INTERVIEW Riley McIntosh
PHOTOS Margus Riga
VIDEO Scott Secco
Tig Cross and Sasha Lebaron are BC mountain bike prophets. These guys were so ahead of their time it’s not even funny. Trails like ‘No Horses’ embody the flow and style of the ‘New School Freeride’ trails we nowadays pat ourselves on the back for. We say that ‘’Freeride has evolved.’’ Well, these guys were freeride, XC, DH, trials, all-mountain, anything and everything, whatever the hell you want to call it, way before everyone else. I think Tig and Sasha would call it ‘mountain biking.’
Their network of trails is so old that it was basically ‘Grandfathered’ into Mt. Geoffrey Park on Hornby Island. Mountain biking is totally legitimate and accepted there, something most communities in BC are still struggling to achieve. On top of everything, these guys honestly just wanted to do ‘something fun with bikes.’
Kids, take note.
Backflips, new graphics on your helmet, carbon rims, films, matching riding outfits, photos, websites, fancy new bike designs, the ‘who’s who’ of mountain biking… that stuff is all important, for sure. But in this edition of Characters,
let’s take some time to celebrate two guys who helped get our sport to where it is.
|With mountain biking on the rise in the late 80's and early 90's there was one standout event in BC and that was the Hornby Island Bike Fest, truly an event and location ahead of its time. Tig Cross was the driving force behind this event and it was his posse and friends that started the trails on Hornby. We can see now that the length and sustainability of those trails and Hornby Island as a riding destination took time to build - this mature, developed trail network is Tig's legacy and gift to those that are coming now to mountain biking and it all began over three decades ago. Tig is an avid cyclist, a competitive trials rider, and continued on to do race timing for another decade. He is a force to be reckoned with and a big reason why the mountain biking in BC is as strong as it is! - Andreas Hestler - Canadian Olympian, singletrack hound, Co-founder BC Bike Race, Rocky Mountain Athlete |
|I was driving my 76 Westfalia van, I was 16 years old on my first mountain bike trip to Hornby. I rode a Yeti Pro Fro. I raced the DH, the DS, and the XC all on the same bike at least one of those years. The Dual was easily the most fun thing to ride, as it had arcing BMX-style berms, was buff, and had jumps. Funny to think, but most courses back then didn't have jumps, or berms, just gates. One race I lost my shoe, and was so far ahead of the other guy, I stopped, looped back up, put it in my mouth, and still beat the kid by a pedals length. You had to hike your bike up the same trail that was the downhill, and it was a pedal fest, but was quite fast with a rad tech section. The pedalers always won. There was a music fest every year, and we camped, and had a blast. I brought a high school jock friend of mine with me, a top soccer player from England, and he was not down with hippies, that made for a bit of a juxtaposed weekend. It was around that time that I knew I wanted to become a rider. My parents came over a few times to watch, my mom liked the island life, and my dad liked to tinker on my bikes at races. Good thing, my van broke down there once for a night, but my dad was able to get it up and running in no tome. Some locals helped us. To this day, that place is magic. Trails like No Horses are dream tracks. - Dave Watson - Canadian Freeride and DH Pioneer and Founder of Sombrio Clothing|
|My family has a cabin on Hornby Island and that is where I used to spend most of my summers, got hooked on mountain biking, and it is still my favourite place in the world to ride. Also where I ran into Tig, Sasha, and the rest of the characters over there when I was just a kid riding around in jean shorts and wool socks. I wish I could get back there more in the summer because it is such a special place. I am always blown away by how few people I see on the trails there. I remember Hornby Island being a total epicenter for mountain biking when I started riding in the early 90's and it was all based around Tig's property in the center of the island. The legendary Bike Fest weekend which took place there had racing, concerts, camping, and good times that almost got too popular for the small island. I really wish there was more events like it these days. The already amazing trails were immaculately prepped, even swept with a broom, for the weekend and the XC finished down the legendary bobsled-like No Horses trail right to Tig's farm. Out back on the property there was a big bermed dual slalom course and one of the big events at that time was Trials. I think Tig was really one of the pioneers of Trials and I have images in my head of him hopping around on his one-piece monocoque Trimble frame. Tig would also make it out for the flat out DH race down from the summit of Mt. Geoffrey. A couple years ago I was over in the fall and there was a bit of a throwback race where Tig pulled out a one piece purple bodysuit from his tickle trunk. I can't remember the name of the bike but I remember him racing in the purple suit on an early DH bike which had big rubber bands for suspension. I think Tig still holds the record for the "Summit Plummet". Tig and his crew definitely got everyone out to help build the incredible trails and create an extremely special place and I don't know if I would be where I am today without Hornby's mountain biking. - Geoff Kabush - Three time Canadian Olympian, World Cup racer with SCOTT-3Rox Racing | Tig, what is your connection to Hornby? Did you grow up there?
