Most weekends you’ll find me riding my bike in some way: to see friends, run errands – or preferably, in the forest mountain biking.
I’m lucky to live in North Vancouver and have access to trails – most within 30 minutes – on three mountains that are regarded as some of the best mountain bike trails in the world. The best part? You can ride year round if you’re willing to brave a bit of rain, mud or snow since most of the trails are low enough in elevation.
A few weekends ago Vancouver got some much-needed sunny weather, so I decided to take advantage of the dry trails and the chance to shed some winter layers and spend the day riding my favourite trails.
The North Shore
Before I had my first taste of “The Shore” (as North and West Vancouver are often referred to as), I had almost no idea what mountain biking actually entailed. The name is self-explanatory. I’ve ridden a bike before. I’ve wandered up and down mountains before. Combine the two? Easy! Not really understanding that:
a) Mountain biking requires gear. Special gear that will protect fragile elbows and knees and shins.
b) The north shore is infamous for having terrain that is “steep and gnarly” (read: hard).
But luckily none of this really matters. Gear is easy to come by, and the terrain is much friendlier now, thanks in part to recent and ongoing trail work to make them more accessible to riders of all levels.
There are three local mountains that make up the shore. From east to west, there’s Mount Seymour (near Deep Cove in North Vancouver), Mount Fromme (otherwise known as the backside of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver) and Cypress Mountain (West Vancouver).
I consider myself an avid biker, but I’m certainly no expert on the trails. Even my friend, a North Vancouver local who grew up riding these mountains, will admit to not knowing half the trails that exist here. This is just one reason why the north shore is a must for any keen mountain biker; the sheer number of trails to be discovered and the choice, from technical downhill to easy cross-country.
So on a sunny, crisp spring day, after fuelling up on coffee from Moja, my friend and I set off to ride a couple quick laps. What follow is a pretty typical day, but it’s totally possible to spend anywhere from an hour to a full day riding.
We first headed to Mount Fromme. It’s probably the most beginner-friendly mountain of the three, and it’s the only one where the trails are pedal access (as opposed to vehicle-accessible that involve no uphill ascents at all).
If you’re a part-time exerciser like me, the climb up can be a bit of a slog but it’s also what makes this mountain great. I’m always a little star-struck when I bike here. The old-growth forest is gorgeous; quiet, serene, with towering trees draped in thick moss that stretch towards the sky, it almost doesn’t even feel like exercise.
Lap One: Bobsled
Trail difficulty: Green/Blue
We started with a quick lap on Bobsled. The trail is about a 15 to 20-minute ride from the first gate (the point at which the road ends and bike access begins), and is super fun and flowy – perfect for warming up. With large banked turns, easy rollers and hardly any technical parts, it’s a really accessible trail for riders of all levels, and you’ll see people either taking it easy or tearing down the trail at full speed.
Lap Two: Floppy Bunny
Trail difficulty: Black
After finishing Bobsled, we biked back up to just below the trailhead to the start of Floppy Bunny. Still a great warm up lap, it’s just slightly more technical. Logs, roots and rocks are more exposed so you tend to go a little slower, but it’s the lower half of the trail that I really love, when the track turns into mellow, rolling turns and ramps up in speed.
Lap Three: Natural High
Trail difficulty: Blue/Black
Our last ride on Mount Fromme was Natural High, one of the lower elevation trails. From the end of Floppy Bunny, you cruise down to Natural High – the trail leads out to the road so it’s ideal to end on. It’s not super steep but has rooty, rocky terrain, tight corners, woodwork and is overall generally slower. All of the stunts have ride-arounds, which is especially great when you’re like me and choose to maintain self-preservation rather than attempt what looks like a bone-breaking A-frame ladder or mossy, steep rock roll-over.
Mount Seymour & The Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve
Our next stop of the day was the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. A large wilderness area that abuts Mount Seymour Provincial Park, the trails here cut through meadows, forested slopes and hug the Seymour River. They’re also incredibly scenic; at times I felt like I was biking through a hybrid Fern Gully/Jurassic Park setting – massive bright green ferns, lush moss and dense forest make for seriously picturesque trails.
Circuit 8 Trail / Fisherman’s Trail
Trail difficulty: Green/Blue
We were looking to ride Circuit 8 Trail, but to get there you have to first bike along the Baden-Powell, a multi-use easy, flat path along the forest and then the Seymour Valley Trailway, a pedestrian-only paved road. Circuit 8 is a quick and fun cross-country loop that eventually connects to a small section of tight singletrack leading to Fisherman’s Trail, a gravel path that follows the Seymour River for 7km. Easy and relatively flat, this trail was the perfect way to wind down after a full day of riding.
By the end of the day I was thoroughly tired and happy. While we didn’t end this day grabbing a bite to eat after, there’s nothing better post-ride than to sample or pick up some local beer (there are a handful of craft breweries in North Vancouver, including Bridge Brewing, Deep Cove Brewers or Green Leaf Brewing), and nibble on food from one of the many great restaurants here.
If you’re looking to try mountain biking in North Vancouver, there are a ton of places to rent bikes and gear. Endless Biking comes highly recommended; they offer rentals, tours and lessons for all ages. The Local’s Guide to North Shore Rides guidebook and map is a handy thing to have – the map has descriptions of all three mountains and their major trail areas, and I’d be lost without it. Literally. And, because biking is more fun with friends, there are a number of local clubs that organize group rides so you can meet up to share the love of the trails. Mudbunnies, a women’s only club, is one group I’ve been meaning to check out.
Biking in North Vancouver