It’s been over a week and I’m still on a buzz from the last serious rendezvous on my bike. Flights were booked as a last minute hail Mary in hopes to escape the Canmore snow and continue the desperate attempt to extend the mountain bike season just one weekend further. As we flew over the Coast Mountains the setting sun enthusiastically danced off the mildly snow covered peaks. There was a sense of ease in the air as our wheels touched the tarmac as if to gently whisper a warm welcome to island life. It wasn’t until recently that I had learned about Cumberland – a small community in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. The growing rumbles of its reputation as a mountain biking destination with 100+ diverse trails right from its doorstep made me add it to my must see list. After a quick stopover at this mountain bike haven I’d come to learn that the town, the people, biking community and trail association that backed it were truly something unique and special. Many of the locals that crossed our path over the two day trip felt that it was a privilege to live in the town of Cumberland that they agreed was the ‘best place in the world’. The unique environment and the biking community’s growth has it’s own biking Cinderella story built on the backs of the hard work, dedication, and passion from many of the local riders.
Cumberland, UROC and land access
The entire trail network in Cumberland sits on private land owned by two timber companies – an industry the town heavily relies on for jobs and economy. Until recently building trails and riding on them was technically trespassing. Unlike many other parts of British Columbia, the forests around Cumberland are owned by private companies (as is the case for much of Vancouver Island). The United Riders of Cumberland, or UROC, trail association was initially created to; provide a formal voice for the bike community, to advocate for access to the trails and work to establish an agreement with the landowners. In 2015, UROC signed a land access agreement that has since been renewed which saw the group formally take the accountability for managing the trail network and allowed legal access to the area. A game changer for the riders, the community and a ton of people who had yet to experience this hidden gem.
After pedaling up to my second run of my first day in Cumberland I came across a group of mountain bikers with a chill and friendly ease to them. I asked for directions to a trail called ‘blockhead’ and they warmly went out of their way to assist and peddled alongside to show me the way. In the group was Nathan Kwan, who I learned plays an integral role in UROC. Nathan is ‘Trail Manager’ for UROC which he’s been in now for almost two years. He told me that he’s a jack of all trades. His responsibilities range from; trail maintenance, volunteer coordination, liaising with landowners, managing sponsorship’s, supporting programs like the kids club and organizing ladies rides. He was vibrating as he enthusiastically relayed this information to me. Right away I felt that UROC and the biking community of Cumberland were in good hands with this bright, committed and friendly chap leading the charge.
Growth and Challenges
I leaped at the chance to pick Nathan’s brain deeper to understand another layer of the UROC story and some of the reasons why their membership has grown from 86 to 750 since 2014 (that’s a whopping 772 percent!). He prefaced his response with the importance of the agreement with the timber companies but also indicated that ‘amazing volunteers who are so dedicated to building rad trails, hosting high profile races, having a community that embraces and promotes the trail network and the ongoing communication with land owners’ were the backbone of its success. They aren’t without their challenges however but Nathan says they are good ones to have. He noted ‘learning to build and maintain sustainable trails that can withstand traffic, keeping up with the trends like e-bikes, and continued advocacy and work towards ensuring we can maintain our land access agreements’ were a few but also noted that if they help strengthen the network that they are challenges warmly welcomed.
Inclusion & Diversity
– Nathan Kwan, Trail Manager – UROC
‘Weekly ladies rides on average saw over 60 participants and in the past 4 years a whopping 50 percent of UROC membership have been females’
One of the vibes I picked up on my two days riding was not only the diversity of the trails but more importantly the diversity of the people riding them. Guys and gals of every age, shape and size had their choice of the trails that suited just what they wanted – steeps, drops, features, flow, technical roots and rocks and some smooth n’ easy greens . I’m sure the growing and diverse engagement has part to do with Cumberland being an awesome place to ride but it’s not all by coincidence. UROC does a lot behind the scenes to support programs that encourage youth and women to get out and ride. According to Nathan, ‘In partnership with the Cumberland Community School Society, we run a Kids MTB Club that sees 40+ little rippers out each week in a supportive group ride setting’. He also said, that they have ‘amazing volunteer leaders for the UROC Ladies Ride that’s seen incredible growth’. I could tell how stoked he was that this year the weekly ladies rides on average saw over 60 participants and that in the past 4 years a whopping 50 percent of UROC membership were females. As I listened I recalled a time not that long ago when I barely saw ladies on the trails. To think that over half of this trail associations membership were females brought a huge grin to my face.
Support UROC and your local trail alliance or association
After our chat I took some time to think a little deeper on trail organizations like UROC and their integral role in advocacy, trail development, safety, maintenance and promotion of the sport. These groups have such an important role in creating the amazing experiences, riding communities and formal structure that allows us mountain bikers to do perhaps the thing in life that brings us the greatest joy – to ride. We all have a part to play in giving back to these groups. This not only secures our own license to operate but also allows us to be apart of something unique and something special – like the development and growth of amazing places like Cumberland that we can come back to time and time again knowing that we are going to get more back than we could ever give. You can support UROC and other trail association by purchasing a membership or making a donation on trail forks. Thanks to UROC, Nathan and the Cumberland community for being such a rad place – you have my support https://www.trailforks.com/region/cumberland-forest/.