How do you respond in critical situations? What life lessons can we learn from riding downhill? And what do a beer-fuelled idea and aliens have to do with Whistler Bike Park? We travelled to Canada with ROSE ambassador Bella Chen and the new ROSE SCRUB to hit big jumps and make big progress – risks and side effects included!

We torture ourselves up Mount Teide aboard skinny tires. The asphalt is scorching. The sun is unrelenting. We wheeze in rhythm to our pedalling cadence. Our sweat drips steadily onto our top tubes. Our calves start cramping. We’re on a group ride with the two Tour-de-France sprint legends André Greipel and Marcel Kittel, and we’re still miles away from the realisation that this ride will take us to Whistler.

Aliens on road bikes

The landscape of Pico del Teide, Spain’s highest mountain on the island of Tenerife, resembles that of the moon. And to the road cycling scene, our group must look like a bunch of extraterrestrials. And it is – at least in part. There are the absolute beginners Leo and Fred, who are still getting used to which way around the helmet goes, and how to shift and brake on a drop bar bike. And then there’s bike park rat Bella, combining an aero outfit with sneakers and flat pedals. Wearing leather shoes, and rocking some stylish sunnies rather than “proper” sports eyewear is ENDURO founder Robin, with his trademark hairy legs (of course!). The rest of the group is made up of road influencers, ROSE team members, and pro ROSE riders. We had some reservations about how this was going to work out before we set off on the ride..
You can read the very entertaining story “Group Ride or Suicide?” in our sister magazine GRAN FONDO to find out how it ended, and why it actually turned out to be a brilliant idea. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 14 Tour de France stage victories to your name, only ride in the bike park like Bella, or it’s your first time swinging your leg over a road bike like Fred and Leo.

The Whistler virgin

“What?! You founded ENDURO but you’ve never been to Whistler?” Bella looks at me in disbelief at dinner in Tenerife. Probably thinking to herself: “What’s wrong with this guy?”. But I’ve got an ace up my sleeve: we’ve already got tickets to Crankworx in Whistler, and we’ll be staying there for another 2 weeks to produce our North America’s Finest group test for the magazine. Bella, on the other hand, has family in Vancouver and can already be considered something of a local in Whistler. As it turned out, we shared the table with Anatol, head of marketing at ROSE, who was hoping to recruit Bella as a brand ambassador. After a few barley-based refreshments, he reveals that ROSE are about to launch a new downhill bike, and after a few more drinks, he has a brainwave: “Robin, as a Whistler virgin, we can let you take the SCRUB to Whistler before the launch, and maybe you can do a cool story over there with the new bike?” No sooner said than done. Beer-fuelled ideas are simply the best!

Oh-My-God redefined

“You want to ride down that? No way!” Bella looks at me on the edge of a rock face in Whistler, almost horrified… Whistler pushes each and every one of us to our limits. But that which looks impassible at first glance often turns out to be rideable after a few runs.
And there are good reasons for this, which have little to do with (too much) fear, but rather with an environment that makes it almost impossible not to progress. For one, there is the certainty that the tracks in Whistler are built sensibly and safely, and that you can approach most features slowly as you build up the confidence to hit them. Then there’s the incredible number of skilled locals and pro riders blasting past you while you check out an Oh-My-God feature. Or you can meet other riders who have stopped in front of the same feature, with whom you can check out and discuss lines, and make silly jokes. This almost makes progressing playful. Besides, I had Bella. And Bella had me. So I told her how easy the 80° steep wall was, showed her how to ride it, and lo and behold – no problem at all! Before we knew it, we needed a bigger feature for her next Oh-My-God. But not so fast… It was my turn, first.

Bella’s goal for the week: the Crabapple Hits pro line. Famous for its 20 metre jumps, and host to the legendary whip-off champs. Fuck. I was scared, but she had confidence and balls! I, on the other hand, prayed: Dear bike, lend me wings, and give me confidence.

