Skip to content

Different spokes for different folks

Event offers a thrill for riders and spectators
Andy Rice

Maps have been printed, traffic logistics have been worked out, volunteers have been trained and trails have been tuned up. This, of course, can only mean one thing—the BC Bike Race is returning to Powell River.

On Tuesday, July 5, 500 riders will spend a day navigating a challenging course that weaves its way through city streets, stubborn slopes and sandy beaches.

Once again, the event’s home base will be Willingdon Beach where hundreds of tents will be set up for eating, sleeping and bike repairs. The park will also serve as both the start and finish line of day three of the seven-day stage race. Participants will arrive from Campbell River on a morning ferry, race, spend the night, and depart for Earls Cove the following day.

Racers and organizers were so impressed with Powell River’s spectacular hospitality and location during their first visit last year that they vowed to return on the spot. Wayne and Russell Brewer, the father-son team behind the first successful visit, were more than happy to return as well and are organizing the Powell River leg once again.

“[The head organizers] liked Powell River,” said Wayne, a resident of 23 years. “They’re going to keep coming back here. They’re already talking about coming back next year.”

Many racers were blown away as well, with nothing but positive things to say about the area’s trails and people. “A lot of top racers are professionals who travel with their laptops and maintain blogs,” said Wayne. “Literally, within minutes of crossing the finish line, they’re posting on their blog and it’s going out around the world. Racers are here from between 20 and 25 countries, so the world is hearing about Powell River.”

Wayne said that while the event attracts several professional full-time racers, the majority are hobbyists with other careers. “A lot of them have it on their bucket list. [The BC Bike Race] has that kind of status now. It’s one of those things that you have to do sometime in your life.”

Many racers take time off work and incorporate the event into a family vacation. “That’s one of the reasons why it’s so good for the town because a lot of them are travelling with their families and friends,” said Wayne.

Statistics show that mountain biking tourism is one of the biggest markets in all of British Columbia with one of the highest return rates.

Tourism Powell River executive director Darren Robinson said that the benefits of the BC Bike Race coming through Powell River are both short term and long term. “It’s the perfect scenario,” he said. “Ultimately, I think it’s immediate in that 500 racers are coming here with their families and dropping their dollars but I think beyond that, the real benefit is afterward. After they go home, you have 500 racers and their families that are now ambassadors of Powell River. They’re going to go back and spread the word.”

The BC Bike Race shows off one of Powell River’s best-kept secrets—its trails. “We get to stay authentic because the real gem of Powell River is the outdoor recreation,” Robinson said. “[The riders] spend more time in our trails than they do in any of the other legs of the race. The fact that they’re going to promote it for us and we didn’t have to spend money on an ad is great.”

Tourism Powell River isn’t the only local organization excited about the event’s return this year. Many businesses are gearing up for a spike in both sales and community spirit, something that took them largely by surprise last June.

To many, the event slipped under the radar amidst a host of other summer events. “It was new to the town last year and they didn’t know what this was all about,” said Wayne. “We ran a successful race last year and showed them what we can do and now they realize it’s good for the town.”

The Brewers said that the race has received the full support of the City of Powell River mayor and council, as well as the community as a whole. “This year, the city’s really on side and they’re helping a lot,” said Russell. “They recognize how important this is for exposure for Powell River. They and the RCMP are providing the logistics to get the racers through the streets.”

City streets are a more prominent element of the route this year in response to public reception. “This year we’re giving the riders and the public more city streets because that’s what they wanted,” said Wayne. “A lot of people last year missed the fact that there was a race because we slipped the racers into the bush and back to Willingdon Beach again without them really riding on city streets.”

Powell River Cycling Association has provided assistance and advice throughout the course design process and over 50 volunteers and members will be doing marshalling and flagging in the more wooded areas.

The competition route has been designed for a top finish time of just over two hours. “Depending on their level, some of the racers could be out for five hours,” said Russell. “The winners will be two or two-and-a-half hours, but the bulk of them will be anywhere from three-and-a-half to five hours.”

In order to accommodate a wide range of skill and endurance among the riders, the course has been designed to facilitate two levels of competition: a 51.1-kilometre epic level and a 35.7-kilometre challenge level. “The epic is the full course and then the challenge is a shorter course for people who are maybe not willing to do 50 or 60 kilometres every day,” said Russell.

With the modifications to the route this year, the Brewers said they hoped more residents would come out to cheer on the racers. The race is slated to begin at noon and several viewing locations have been suggested as participants navigate the course throughout the day. These accessible areas will allow the public to watch with ease, leaving the tough terrain to the riders.

“If you want to see 500 riders en masse heading out, then of course Marine Avenue, Duncan Street, Manson Avenue, or Edgehill [Elementary] School would be the place to see it,” said Wayne. “If you want to see what racers are like exhausted after riding single track through bush trails, then the area behind the new track at Timberlane is the place to go.”

In addition to cheering, spectators can make even more noise this year thanks to 300 cowbells donated by Alterra Power Corporation (formerly Plutonic Power Corporation). The noisemakers can be picked up free of charge at the constituency office of Nicholas Simons, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA, as well as at the Visitor Information Centre.

For more information, readers can visit the website.

Best places to watch

• Willingdon Beach start (noon)

• Along Marine Avenue, Duncan Street,

   Manson Avenue to Edgehill Elementary School

   (from noon to 12:30 pm)

• Around Cranberry Lake to Timberlane at

   new track (2:15 to 3 pm)

• Forest behind new track and Brooks Secondary

   School (2:15 to 3 pm)

• Willingdon Beach finish (2:15 to 6 pm)