North Shore mountain biking – Simmons, Vanderham and Gulevich talk influences and trail evolution
We chat to three legends of freeride about the past, present and future of Vancouver's infamous North Shore trails
This past summer we were lucky enough not only to ride Vancouver's world-renowned North Shore trails, but to do so with a crew of guys who had no small part in shaping the scene – trail builder Todd 'Digger' Fiander, the 'Godfather of freeride' Wade Simmons and big-name slopestyler cum Rampage competitor Geoff Gulevich. These three, along with other famous names like Thomas Vanderham, inspired us (and probably many others) to steal our dads' tools, nail ladder bridges together and launch ourselves off them. But how did they get into riding? Who inspired them and how did the Shore trails shape their careers?
Check out the December issue of MBUK (363) to read our full feature on the history of the North Shore – on sale now! Read on for an exclusive interview with Simmons, Gulevich and Vanderham, where they reveal everything from how they started to riding to their thoughts on the future of the Shore.
MBUK: What's your background, where are you from and how did you get into bikes?
Wade Simmons: "I'm a born/bred BC guy and have lived in Victoria, Kamloops and Vancouver. I raced BMX from age five to 14 and rode on the Canadian team at the World Championships in 1985 in Whistler. Soon after that, I hung up the BMX and started to get into mountain biking – this would be 1987/88, and I was living in Kamloops. My dad worked for Sears and he brought home a couple of 12-speed early mountain bikes that my brother and I throughly abused!"
Thomas Vanderham: "I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and I started to fall in love with the sport of mountain biking there. Edmonton isn't a mountain bike hot spot – there are no mountains at all and it's -30°C in the winter – but there's a strong riding community and just enough terrain in the river valley that I got hooked. My neighbour there, who raced on the Canada Cup circuit, was a big influence in introducing me to the sport."
Geoff Gulevich: "I'm from North Vancouver, BC. I got into biking by being the annoying younger brother who wanted to hang out with the older kids and it stuck."
Where did you start riding and what were the trails like?
WS: "I started riding mountain bikes in and around the Kamloops area, which is a semi-arid desert, so lots of dusty, loose, steep trails diving into ravines, etc. We also just followed game/cow trails around the hills and that got me into enjoying singletrack."
TV: "The trails in Edmonton all run along the banks of the North Saskatchewan river, which flows through the centre of the city. They're low elevation, so they go up and down quickly. In general, they're not overly technical, but I had a blast exploring those trails as a kid."
GG: "I started riding on Mount Fromme. The trails were always pretty rough and had scattered janky features all over them."
What do you think instigated the North Shore ‘movement’?
WS: "It was the growing popularity of riding mountain bikes on the hiking trails. The riders wanted more challenge and decided to build their own trails. This included incorporating bridges to link over creeks and wet areas and bridge over fallen trees."
GG: "I think the North Shore movement began with a few bridges being built over wet and muddy sections of trail, and then it just went off the rails with creativity."
What was your first experience of North Shore riding? What were your impressions of the trails?
TV: "My family moved to North Vancouver when I was 14 and I grabbed my bike to go for a ride before I unpacked anything else. I'd seen some videos and photos from the North Shore and I couldn't believe that I was moving there. The first trail I rode was Boogieman on Mt Seymour. It was way more technical than anything I'd ever ridden but I loved the challenge and was instantly hooked."
WS: "The Shore was like this incredible forest playground to explore and we had great guys like Digger and Dangerous Dan Cowan basically building whatever we dreamed up."
Who or what influenced you when you were growing up?
WS: "This is kind of a funny question because there was nobody doing what we were on MTBs at the time. I definitely read the old MTB magazines like a bible and was a big fan of John Tomac, Ned Overend and Tinker Jurez, etc, but I was just stoked to be in the woods hacking around."
TV: "Once I moved to North Vancouver I quickly became embedded in the local bike community. I had a great group of high school friends that I rode with and I started working part-time at Deep Cove Bike Shop. There I got to know Wade Simmons, who also worked there at the time. Wade was probably my biggest influence as a kid growing up. I loved his playful style on the bike and watched all of his video parts on repeat."
GG: "I was always influenced by people like Wade Simmons, Brett Tippie, Richie Schley, Andrew Shandro, Jay Hoots and Dangerous Dan. There was just always the dream of being a progressive person in the sport. The Shore has always played a huge part in everything. It's my home and has truly shaped my riding style and drive."
How have you seen the trails and riding style change over the years?
TV: "The trails on the Shore have definitely gone through a big evolution. At one time, all kind of elaborate stunts were being built all over the mountains, and I don't think that was sustainable. After a ton of them were closed down, the Shore kind of rebuilt itself. The trails have become more approachable for new mountain bikers, which I think is a great thing, and more advanced riders who want to challenge themselves have tons of opportunity to do that as well."
GG: "The Shore used to be a lot slower and more technical. It's definitely been changed towards speed and actually carrying flow from top to bottom."
WS: "How I've seen the Shore change over the years is similar to how society is changing, with the need to manage more people, build infrastructure, etc, and us basically just fumbling along like we know what we're doing. I'm all for these green/blue trails that accommodate new riders. It's awesome that I can ride with my eight-year-old son. Fifteen years ago it was a different trail network!"
What's your favourite Shore trail, old or current?
TV: "Boogieman will always hold a special place for me."
GG: "Oh man... too many to choose from. I'm always just happy to be on the bike."
WS: "Same. I don't have a favourite trail on the Shore. There are so many different loops that it's impossible for me to say. Pound for pound, I'd say it's the best riding in the world."
What's the craziest stunt you've seen?
TV: "Probably something on The Flying Circus back in the day."
Do you recall any particularly memorable moments?
TV: "It's hard to choose from two decades of memories."
GG: "Riding Ladies Only for the first time and being in way over my head had to be the clutch moment!"
What future do you see for the North Shore scene?
GG: "A lot more jumps, better corners and flowy, built features, as opposed to the skinny movement. Even though I still love skinnies. I think the younger generation has a lot to do with it. Why slow down to ride a feature over a creek when you can build a jump over it?"
TV: "Today I feel the Shore is in a great place, headed in an even better direction. Overall, it's way easier for people of all levels to get out and enjoy the woods, which can only be a positive thing for the Shore and the sport. The trails themselves are being built to be much more sustainable and are better suited for heavy riding traffic and all of the rain we get here. And as I mentioned above, I think anyone who's looking for a challenge doesn't have to look far to find it. My take on the 'dumbing down the Shore' debate is that it's much better to have the trails we have than none at all."
Former Mountain Biking UK features editor Ed Thomsett is a downhiller at heart but has been riding bikes of all types since a young age. He's raced both nationally and internationally in downhill and enduro, and has spent several summers living in the Alps and Canada, riding, roadtripping and living the dirtbag lifestyle. Now Ed calls upon his years of experience riding bikes to the limit as a writer and reviewer for MBUK and BikeRadar. He's also an avid trail builder and has scraped out numerous steep and technical lines in the woodlands of his native North Yorkshire. These days Ed will happily turn his hand to any discipline and believes the sign of a good week is when every bike in his shed ends up muddy by the end of it.