Jumping Little Bikes
There's a North Shore (indoor) Bike Park?
Indeed there is. The North Shore Bike Park has been open since July and it's been humming along nicely since that time. It occupies a space in Capilano Mall that had been vacant since January of 2018 when a large Sears Store shut its doors.
I know what you might be thinking; this is an indoor bike park with skinnies and ladder bridges. In fact the "North Shore" in the name refers to the park's location, rather than the woodwork inside. This is a spot where you can ride a dirt jumper or a duallie, but also a scooter or bmx. It is entirely made of lumber, with plywood used as a riding surface in most places but also Skatelite* for the street zone. It's a place to work on your fitness, learn some new skills, and have some fun with your buddies.
*a wood panel that is smoother and more durable than plywood and more compatible with smaller wheels
When I first saw the park, the build was in its infancy. Since that time green, blue and black jump lines have been built as well as two pump tracks and a street zone. I wasn't sure what to expect when we got invited to come and check it out, but I was a little worried. It's been years since I'd ridden a dirt jumper and rusty doesn't begin to describe my 'skills.' So, like any terrified mountain biker, I turned to YouTube for some tips, and hit a home run.
The problem with riding the North Shore all the time is that there aren't many chances to get off the ground, and even then it's usually just drops. Arced take-offs are very rare and sadly I don't ride Whistler enough to maintain the meagre skills I used to have. So I poked around a little and eventually found the Loam Ranger's instructional video for jumping and I learned to stand up to the jump. It actually made a huge difference for me.
Other members of the nsmb editorial crew have much better skills with tiny bikes and had no need of crutches, but I felt a little better for it. I procured a rental GT dirt jumper from NSBF, started off on the pump track and felt, well, pretty crappy actually. The problem with our increasingly capable bikes is that you can ride them pretty well without being very dynamic. Those big wheels and all that suspension do a lot of the work for you and it turns out I was getting lazy about body movement, particularly fore and aft. More on that later.
Fortunately, pump tracking is a blast even when you suck so I kept doing laps and started to generate more speed and feel a little better. The rest of the crew were on to more ambitious lines. Ryan Walters brought his daughter along, who seemed to be having as much fun as any of us, and he was sessoning the jump lines on his BMX. I knew Deniz was a good jumper but I soon learned that Ryan, Cooper Quinn, Dave Tolnai, Emma, and Graham were all pretty good at getting air on little bikes. It was fun to watch them and pick up some skills but also a little intimidating.
I did some laps of the green jumps and felt okay but decided to go back to the pump track for a couple more laps. There are two lines and you can swap them as you go, so I did. But I did it late. I was a little casual about turning into the tighter loop and it became obvious that my front wheel was going to go off the top of the berm and there was nothing I could do about it. I landed in a heap on top of the bike and the wood and bruised ego and ribs equally. I was fine to keep riding but a little jittery about getting back to jumping, and it was time to try the blue jumps.
Using the Loam Ranger's technique (Stand Up to the Jump!) I felt okay my first time through the blue set. In fact I actually felt pretty good and was less nervous than I expected. I couldn't, however, get the nerve to hit the final largest jump well enough to make the transition.
Watching the other riders made it clear that I didn't need more speed but I obviously needed more pop. Or something? I wasn't sure what I needed aside from some more nerve but eventually I just started landing in the sweet spot. It didn't sound sweet though, because I kept landing with a thud unlike the better jumpers, but that seemed minor compared to getting the hang of it. On the smaller jumps I was starting to figure out how to move the bike in the air, and then it really started to get fun. I wasn't laying down sick Schleybletops but I'd graduated from my dead (and drunk) sailor technique.
The most important development from my time at North Shore Bike Park actually happened the next day. I went for a ride with James Wilson, who is a partner in NSBP as well as the owner of Obsession:Bikes, and we hit some familiar lines on Mt. Fromme. The funny thing was, they didn't feel familiar. Not at all. I had this strange slow motion feeling on the bike but I was actually riding most sections faster than ever. Even weirder was this sense that my suspension settings didn't matter, as though I adapted to the settings as they were, rather than adapting them to me. It wasn't until the bottom of the first trail that I realized I'd transferred my skills from the bike park to the dirt.
After that I really started to let it hang out, but it felt easy. I was carrying more speed than usual but also feeling like I had much more control. The best part was that I easily hit a couple of doubles* I'd never managed to nail to transition before, and again, it felt like a piece of piss.
*there are a few
Those improvements, despite being surprisingly dramatic, felt logical to me. I'd also had similar experiences riding my BMX in a wooden park before so I shouldn't have been surprised about those outcomes. The part that seemed weird was how much better I felt on technical moves, including uphills. There is a spot on the Baden Powell that requires a power move to get up onto a bridge. There isn't a good run up and there is one large stair and one small one. I'd been failing it lately but post-NSBP, I made it easily. My rear wheel didn't even hit the stairs, or at least it felt like that.
I think I know what helped me there. Riding the bikes we do, often involves staying 'inside' the bike. You can pretty much hunker down and make it through most moves. Getting air on a dirt jumper requires more deliberate movement and, in particular, those that get you off the vertical axis of your bike. The bike park woke up some dormant skills and had me handling my bike, rather than me letting it handle the trail. I had my best ride in ages and couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
You may not live here in B.C., but dirt jumps and pump tracks are starting to become common even in unexpected places. Give it a try and see what it does for your skills.
I came away very impressed with everything about NSBP; the space, the friendly atmosphere, the progressive lines that are ideal for gradual improvement, and in particular how much the experience improved my riding on dirt. Next time I want to dip my toe into the street zone and see if I can ride some vert, with my wheels on the ground that is.
Bring on the rains!
The park will host birthday parties, for kids and adults and it's open 9 AM to 8 PM every day. The best entrance is in the underground parking (2 metre height limit!) that you enter to the east of Cap Mall off Hanes Ave but before 6:00 you can enter through the mall. More details on getting there here.
You can bring your own bike or rent one when you arrive. The bikes we rode were well-maintained and felt great. Day passes are 30 CAD for those over 13 years, 20 bucks for 5-12-year-olds, and 10 for little tykes. Season passes and 10 packs are also available. Rental bikes are also 30 CAD and there is even a pro shop stocked with Troy Lee merch. I recommend giving it a look.
Open Daily: 9am - 8pm