On your marks. Get set. Pedal straight up the Whistler Mountain Bike Park! Those weren’t the starter’s exact words. (I think he actually used a whistle.) But that might as well have been the instruction that preceded the weekly “Toonie” race in early June that’s a staple of the town’s vibrant cycling scene.
Every Thursday in the spring and summer, members of the local trail advocacy group (Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association or WORCA) gather for a little friendly cross-country racing action. The difference between this throwdown and your typical weekday world’s is that WORCA has about 1200 members, and around 500 of them showed up for what ended up being a 4.7-mile straight-up-straight-down leg smasher with roughly 1,000 feet of climbing. Fast folks were done in about 27 minutes. Mid-packers (yours truly included) took about 35.
Check out part 2 of our Whistler Experience series here and read about Outerbike Whistler here.
But this isn’t a race story. It’s about community. A community that embraces mountain biking — in all its forms. Before that whistle sounded I looked around at my 500 new best friends and saw a little bit of everything. Up front was the smooth-legged, Lycra-wearing hardtail crowd, power meters ready to measure watts. Further back, a twenty-something in a sleeveless T-shirt sat low on his long travel Giant Reign spec’d with toothy trail tires. Right next to me was a 12-year-old boy on a 24-inch Specialized. He was smiling and chatting with his mom. She was racing, too.
And that’s when it struck me. The common perception of Whistler (and its rightfully world famous mountain bike park) is a mishmash of Crankworx big hucking mayhem, and flat brim wearing, Red Bull (and sometimes vodka) chugging adolescents gone wild. And don’t get me wrong, if you’re single, in your early 20s, and like to ride mountain bikes, Whistler is heaven on earth. But turns out it’s also an amazing place for 40-somethings with kids and a spouse and no real burning desire to clear a massive tabletop unless it’s covered in sushi. Indeed, the Whistler mountain biking experience is one of great diversity where experts, newbies, young and old can all find two-wheeled thrills.
This was just one of the conversations I had later that evening at the Toonie post-race party, which as it turns out was one of the best of the season. The way it works is each week all the participating WORCA members pay $2 (or “two loonies” in Canada’speak) for race entry, plus a plate of food and a beer. These parties are hosted by a rotating group of local sponsor businesses (the Whistler Golf Club in this case) who in turn gain notoriety and goodwill from the cycling community.
“The bike culture here is phenomenal,” affirmed Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb’s VP of business development and a regular Toonie racer. “You see it here how the whole community comes together. Cycling is the predominant sport in the summer.”
The notion that cycling is No. 1 during Whistler’s summer season is not a novel idea. But exactly what that means may surprise you.