Bike Tales: Making the most of our mountain community

Written by Sun Peaks Resort employee Helen Davies.

As a recent permanent resident of Sun Peaks, I am determined to make the most of the facilities this beautiful mountain location has to offer. I enjoy the outdoors, running and hiking in the summer, and skiing in the winter. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve been on a bike. So when I was approached by Sun Peaks sports director Ian Logan to gauge my interest in a “Get Back on a Bike” program I wasn’t too sure about it.

I have to admit, I associate biking at Sun Peaks with downhill and a “nerves of steel” passion, and that’s really not my scene. Honestly, biking for me is mainly a distant memory limited to my childhood days of biking around the neighbourhood with friends and no helmet. My adult years are marked by two memorable bike experiences

The first, still in the U.K. in the mid 1990’s, involved a day bike rental at Kielder Water, a beautiful reservoir in scenic Northumbria. The ride at the time was impactful due to the spectacular scenery, while the aftermath was impactful due to the incredible pain of having been on a seat for several hours. My husband and I could barely sit down that evening at the pub for dinner, our “hindquarters” were so tender. I am reassured, thankfully, that suspension has been a great innovation since those days!

My second, and very much less painful and more recent memory, was in 2017 when a group of friends joined us in Kelowna to cycle along the Kettle Valley Railway Recreational Trail. Another spectacular ride that comes highly recommended and very accessible from my now-home Sun Peaks.

I’m a little nervous about what I’ve signed up for, and Ian and I meet over coffee to go over my “customized program.” So this is where the proverbial rubber hits the road, a detailed conversation to make sure Ian understands my past experience (or lack of!), my goals, my fitness level, any injuries, the equipment I already have or need, my availability, and of course, my fears!

Helen and Ian in the Sun Peaks Village
Helen and Ian in the Sun Peaks village.

Joking aside, this is by far the most important part of the program— a thorough needs analysis to really ensure I am set up for success from the start. Ian took copious notes, and we agreed on our first rendezvous at Fall Line, our bike rental shop where I will be greeted warmly by our technicians and experts who will kit me out with a bike and all the accoutrements that, let’s face it, will have me performing two-wheeled miracles in no time…. what could be easier?

At home, I have dug out my helmet, gloves and a pair of flat training shoes, and am all set for our first lesson later this week.

Lesson One

Finally time for my first lesson, I met Ian, my instructor, at Elevation Bike Ski & Board. We filled out the requisite paperwork and headed to Fall Line, right next door, where the technicians ensured my equipment was good to go and I was introduced to Growler, my bike!

Rocky Mountain Growler at Sun Peaks Resort
Helen's bike Growler.

Ian covered the basics with me before we got on the bike. He went over the location of the gears and how they work, gearing up and down, and then the brakes—right controls the back wheel and left the front. This may sound totally intuitive, but I learned to ride in the UK where not only do they drive on the left, but the brakes on a bike are the opposite way around!

The first half of the lesson was focused on getting familiar with the bike around the village. We made the most of the natural terrain —inclines and downhills, roads and narrower paved trails. Ian called out the importance of looking ahead and adjusting gears in anticipation of an uphill or downhill stretch and getting comfortable with how that felt. He also educated me on how optimizing gear changes can help maintain a cadence or consistency in pedalling speed.

Sun Peaks presents a lot of opportunity for riding out of the seat for that extra cardio and thigh push uphill, and we rode an area I typically run along so I was happy to lean in and go for it, knowing my uphill effort would be rewarded with a gentle “coast” on the way back down. Little did I know Ian had other ideas! He challenged me to zig zag down the road, completing neat turns (well Ian’s were neat) on the slightly raised kerb either side, and practising safe stops using gradual braking and coming to a complete stop— note to self — before putting my foot down.

Biking on Mt Morrisey with a view of Mt Tod.
Not a bad backdrop for a bike lesson!

The second half of the lesson focused on  specific manoeuvres to  get used to the way the bike responded and to refine things like my turning technique. We took narrower paved paths, completed tighter turns around objects we found, going in one direction  and then the other. We practised riding over some rougher areas of terrain, nothing scary at all, but small areas with river rock, uneven gravel and dirt, and small potholes. Once again Ian got me focused on looking ahead, being in the right gear, seeing my way through or over the challenge, using my body to lean into the tight turns, or exerting resistance against the handlebars coming out of the pothole.

Ian was right. Even with just a few of these tips and techniques in mind, you really do start to approach biking with a different lens. By the end of our lesson I was starting to actively seek out small obstacles and challenges like bumps and narrow channels that would force me to work with the bike and be more thoughtful about what I do, rather than just literally take the path of least resistance. You have far more fun and every ride will be different.

Lesson Two

My second lesson with Ian was another opportunity to get to know my bike, Growler, even better.

In contrast to my first lesson, which focused on understanding the controls and practising drills and techniques, my second lesson was all about getting out on the trails.

Ian had assessed my comfort and capabilities in my first lesson and wanted to create a real ride experience this week, where my skills would be put to the test in a more natural and spontaneous environment. What better way to push a few boundaries and unleash my confidence than getting out and experiencing the wonderful network of Sun Peaks trails that beckon?

It was a beautiful evening as we set off on Vista Trail with its gentle inclines and magnificent views, to join McGillivray Lake Trail, meandering through the forest as we wound our way out to the lake. Last week’s drills to look ahead and anticipate the need to gear up or down really came into their own as we reached uphill stretches, areas of flatter terrain, and some slight downhills despite the overall climb. The trails themselves are peppered with rocks and small obstacles and Ian challenged me to seek them out. We also utilized wider stretches of trail to practise turns, contrasting that with trying to stay within narrower sections that are more representative of single track, and really took advantage of the range of terrain.

Helen at McGillivray Lake cabin
A successful ride to McGillivray Lake.

We left McGillivray Lake via Great Grey— essentially downhill most of the way. While easier on the legs and cardio, we criss-crossed more uneven sections of trail, taking little detours and navigating over narrow wooden bridges, steeper downhill sections and then powering through some muddier sections that warranted a certain momentum and made me jolly glad I didn’t wear white! Growler and I both needed a shower once we got back to the village.

Overall it was a spectacular ride and journey of exploration, relying on my learnings from last week, intuition, and having the confidence to let bike and body work together. I’m looking forward to next week.

Bike wash at Sun Peaks Resort
Growler gets a shower.

Stay tuned for more as we follow Helen's progress throughout the summer!