I still remember watching my first New World Disorder film over sixteen years ago. Heck – I damn near wore the life out of that VHS tape! Now, as I chased white-knuckled down the technical trail, fully committed and hot on Andrew Shandro’s wheel, this was just as perfect as I had imagined it would be. We were in a land of giants, a frontier wilderness rich in trees and bears, and as we blazed down the trail our cries were lost in the vastness of the landscape. We were in Squamish, and shit was about to get real!
This was my first trip out to Canada, a dream fulfilled, and even though it would only be for a few jet-lag-muddled days, I was buzzing. When the invite to check out the latest bikes from Trek had hit the office, I had literally jumped at the chance. I had almost not even made it – my outbound flights had been laughable in their tardiness, a true triumph of poor service. A twenty minute connection in Paris Charles De Gaulle forced me to keep the ‘inner Hulk’ inside as people fumbled with their passports, blocked escalators, and generally tried to deny me my ‘Canadian dream.’ As I raced like a stabbed rat through the airport, I saw with horror that the Vancouver flight was close to closing, so bounding up the stairs three at a time and taking every ‘enduro line’ I sprinted to the gate. Literally knee-sliding through as they pulled the cord across, I was going to Vancouver! YES! My bag of riding kit, however, had decided to give it a miss. Damn!
After a well-practiced brush off from an Air France missing-baggage-handler who had the charm and wit of a house brick, I left the airport on the understanding that my kit would ‘maybe’ arrive in two days. But I was in Canada, the holy grail of mountain biking, so who needs clothes? I had missed my shuttle, so with some time to kill I caught the Skytrain to an outlet store in Templeton where I maxed out my cards on checked flannel shirts (the Canadian uniform), underwear, and all the other stuff you need as a human. Back in time for the 4 PM shuttle, we headed up the road. As we travelled from Vancouver to Squamish, I could not pry my eyes from the windows – the contrast was striking, moving from tall, impossibly expensive penthouse-capped skyscrapers to open views of the ocean, mountains and cedar forests that defined the adventure capital. Like the scenery, Canada too seemed to be in a battle between restraint and excess. To not recycle is illegal, but many drive round in gigantic Ford F-150’s, 5.7 litre V8’s burbling menacingly as they turn valuable petrol into noise and smog.
The Canadians are warm people, confident in that way that people are when they have everything. The riding community is a strong one, proud and generous. No sooner did word spread that I had no kit than everyone rallied around to help. Trek, 7mesh, and Tantalus Bike Shop sorted me out with riding gear and pads, and I was good to hit the trail. Cheers guys, you’re all legends. Trek had also pulled out all the stops with a full range of new Fuel EX and Remedy bikes for us to test. Not only that, but we also would be joined by Cam McCaul, Brandon Semenuk, Casey Brown, R-Dog, and Andrew Shandro… not bad, not bad at all! Despite the jet lag, I was amped as our uplift truck made its way up towards the trailhead. I knocked back a Crispy Crunch to get ready.
Now, I had dreamt of coming to Canada for many years, and as I sat on the top of the first trail, ‘Angry Midget,’ I started to feel nervous. I wasn’t worried about the technicality, but what if the riding didn’t live up to the hype? From the first ten seconds I knew I should not have worried – fast and feature-filled, the trails were incredible! Heavy rain the day before had firmed up the surface, and with massive traction it was insanely fast. Impossibly tall cedar trees stretched skywards, creating a canopy pierced with rays of sun. Shafts of light knifed between the towering trunks and danced on the blanket of mist rising from the vivid green moss. We hit trail after trail, stoked to the max as we whooped and hollered at their brilliance. Again my butt buzzed on the rear tyre as I punted over another rock roller, laughing out loud at the comedic ‘rollable’ description as I experienced two meters of free fall before the transition finally caught me. The names were bonkers too: Angry Midget, Man Boobs, Tinder, Your Mom, Entrails. Imagine if someone were to overhear our post-ride banter in the bar as we knocked back the beers: “Yeah, we smashed up the angry midget, then hit up Tinder before doing your mom.” That would certainly raise a few eyebrows.
