My 1st BC Bike Race… an Amateur’s Story
So it’s been almost 5 months since I finished my 1st BC Bike Race and I’d been meaning to put a few thoughts together on my experiences. I remember when I signed up, it was kind of a rush and I realised there weren’t many stories around from people like myself who had never taken on such a ride.
This is my take on how I prepared for and completed over 300km and 7500m of climbing in the 2016 BC Bike Race.
So, for a bit of background, I’m a fairly keen all mountain cyclist, based in the UK, just outside of London. I get out most weekends for a spin and having spent many a weekend in Wales, and summers in the Alps and Whistler.
Making it Official
Following years of reading about the race on PinkBike , I decided that 2016 would be the year to make it my personal challenge. I signed up when applications opened, two minutes later that was it — I was competing in the the 2016 BC Bike Race.
Let the Training Begin
Back in 2015, I had decided to improve my overall fitness. In my early 30s I had realised work was dominating my life and the few rides 20km rides each month weren’t keeping me as fit as I wanted to be. To keep me focussed I hired a personal trainer to get me into shape over a 3 month period — the results were amazing but following on a year later I realised I was back to my old self and counting down the final few months to the BC Race.
What I’m trying to say, is the race is challenging, and there will definitely be a few scenic walks on the route to enjoy if you can’t make the climbs. But for the weekend warrior out there with some riding experience behind them, you will make it, a little bit of training and some solid long days out in the saddle and you’ll be fine!
Your First Race?
I’m sure by now, if you’re entering this year’s race, you’ve seen the stats and realised the challenge you’re about to partake. Having not ridden any form of competitive cycle race in over 15 years I signed up to the Tweed Valley Enduro a couple of months before the BCBR. For anyone with little race experience I highly recommend booking into one or two to give you some training goals before the big event rises. Strava is great for seeing how you compare to others on your favourite trails — but booking into smaller style events create some great goals as you gear up to the big day.
What to Pack
The BCBR crew do a great job of giving you solid advice on how to prepare for the race. Honestly if you take one thing back from this, look at all the material the BCBR crew share with you. Their gear list if pretty spot on, and don’t worry if you forget something, the tech support is amazing from what I saw and you’ll realistically have some free time to pick up bits if you need them in the week.
I packed slightly less than the gear list suggested, buying 7 sets of kit is a big ask when you usually ride the same 2 or 3. Even with 2016 being the wettest race on record we were able to manage a couple of bits of washing to see us through the week.
Pack Chamois Cream! having never used it the initial concept of it seemed a little odd. People were joking with how little I had packed when they saw my single fresh tub come race week. Also make sure you have a fresh set of shorts each day, at least fresh liners! You’re in and out of the saddle for a long time each day, come rain or shine.
If you use energy supplements I recommend packing your own. I was a little naive in thinking I’d be able to pick up my regular SiS when I arrived in Canada. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, and when I went shopping I didn’t recognise the local variations. The ride stations do have a wide range of gels, bars, blocks, snacks and drinks so don’t panic if you can’t bring your own.
On the bike front, my setup was pretty simple, a low travel 29er with a dropper is the dream but I wasn’t going to change bikes for one week. My personal riding setup for consisted of
- 2015 Santa Cruz Bronson w/ Reverb Dropper
- 11 Speed — 32 tooth ring, 10–42 cassette
- 180mm Rotors
- Shimano AM45 Shoes with XT SPDs
- POC Tectal Race Helmet
- Troy Lee Sprint Gloves
- Enduro/ Fox/ Troy Lee Padded shorts
- Troy Lee Sprint Baggies
- Mix of Long sleeve/ short sleeve DH/ enduro jerseys
- Oakley Jawbreaker Glasses w/ Clear & Prism Lenses
- Fox Racing Oasis Pack
- 1 Spare Tube (taped to bike)
- Lezyne Control Drive Adapter & 2 CO2 Cartridges
- 2 Tyre levers & multitool
- Spare quick link
- Spare mech hanger
The slightly more enduro setup did well with zero mechanicals or kit issues. My biggest regret was not swapping out the chainring on the Bronson down to a 30 tooth. Running 11speed at the back, the 32 just just way too big, and there were a number of climbs I just couldn’t ride. Coming into Squamish, the locals were phoning local dealers ahead to order 28 tooth rings knowing how big the climbing would be on that day. Seriously if you get the chance consider dropping your chainring size… the climbs are long.
My biggest regret was not swapping out the chainring on the Bronson down to a 30 tooth
Flying out & Registration
Flying out from London, I headed to Whistler a week before the BCBR kicked off to get over the jet lag and get some riding in. A mixture of trail riding and lift assisted to get a solid base in for the following week and make sure the bike had a proper shake down and fix any kit issues.
