North Shore Vancouver, Wade Simmons and our bikes on a pickup truck – that’s all it takes, and we couldn’t ask for more! Let’s embark on an epic journey, discovering the trails of our dreams while reviving the essence of mountain biking with a true legend.
Coffee? Coffee! Wade’s already geared up, standing next to the espresso machine at Rocky Mountain’s Development Center in Vancouver, receiving us with a massive grin on his face. He’s ready to roll – he’s just missing his helmet. We’ve just arrived, with a sweet scent of hotel linen and visible pillow marks on our faces telling a sleepy tale of jetlag. In the kitchen, Wade dishes out loving sideswipes to his colleagues while we’re all waiting for our first coffee of the day. It’s classic biker banter, and everyone joins in with a healthy serving of tongue-in-cheek. We take cover and laugh, hoping that the giggles will straighten out those pillow marks on our cheeks. With an eye on the brewing process, Wade casually explains the plan for the day, speaking clearly and loudly over his shoulder. Drink up, load up the bikes on the Toyota pickup (a beast of a truck for us Europeans), and set off as fast as we can to the one place where we can breathe freely, think freely and live freely. We’re off to the forest!
Mountain Bike Hall of Famer, New World Disorder rider, Red Bull Rampage winner, The North Shore co-founder, freeride legend… the list goes on. If you’re familiar with the roots of mountain biking culture, you probably know him, and he probably even inspired you to build ladder bridges, teeter-totters, skinnies and log-rides in the forests, only to wonder if you can even ride them. We are not talking about some dude who’s good at riding mountain bikes. We’re talking about the Godfather of Freeride: Wade Simmons. Yes, that’s the guy we’re having coffee with right now. He’s Canadian, from Kamloops, and he laid the foundations for our passion back in the 90s, defining the concept of freeriding and embodying the soul of our sport up to this day.
While waiting for the first caffeine shot to kick in, we take a deep look into the sacred halls of the Rocky Mountain Development Center, where relics of mountain bike history are piled up on IKEA shelves. We’re not allowed to take pictures of everything because the time stamps of our passion also offer a glimpse into the future: new frames, new colours, new projects. Our sport doesn’t stand still, but there seems to be a pattern that continues throughout its history. It’s an emotion, one that will never change. Whether it’s hardtails, enduro, downhill or e-mountain bikes, it’s a feeling we refuse to define any further. Everyone grows their own feeling of “happiness” throughout their life as a mountain biker. For some it’s big drops, for others it’s slabs, doubles or uphill flow. For many it’s the full monty: bikes, friends, trips, adventures and nature. For us it’s a cocktail of it all. And if the cocktail’s shaken by a bartender called Wade Simmons, you’re in for a treat! Get in – get out.
We get in the truck, barely manage to fasten the seatbelts, and we’re out. 15 minutes! That’s all it takes to get from the metropolis of Vancouver to the birthplace of freeride mountain biking. Very few places have influenced mountain biking as deeply as the region surrounding Cypress Mountain, Mount Fromme and Mount Seymour, or in brief, the North Shore. It was the centre stage for countless freeride movies, photo sessions and, above all, stories and myths. It’s the place where the foundations for modern mountain biking were once laid, the main reason behind the way we ride bikes today. And it’s not just us who were inspired by this place, but the entire trail building community, with riders all over the globe recreating their own version of “The Shore” in their local woods. The forefathers of gnar nailed boards from one tree to another, pick-axed rocks from the ground and explored the limits of steepness on blood-curling slopes.Luckily for us, it all got documented, and after watching the movies that got shot in this wild corner of the world, we bolted a legendary Marzocchi Monster T onto our own bikes and hung out in the forest deep into the night, with motocross helmets and Speedy sunglasses providing an inebriating sense of immortality. We pushed heavy downhill rigs uphill, fired up our friends performing daredevil stunts, feeling like outlaws next to our performance-oriented mountain biking peers.