We were in Canada to get an exclusive preview of the new Trek Remedy and Fuel EX. Both bikes had been given the full ‘make it radder’ make-over: 10 mm more travel, a little bit longer, and with a degree lopped off the head angle. Both bikes feature the new Straight Shot downtube and Knock Block system, boosting stiffness and strength significantly over their predecessors, and the RE:aktiv suspension gives that signature Trek smoothness through hard terrain. Now with 130 mm of travel, the Fuel EX has evolved into a veritable big-wheel trail smasher for riders looking to push the limits whenever possible, blurring the line between trail riding and off-the-hook charging.
The Remedy has grown too: 10 mm longer in travel (now 150 mm) and longer in the reach, it has lost a wheel size (now 27.5” only) and a degree from the head angle to become a muscular and aggressive bike for the hardest trails. The Remedy is now so competent and aggressive, we have to ask ourselves where does this leave the Slash? I am sure Trek have a plan! You can read all about the new bikes in our full review.
As the day rolled on, the Canadian veterans in the group regaled us with tales of the wilderness and some dramatic bear encounters. On the flight over I had unadvisedly watched The Revenant, and thus I was already pretty ‘bear aware,’ but now every creak and snap of twig was an angry grizzly bear. I felt for the comfort of the small multi-tool in my pocket, but then remembered it didn’t have a ‘bear defence’ tool. I would just have to go nuts with the T25! However, it would not be bears that were about to break up our party, as we were heading towards a bigger danger. While railing the super-smooth berms and easy jumps of Half Nelson, one of our party made a small mistake on the seemingly easy (but very high-speed) track and took a simply massive crash. Taking the impact to his head and neck, he was left literally fighting for his life. The next agonisingly slow thirty minutes were harrowing for all involved, but the Squamish Mountain Rescue showed its expertise. Along with ambulances, fire trucks, police, and ultimately an air ambulance to Vancouver, they saved the day. Fearing the worst, we were all ecstatic to hear that human beings, especially Italians it would seem, are (thankfully) tough creatures. Despite a few broken bones, he was going to make a full recovery. It did give us all a lesson in the dangers of riding alone.
The next morning we were keen to get back on it, and after some maple syrup pancakes – it would be rude not to – we headed back to the trails. The cool ‘Endless Biking’ guides decided to introduce us to a new word (to us): ‘janky,’ a descriptive term to be used when the trails get really wild. As we piled into a devious trail called Entrails, hot on Andrew Shandro’s wheel, it got janky as hell. Diving again and again into steep chutes and over super-awkward rock rolls, we took flat-out lines that we wouldn’t have seen without the legend dragging us through. It was insane fun, hopping and popping from corner to corner, grinning and shouting like children at Christmas. Hitting a huge rock spine too hot, I realised it was too late to scrub speed on the slick surface. I barrelled down the slab and with the back wheel drifting wide just squeaked the transfer with zero margin of error, mere millimeters away from the crash of my life. Welcome to Squamish! Firing off the slab and through a hard loamy turn, roost kicking everywhere, I imagined it would have looked like quite the ballsy move to onlookers, but inside I was screaming like a small child. Needless to say, I ‘kept it in my pants’ after that and gave the big slab rolls a lot more respect.
And what about the Trek bikes – how did they handle the Squamish trails? Well, you can read our full first impressions of the new Trek Fuel EX and Remedy on the website, but I have to say that I was very impressed. Both bikes seem to have drawn influence from the environment we were in… longer, meaner, and more muscular, as if someone had squeezed a V8 into a family hatchback. The bike that really stood out for me was the Trek Fuel EX 29, mainly because even when I was hanging way out of my comfort zone on crazy trails, not once did I feel under-biked! The Fuel EX is supposed to be a trail bike? How the hell was it smashing such big features? The fast and capable 29er really demonstrated to me how far we have come over the last few years.[/emaillocker]
All too soon it was time to go home. I could have stayed forever, and it felt like I had only been there a few minutes. (Or perhaps that was just the jet lag.) As I packed my gear to head to the airport, I realised Canada had stolen part of my heart. It’s a little like my homeland of Scotland, but taken to a whole new level. Never before had I seen such a mighty expanse of wilderness, and I had only sampled the smallest drop in the ocean that comprises Canada. It’s easy to see why so many of my friends had headed out for a holiday and never returned. Canada is the ultimate playground, a one-stop destination for those who love to get loose under the trees. I will be back.
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Words: Photos: Sterling Lawrence and Margus Riga