Risks and side effects of Whistler Bike Park

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between paradise and hell. No one knows this better than the Whistler Bike Park crew. That is why you’ll find posters everywhere around the lift with calls to reason like “ride like there’s a tomorrow”. And as you know, you should never do one last run. This also applies in Whistler. Nevertheless, we did sweep runs at the end of each day. Not last runs, just the very, very last runs of the day! When Whistler Blackcomb closes its doors at 8 PM, bike park visitors can help “sweep” the park to make sure there are no more riders on the trails. To do so, a combination of routes is selected or assigned to each rider. As luck would have it, A-Line to Crabapple Hits was the only option left. And of course, we did exactly what you shouldn’t do: we hit it! The next thing you know, we completed our fighter jet licences. At least, on the first big jumps – we didn’t want to push our luck too far after sunset. But going for it felt right that day.

Bella and I didn’t get through our Whistler week without crashing, but we were fortunate not to get hurt. Others weren’t so lucky. Some of our friends, including Bella’s sister Donna, suffered bone fractures, and you’re bound to hear some of the horror stories that happen in Whistler Bike Park on a weekly basis. Ultimately, it simply comes down to your own form, fitness, and concentration, and that can vary from day to day. Or sometimes you’re just unlucky!

An emotional rollercoaster

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between paradise and hell. Now we know that too. A bike park is an emotional rollercoaster: from woaaaah, oh-no, oh-fuck, and OMG on jumps and tech trails to snoozing in the sun on the chair lift. A lot of bike park riding also takes place in the mind: there’s a fine line between nailing a feature and crashing; between being a daredevil and being skilled; between healthy confidence and healthy self-doubt. Trying to squeeze the maximum amount of runs and adrenaline out of your day pass, or pushing yourself to impress others can quickly become dangerous. So, keep your shit together: even the best bike won’t help if you don’t!

If you’ve picked a line, then you must commit. Many of us crash because we panic and give up in critical situations, whether that’s in the bike park or in everyday life. When the rear wheel slides out, you’ve got to stay even calmer. The moment you give up, you’ve lost. Pro riders know this, and it’s something you can learn bit by bit – particularly so in Whistler. A bike that lets you do this isn’t just incredibly helpful and recommended, but also makes your insurance company happy. The reward: bike skills progression in turbo mode!

Bike and line choices – Do we still need DH bikes these days?

Enduro bikes have become as capable as mini downhill bikes over the past few years, letting you ride pretty much anywhere with confidence. That’s why I haven’t ridden a DH bike in a long time. I keep hearing not just my friends, but also readers saying that a downhill bike just doesn’t make sense for them.

Well, what can I say? I’ve been riding mountain bikes for over 20 years now – but I’ve never progressed so much in such a short time as I did in Whistler. And honestly… without a downhill bike, I wouldn’t have progressed as quickly. I probably wouldn’t have had as much fun either. Riding a DH bike in the bike park is a completely different experience. The levels of confidence, composure, and capability are off the charts. Rideable? Sure! While still risky, it’s safer in most cases, because the increased reserves give you a bigger margin for error, letting you get away with things that more moderate bikes couldn’t. In this respect, a big DH bike also makes you grow in confidence: A-Line. Dirt Merchant. Repeat. And what about Crabapple Hits? I definitely wouldn’t have hit it on any other bike!

Whether sweating on Mount Teide or experiencing an adrenaline rush in Whistler Bike Park – life on two wheels is always an emotional rollercoaster, whether it’s leaving your comfort zone, overcoming fears, or practising determination and perseverance. Reaching your limits, and pushing them further. Ultimately, it’s always up to your mindset and in your hands, but with the right equipment, it can be a whole lot easier!

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Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Peter Walker, Paul Masukowitz

About the author

Robin Schmitt

Robin is one of the two founders of 41 Publishing, a visionary and go-getter. While he now enjoys every second on the bike – whenever his busy schedule allows – he used to race against the clock at enduro events and a few Downhill World Cups. Besides that, Robin practises kung fu and Zen meditation, plays the cello or with his dog (which actually belongs to his girlfriend), travels abroad and still reviews numerous bikes himself. Progressive ideas, new projects and major challenges – Robin loves exploring undiscovered potential and getting to the bottom of new trends.