Words by Felix Burke
Like a relentless metronome and a to-do list that never ends; Work, school, errands, and whatever other tasks I have often make me feel like I’m stuck in a hamster wheel. Yes, these are things that have to be done, but as I get busier in life, I also realize that I need to reserve some time to do what I love - the things that keep the kid in me stoked! No surprise here, I love riding bikes. The feeling of covering ground fast, seeing new places, and going on a spontaneous adventure, means that I can get a much-needed escape from the hamster wheel to nowhere and get lost without starting much further than my front doorstep.
A good start to any adventure is with pizza and maps.
Quinn and I, both students at the University of Victoria and full-time bike racers, do our best to fly by the seat of our pants and battle against conventional schedules and normalcies. But as hard as we try, we still have to hand in assignments and play by the rules. When Scott suggested this rather epic ride, with his experience in balancing a full-time job and going on amazing adventures, it didn't take much convincing to get us on board.
Chain lube and tire pressure, the classic last-minute preparation.
With hundreds of kilometres of trail stretching north of the city, the ride Scott suggested was destined to be filled with wrong turns, epic bonks, and (hopefully) second winds. These are the things we live for! So, despite the heavy grey clouds casting gloomy shadows over Victoria, we loaded the bikes, grabbed some snacks and set out for the hills.
Scott: "I was really excited for the potential of this ride. The idea of leaving the city and getting to a point on a map that I've only driven to was exciting, but I had no idea what it would look like along the way."
If you're going to meet anywhere, it may as well have sumptuous coffee.
The plan was to follow Victoria's intricate network of bike paths to the edge of the city and connect with the Sooke Wilderness Trail to head north. From there we’d meet the "Cowichan Valley Trail" to bring us further north to the shores of Shawnigan Lake. Once at our turnaround point, the Kinsol Trestle, we would head to the coast and board a small ferry to bring us across the Saanich Inlet to Brentwood Bay. From there we would cruise the country roads back into town and re-enter our normal day to day with a healthy fill of exciting memories after 140km of southern Vancouver Island's finest riding.
...but we all know what caffeine intake leads to.
With cold temperatures, wind and rain, the weather wasn’t overly inspiring. But while most of the city chose to spend the day huddled in their blankets, we followed Victoria's bike path labyrinth while weaving in out of neighbourhoods and along industrial parks until we got to the edge of the city.
Quinn: "It was raining hard enough that I think it had all of us second guessing what we were heading out to do, but no one was ready to admit it. We rode through downtown and onto the ‘E and N rail-trail’ which is home to some of my favourite graffiti."
A little respite from the rain on our way out of the city.
As we left the city, the world got greener and we began to feel smaller. The roads narrowed, the houses became sparse, and sooner than we expected it was just us, the trail, and the torrential rain.
Into the hills we ride
This first section of the Sooke Wilderness Trail had all of our adventure taste-buds firing. This ribbon of fine gravel took us through a sea of green and a tall trees until we were faced with the trail pointing its way directly uphill, disappearing into the fog far above us.
Follow the trail, deep into a world of giants
The climb over the top of the Malahat summit was steep and unforgiving. In some sections we had to fight for every metre, grinding the chain over the chainrings and pushing hard on the pedals. It was here where our thoughts went blank and our focus narrowed on heavy breathing and our immense discomfort. The sweet escape.
The summit was a relief, and with the climb behind us and a descent to look forward to, the three of us laughed at the ridiculousness of our situation and edged forward. Maybe part of it was that we were three mountain bikers on gravel bikes and felt a little silly, but I think the majority of it was that we were too tired to think properly. All that was in our minds is that it was time to shred down instead of suffering up.
There is only one way to get through the mountains, and that is to grind.
Scott: "I was surprised with how dialled a lot of the Sooke Wilderness Trail and Cowichan Valley trail were. Each section was a bit different, and fun to ride for what it brought to the variety of the ride. Riding the downhills were surprisingly fun in a 1980's mountain bike kind of way - haha!"
Quinn: "The descent into Shawnigan was really rad as we were all seeing how sideways we could get on the gravel switch backs!"
Gravel bike shredding. It's real and it's rad!
What’s the optimal granular size for gravel? The answer is whatever we were riding here.
