Kamloops, B.C.: The freeride birthplace didn’t actually have trails!

LOCAL LOAM EPISODE 4: KAMLOOPS, B.C.

Almost without argument, modern day freeriding can be traced back to the original Kranked film, produced by Bjorn Enga, and filmed by Christian Begin, in 1997.  Many of the most iconic shots of the breakout film were the large jumps and drops from Kamloops, or the fast, loose scree line descents, several of which were also shot in Kamloops.  For the next 20 years, Kamloops would be the dusty set for many of the quintessential pieces of mountain bike media.

Mountain biker Jeff Kendall-Weed in Kamloops, B.C.

In the late 1990s, this style of simply “sending it” was just hitting the mainstream for the first time.  It was neither legal, nor illegal.  As the sport grew, we’ve been able to enjoy all the things that come along with that- much better bikes, much more opportunity to ride developed trail networks, and we’ve all enjoyed watching the progress of the best athletes in the world, who are well enough supported to push the limits of the sport as they have.  However, back where this extreme movement all began, the sport was seen in, shall we say, not the most positive light?

“The headlines in the paper were ‘Illegal mountain bike trails in Juniper’, ‘illegal bike trails in Rose Hill,’” said Scott Baker, the club vice president of the Kamloops Bike Riders Association (KBRA). 

“We only had one zone, there was nothing,” explains former UCI World Cup DH racer Dustin Adams.

Mountain biking has always been a bit of a “do it yourself” sport, and that’s exactly what I love about it.  The sport will always continue to have that aspect to it, too.  A mountain bike rider literally can’t get into the woods if he or she isn’t taking the initiative to pedal their bike.  I don’t mean to portray the founding fathers of the sport in a negative light by any means.  Heck, I might not have found mountain biking at all if it wasn’t for Kranked!

As the sport grew, the pressures on trail access began to mount.  And as we all know can happen, there was a certain segment of the population that was adamantly opposed to a non-motorized, two wheeled enjoyment of the natural outdoor world.

This creates a cycle we’ve seen in many other places as well- mountain biking grows, other user groups feel threatened, then mountain biking feels the wrath of litigation or governmental rules.  The story of Kamloops is no different.

For the sport to continue existing in its current capacity, it has to be growing.  The sport simply cannot exist without legal, public trails that are available for the majority of our user group.

“Kamloops is in every magazine, right, but then, what is the actual users experience when they get here? A lot of those jumps are kinda out there, and no one knows where they are except a few people,” explains current UCI World Cup XC professional, and former Olympian, Catharine Pendrel.  Pendrel is also a former president of the KBRA.

As a professional rider, I fully understand the need for progressive terrain that pushes the limits of what is possible on a mountain bike, though riding that stuff clearly isn’t an option for the vast majority of riders.  However, it’s amazing when the legal, public stuff is good enough to still entertain top level riders, not to mention provide a wonderful challenge for the rest of the riding public.

Kamloops has always had plenty of “off piste” gnarl, from the infamous “Jaws” drop the Josh Bender attempted time and time again, to the larger senders found in much of the late 2000s freeride media.  But the riding mecca was not really well known for great trail access that the average rider would be able to enjoy.  There was a definite need to grow riding opportunities, and the formation of both the KBRA and the KPCC have helped immensely to grow the local scene.  The KPCC has built, and currently manages, several of the riding areas in town.  The KPCC and the KBRA provide two very different approaches to growing the sport, and it seems like a unique and strong set up.

“Like they say, you’re only strong in numbers,” said club president John Osborne.  “Community.  We take a community focused approach.”

The KBRA has taken the role of becoming the voice of the general community.  I first noticed the group while I was searching for mountain biking trail grants in the area.  The KBRA was recently awarded over $17,000 as a part of the Kamloops Sports Legacy fund program, much of which they set aside for their growing kids’ league.

“I was like, ‘We need to get something going with Catharine, we should race, let’s do something!’  I fully cold called her, we met, and next thing you know, three years later, 70 kids, jerseys prizes…  It’s been fantastic, we’re really proud of it,” said Chris Martin, kids league coach.

“If we do it in the right way, where we get kids excited about being a part of the sport, they’re going to continue being a part of the sport, and give back, like we’re doing for the community,” Chris said.

Looking at the map, Kamloops has tons of public riding opportunities.  From the high speed, dry, and dusty trails of Pineview, to the endless jump lines of the Kamloops Bike Ranch, to the amazingly well sculpted network of shuttle trails at Harper Mountain, it’s quite clear that mountain biking is a key activity in the interior B.C. town.  With the status quo as strong as it is, I was thrilled to see that the KBRA had won this grant.

The kid’s league is available for boys and girls ages 7-12, and while it is currently capped at 40 riders, it has goals to expand.  The program is designed to take place at the end of spring and beginning of summer, so that aspiring riders can bring a tool box of new skills to the playground of summer.  Additionally, the social connections that the kids make within the league will provide them with a network of fellow riders.

This recent success hasn’t all come easily.  The KBRA had quite humble beginnings, as Scott Baker, who’s been with the group for 9 of its 10 years of existence, explains:

“I remember some of our early days, having our AGM [annual general meeting], putting it on the internet, expecting 100 people to show up, and instead having 8 people sitting in the room, 5 of whom were board members.”

“The hardest thing is building trust with the local community.  Larger numbers give us a louder voice, more of a say if we want to increase our trail systems, or build bike lanes, or have a management team and process and manager our trails.   We have a voice to go to whomever we need to talk to,”  John Osborne said. 

A second local group, the KPCC, has taken a different approach, focusing more on managing Harper, Kamloops Bike Ranch, and the Pineview Trail Network.  This group has moved immense amounts of dirt, and has worked hard for these areas.  In fact, every single member of the KBRA that I spoke with on this project gave a huge shout out to the KPCC.

I found it refreshing to see the growth of mountain biking in Kamloops, bringing the sport back from its initial trajectory as simply a renegade activity, and instead painting it as a picture that any local citizen could envision themselves in, painting the semi-arid canvas with their two wheeled brush.

“I really wanted our community have this good feel, I wanted people to come to town and know how to find the trails, know who to ride with, and just have a feeling of stoke of being in my town, and seeing all the rad stuff here!”  said Catharine.

A HUGE thanks to all the Local Loam series sponsors! And any purchases from these links will directly help support the series:

One comment

  1. Great article, learned a lot about the Kamloops bike scene and will pass it along to my friends and kids. Hope you are back in the saddle soon. Best. pmb

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