|Tig was my model for being a showman, he knew how to entertain a crowd, and would do whatever it would take to make it happen! He was a very talented trials rider, and once he landed a 360 spin just a little off balance and totally taco'd his wheel. The crowd LOVED it! So whenever there was a big crowd, he'd pull out the big 'ol 360 and taco on demand! Another one of my favorites was his faux crash, this is a skill I never was able to learn. Crash on purpose to set the audiences heart a-beat. He nailed that one over and over. Behind the scenes though, Tig was calm, conscientious, and professional. I couldn't have asked for better role models from my years on Team Orb. - Ryan Leech - BC Trials Legend, Norco Factory Athlete |
My parents moved to Hornby Island from the US during the hippy invasion of the late 60’s. My dad was what I like to call “a pre-emptive draft dodger.” He had been drafted into the Korean war, done his time and gotten out of the army. Later during the escalations in Vietnam my mom and dad were trying to start a family and they didn’t want their future children to be subject to the draft so they left New York in 1967, drove across to Windsor, Ontario and for some reason decided to drive west. They kept going until they hit Vancouver. Once there they needed a place to stop and collect themselves and they saw an ad for a cabin for rent on Hornby Island. They thought it was just a temporary stop but my mom fell in love with the valley (Strachan Valley on Hornby Island) and within a year they had bought it. I was born in 1969, and I have two older brothers and one younger. What kind of family do you come from?
My parents were from the States, they moved here in 1967 but were a little too old and well funded to be considered hippies. We did the full back-to-the-land thing but because my dad had a tendency to go big it was bound to be more than a little hobby farm but way too weird to be considered a regular farm. We didn’t just have a few horses; we had a herd of as many as 13, and enough harness to rig a six horse team. We didn’t just get a little milk cow; we got three and a commercial milking machine and we set up a small dairy. Neither of my parents had been raised as farmers but if they were going to do something they tried to do it right. (if not a little insanely) I think that was part of the reason that doing the Bike Fest seemed so natural to me, my parents had always taken on big projects, and while the Bike Fest didn’t start out big it got that way pretty quickly So your parents farmed in the Strachan Valley on Hornby?
I grew up on a working farm, we had a small dairy operation, raised beef and pigs, mostly for our own consumption, and my dad was the island’s best mechanic/machinist/welder/ so his shop kept him pretty busy. It was a very cool way to grow up, we had the run of the land, lots of animals to look after and no TV to get in the way of all the fresh air. One of the coolest things about growing up was that my dad got into horse-drawn farming. We had a heard of 10+ Percheron horses that we used for many farm tasks. My dad ferreted out and restored a bunch of horse-drawn equipment: mowers, rakes, plows, a beautiful McCormick binder and other stuff. Percherons are HUGE animals, our biggest, the stallion, weighed a full 2,000 lbs. He was so big that when he ran across the fields you could feel the ground shaking under your feet from yards away. One of the things my dad did was build a two-horse cart and started clearing some of the old logging roads in the crown land around the valley so we were all exposed to the woods and trails from a very early age. When did you start riding? How did you get into it?
We were a bike family, my dad had a beautiful Condor road bike that he had picked up in his youth in England and he restored it and started riding it again when I was about 8. Hornby is only about 25 square kilometres so we went everywhere by bike. In 1981 I got my first mountainn bike. It was a Specialized Stumpjumper Sport from West Point Cycles in Vancouver. I think it was the first year that mountain bikes hit Vancouver and it was definitely the first MTB on Hornby Island. Sasha LeBaron picked up his Kuwahara the next year and we’ve been riding trails ever since. When, why, and how did the idea for the Bike Fest come about?
Sitting around with the guys (Leif LeBaron, Peter Elkins, Tig, and myself) in Vancouver when we were 18 years old. Somebody said, "lets do something cool with bikes." So we did and it became Bike Fest. What lead up to the creation of the Hornby Bike Fest? How did it all start?
