Some say that the beauty of Salt Spring is best seen from the perch of a bicycle seat and even better in the company of other riders. Several island women brave the roads or forest trails on a regular basis for various reasons — fitness, adventure, commuting, or training. Interviewing one cyclist leads to another and another, connected like the strands of a spider web. They have a wealth of cycling experience between them.
The Mountain Biker
Always look towards where you want to go, not what you want to avoid. Seems like good advice for life, but it’s also important when you are riding down a single-track overgrown trail on a mountain bike.
Marcia Jansen and Marion Young say that this is one of the first things you learn while mountain biking. They are often out on the trails, keeping their biking skills sharp.
Before having her kids, Jansen was a competitive road racer and mountain biker in the Netherlands.
“I learned a lot in those days. I feel secure on my bike in traffic, and in the races I learned not to give up. It influenced my whole life. I met my husband during the European championships mountain biking in the Czech Republic, and I wrote about cycling for a living.”
Young also was a competitive cyclist, most recently turning her attention to triathlons.
“Biking gives me the strength and confidence to try other endurance sports. Learning to lap swim has been most challenging, but I know I just have to get through it. Once I’m on my bike, I’m in familiar territory!”
This summer, both women are considering doing an off-road triathlon, where the swim takes place in a lake, and the cycle and run on forest trails.
“I like to be out in nature, riding in the woods, especially in winter, because it is more adventurous and easier to stay warm,” says Jansen. “It’s not easy to mountain bike here because most of the trails are intended for hikers. There is a lot of private land. The best place to go is Channel Ridge. You can ride there for hours!”
It’s true that Salt Spring could be a destination place for off-road cycling, if not for the obscure trails, known only to locals. But if you can find a place, it’s like moving meditation. You are fully in the present moment, concentration peaked, body responsive to the many undulations and barriers of the trail. If you are tense and short-sighted, the ride will be a series of impassable obstacles. If you are distracted or afraid, you will likely end up sideways in the underbrush.
“Start first on something like old logging roads where you can practise riding through puddles, mud, and and uneven terrain,” advises Young.
As you get more comfortable, you can increase the difficulty.” Some people say that the best way to learn is to just do it. However, downhill technical riding, for example on steep elevations like Mount Erskine or parts of Mount Maxwell, requires split-second decisions, extensive padding and sometimes a full face helmet, if that gives any indication of the danger level. Ask yourself this when you are tempted or goaded to go way beyond your skill level: if you are thrown into the water and can’t swim, does this make you a better swimmer? Same thing on a bike, only you risk broken bones and impalement instead of drowning.
Cross-country cycling is a little tamer, but you may have to carry your bike at some point. You are going uphill as much as downhill at lower speeds. There’s no shame in getting off your bike and walking it through places you’re not equipped to handle. It’s good to push yourself at times, but the ultimate goal is to have fun. Freaking out for the majority of the ride is just stressful. The best way to learn is to go with experienced people who are patient enough to wait for you and will offer tips along the way.
The book called Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack is a comprehensive, entertaining source that covers everything from choosing the right bike to technical maneuvers, to avoiding injuries. Initially there are a few common mistakes that most newbies make. Most importantly, you’ve got to learn to RELAX. Second, stop holding your brakes whenever your bike points downhill; use them only when there’s a good reason. Third, be light and carry more speed through rough sections. Your bike is meant to roll and will carry you through if you give it a chance to do what it’s supposed to do.
The Road Cyclist
People complain a lot about the roads on Salt Spring Island. Some use the lack of modern city infrastructure as a barrier to not getting out there, but Jansen’s best advice to road cyclists is to “Anticipate on traffic, look ahead, and don’t take risks. Car drivers here find it hard to deal with bikers. They under- or overestimate how fast you go on a bike or pass too close. My advice to car drivers would be to slow down when you see a cyclist and leave at least at 1.5 metres distance between.”
Janice Dickie cycled across Canada and continues to go on day trips or long-distance journeys throughout the year.
“I started cycling a few years ago because I wanted to go on an adventure. I’d always dreamed of crossing Canada under my own power, and I discovered a cycle touring company, the Tour du Canada, that takes a group of cyclists from coast to coast every summer. I hadn’t cycled for decades, but I decided to buy a bike, start training and see how I liked it. I was hooked.”
Dickie says that riding on Salt Spring has its own particular challenges, but with road savvy you should be able to ride safely and comfortably if you understand the rules of the road, practise making emergency stops or avoidance turns, and use proper hand signals.
“In my experience, drivers are generally courteous to cyclists, but many of our rural roads are narrow, rough and hilly with blind areas. Ride with extra caution when entering or exiting Vesuvius and Fulford ferry terminals and along the narrow, blind areas of Cusheon Lake road and the steep hills of Stewart.”
Marianne Banman has competed in marathons, 10-km races, biathlons and triathlons in Hawaii and other parts of the world in the late ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ’90s (before and after triathlons became popular). She continues cycling on Salt Spring almost every day, commuting to work during the week and taking longer rides on the weekends.
“I have a bike for every terrain and purpose (hybrid, mountain and racing/road bike). These days, I enjoy taking part in cycling events like the Tour de Victoria. I spearheaded the ‘Bike to Work Week’ for our school district office last year and was invited to be the contact person for the Gulf Islands School District for this year’s Bike to Work Week event.”
Banman says that “self confidence is the most important factor when cycling busy and narrow roads. There’s nothing like experience, especially when deciding whether to cycle in the city or in an area with high traffic and narrow roads. My advice is to cycle first on country roads and trails with little or no traffic. Get used to your bike and when you feel like you and the bike are one, gradually begin to ride short distances on roads with some traffic.”
Finding the best of Salt Spring by bike takes some time and endurance, but the ocean freshness of the air and those days when the sun turns the island into a shining, golden place create experiences that are transcendent. All of the featured cycling women are in their 40s and 50s and show no signs of slowing down. Bike on whatever terrain you choose, embracing the ride in whatever way it inspires you: for the journey, for the fitness goal, for the rush, for sanity, for serenity and for life.
Marianne’s Safe Cycling Tips:
• Always wear a helmet.
• Be visible: wear reflective, bright clothing, and install lights and reflectors on your bike.
• Maintain your bicycle.
• Carry an extra tube and a pump.
• Make eye contact with drivers whenever possible.
• Smile, nod or a make a friendly hand gesture to encourage and thank drivers for their good driving or polite manners.
• Use arm signals to indicate your intentions.
• Stay focused and calm while keeping your eyes on the road in front of you.
• When there is a car approaching from behind, move over as long as it’s safe.
• Ride single file in a group.
• Be constantly aware of your surroundings.
• Try to anticipate a driver’s next move and expect the unexpected.
• Watch out for pedestrians.
• Take the road less travelled by vehicles.
What Marianne Wishes Drivers Knew About Her As a Cyclist:
• I’m not on the road to make your driving life miserable.
• I truly do want to share the road with you; if there was a bike lane, I would be in it.
• If it seems like I’m too far over in your lane it’s because there is something dangerous I’m trying to avoid (a ditch, glass, nails, deep ridges in the shoulder, loose gravel, etc.).
• I notice and appreciate when you slow down and leave lots of room when you pass me.
• If you must honk or yell at me, please wait until you are well past me — it is very alarming when a loud honk or yell comes from a vehicle right behind me.
• Oncoming drivers that cross over the middle line are very disconcerting.