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How To Ride Vancouver’s North Shore & Why It’s Going on Your Bucket List

Endless Biking guide Jordan Drinovz airs through a tight section of the Severed D trail on Mount Seymour. Ryan Dunfee photo.

It is absolutely pouring rain. Dipping the bars into a tight corner, my shoulder slaps a fern the size of a small cow, and the splash of exploding water feels like I’ve been hit by a water balloon. The trail dipping and straightening, the speed picks up, and all I can see through my watering eyes is a thin strip of brown dirt cutting through a horizon of wet green. The image is one I’d imagine from Borneo–not Canada–but the locational confusion only adds to the sensory experience. 

Zipping along through the wet, damp, dark jungle terrain of Vancouver's North Shore on the Ridge Rider trail. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Getting tight again, the trail gets busy with so many obstacles it feels like every foot of it was hand-made. The rain picks up, the sound of the water rushing down the side of a million giant trees and over a billion thick leaves almost deafening, yet the trail–even the rocks–transfers an unbelievable amounts of traction. 

The ubiquitous B.C. rock roll–steep, techy, seemingly endo-inducing yet kicking your front wheel out just as you give up hope–leads into log drops, corners with berms begging to be smacked, and dirt and rock pumps that incite you to leap up and down like a madman, working every inch of the trail without the time to know what the next inch will provoke you to do. 

It’s a reactive, NASCAR-paced experience of sensory overload on a bike, your mind lost amongst the lush jungle landscape, the blind corners, the expertly built trails, the opportunities for airtime, the rock gardens and log bridges that add that am-I-gonna-make-it feeling to every second you’re on the bike. Welcome to the North Shore.

Welcome to the North Shore

Marty Lazarski rolls through a damp section of trail off the flanks of Mount Seymour. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The hills climbing up behind the residential neighborhoods on the north side of Vancouver harbor, which provide such a dramatic background to the city, have been synonymous with the sport of mountain biking for at least 20 years. Freeride mountain biking was born here amongst the thick flora, madmen locals building Rube Goldberg ladder apparatus high in the trees that bent up, down, and sideways, often barely the width of a tire, each with a name, a reputation, and at times even a hamster wheel

Riders here birthed a whole generation of the mountain bike landscape, and while dirt is taking over as the preferred trail surface instead of wood, the area is still ground zero for much of the mountain bike industry.

You'll find more features per foot of trail–drops, vertical rock rolls, roots, berms, etc.–than almost anywhere else you'll ride. Ryan Dunfee photo

Centering on the two main areas of Mt. Fromme, below the Grouse Mountain ski area, and Mt. Seymour (Cypress has trails as well), the North Shore has a simply overwhelming variety of options, all fully legal and recognized thanks to a mayoral candidate at the turn of the millennium who, looking to draw votes from the crowd of mountain bikers considered teenage hooligans at the time, won by 83 votes, legalized the trails, and precipitated an economic development plan for North Vancouver that put biking high on the list.

RELATED: The comprehensive guide to shredding the Whistler Bike Park

For anyone visiting, however, to ride the area’s technical trails and successfully navigate its wood features–even if they’re not as du jour as they once were–is a merit badge any mountain biker needs to earn in their lifetime. Beyond the riding, just to be able to witness the skill and dedication of the trailbuilders here is an experience in and of itself.

How to Get There, Where to Stay

Staying in North Van itself means you'll be within pedaling distance of most of the Shore's trails. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Being outside of Vancouver proper and a largely residential area, North Van doesn’t have incredible public transit, but it’s small enough to navigate on a bike once you get there, so you shouldn’t need a rental car unless you plan to shoot off to try other zones farther afield, like Squamish 45 minutes to the north (which you should absolutely, definitely do).

With a few transfers, you can take the city’s TransLink bus system to North Van (from the airport, take the SkyTrain to Waterfront Station, then 210/209 bus, then switch to the 239 bus), putting you a short walk from the Holiday Inn, which itself is only a ten minute walk from our guides over at Endless Biking. 

Or you can sacrifice some convenience in exchange for a more vibrant downtown experience and a lot more restaurants and stay at the boutique Pinnacle Hotel in central North Van, which puts you next to the SeaBus, a ton of restaurants, and roughly a 20-minute pedal from many of the trails. And there’s always Airbnb.

How To Ride It

Endless Biking President Kelli Sherbinin rolls one of Fromme's steep rolls on the Espresso trail. Ryan Dunfee photo. 

The nice thing about the Shore is that it is generally so packed with trails, and most of them are relatively short in vertical drop, that with a good pair of legs you can ride most of the greatest hits in just a few days. The majority of Fromme’s trail network, including runs like Espresso, Oilcan, and Seventh Secret, are accessed by pedaling up a gradual fire road called Mountain Highway–where you’ll no doubt be impressed by the sheer number and diversity of riders out for a rip, from old guys to kids to lady shredder posses to enduro bros–from which the majority of the trails dip off. 

Many dump out onto Baden Powell, North Van’s idea of a “cross country” trail, which nonetheless features some very challenging rocky tech sections, rock rolls, and wood features before delivering you back onto Mountain Highway.

Ripping down the Baden Powell, as close as you get to "cross country" riding in the Fromme network. Ryan Dunfee photo.

You might be wondering why some old hippies get to shuttle up the road but you don’t. They’re all headed for a nudist colony up in the woods near Fromme, so don’t get too excited. Or do. Then be sure to take a rest at Digger’s picnic table along the road, one of the few monuments to a living person you’re bound to find anywhere. The infamous trailbuilder is synonymous with the Shore, and can still be seen riding around or building the new generation of trail here. 

