2FLAT was extremely honored to be approached by The Ride Journal to provide some words for their latest issue. Editor Phil Diprose wanted a story about the North Shore trails to accompany some photos by Dan Barham. The photos were of old and decrepit wood stunts – dinosaurs as it were – and it was thought that some words to summarize the wild ride that the North Shore has gone through would be appropriate. We got Seb Kemp into action and sent him into the woods to speak to some of the original builders and riders to record their interpretation of history. What Seb came back with he titled Lumberjackasses as a friendly poke at the wild stunts that were being created and ridden way back when.
Here is the full story but please seek out a copy of The Ride Journal. It is a beautiful full bleed magazine that weighs as much as a good meal and will leave any discerning reader more than satisfied. Past copies can be downloaded for FREE from their website and actual copies of the magazine (the term magazine doesn’t seem appropriate as I keep my copies next to my book collection) can be tracked down via the website too. We found our first copy of The Ride Journal in the Tate Modern book store, it is that worthy.
Lumberjackasses: The History of Wood
While mountain biking may have originated in Marin Country, it was elsewhere that it matured and left behind its dubious road riding cousin. Not long after the genesis of mountain foot cycles, further up the West Coast across the 49th parallel, there was a small cabal of mountain biking dissidents carving an evolutionary precedent for where mountain bikes should be ridden.
These riders weren’t just burning grease down reclaimed logging roads or fire breaks, instead they were crafting lines in the woods where they would link together natural features that were previously thought off limits. Riding down perilously steep terrain deep in the temperate rain forest of the Vancouver North Shore, rock faces and logs were not seen as obstacles around which trails should wind, but rather the focus of the riding experience.
However, the North Shore’s greatest contribution and most startling innovation was when the first plank was laid.
Todd “Digger” Fiander started digging trails on the North Shore 32 years ago, the same year he purchased a mountain bike. In those days trails were created by moving dead fall and foliage to make a rideable corridor. Then one day whilst kicking duff and detritus Todd uncovered a piece of cedar which gave him an idea. He took the eight inch wide rough plank and placed it against a boulder to act as a ramp. It added a novel technical challenge and was the first crucial step in the evolution of the North Shore trail building genus.
Todd took this simple design and started to use it more and more on his trail. Planks were laid where steep rollovers required a transition or where soggy land needed to be crossed. The wet coastal weather beats into the North Shore mountains resulting in an average of 166 days of precipitation annually. The terrain is saturated and the ground underfoot is layered with a dense coat of organic material. Building trails is arduous work as creeks and marshlands are constantly in need of crossing.
It struck Todd that he could span larger sections by creating ladder bridges made from the natural materials found in abundance in the forest. The Western Red Cedar that grows in the Pacific Northwest is tough, hardy, and naturally resistant to rot so this wonder wood was put to use. In many cases building bridges became not just the easiest, but the only way to link a complete trail.
It was the late eighties and the North Shore was the first zone to integrate a ladder bridge into trail design.
Other builders and riders on the North Shore adopted the ladder bridge but rather than use them as a last resort began to make the woodwork the entire feature of the trail. Ladders were elevated higher and higher, and became narrower and narrower. The North Shore was abuzz and a relentless battle of one-upmanship ensued. Riders were attempting to show the size of their cojones by building and riding more daunting and hair-raising trails than the one that preceded it.
Fueled by his restlessly creative mind Todd hatched a mad plan. He was going to add movement into the trail, specifically movement in the trail. It was 1992 and he was working on his magnum opus, Ladies Only. It was this trail that brought all the elements of what was happening on the North Shore together. Todd saw these mountains as a playground for bikers and it was from a playground that he took inspiration. He took a piece of cedar, raised one end and articulated it.
The teeter-totter was born.
Digger deserves credit for building the first ladder bridges and integrating features or stunts onto his trails, but it was other riders like “Dangerous” Dan Cowan who took inspiration from him and pushed it skyward with trails like A Walk In The Clouds, The Flying Circus and Watchamcallit. These trails left terra firma well behind and were as skinny as possible, often barely as wide as a mountain bike tyre. They also integrated teeter-totters into the balance beams and would often finish with a mandatory drop.
These trails were referred to as ‘one-percenters’ because so few riders would ever attempt, let alone succeed in riding them. After years of ignoring the North Shore the fraternity of fair weather riding media/industry glitterati was forced to take notice. These trails made the North Shore photogenic and were featured in countless films – with Dan and other riders sharing starring roles. Everyone wanted a bit of the North Shore action because it was so wild and rowdy compared to the Johnny Lycra status quo which was busy lapping fields with their heads down and arses up.
But with fame came infamy. It was the early 2000s by now and the media spotlight brought negative attention to the area. Trails of this nature came under fire because of the risk that they posed in an increasingly litigious culture. Most of these trails and stunts were torn down, sometimes by shadowy vigilante figures referred to as the Trail Nazi or by local governing bodies. In other cases they have succumbed to a natural death as the forest slowly reclaims them.
Whilst the physical legacy of these most extreme trails do not remain intact, they still produced a lasting heritage. To this day the significance of the North Shore reverberates around the world. Riders dream of making a pilgrimage to test their mettle and trail builders around the world try to recreate something of the North Shore on their home turf. The media still keeps one eye on it and many mountain bike companies develop their products in this testing ground.
Arguably ‘The Shore’ has inspired and evolved more aspects of mountain biking than any other area in the world. The progressive nature of trails that were being built ten, twenty or even thirty years ago have had a considerable and lasting impact on mountain biking. Big thanks to Digger, Dan and the dozens of other lumberjackasses who saved us from a fate worse than following white lines.