Sasha, Sasha’s cousin Leif, our friend Pete Elkins and myself were sitting around a table in Vancouver and the conversation turned, as it usually did, to mountain bikes. Someone said “we should do something fun with bikes” and we resolved to do a festival the next summer. That first year was a small affair, just a dozen or so racers for the XC, a band up at my place, and we did a short course sprint race at the ball park that was really just a 200 metre dual on mostly flat ground. I had a hell of a lot of acceleration back in those days and I think I won most of those while we did them. The next year we did it again and started to call it an annual event. Who else was involved? It wasn’t just you and Tig was it?
No it was most certainly not just us! The executive team was Finlay Cannon, Chris Gerow, Tig and myself. From there Jeremy Payne, Yana Pethic, Quana Parker, Brian Kittleson, Tim Peters and a cast of at least a hundred more volunteers made Bike Fest possible. How did it grow and change? When did it become a BC Cup?
By year four we had about 200 riders and about 2000 partiers for the bands (we were up to five bands by then). That year, 1992 was the year we got too big. We caused the biggest ferry line-up the Island had ever seen and the party was huge! We were picking litter out the Island’s ditches for months after and I had to go to numerous community meetings to apologise and promise to keep it under control in the future. We scaled back the party and got more serious about the racing and started doing BC Cup level races in 1994 (I think). After the first four years we settled into a four-event and music format: XC, DH, Dual Slalom, and Trials - which was a lot to squeeze into a weekend. The whole thing took place on our farm in Strachan Valley, we provided basic camping facilities and a ton of fun. On the biggest year I think we had 700 + for the XC, 200 for the DH, 100 for the Dual, and about 50 for the Trials event. The trials event was always the biggest in the province – but then trials events were never huge even then. There must have been many legends of the sport there in their formative years, riders like Kabush, Shandro, Leech, etc. – any good stories about them?
Well, only a few I can tell:
Actually one of my favourite stories is about Andreas Hestler. It was early in his career and he was absolutely destroying the BC competition. He came to the Bike Fest every year and this particular year – don’t remember which, he wasn’t yet riding for Rocky – anyway he was way out in front as usual, when his bike broke. He managed to talk one of our trail marshals out of his bike, which took about 10 minutes from what I understand, and won the race by at least a five-minute margin on this bike he’d borrowed. On his first lap past us on the borrowed bike he let us know that we would have to disqualify him as he wasn’t on the bike he had started the race on. He just loved the course and wanted to do the full ride. True to his word he pulled off just before the finish line at the end. He was grinning ear-to-ear having had a great ride, and his competition was happy that someone else got to claim the win for a change. Andreas came to as many of our races as he could over the years and we were always glad to see him. We can also claim to have launched the careers of quite a few of Canada’s top riders from that era. Geoff Kabush started racing here, Kiara Bisaro and Melanie McQuaid (three time World XTERRA Champion) raced their first ever MTB races here. I suspect that there are quite a few others. What was that story about marking out the course while the race was going on?
The first bike test we were so far behind that I was actually caught by the expert XC guys as I was finishing marking the last 2km of the course! Oops! What was the reason the Hornby Bike Fest stopped?
Well, many people thought is was because of the big party that we had to shut it down, but the truth is that we made it to ten years, which had become our goal after year five or six, and we were tired. The Bike Fest took all of my time every summer, most of Sasha’s and quite a bit of several other guys summers were consumed as well. After ten years of doing something like that for free we just had to put it to bed at some point. One of the things you have to understand is that back then (and probably still today) no one was making any money off of bike races. Almost all of the organisers in the province were doing it as volunteers and hoping not to lose money. Later, as the ski hills jumped on board with events that ran with paid staff things started to change. But for the grass roots organisers, it was always a labour of love and for us, after ten years it was time to stop. Did you stay involved in the bike scene after Bike Fest?