Heading back down to Vancouver for registration, the process is well setup, the BCBR crew have clearly earned their amazing reputation. A couple of forms, hand in your bike and pick up your kit bag ready to pack overnight. I stayed in one of the recommended hotels so was part of the red bag (your BCBR kit bag) pickup route the next day. This allowed me to pack my bag overnight and have it collected by the team the following morning.
Also worth noting that they are able to store your bike bag for the week of the race. Again they can pick up this when they collect your luggage if you stay at one of their preferred locations.
I’ll keep my take on the riding pretty short, it’s awesome, you’ll love it, it will test you in stages, the climbs can be long, but the descents are worth it, people are generally well spaced, but most importantly you’ll love it!
Here’s a little video…
The camping is fine, don’t worry about it if you’ve never done it or travelling alone. The tents have more than enough space for you and your tent buddy (one person upgrades were available but sell out quick). They are 4 man tents but there’s only two of you in them. Just make sure towards the end of the week that the previous tenants kept it as clean as you keep yours. You’ll be amazing at how quickly the crew setup and strip down camp at each stop — you literally roll in each day and pick up your bag and find a tent, it couldn’t be easier.
I was lucky in that I met a fellow Brit, on the bus ride the first day. Carl too was from London and we ended up getting along great, so decided to partner up for the week. Even if you get in ahead of your “tent buddy” you can let the camp staff know which tent you have taken and they’ll let them know when they arrive after the day’s riding. For the light sleepers the crew also have a large supply of ear plugs, with that many people sleeping in tent city there’s going to be some loud snorers!
This was a hot topic on race week. It’s fair to say the first night didn’t go down as the greatest feast known to man. Portions for all but the last group were noted as being a little small, and seconds were sneered at. It was also pretty easy to buy food in the majority of the stops we made throughout the week. This was quickly rectified by the BCBR crew and meals just kept getting better throughout the week.
Speaking to a few of the guys who had taken part in previous years, they had packed a couple of freeze dried meals for the locations they knew it wouldn’t be so easy to locate meals and ate out when they could. It is definitely a good way to save money through the week.
If I was to do the BCBR again I’d probably stick with their meal plan. Through the week, issues were clearly fixed and it does make your life a lot easier knowing you can just roll into the dining hall. It’s also a great way to share stories with fellow competitors, one of the biggest take backs from the week.
I was pretty fortunate through the week, no major mechanicals or kit issues. Each day I would wash the bike, give it a lube and a once over. A couple of loose spokes were really all the bike suffered — most likely induced from bike park laps in the previous week. On the final day my dropper post failed (needed an overdue service) and remained in its dropped position but the trails had too much flow to let that spoil the day.
Anything more technical Obsession Bikes have you covered. They follow the race through the week and the crew work through the night to get bikes ready for the following day, wheel builds, new parts, servicing — the works. You can even register with them at sign on in Vancouver so they have your payment details on record. This is good if you think you’ll need their services in the week, as it speeds the whole booking in process up and means you can literally leave you bike with them at the end of a day.
There if you need it, medical or massage, you’re covered — even “banana bags” to keep your levels up. Luckily I never needed their services but only heard good things about them.
The charging station is unreal, drop off your devices with chargers and they’ll get them charged up. I personally took a couple of charged power banks and left my iPhone in airplane mode when not using it. This was enough to get my phone, Garmin and GoPro batteries through the week without needing to visit the charging station apart from to use their wifi (which is pretty slow).
Trail etiquette isn’t something I’ve really touched on, it simply comes down to common sense and giving each other room. This works both ways and I was fortunate enough to ride with familiar faces through the week so we knew when to let each other take the lead for the upcoming sections. There were definitely a few people who didn’t like making room for others but the majority of riders were good spirited and there’s a great sense of camaraderie when on the trail. There were definitely a few XC and road riding pros I shared a number of laughs with when our positions changed along with the gradient of the trail.
The BCBR crew have a great video to show you their practices for trail etiquette which they share at the welcome talk.
Getting it Done
It really isn’t over till it’s over. Throughout the week we heard the stories of people unable to finish. Mechanicals and injuries happen and the crew remind you of this through the week. We treated the final day like any other, just enjoying the riding and making the most of the trails.
Come Whistler I rolled through having completed the week mid-pack in the 600 cyclists, meeting my goals but most importantly surviving the week with some great riding, new friends and memories.
The After Party
At the end of the week, the whole crew and races get together for one last look back over the week. Photos from the amazing photographers, stories of the week from the year and previous, and a chance to share the experiences of your fellow racers. It was great to finally look back and take it all in.
Come the final day, you realise how much you have achieved through the week, the stories you can share and the friendships you have made. Even with the weather the riding was challenging, exciting, enjoyable and unforgettable. The BCBR team are amazing in what they do, and really do have you covered.
Would I do it again? Anyone that wants to do it I can’t recommend it enough! Personally, I’m a firm believer in new challenges, and so happy to have taken part, completed the race and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
As to the next challenge, I just need to find something that keeps up with the BCBR!