The descent from the Malahat brought us into the Cowichan Valley, where we welcomed the flatter terrain, using it to our advantage to cover distance quickly. We rode through a tunnel of trees and along the banks of Shawnigan Lake until we reached our furthest point from home, the Kinsol Trestle. Built in 1944, it is one of the tallest railway trestles in the world at 44m high. A worthy objective for the day's mission.
The Kinsol Trestle was the northernmost point of our route.
Leaving the Kinsol Trestle behind, we turned on a forestry road named “Koksilah Road”, a name that made the three of us chuckle in our bonked-state. The plan was fuel up on the in-house roasted coffee and pastries at the Drumroaster Cafe in Cobble Hill, as we were soaked to the bone with dwindling spirits.
Quinn: "For the thirty or so minutes before the Drumroaster stop I was really wishing we were there already. I was getting in serious need of a sandwich and coffee, and to be honest, a break!"
Through a tunnel of trees on the Cowichan Valley trail
We’d been battered by the rain since the beginning and the humidity was now working its way into my camera lens. As we left the café in Cobble Hill, I’d worried I had done some permanent damage to the lens but knew I couldn’t do anything about it until we got back. At this point, I wasn’t even sure that we were making it home in one piece.
The warm drinks and food at Drumroaster Café were well deserved and did their part in bringing us back to life (kind of). As we sat there watching the rain from the inside out, it finally came time to ride and all that lay ahead was pedalling into the downpour.
Quinn: "When it was time to get going again, we walked outside to some serious rain. It was not the moral boost I was looking for."
Scott: " Walking out the door of the coffee shop to hammering rain was not how I wanted to take on the rest of the day. We settled into the wetness and I opened my eyes to the details that make this area so special. The colours, the unique farmhouses and farm animals, all which seemed totally unfazed by the weather"
"It was pretty cool to have the horses let us pet them, and then one nibbled on my facial hair. Weird, but I'll take it.” - Self-proclaimed horse whisperer, Scott Pilecki.
From the café in Cobble Hill, the plan was to ride to Mill Bay and catch a ferry across the inlet, rather than riding back over the Malahat pass. However, after a long day of battling the elements that had left us exhausted, we missed a crucial turn and wound up lost.
Scott: "We checked the map again and realized the mess we were in. Shit! It was about 5:30pm, raining, and if we wanted to go to Mill Bay to complete our route there was a chance we’d miss the last sailing. It was too big of a gamble, so with fading light we made the call to put our heads down and head up the Malahat.”
The Cowichan valley is a full of twisty roads surrounded by unique scenery
The descent back down the Malahat, a notoriously dangerous section of the Trans-Canada highway on Vancouver Island, was made especially sketchy by the rain and the fleeting light. Hyper aware of the roadside debris and unpredictable driving from cars to our left, our eyes were wide behind our glasses but our lips were closed tight. It was intense, and as soon as we’d made it down the pass we collectively agreed that now was the time, if any, to have a drink. Luckily for us, Quinn had been carrying 4 Hey Y'alls, a B.C. hard iced tea drink, in his pack for the entire ride. He was just waiting for the right moment to share them with us, and this was it.
Quinn: "Before the ride I thought it would be fun to shotgun some Hey Y’alls when the moment was right. I threw a few in my pack before we left and, after surviving the Malahat, I knew this was it. A quick shotgun, made possible by the OneUp EDC tool, and it was time to make the push for the final 15km home."
With a little bit of liquid courage flowing through our veins we pedalled the last 15km together, swapping stories from the day, laughing at what had happened. They were the kind of laughs where you don’t even know if it’s funny, but you’re so tired that it’s all you can do. The laughter kept the discomfort in our heavy legs away, and as we rolled by the familiar landmarks and usual scenery, it was obvious that nothing had really changed here, but for us everything was different. In just 12 hours, we’d had more new experiences than a week of what running the hamster wheel can offer. We’d climbed mountains, defied the weather, and overcame stressful situations. Scott even had his facial hair munched on by a horse!
To us, rolling through familiar neighbourhoods was a welcomed return to our normal day to day. The ride we’d accomplished had left its mark and was exactly what we all needed. Today’s the perfect example of why bikes are the ultimate tool for the modern adventure.
Scott herds the Rocky Mountain athletes. He is a connoisseur of most things fine and is a black hole of conversation. Scott was riding a large Rocky Mountain Solo flaunting a Topo Design handlebar bag and conveniently carrying his OneUp Components 100cc pump and tool. The rain and cold were no match for Scott's Revelation jacket and merino wool Desperado Henley jersey.