Yes, very. I had bought the local bike shop in 1992 and ran it for ten years, so that kept me pretty busy. I was also a member of Team Orb, a trials demonstration and race team that we launched from Hornby in 1993. We later got picked up by Norco and became the Norco Factory Trials Team. The other thing that kept me really involved in the BC race scene was Ten36 Race Timing, a timing and scoring company that I started with my friend Finlay Cannon. We started out by setting up a computerized timing system for the Bike Fest in 1995 (computers were a new thing then) and we seemed to have gotten it right because within a couple of years other organisers were asking us to come manage the results for their events. As our reputation grew we got bigger and bigger gigs, bought or built better equipment, and by the time we hung up the stop watches in 2005 we were one of only two race timing companies in Canada the CCA (Canadian Cycling Association) recognised as capable of managing national and international events. It was a lot of fun. How do you think the sport has changed since then?
Well, the two changes, evolutions actually, that blow me away the most would have to be the bike technology and the skill levels out there now. Sasha and I could never have dreamed of the level of sophistication and material sciences that has resulted in today's bikes. I mean these things are so much lighter and stronger then the steel chunks we learned on. And then there's the suspension, what a game changer. As for the skill levels, it's quite amazing what just your average rider is expected to be able to do these days. There was one time in 1993 when we went down to a race in Vancouver and everyone from Hornby on the trip won their category and it was mostly because of our technical riding skills. The race was over on the North Shore and the Hornby riders were the best downhillers. Within a few short years the North Shore scene took off and suddenly every rider in Vancouver was a technical wizard and we were getting our lunches handed to us. And now, 15 years later, the things that guys can do on a bike is amazing. It's not just the freeriders though, the technical riding skills of our top level XC guys is amazing. We've had a few smaller races on Hornby over the last couple of years and the DH events have been won by XC racers. Granted our courses are pretty smooth compared to others but still these guys rock the technical. A couple of years ago I watched Geoff Kabush hit a five foot drop on our Summit DH at twice the speed of anyone else. It scared the crap out of me actually. I think that we tend to forget that our XC racers are used to going 30+ kilometres an hour all day long and that translates into some pretty decent handling skills. I remember being really proud of my ‘Egyptian’ Logo Hornby Bike Fest T-shirt, that would’ve been about 1997, whose idea was that logo?
That was my idea, I was into airbrushing at the time and did most of the graphics for the Bike Fest. In fact for the first couple of years all of the shirts and posters were hand airbrushed. That also took a lot of my time, sometimes I would have to stay up all night airbrushing t-shirts for the race and then somehow stay awake to run the race. By year five I got a little more realistic and just did the original art with an airbrush and then had the shirts screen printed. By the final year I had gotten into designing on a computer. Another instrumental figure was my friend Cory Harrison, a graphic artist from Hornby. For a couple of years I just gave him a base idea of what we were looking for and he did the rest. The famous 'Astronaut on a Bike' graphic that we used as our figurehead for a couple of years was his creation. Tell me about the purple suit?
Oh yes, the purple suit. It was a skin-tight suit for XC skiing. I bought it in 1992 at the annual Sugoi sale. I bought it to use as a base layer for snowboarding. When we started doing a DH event at the Bike Fest in 1993 it was one of the only events that I had time to enter as it only took five minutes out of my schedule. I could manage the top of the DH for the race and then head down the hill as the last racer. I would then switch back to organiser mode at the bottom. I figured I needed a show-stopper if I was going to be the last guy down the hill so I brought the suit up with me and threw it on just before my run. Actually I think the suit was a bit of an advantage. Our course was pretty fast and smooth and I think that the aerodynamic advantage of a skin-tight lycra suit might have actually helped. That and when you’re wearing something like that you have a desire to get past the crowds as fast as possible. I ended up winning the race every year I wore the suit and I still hold the course record. I guess I had a home course advantage, and it was a hell of a fast suit. Why did you shut down Ten36?
Well, there were a number of reasons; I had moved to Ottawa in 2003 for my wife’s job, and our first child was born in 2004, so heading back to BC every summer to drive around the province timing races was not going to work – actually, I’m still wondering why my wife let me do it for that last year. Also, Finlay had been spotted as a software designer of considerable skill and was working full time during the week and spending the weekends driving for hours to places like Invermere for the race at Panorama was just no longer tenable. Sadly at the time we were leaving the business, the organised racing scene in Canada was imploding. The competitors weren’t coming out any more and organisers were having a hard time making costs. A lot of the bigger races stopped entirely and the nature of racing shifted to the longer endurance and experience events like the Test of Metal or now the BC Bike Race. I hear that things are picking up again though, which is great. I’m actually thinking about volunteering to help out with a few races myself. How old is 4 Dead Aliens (One of the primo trails on Hornby)? Where did it get that name?
