When Larry Falcon first decided to start up a weekly group ride as a way to get people out mountain biking on Whistler’s trails, he had no idea just how popular it would be.
“Mountain biking wasn’t as popular as it is today… but it was quite humorous, because I promoted it so successfully that we ended up with 300 riders and we only had four guides. It was absolute mayhem,” he recalled with a laugh. “Where do you go for a ride with 300 riders?”
Over the course of the two decades that have passed since that group embarked on the first-ever Monday night ride, Falcon’s initiative has brought around 23,000 mountain bikers through Whistler’s trail system (though he acknowledges many of those are repeat participants).
It’s a simple concept: every Monday evening for 17 weeks from May to September, eager riders can show up at Bike Co. in Marketplace at 6 p.m. with their bikes in tow and spend the evening exploring Whistler’s trails — although Falcon has learned from that initial ride, and now caps participation at about 70 riders.
Just as the weekly initiative has established itself as an integral aspect of the resort’s mountain biking community over the past 20 years, it’s obvious that Whistler itself has subsequently cemented its status as one of the world’s foremost mountain biking hubs. But with so many experienced cyclists and white-knuckle-inducing trails — not to mention the equally nerve-wracking costs associated with the sport — Whistler’s mountain biking scene can be an intimidating world to step into for many newcomers.
But with five varieties of guided rides organized by ability — with beginner, intermediate “mild, medium, spicy” and advanced rides available — the Monday night program has served as a way to help riders of all levels progress within the sport in a safe, comfortable and skill-level-appropriate setting.
“The guides enjoy it because it’s infectious when you see your group do something they’ve never done before, like getting up and over a log, or for advanced groups, riding one of the rock faces on the Green Monster, and for some of them they’ve never done that trail,” Falcon said. “Experienced guides and riders show them how it’s done, and they’ll do it with trepidation, but they make it, and the joy on their face and the high fives that come afterwards are worth every penny of your time.”
But in addition to learning technical skills and discovering new trails, the rides serve as a social opportunity for riders of all levels to connect. Each ride is followed by a social, to be held this season at The Beacon.
“The beauty of it, especially when you’re new to town (and wondering) ‘Where do I ride? Who do I ride with?’ is that it allows you to meet a bunch of people at the same level as you are… They’re able to really generate friendships that for a lot of them have turned into long-term friendships, and they continue to ride with those people,” Falcon explained.
The ride is also a cost-effective way to learn: the drop-in, volunteer-organized rides is a community effort that costs each participant only $2, with proceeds going towards the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association’s youth programming. Over the course of its existence, the Monday night ride has donated over $18,000 to the cause.
While Falcon said he never envisioned the ride running for 20 years nor achieving the level of success it has, all the hard work to keep it running is well worth it.
“What I like best about it is that I have people coming up to me all the time saying, ‘I did your ride 15 years ago and I love the sport; now I’m doing all the big hits on (Whistler bike park runs like) A-line, and it’s because of you that I got into biking,” he said. “For me, that feels good, that makes it all worthwhile.”