Things are looking up for downhill

John Browne
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New series of mountain biking races aims to raise the sports' profile

Rider Jack Hickey tears around a corner on the White Hills course during the first race of the 2013 Avalon Cup downhill mountain biking series last month in St. John's. Organizer and promoter Mike Boland would like to some day see a province-wide circuit.

Mountain bike enthusiast and organizer Mike Boland believes this province is a natural and obvious setting for the growth of the sport.

Boland, who is in the Canadian military, was born in Montreal but raised in St. John's, and returned to the capital city two years ago whereupon he got back into the mountain biking scene.

He noticed when he returned to Newfoundland, the sport wasn't as vibrant as he remembered it to be in terms of racing, "so, basically, I took it upon myself to try to start up a new race series."

Boland does trail work and promotion with flyers, race organizing and anything else he can to give the sport a higher profile.

He organized one race last year, but he said he's been trying to get "something a little bigger" off the ground this year. He ran off one race in May with plans for three more throughout the summer.

Boland said the mountain bike season begins, "as soon as the snow starts melting, and ends as soon as it's too cold to ride."

A mountain bike rider for about seven years, Boland, 28, said he'd been into BMX riding since he was a kid. He said most kids start getting serious about mountain biking at age 13 or 14.

He estimates that there are hundreds of mountain bikers across the province, and he sees plenty of potential for the sport.

Aside from the St. John's area, there are popular mountain biking trails in Grand Falls-Windsor and Western Newfoundland, where it is promoted to tourists, Boland said.

He said he envisions a province-wide circuit which he believes would be a boost to the sport in terms of participation and development.

Most mountain bikers would be considered recreational, but Boland thinks the number of competitive riders would greatly increase with a network of circuits and organized races across the island.

He noted that some "serious" riders now compete occasionally outside the province.

Boland said the most popular trails in the St. John's area are the downhill circuits in the east White Hills which have existed for several years. There are also trails in Cowan Heights and some off Blackmarsh Rd.

"It's an exciting, challenging sport that anyone can take part in," said Boland, "and the people who are involved in helping it grow are very passionate about it."

He said Freeride Mountain Sports owner, Chris Jared, "has spearheaded a lot of the trail development over the years and organized a lot of stuff with the help of others."

The governing body for mountain biking is Bicycle Newfoundland and Labrador, and the association held a Mountain Bike Training Camp earlier this month at Pippy Park.

There's also the new Avalon Mountain Biking Association (AMBA). The not-for-profit organization goals include:

1. To build, restore, improve and maintain sustainable mountain bike trails

2. To publish and post trail maps

3. To advocate for mountain biking through such activities as public education, lobbying, and participation in relevant planning processes

4. To promote safe mountain biking, good trail etiquette, and ecologically sound trail building and use

5. To host mountain biking events, such as trail building clinics, group rides, fun races and safe cycling seminars;

6. To cooperate with other groups, agencies and associations sharing similar goals

7. To develop working relationships with landowners, developers and city planners in order to enhance access to existing and new trails

8. To encourage the use of mountain bike trails by other non-motorized recreational users.

9. To fundraise for the purpose of the association, but not for the financial gain of its members.

Organizations: Freeride Mountain Sports, AMBA

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Montreal Grand Falls-Windsor White Hills Cowan Heights Pippy Park Avalon Mountain

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