Four Dead Aliens was so named in honor of Repo Man
the movie and because there were four of us who built the trail. Parker Mckenzie, Chris Gerow, Wayne Roberts and myself. Where did you guys get the idea to build the berms on No Horses?
From Beggars Canyon back on Tatooine. What were the first bikes like for you and Tig?
My first bike was a Raleigh Tracker 24" BMX single speed (Thanks Grandad!), Tig had one too. Then a Sekine 10 speed with the bars turned backwards. My first mountain bike was a Kuwahara Aries rigid with bull moose bars, top mount shifters, toe clips, and caliper brakes. Everything got upgraded until I finally bent the frame a couple of years later. What was the first trail?
The Spit trail was the first one we rode. Then afterwards, parts of Coltsfoot and Northwind. But I had been up on the mountain since I was a baby with my dad wandering around on all the old logging roads. When were the first trails built on Hornby? Who built them?
As I mentioned, my dad, Leigh Cross, opened up a few trails in the 70’s, and at that time there were a number of other Islanders who were also busy in the woods. They were opening up the old logging roads that criss-crossed the centre of the island and using them as foot paths and fire-wood gathering roads. Later, in the early 80’s a group of horse-back riders started clearing trails for their use, and we started riding the trails on our bikes(this was in the early 80’s as well). Sasha and I started building our first bike only trail in 1985. That trail was No Horses, which is still very much in play today. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s there were a lot of guys building on Hornby and we’ve ended up with about 80km of trail. These days there are just a few builders, but we are much more organised. Our new projects are better thought out and built to last. We’ve formed an association, the Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association and have produced a map, put on the odd event and generally have a great time on our bikes. We also have, through the Regional District, a locally employed trail maintenance contractor, Yana Pethic. He does a great job of keeping the main arteries smooth as well as taking on a few special projects each year where a piece of single track gets a major upgrade. Tell me about Strachan Valley on Hornby:
Strachan Valley is now owned by Conservancy Hornby Island, the provincial government (Mt. Geoffrey Escarpment Park), the Cross brothers (Tig, Gideon, and Gabriel Cross), Judy Cross, and the Federal Government. Who were the Strachans, the people the valley where you grew up is named after?
The Strachans were the original pioneers. I’m not sure were the main guy immigrated from, but he married a First Nations lady, cleared the land, and farmed 'till the cows came home. So when did you and Tig get the idea to ride bikes in the woods instead of just walking in the forest?
As soon as we could pedal we rode. So starting at about four or five years old we were on bikes and as soon as we got BMX bikes at about seven or eight we started hitting the trails. Then when mountain bikes showed up in '81 we jumped on the band wagon and started actually building trails as well as riding. Mt. Geoffrey rises up from Strachan Valley without interruption, lots of forest for you guys to play with. Who else was up there?
There were salal pickers, hippies, horseback riders, and hikers already up on the mountain. But not too many of any one user group. So there was room for us too. Sasha, how did you meet Tig?
We were neighbours and our moms were pregnant at the same time so when we were born we met. After we started knowing what we wanted, around age 3 or so we all (myself and Tig and his brothers) hung out and do whatever kids do with 1,000 acres of Crown Land to run wild in. Why did you and Sasha attend High School in Van?
Sasha didn't go to high school in Van. I did from grade 10 to 12. My brothers and I had actually been homeschooled until my dad decided that we needed to see the outside world and we moved down to Vancouver. After graduation Sasha came down to Van and a bunch of us hung around there for a couple of years, kind of going back and forth between Hornby and Vancouver. I bought the bike shop in December of 1991 and that's when I moved back to Hornby. Did you guys both move to Vancouver for your formative years and only spend summers on Hornby?
Tig and I were roommates in Vancouver when we were 18 and seriously into biking. Me on my Klien Pinnacle with Bontrager straight blade forks and Tig on his Trimble Carbon-X. Of course we were back on Hornby for summers and then around 20 we both moved back for a few years to do Bike Fest, do trials, and go snowboarding. Did you and Tig ride on the North Shore of Vancouver back in the 1980's?
Not in those days. We did the few Mt. Fromme rides everyone else was doing, but with huge bikes, no shocks etc. it pretty much sucked compared to jumping and trying to do early trials style riding in the city.
Characters #1 - Thomas Schoen
Characters #2 - Bill McLane