Bryce Borlick’s biking-focused Spokin’ Word column appears in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine during the cycling months. This column first appeared in the August 2019 issue.
Pack fodder. The tired huddled mass of riders at a bike race, yearning to break free from the athletic mediocrity of mid-pack results. It’s a place I knew well in my early years of mountain bike racing. Like infantry at a Normandy beachhead, we plodded ahead dutifully when the starting gun fired, knowing that without our inevitable collective failure, no one could bask in the glory of success. That was the best part. We were also treated to all-you-can-attempt-to-eat Powerbars, camping sleeplessly in mud-caked parking lots, and of course lots and lots of Lycra. Surprisingly, I gave all this up and never looked back. Until now.
I wasn’t the only one who quit racing. Lots of riders were looking for a less draconian way to have fun on bikes and, as a result, freeriding exploded. The challenge was no longer in besting an opponent, it was in tackling more technical terrain and pushing the limits of your skill and your bike, which probably also exploded. Although there was camaraderie on group rides, biking essentially became an individual sport again, requiring intense focus and judgement to avoid bruising places that don’t bruise well.
Nevertheless, I still carried a torch for downhill racing and in 2001 the explosive action of the World Cup landed in my backyard, reigniting my passion for the speed and drama. Since then, so many unforgettable moments have kept fans gripped: Danny Hart’s annihilation of Champery at the 2011 World Champs, Chris Kovarik putting 14 seconds into the rest of the field at Fort William, or our very own Steve Smith coming from behind to take the 2013 World Cup DH overall on the last run of the last race of the season, becoming the only Canadian to hold this coveted title. How can you not love this?
So 2019 marked my return to racing at the Hornby Island Bike Fest which, appropriately enough, hadn’t been run since just about the last time I raced. The race format was also absurdly appropriate: two days of dual slalom, trials, XC, and DH… all mandatory, all on the same bike. Like many other contestants, we took none of this seriously, partaking in some events, adding events of our own, and generally enjoying the vibe of 200 grown adults goofing around on bicycles. In the end, during the last run of the last event of the Fest, we were already down at the beach having a barbeque. Racing is hell, eh.
They say he who finishes last, laughs best. Or maybe they don’t, but they ought to because there could be some truth to it. There’s a lot of different ways to enjoy racing, from the sharp end of it, to spectating, to adding your own beer-per-lap challenge. And, yes, even the grisly death march undoubtedly holds a special place in many local hearts. So find your pace and give racing a shot. If you hate it, just wait a couple decades and try again.