Mountain biking has come a long way since its modern origins in Marin County, California in the 1970s. Off-road riding is as old as the bicycle itself, but the modern incarnation of the sport is less connected to the need to get around and all about the fun. Most folks ride because they love it. They love the challenge, the scenery, the peace and quiet, the thrill, the community, the workout, or all of the above. Whatever lights you up as a rider, Southern Vancouver Island can bring it on.
You’ll find trails for all levels of riders, from the first-timer to the experienced. While investing in a bike may seem daunting, it’s not necessary to go that far for a first-timer or a traveller. There are many rental options available to give it a go before you take the plunge or if you had to leave your own bike at home. A quick google search brings up a plethora of options for rentals.
Have bike, will travel!
Once you have your bike, the hard part is choosing where to go. For those based in Victoria, you’ll find your closest rides at either Bear Mountain or Mount Work. A short (one hour) and scenic drive up Island on Highway 1 brings you to the down-hill rider’s Mecca, Mount Tzuhalem.
Bear Mountain (The Park)
Beautiful Bear Mountain Resort is home to the Official High Performance Training Centre for the Canadian Mountain Bike Team, but don’t let that put you off if you are new to the sport. There are trails here for everyone, from the Wide Track Trail, aptly named at a metre wide and suitable for the novice, to the Finlayson Skills area for the advanced rider. There’s even a jump park that offers jumps from beginner (Cub) to expert (Grizzly).
Aprés ride, Bear Mountain offers a fine selection of dining, and for those aching muscles, a spa, all in a beautiful, serene setting minutes from downtown Victoria. Check out the trail map here.
Mount Work (The Dump) – Yes really
Come to the Highlands, kilt optional (I don’t advise riding in one). Mount Work’s setting is less resort and bit more backwoods adventure than Bear Mountain. Yet another scenic drive (it’s all pretty nice here) from downtown Victoria will take you along West Saanich Road to Hartland Road, which leads to the main trail entrance where there’s ample parking, a bike wash and washroom facilities.
Trails are maintained by The South Island Mountain Bike Society (SIMBS) and offer all levels of riding, including some amazing jumps, bridges and other obstacles. Local mountain-bike culture is alive and well, with trails such as Organ Donor (expert) to Crazy Horse (intermediate), and the locally famous Skull Trail which bears a variety of appropriate decoration. Every trail is rated: green (doubletrack, suitable for beginners), blue (intermediate, single track), black (advanced trails for the experienced rider), and double-black (for those with no fear).
It’s so quiet, you can hear the wings of the ravens as they go about their business, their calls echoing through the trees. Get a bird’s-eye view of the trail map here!
Mount Tzouhalem (The Tzou)
Known affectionately as The Tzou, Mount Tzouhalem is a Mecca for those who like to go down hill fast! (Don’t we all?) Here you can climb for a mere 40 minutes and descend for more than 90! Most of the trails are blue level, and sport names ranging from A Grand Traverse to The Tzoukeeper to The Toxic Tea Cup. Check out the trail map here.
To get here, take Highway 1 from downtown Victoria then follow Cowichan Bay Road and Khensipsen Road. The hour-long drive over the glorious Malahat – be sure to stop at the lookout to take in the postcard-worthy view – takes you into the beautiful Cowichan Valley, home to Vancouver Island’s wine-growing region, and to Mount Tzouhalem, just a little bit further north.
Often billed as an extreme sport, mountain biking is less about jeopardy and more about the rider. Take your time, go at your own pace, enjoy the ride, take in the sights. There truly are trails for all, and if you can pedal a bike, and want a bit of outdoor adventure, Southern Vancouver Island is a great place for the newbie to the expert.
Our mild weather means that conditions are excellent most of the year (though we sometimes get a bit of rain in our rainforests!) Always wear a helmet, be prepared for the conditions, and remember, ride, don’t slide.
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