We were, where nobody was. In the woods! – Wade Simmons
It’s the “Shore” – a wild, natural playground where you can drop into the valley over slippery roots and surprisingly grippy rock slabs for over 8 months a year. It’s the one place where you’ll learn the real essence of freeriding. It’s not about clocking fast times, but rather having a great time – a fridge-magnet catchphrase we should give more importance to.
While pedalling uphill, we can already spot a few wooden features, steep berms and drops through the dense woods. After the ritual fist bumps at the trailhead, Wade rides ahead and shows us how it’s done.
It’s like falling down the trail without hitting the ground… out of control all the time. – Wade Simmons (laughing)
We used to think that mountain bikes could tackle almost any terrain in the world, until the North Shore and surrounding area clearly exposed their limitations. Some bike manufacturers wouldn’t even provide warranty with the frames sold in this area – the Shore wasn’t for the faint-hearted. It was the time when pioneers like Wade redefined the sport, slapping high-fives and sending impossible road gaps, drops and wooden ladders. They captured their adventures on tape, enjoyed life, smoked weed, while swapping Lycra tops for cotton T-shirts and taking life a lot less seriously than you should (or maybe just as seriously as you should?). According to Wade, surfers, skaters and snowboarders just wanted to have a good time, and live the lifestyle, while riding bikes was still about clocking fast times on a track. For the Godfather of Freeride and his crew, cycling lacked soul and could do with a more punk attitude. So the community around Wade cooked up an antidote for a sport that favoured stop-watches over skills, style and freedom.
The essence of mountain biking is not competition. Neither on the race track, nor what material. It’s just like hanging out with friends. – Wade Simmons
The antidote still works today, only the material has changed. The dirt we ride is still the same. We tackle huge North Shore features, drop off rock ledges and challenge ourselves on sketchy climbs. The result: sharing high fives with a legend with a massive grin on our faces. When we get to the bottom, Wade looks down at his Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay eMTB and says: “These things are so damn fun! We could only dream about something like this back in the days, when we were still pushing our bikes up the mountain on foot. How cool that I still get to experience all of this!”
Wade loves how his Altitude Powerplay is redefining the boundaries: more trails, more fun! Higher, further and for longer! While eMTBs are a no-brainer in most of Europe, North America is still sceptical. And even the birthplace of freeride, the North Shore, is a little reserved. According to Wade, that’s mainly down to the fact that ebikes aren’t yet allowed on some of the uphills and downhills around here. Trail builders fear that the additional weight of electric mountain bikes could damage the trails, wearing out features and berms prematurely. Others still smirk at eMTBs and associate them with laziness.
It’s not lazy, it’s motivating. I’ve been riding since 88. It’s like a new passion. You just ride more and more trails. – Wade Simmons
After a long descent and at least four “ohh s**t” moments, our bikes’ batteries might still be half full, but our energy levels are critical. Hey there, arm-pump! We downshift a gear or two and roll towards burgers, fries and cold brew. With a cold pint in our hands, we return to the basics with Wade’s ambiguous wisdom. When chasing a clock on the trail, you miss out the fun features and cool transitions – this goes straight into our book of life affirmations! Wade really cares about the intrinsic value of a trail and the creativity behind it. “Ride, don’t slide.” You should enjoy what’s been shaped into the forest and honour all the sweat, commitment, and time it took to create. For Wade, it’s totally irrelevant whether you have fun with or without a motor.
„Just ride your bike like it’s 1988! – Wade Simmons
Not only did Wade take us on a journey into the past but also accompanied us into the future as a spirit guide. Whether you’re riding with or without electric support, in Canada, the Alps or the Peak District, whether it’s fast and loose freeride or skin-tight XC racing, there’s no right or wrong in our sport. There’s only different. And that’s also the original idea of mountain biking and freeriding: the freedom to ride the way you want. No matter how, no matter where.
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Words: Julian Lemme Photos: Peter Walker, Julian Lemme