountain Highway and can easily be ridden into the lower trails and all the way down to Braemar Road. Otherwise, Seventh > Leppard > Crinkum Crankum > Kirkford is a great long descent that takes you all the way back down to the parking lot. It’s not super technical and is a great top to bottom lap with plenty of descent time. If you end up out on Braemar, which is where many of the trails end, you can either traverse on the Baden Powell trail back over the parking lot, or take the Dempsey Connector off Braemar back over to Mountain Highway below the parking lot.
NSMBA is a super active trail organization and has regular dig days. You can find out how to join and volunteer here.
The biggest MTB events on the North Shore calendar are the NSMBA Fiverr race series. It’s a mini enduro race format, costs five dollars to enter (if you have your NSMBA membership already) and runs every other Thursday night through the summer. There are usually two or three stages and they’re not too difficult, so most folks can take part. Each event is sponsored by a different local North Shore bike shop/company, they’re super casual, and your entry also gives you access to the after-party hosted by the sponsor company, usually with some (or lots of) beer and food. The parties are as good as the races and aren’t worth missing!
North Vancouver is a big place and has plenty of accommodation options including AirBnB, cheap hotels and expensive ones, and a campground at the bottom of Capilano Road. It does get busy here in the summer so if you need accommodation, be sure to book ahead.
For eating out and nightlife, Lonsdale Avenue is the place to be. It’s about as close to bustling as the North Shore gets. There are some great restaurants and breweries on/near Lonsdale Quay including the Tap & Barrel, Beere brewing, and more.
For bike shops, Steed Cycles on Marine Drive is probably the best-stocked shop on the Shore in terms of spare parts and knowledgable mechanics and salespeople. [Editor’s note: The author, Sam, is a mechanic at Steed Cycles.] Their main brands are Santa Cruz, Giant, and Specialized. If you need something more brand specific that they don’t carry, there are probably at least six or seven other bike shops all across the shore.
If you’re in North Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler are probably already on your list of places to ride. If they’re not, put them on there. Now. Squamish is 45 minutes north, and Whistler is another 45 minutes further. Squamish has a myriad of amazing trails for every rider and Whistler is just Whistler. Go there.
It’s also worth checking out some of the lesser known trail networks further east in the Fraser valley such as Eagle Mountain and Burke Mountain in Port Coquitlam, and Vedder Mountain in Chilliwack. All of these are amazing trail networks similar to the North Shore (Vedder probably has more flow) and are way more than you can explore in a week.