Quinn is a hardman of bike racing, a lover of Whole Foods and tequila, and a proudly known as “The Dog Whisperer”. Quinn's Solo was equipped with OneUp Components EDC tool and pump, and he chose to run Maxxis Ravagers 650b rather than a more standard 700c wheel. His insulating 7mesh mission jersey, Oro shell, and thick skin kept him warm the entire ride.
A sushi-holic with roots in both BC and Quebec, Felix is a strange animal with XC fitness and DH prowess. Felix's used his dropper post equipped Solo to get as sideways as possible on the gravel corners and kept the grit out of his bum with some 7mesh MK3 bibs and Farside shorts. He stayed warm thanks to his Corsa jacket and Cypress vest.
Journey through time
Story by Julia Hofmann
It’s been an excruciating climb, one with as much hike-a-biking as pedalling, but at last, we’ve arrived. Standing atop the highest point of Cronin Pass above Smithers the wind is howling; the air is cold. It’s been ten years since my first trip to Canada. Ten years since my first international mountain bike adventure. And as I stare out at the vast landscape of Northern British Columbia, I can see the long, flowing, epic trail I’m about to ride.
It’s the middle of August and each piercing gust hints that autumn is just around the corner. Despite our early start, the sun is now low. Shadows along the cliff bands lengthen and the colors of our surroundings begin to saturate. Feelings of peace and solitude complete this blissful scene, but I can feel the growing anticipation to drop in. The combination creates a sense of freedom inside me that washes me with happiness. From my extensive travels around the world to mountain bike, British Columbia is still one of the only places that host all the elements I love about riding. Well-built trails, a supportive riding community, and general love and appreciation for spending time in the woods.
When I was young my adventures started small – riding horses through the fields and woods near my childhood home near Lichtenfels, Germany – and grew to be grander over time. With each ride, I pushed myself to go a little further than before. The first true piece of singletrack I rode a bike on was a nice piece of trail, not far away, near my grandparents’ house. The special feeling of moving through the woods on two wheels was like nothing else I had experienced and chasing that feeling has continued to shape my life.
As an adult, I became so familiar with the forests around my home in Upper Franconia that I eventually began to look elsewhere for adventures. I started taking road trips to bike parks throughout Germany, then further on to Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. I’d read about British Columbia’s North Shore and seen videos of the Whistler Bike Park, but it seemed unattainably far away. It was several years before I’d even considered the possibility of traveling to a riding destination beyond what I could drive to. But the idea of flying to another country was there – somewhere – in the back of my mind and finally, it worked it’s way forward. Before I had thought about what I was committing to, I was standing at the airport ready to check in, heading to Canada.
I’ll never forget the feeling of landing on another continent for the first time, building my bike, and putting the tires into the dirt. Canada will always be a special place in my heart for this reason. The country feels vast with endless forests and mighty mountains, and to top it off there’s perfect singletrack that navigates the dramatic landscapes. The quality of trails is really what sets the riding here apart from the rest of the world. They are made specifically for riding rather than being repurposed old hiking routes. There’s something for everyone and the purpose-built climbs can be as enjoyable as the amazing descents.
As the sun disappears below the horizon line of endless peaks and ridges, the oversaturated filter begins to fade. It’s time to go as we’re losing light, and we have a long descent ahead of us. At the bottom of the mountain, a cozy cabin waits for us where we will stay for the night before moving on to the next incredible location. I lower my seat, start rolling down, and am treated to another unbelievable Canadian descent.
As I continue to travel around the world with my bike, I realize how the famous adage, ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’, rings true in my heart. All these years later, standing on top of a mountain on another continent, and I am still chasing that same feeling I discovered riding my bike through the forests in Lichtenfels as a child.
Introducing the Rocky Mountain Sherpa
We are excited to announce our new Sherpa overland bike.
Bikepacking has been around for a long time, but we wanted a bike that could tackle more challenging terrain and would let us get a little rowdy—even loaded down for multi day self-supported adventures. The Sherpa is designed to carry you and your gear to the ends of the earth, far from the nearest Strava segment.