Fromme got its first machine-built trail recently in Bobsled, a smooth, pumping flow trail through the forest designed to accommodate two wheelchair mountain bikers side-by-side. With such a history as a tech riding destination, the concept of the flow trail is controversial here.

Jordan Drinovz lofts his wheel out off a log drop on Severed Dick. Ryan Dunfee photo.

A bit farther to the East is Seymour, where the trails can be accessed by shuttle or pedal off of the paved road to Mount Seymour, or by pedaling up more intermediate trails like Bridal Path. Out here you can ride infamous Shore classics like Severed Dick, CBC, the old-school C-Buster, log skinny-riddled Pangor, and the rough Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

RELATED: Why mountain biking Park City should be on your bucket list, too

If you really want to Lance Armstrong it, you can ride Baden-Powell after you’re done all the way back to Fromme. We instead hit up Ridge Runner–which was a fun change from the slower, techier Shore variety and instead blasts you at high speed along a ridge with some of the wildest jungle landscapes before dropping you down onto the river. You can then take the flatter, easier Richard Juryn trail network back towards town.

What to Bring, Guides, And Ability Levels

Kelli Sherbinin tackles the tech on Fromme's Espresso trail. Ryan Dunfee photo.

If this is your first or second year on a mountain bike, and you’re used to riding mostly smooth dirt, do not come here. The Shore is by and large slower, very technical riding where you really need to pick your line and have the experience to know how to finagle your bike over and down awkward root, root, and log bridge-infested lines. 

Once you’re totally comfortable riding rock gardens, lofting your bike off drops, and are pretty fluent at fore-aft bike balance, you’ll be ready to make the most of your experience here and have an awesome time. There are a growing number of beginner-friendly trails here, on Seymour in particular along with a new, dedicated climbing trail, but you’d be missing the point.

Kelli rips down Bobsled, the first machine-built flow trail on Fromme. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Trail and all-mountain bikes rule here. Most anything with 150-160 mm of full suspension will get you in the mood, accompanied always by knee pads. I rode a Rocky Mountain Altitude that I borrowed from the folks at Endless, and felt plenty equipped to shred with it. Most don’t ride with full faces, and although there are some opportunities for pure DH riding here, you can tackle way more trails in the same amount of time if you’re willing to pedal. 

Bring a pack with tools, tubes, and water, as you'll want to be out for awhile and the Shore has plenty of opportunity for bent rotors, snapped derailleur hangers, and flats. 

The wife-and-husband team of Kelli Sherbinin and Darren Butler run local guide op Endless Biking, and do a great job of showing you the goods and keeping the stoke high. Ryan Dunfee photo.

While the popularity of the trails here means they’re extremely well-marked and trail descriptions are widely available, we really loved being toured around by the guys at Endless Biking. Run by Kelly Sherbinin and Darren Butler, the bike shop-turned operator got us set up with a bike, shuttled us to all the trailheads, and gave us super efficient tours of all the Shore classics so that all we had to focus on was somehow getting through the vertical rock roll in front of us. 

Endless Biking runs guide services, coaching, and help develop the next generation of bike guides, coaches, and bike parks–including Coast Gravity. Ryan Dunfee photo.

These guys are pretty much as pro as you can get when it comes to coaching and guiding, having now spearheaded a university program for mountain bike program development, coaching, and guiding (the whole staff at Coast Gravity Park went through their program), and consult for trail builders, bike parks, and tour operators. I highly suggest engaging their services if you're looking to make the most of the Shore. Endless also hosts tours of other epic parts of B.C., too.

When to Hit The Shore

Log skinny! There's still some wood bridges to be had on the Shore. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The low elevation of the majority of the North Shore’s trails and proximity to the temperature-regulating sea make them rideable almost all year round, although the misery increases sharply in the winter. Summer brings unbelievably long days, but also slightly bigger crowds and the chance for dusty, blown-out riding. 

Better to come during the spring or fall, when temps are a little cooler, the moisture a little more prevalent, and B.C.’s hero dirt is in prime shape. We went at the end of September and feel we hit it nearly perfectly, with a day or two of rain interspersed with nice dry weather.

Marty hammers down a section of Seymour singletrack surprisingly devoid of tech. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The best riding is actually during or immediately after a good rain, which tends to wash the dirt dragged along by tires off of rock and wood features. After a few days, things can get relatively greasy as riders carry mud and dirt onto more of the tech features.

Outside the Riding

Looking across Vancouver Harbor towards the North Shore. Wikimedia photo.

Especially if you’re from a landlocked part of the world, you have to hit up the Crab Shack, a North Van landmark that used to rake it in hosting an underground poker club. The Sockey Indian Candy–sockeye salmon soaked in brown sugar and water–is expensive, but some of the most savory fish you’ll have the chance to experience outside of a Nobu restaurant. 

The Bottom Line

For anyone who grew up mountain biking in the late '90s or early 2000's, when the stunts going down on the North Shore set the pace for what was possible on a bike, and expanded the idea of how trails could be built, riding the Shore yourself is a pilgrimage. While the endless log skinnies are falling out of favor, there's plenty of skinnies still to be found, along with endless amounts of expertly-built and maintained singletrack that'll test your abilities to handle the tech.

There's a simply outrageous amount of stellar trails in British Columbia and in the Sea to Sky Corridor in particular competing for your vacation time–singletrack is just part of the landscape everywhere you turn in this part of the world. Combined with a trip up to Squamish and Whistler, you can put together an epic week-long trip that'll have you looking to marry a native so you can spend the rest of your life chipping away at the endless list of worthy B.C. trails. 

From The Column: The Bucket List

“All fully legal?” BS. Severed D is an illegal MTB Trail in North Vancouver…

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