BC Bike Race

Singletrack Mind

An oral history of the BC Bike Race

by Julia Williams

Dave Silver

The BC Bike Race celebrates a decade of global competition and coastal camaraderie this year. A seven-day mountain bike stage race held each July, the event welcomes about 600 cyclists from 36 countries to the world-renowned singletrack trails of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, the North Shore and Whistler. The BC Bike Race is an athletic adventure, and it’s also a one-of-a-kind way to experience the West Coast environment and its communities. The inaugural event took place in 2007, the result of hard work by co-founders Andreas Hestler and Dean Payne. The 2016 BC Bike Race runs July 6 to 13, and as always it’s the product of countless hours of planning, preparation and cooperation. BC Ferries will be the presenting sponsor of the BC Bike Race for the seventh consecutive year this summer. With racers and support teams travelling on some of the most scenic routes throughout coastal BC, the picturesque ferry crossings offer up a chance to recharge, refocus and take in the surroundings before getting back on the trail. What does it take to make an event like this happen? We spoke to four cyclists, many of whom are deeply involved with the race both on the trails and behind the scenes.

The Racers

Kelli Sherbinin
North Vancouver
Position: Racer, Bike Patrol, Course Designer
Day job: President and co-owner of Endless Biking (est. 2004), a bike shop that rents cycling equipment and offers skill development training, excursions and tours.

Brooks Hogya
Victoria
Position: Director of Safety
Day job: Paramedic with the B.C. Ambulance Service; founder, owner and chief instructor for Slipstream Wilderness First Aid (est. 1990), a company that teaches wilderness medicine and trains adventure tourism guides.

Michael Jacoby
Vancouver
Position: Graphic Designer, Bear’s Den Assistant
Day job: Visual communications manager at a Richmond tech company.

Christine Shandro
North Vancouver
Position: First-time racer at the 2015 BC Bike Race
Day job: Coach at TaG, an indoor cycling training and workout studio; former Pro Elite mountain bike racer and national team member.

The concept for the BC Bike Race was born in fall of 2006, and the first event kicked off in July 2007. It was up to the race co-founders to convince others to get involved.

Brooks: Andreas [Hestler, BC Bike Race co-founder and Director of Marketing] and I have been friends since we were 12. He approached me with this idea and asked if I’d like to be involved, and I said “No. That doesn’t sound good at all.” Then he asked me to come and meet everybody at a meeting in Whistler, and after that meeting I said, “Yeah, this is a fantastic group of folks.”

Kelli: Dean [Payne, BC Bike Race Co-Founder and President] is like a brother to me. He invited me on the first year to be a guest, and it was amazing.

Michael: I had known Dean through his previous race events. Out of the blue he called me up and spoke about this idea he had for a multi-day stage mountain bike race in BC. He knew I had done a couple of multi-day stage races in the past and was curious if I could come up with not just a logo, but help with a presentation package for potential sponsors.

A proto-version of the BC Bike Race was called “Seven,” but in 2007, the organizers had to develop a new name and brand identity. Graphic designer Michael Jacoby had an idea right away.

Michael: I knew a new logo had to draw on BC First Nations art. Part of the reason we still have all this beautiful land is because of the stewardship of the indigenous people. Putting the spirit bear on the bike was me saying “Hey, let’s enjoy this land and have fun! But don’t forget that you can’t have BC singletrack without trees or healthy forests.” The design process happened very quickly — within 24 hours of Dean telling me about the name change. Here is the crazy thing — when I was close to finishing a first draft of the logo, Dean (who didn’t know about the idea I’d come up with) said something like “Mike, what if we made the logo with a bear on a bike.” I replied very calmly, “Dean, I’m sending you an email right now with an attachment of the first draft.” Dean said, “This is it.”

BC Bike Race Logo
Jacoby’s spirit-bear-on-a-bike logo welcomes racers to the 2015 finish at Olympic Square in Whistler. – Erik Peterson

The BC Bike Race has a reputation as a place where racers develop instant and permanent friendships, which is both a byproduct of the race experience and an intentional outcome. The Bear’s Den, an electronic media centre with Wi-Fi, helps to set the tone.

Christine: I think the camaraderie is the best part of the race. You all stay together, eat together and ride together. It allows you time for visiting and hanging out that you wouldn’t normally do in a regular one-day race.

Christine-Shandro

Christine Shandro enjoying the swoopy downhill trails on the Squamish stage in 2015. – Dave Silver

Michael: At the start of the week the majority of the racers are soooo serious — they are quiet and keep to themselves. Right away we start joking with them. Sometimes they look annoyed but we persist. We’ve got ’80s and ’90s pop music going. We might randomly pass out some free drinks. We tell racers to smile. We make the free Wi-Fi password very inappropriate and change it every day, forcing them to come by. By the end of the week racers are high-fiving us, asking us where the best bars are, giving us suggestions for inappropriate passwords, passing us drinks to share. Instead of going straight to their tents they are wandering around talking to other racers, hanging out at the Bear’s Den telling us of their adventures of the day or drinking beers with other racers at the beer garden.