The inspiration for the Sherpa came from our lead product guy Alex Cogger, whose own rides were getting longer and weirder and more rugged. Through strategic cooperation with WTB we were the first to experiment with 27.5+ tires and rims, and over the last few years we prototyped several bikes to test the capabilities of the wheel size. It was immediately clear that the increased float and traction was a great match for overland bikepacking.
The Sherpa debuted as a concept bike at Sea Otter 2014—complete with a custom Tibetan Snow Lion paint job. The awesome response it got from riders wanting to expand their exploration capabilities convinced us to bring it to production.
Fully loaded overlanding requires an extended gear range. We began with our proven Element carbon front triangle and designed a wider rear end to ensure that a front derailleur would clear even the widest tires.
The wide footprint of WTB’s 27.5+ x 2.8 Trailblazer tires gives the Sherpa confidence and stability in choppy sections—important when you’re loaded down with gear and going mach chicken over high desert chunder. They also have surprisingly low rolling resistance and excellent roll-over characteristics.
We matched its 95mm of rear travel to an increased 120mm of front travel for more capability and loaded stability. Rider position was adjusted to be more upright, making long days in the saddle more comfortable. It is critical for suspension to react in tandem with high volume tires. We worked with Manitou to spec supple suspension for excellent response off the top. The Magnum fork has a wide stance for better tire clearance, and the Mcleod requires lower air pressure, allowing a fully loaded rider and bike to remain in the shock’s “sweet spot.”
Why another new wheel size?
27.5+ is a super high volume tire mounted on a wide 27.5 rim, providing an outer diameter that is roughly equivalent to a 29er tire.
For the kind of varied terrain we wanted to explore with the Sherpa we needed a low pressure, high volume tire that didn’t exceed traditional 29er outer diameters. The extra volume improves traction and allows for low pressures even while carrying the weight of bikepacking gear—because needing to overinflate your tires is the worst. And, the outer diameter allowed us to design the Sherpa with proper full suspension in a full range of sizes.
If massive volume is so great, why aren't all your bikes 27.5+?
Because there's no "one size fits all" when it comes to wheel size. The Sherpa is the world’s first full suspension 27.5+ bike, but we’re not using the new “skinny fat” wheel size to jump on a bandwagon. 27.5+ wheels are not 27.5 and they’re not 29—they’re not a replacement for any other wheel size and our “regular” bikes aren’t going anywhere. Everyone put their pitchforks down.
￼For all their advantages, 27.5+ wheels are slower and heavier than traditional 29er systems on smoother terrain. So if you’re looking to win an XC World Cup then 27.5+ probably isn’t for you. Also, more volume means 27.5+ sidewalls are taller than traditional tires, limiting cornering stability. A Landcruiser isn’t great at the racetrack, but hits its stride when things get rough.
We designed the Sherpa for riders who want to get out and explore the world. From bushwhacking in Idaho, to traversing military trails in the Dolomites, to racing the Colorado Trail, to travelling long forgotten game trails in the Himalayas—the Sherpa is made for anyone whose adventures regularly require a GPS beacon.
- Smoothwall carbon eliminates excess resin and fibres by using rigid internal molds for industry-leading durability, ride quality, and stiffness-to-weight.
- Smoothlink suspension stays active for full time traction, yet supportive for pedalling efficiency.
- Form alloy optimizes strength, weight, and ride quality by engineering each 7005 series tube for its specific purpose within the frame.
- ABC pivots are lighter, stiffer, and require less maintenance than conventional bearing pivots.
