Posted by: Penny Buswell
Ever since four thousand people caught GranFondo fever last fall, Whistler has transformed into a road biking destination. Whistler locals wonder why it took so long for the world to catch on - downhill and cross country bikng are already hugely popular here - and there’s something about the scenery that just makes you want to bike through it.
Road biking in Whistler isn’t just for hill-climbing masochists or experts with a penchant for spandex. Even the 125 km GranFondo is possible for anyone keen enough to train 2.5 to 3 hours two or three times a week, says Tony Routley, President and Rider for Team Whistler Cycling.
Routley’s favourite Whistler rides include biking from Whistler Village to the Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley, home to the Olympic ski jumps and cross country trails. This ride takes a couple of hours, has a gentle climb and is perfect for spotting bears.
If you don’t like to bike past the same thing twice, avoid a straight out-and-back by taking the "Westside Road" loop along Alta Lake Road. “It’s a great ride – relatively flat for Whistler - and you can see the ski hill really well,” says Routley.
For a challenge, Pemberton is around a two hour return bike with a good climb, and Squamish is 2.5 to 3.5 hours. Alternatively, Routley enjoys driving to Pemberton and riding out to Darcy, which is a rolling 90 kilometre three-to-four hour ride. Bayshores, a Whistler neighborhood, is recommended if you feel like sweating your way through a hill repeat workout.
Experienced Vancouver cyclists have even been known to beat rising fuel costs by biking up to Whistler with only a credit card in their jerseys. Take care on this route because the road can get sketchy south of Squamish around the rock scaling - part of the appeal of the GranFondo Whistler is in the once-a-year chance to ride the Sea to Sky highway without vehicle traffic to contend wtih. The road is least busy in the spring and fall.
I asked Routley if he had any special training tips for aspiring road racers. He said that getting enough fuel is super important: you have to eat something and drink a bottle at least every hour. “I personally like the gels because I have a problem eating solid food - half of it usually goes up my nose. A racer might have something to eat every half hour, and gel once an hour.” It’s also necessary to eat before rides, so that means eating plenty of easily-digestible food at least two hours before biking.
In Whistler, GranFondo training sessions are run by John Blok from 6-7pm on Wednesdays at the Core. Drop-ins are available ($15), as part of the 12-week course ($149), training begins by biking up a storm in spin class and moves onto the roads later. Classes focus on endurance, drafting, group riding, and cover nutrition and bike comfort.
You could also join along on one of Team Whistler’s Tuesday Night Club Rides, and test your skills against the local pack. The rides leave from Summit Sports at 5.30pm (on the Gondola side) and promise to be suitable for all riders. Your first visit is free, but it’s $35 to join Cycling BC for insurance if you want to be a regular.
Hand cyclists also find Whistler a great place for road biking. “There’s many areas you can get to on your hand bike and it’s really well set up,” says Chelsey Walker from the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program. Bike rentals start at $40 for a half day, check their website for hand cycling events.
Summit Sports is the only place to rent road bikes in Whistler. They have a good selection of Trek bikes and all their rentals include a helmet. There are several SPD pedals available too if necessary. Prices start at $62 for a day.
So, whether you’re on two or three wheels, get on yer bike, and hit the road Whistler style.