Nfld. & Labrador

Meet the local mountain bikers working to demystify the sport

Jenny Hogg is a St. John's mountain biker who says the sport has helped her navigate struggles throughout her life. Although social media videos often show the extreme side of mountain biking, Hogg says there is room in the sport for riders of all skill levels.

Jenny Hogg says there is room in the sport for riders of all skill levels

Jenny Hogg is an avid mountain biker in St. John's. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Mountain biking is often associated with thrill, danger, and a sense of fearlessness. For Jenny Hogg, an avid mountain biker in St. John's, the sport is all about focus.

"When you're mountain biking, you're just completely in the moment," she said. "All of your other concerns kind of melt away."

Hogg has been mountain biking since she was in Grade 6, when her mother introduced her to the sport. She enjoys the unique intensity of mountain biking, as well as the opportunity to experience nature.

"I think that it has such a positive impact on people's mental health and physical health as well," Hogg said.

Newfoundland and Labrador is known for its rough terrain, making the province an ideal place for mountain biking. Trail networks have begun appearing in places like Clarenville, Grand-Falls Windsor and on Newfoundland's west coast.

There are about 100 kilometres of trails in the St. John's area alone, including networks in Pippy Park and White Hills. The Avalon Mountain Bike Association recently began developing a new pump track near Quidi Vidi lake.

There are mountain biking trails in several parts of the province, including in Clarenville and Corner Brook. A pump track is being developed near Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Chris Jerrett, the owner of Freeride Mountain Sports and a former World Cup XC racer, has been a driving force in Newfoundland and Labrador's mountain biking community for the past 30 years.

Jerrett estimates that about 2,000 mountain bikers regularly use the trails in and around St. John's, which are built and maintained almost entirely by volunteers.  

"The community here is pretty well organized, pretty tight, and just out there getting stuff done," Jerrett said. "That builds a pretty positive culture."

Hogg is passionate about building community through mountain biking. She attends weekly trail maintenance events, and she's always keen to introduce newcomers to the sport.

Anybody with any fitness or ability can go out and ride.- Adam Churchill 

While many mountain biking videos on social media depict death-defying stunts and wipeouts, Hogg said the sport isn't always "extreme." 

"I know a lot of riders that just ride for fun, and I also know a lot of people that kind of are pushing the limits of what they're capable of," Hogg said.

She is particularly interested in getting more women involved in the mountain biking community, which she says can feel male-dominated. She also wants to change the perception that mountain biking is for highly skilled riders only.

Hogg acknowledges the side of mountain biking focused on getting your adrenalin pumping, but says there is room in the sport's community for riders of all skill levels.

Creating a smoother path

Adam Churchill, vice-president of the association, says the organization is prioritizing accessibility and inclusion. In addition to the pump track, the AMBA is developing a "green circle" loop specifically for beginners who may be intimidated by the more difficult trails.

The White Hills trail network near Quidi Vidi is popular but relatively difficult. The Avalon Mountain Biking Association is developing more trails for beginners. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

The new trail will also allow people who use city bikes or adaptive equipment to experience mountain biking.

"Anybody with any fitness or ability can go out and ride," Churchill said.

The steep cost of mountain biking equipment and repairs can be another barrier for low-income riders. 

Ordinary Spokes is a non-profit community co-op that repairs and sells used bicycles at a reduced price. The co-op is involved in local cycling advocacy and also teaches people how to repair their own bicycles.

While the co-op focuses on everyday commuting, it also repairs and sells mountain bikes.

Ordinary Spokes volunteer Nick Van Mele says it's essential to have the proper equipment to safely participate in downhill mountain biking.

"That's where a lot of the cost comes in," Van Mele said.

AMBA president Adam Churchill says Newfoundland and Labrador's rugged terrain could attract mountain bikers to the province. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Churchill says formal mountain biking infrastructure is the key to making the sport more accessible and also to attracting more mountain bikers to the province.

"We do see it as a tremendous opportunity for tourism," Churchill said. "There's places that are using mountain biking as a form of recruiting young professionals."

Churchill hopes the advocacy work being done by organizations like the AMBA and the West Coast Cycling Association will lead to improved infrastructure and heightened interest in mountain biking.

"There could be very positive consequences."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darrell Roberts is a writer living in St. John's.

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