Bears Den

Bear’s Den hosts John Crosby (L) and Michael Jacoby (R) – Dave Silver

Designing a race stage is equal parts art and science. Kelli and her husband, Darren Butler, set the notoriously challenging North Shore stage in 2009.

Kelli: My husband Darren and I ran the first North Shore stage the BC Bike Race ever had. Our job was to provide the best course we could in a format that would be challenging and long, and would showcase the area. We had to liaison with the community and land managers, get approvals and let people know what was going on. Closer to the race stage day, we had to do flagging [marking the route so cyclists know where to go] using BC Bike Race protocol. It was our job to figure out where in the course we’d need a marshal or a traffic-control person, and manage putting those people in there. We worked with course control to educate them on what was going on. We managed all the marshals and made sure we had all the people in place. Then we jumped in as racers.

North Shore

The North Shore stage, famous for its ladder bridges, roots and rocks – Margus Riga

A major, multi-stage racing event can be tough on the body, and race organizers had to figure out how to make medical care available for the duration of the race, whether at the camp or at a remote location. Brooks Hogya was the original race medic.

Brooks-Hogya

Director of safety Brooks Hogya in 2013 – Erik Peterson

Brooks: At the very first event, it was just me. I’d bought a used BC Ambulance vehicle and stocked it full of stuff. We got this call that someone had gotten injured and I needed somebody to come in the ambulance with me. I said, “Does anyone know first aid?” and this guy [Dr. Colin Wilson] put up his hand and said, “I’m a chiropractor.” Another guy [Jeff Stromgren] said, “I know where the place is,” so he drove me and Colin to the injured racer. What happened is that Colin then became involved with the rehabilitation part of our event, Jeff became the Director of Course Management and I became what is now known as Director of Safety. That first call set the framework for how we do things now. Now we’re a very organized machine with departments and org charts.. We’ve had serious injuries on the BC Bike Race, but not nearly as catastrophic as you’d see on a road. Last year we had a woman who literally had a twig impaled through her ear. We had all kinds of stuff. Mostly we deal with sprains and strains. We think of ourselves as the bike mechanics of people. We’re here to help people get race-ready and continue the event.

Medical Tent

Medic Jen Thiel treats a racer in the medical tent at the 2012 BC Bike Race – Dave Silver

Medical issues aren’t the only kind of help racers need — they sometimes require logistical or mechanical support. Kelli Sherbanin has been a member of Bike Patrol, a team of embedded riders who assist racers, from its earliest stages.

Kelli: Dean had a vision for a group of people who had done the race, and who had unique skill sets like guiding, course protocol, mechanical and medical. The company [my husband and I] run, Endless Biking, does skill development, lessons, tours, that sort of thing, so Dean thought we’d be valuable assets to help people if they needed help. We carried mechanical equipment in our bags and helped people if they needed it to give them a really fun experience. We did that for two or three years with a team of four. They introduced the Challenge format [in 2010] which is a newer event for people who didn’t want to do the full [“Epic” format] BC Bike Race. Dean wanted us to experience that smaller course, so we did that—at the time I was actually four months pregnant—and that ended up working out really well. I took a year off to have my child, and the year I came back [2012] was when we started Bike Patrol, a specialized team of 10.

Kelli-Sherbinin

Bike patroller Kelly Sherbinin rides through the dust in Squamish in 2015 – Dave Silver

Race stages have shifted over the years, but racers still experience the trails and terrain that make West Coast riding extraordinary. While variety makes the race memorable, most racers have their preferred terrain.

Brooks: I really like Powell River. I like the dirt trails and it’s not so busy, and for me mountain biking is about getting out into the wilderness and enjoying that experience.

Kelli: Powell River. You arrive on a ferry and the community is literally lined up to welcome you. One year we had orcas jumping, coming in at sunset.

Powell River

The Day 2 start line for the Powell River stage – Dave Silver

Michael: They’re like children — they are equally awesome.

Christine: I enjoyed racing in North Vancouver because my family, my kids and my friends all came out to cheer me on. The riding I enjoyed the most was in Cumberland. I had never ridden there and the trail network is incredible.

Those involved with the BC Bike Race find the experience hugely rewarding, and less an annual event than a part of their identity.

Brooks: It’s my adult summer camp. It’s a place I work really hard with really good friends. When I took my master’s degree I discovered that hard things are fun. When you’re pushing your limits to a point where the world disappears and you’re on the edge of failure and you have total focus, or flow — that’s what fun is.

Kelli: My daughter is a child of the BC Bike Race. Not only did she do it in the womb, but she’s been to every single one since she’s been born.

Michael: Okay, I know it sounds super corny, but this race is the one week where I get to actually be part of changing people’s lives. And not just racers, but volunteers too. I’ve seen how this event teaches life lessons so personalized and specific to the individual that they come out totally different and changed forever. This event puts the wonder and awe of exploration back into people’s lives.

Christine: As a mother, life has been pretty full with focusing on my kids and the multiple things they are involved with. You can kind of lose yourself in taking care of everyone else. It was nice to do something purely for myself.

The 2016 BC Bike Race runs July 6 to 13.