Frame: Smoothwall™ Carbon front triangle. Form™ alloy rear triangle. ABC™ Pivots. PF BB
Accessories: Frame, bar, and saddle bags not included. We recommend Porcelain Rocket bags
Shock: Manitou McLeod Custom Valved. Smoothlink™ Design 95mm. Rebound / 4 Position IPA Platform Settings
Fork: Manitou Magnum 27.5+. 120mm. TPC Absolute+ Damper / Compression / Lockout / Rebound / 110x15mm HexLock Axle / Tapered Steerer
Headset: Cane Creek Fifteen Series: IS42mm Top / 52mm Bottom Tapered
Brake Levers: Shimano M506 I-Spec Shifter Mount
Brakes: Shimano M506 Hydraulic Disc 180mm
Cassette: Shimano HG50 11-36T 10spd
Chain: KMC X10 10spd EcoProtect Anti Rust
Cranks: Race Face Turbine Cinch Custom 83mm 170-175mm 38/24T 2x10spd
Bottom Bracket: Race Face Cinch 30mm BB92 Press Fit w. 83mm Adapters
Shifters: Shimano SLX Rapid Fire I-Spec 2x10spd
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore E Mount 2x10spd
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XT Shadow Plus Direct Mount 10spd
Front Hub: SUNringlé SRC Plus / Fat Fork Specific / 6 Bolt / 32H / 15x110mm Axle
Rear Hub: DT Swiss 350 / 6 Bolt / 32H / 12 x 142mm Axle / Star Ratchet Freehub
Spokes: DT Swiss Competition
Rims: WTB Scraper i45 27.5+ TCS Tubeless Ready
Tires: WTB Trailblazer 27.5+ TCS 27.5" x 2.8" Tubeless Ready
Handlebar: Race Face Evolve 3/4 Riser Ø31.8mm x 725mm x 9° Sweep
Stem: Race Face 6° x 70-100mm
Grips: Rocky Mountain Lock On Mushroom
Saddle: WTB Volt Race
Seatpost: Rocky Mountain XC 30.9mm x 400mm
An Argentina Adventure
Sitting on the edge of the Andes, Bariloche is famous for its Catedral ski resort, the biggest in South America, and for its notoriously rugged backcountry terrain. After bouncing around various ideas of where we should take this year's Rocky Mountain adventure, we dug deeper and discovered that Bariloche has a burgeoning mountain bike scene with killer trails and passionate locals. That, and Argentina's warm sunshine in February sealed the deal.
The trip wasn't about finding big hucks, shredding scree slopes, heli-shuttles, or filming for a feature movie. It was about finding a true mountain bike adventure and sharing it with close friends.
So, we pulled together the team of Thomas Vanderham, Geoff Gulevich, Wade Simmons, and Andreas "Dre" Hestler, as well our very talented friends Margus Riga and Ambrose Weingart to capture the trip's visuals, and headed to the Southern Hemisphere. With the help of our amazing guides, Martin "Cepi" Raffo, Bojan Magister, and Gonzallo Serenelli, we found the adventure we had hoped for and much more. From the friendly and welcoming locals, to the jaw dropping natural beauty surrounding Bariloche and its world-class trails, we'll remember this trip for the rest of our lives.
When we travel together with our bikes and gear, we use the term "Shock and Awe" for the airport check-in experience. Seven guys with seven overweight bikes and gear bags is a sight to behold and Air Canada's check-in staff have come to know us well. Our trip down to Buenos Aires was smooth and we had a fun (too fun) night there before heading to Bariloche the next day. There, we met our amazing guides and we had enough time to get a quick rip in to work the cobwebs out from two days of travel.
Our first day of riding had us giddy - we knew we'd stumbled upon something big. It was so gratifying to come so far and be rewarded with such great riding and awe-inspiring terrain. The riding above the Catedral bike park had us feeling like we were riding on Mars with jagged red rock spires in the distance. The next day we climbed for two hours up to a refugio, which is a mountaineer's hut staffed year-round. With epic views of the lake and the Andes, we descended into what seemed like a natural bobsled track full of little drops and rock gardens. Another all-time day and further confirmation we hit the motherlode.
When we were above Catedral, we could see a snowcapped Volcano in the distance. We were told that soon we'd be riding almost all the way up the it in coming days. A three hour climb through rainforest, past huge waterfalls and incredible vistas put us into a glacial moonscape. We climbed and hiked in dense fog over volcanic rock up to over 7000 feet. Out of nowhere a refugio appeared, a welcome sight for a bunch of cold and tired guys. After a late night and lot of red wine, we were greeted by a bluebird morning and the realization we were on the edge of a massive glacier and in the middle of a mountain bike playground.
Right outside of the town of Bariloche is some of the sweetest ribbons of singletrack any of us had ever experienced. Not only that, but directly in town is a top quality shuttle zone that had us saying "one more run" over and over.
With the trip winding down, we simply had to get one dawn patrol ride checked off the list. We ascended in pitch-black darkness with headlamps to the top of a 3000 foot ridge and waited for the golden light to appear. The sunrise was worth the suffering. On our last day, we rode with locals on their home shuttle trails and it turned out to be the most fun day of the whole trip. Their warm spirit and big passion for mountain biking rubbed off on us and it was the perfect end to an unforgettable trip.