Riders go ‘into the gnar’ as cycling popularity increases

COVID-19 and an injury helped Enduro World Series racer Yoann Barelli step into the coaching business. On the last weekend of September, he piloted his first “Into the Gnar on Tour” mountain bike camp at Coast Gravity Park outside of Sechelt.

The 35-year-old rider described the experience as “a test” that managed to go “perfectly,” with 10 participants ranging in age from 10 to 50 and paying $575 each for the two-day camp.

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Sunshine Coast rider Brendan Howey acted as guest coach for the event.

The Whistler-based Enduro World Series podium finisher was forced to take a break last year for reconstructive knee surgery. As he was gearing up to launch into the season in March, COVID-19 put a wrench in the plans, but it ended up creating another opportunity. “It was a bit of a relief for me,” he said, since his knee wasn’t quite ready.

He and his partner Amanda Steel organized insurance, built up a business plan and website and launched their company at the end of June. “Right away we got really busy,” with bookings in July, August and September, he told Coast Reporter.

The pair decided to try their first camp away from Whistler at Coast Gravity Park to see if there’s demand in other areas, which would allow them to expand next year. “The Coast Gravity Park is an amazing park. It’s family run, it’s a small business and we like this aspect as well,” Barelli said.

As in other industries, the pandemic has brought its share of disruptions. Take, for example, the BC Bike Race, one of the largest cycling events on the Sunshine Coast. It was forced to postpone, while the homegrown Coaster 50 cancelled its 2020 event.

Coaching businesses such as Barelli’s, as well as retailers, meanwhile, have seen an increase in demand and sales.

Chris Glew, owner of Elphinstone Cycles in Roberts Creek, told Coast Reporter the shop has been “very busy.” Same with Off the Edge Bike Shop in Sechelt: “Customer acquisition was through the roof,” said owner Garry Jackson. At his shop, e-bikes helped drive those sales as people looked for alternatives to commuting by bus and gym workouts.

Martin Littlejohn, executive director with Western Mountain Bike Tourism Association, told Coast Reporter that while they haven’t collected data on the trend, other indicators suggest it is one. Stakeholders provincewide have reported upticks in the use of their local trail networks. “There’s definitely a surge of new people being drawn into mountain biking,” he said.

Another indicator is digital. One of the most popular Google Search terms related to the industry the organization recorded last month: “mountain bike trails for beginners.” And according to B.C.-made Trailforks, one of the most popular apps used by mountain bikers to find and navigate trails, 2020 has already surpassed 2019 in “rides per year,” with  372,954 versus 354,285.

Barelli says he noticed the increased demand in coaching after the Whistler Bike Park was forced to limit its lessons this summer. “When we launched it at first, we wanted to wait,” he said. “At first we were really thinking our target and clients would be people coming from outside of Canada. But we were really surprised at the demand, because people weren’t travelling and were spending their travel budget money [on] experiences.

“Everybody has been buying things to enjoy what we have around, which is pretty amazing,” he said.

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