For many, completing post-secondary schooling is a difficult task. For others, training and racing in British Columbia's winter weather is overwhelming. But what about doing both? Victoria, B.C. racers and roommates Felix Burke and Quinn Moberg manage to tackle an ambitious lifestyle consisting of equal parts education and maintenance of a competitive national ranking on Canada’s XC racing circuit.
So, what does it take to race hard plus earn an Economics or Kinesiology degree in the off season? Teamwork and resilience. The Rocky Mountain/7mesh riders know that success means more than lung capacity and enlarged quads. It’s a life balance only helped further by sticking together, and shaming each other about eating cookies.
How long have you been racing?
Felix Burke: I have been racing since first year junior, so this year will be my sixth season racing. I guess professionally this will be my fourth year.
Explain how you grew up both in B.C. and Quebec.
When I was 13 my family moved from Tremblant, QC to Whistler. My mom got a job opportunity there and my parents wanted to live an adventure—they both grew up on the east coast and saw Whistler as the mecca. Both are into skiing and outdoor activities. So we moved to Whistler and it was there that I discovered mountain biking, through some friends I had met on the ski hill. In the summer, they were riding and I just kind of tagged along and loved it, and the community. I started doing the local races with my dad and there was this thing called the Lumpy Award (awarded to local youth who Whistler Off Road Cycling Association directors feel best exemplifies their values – ed). Once I found out that it existed, I focused on it. Trying to get better. I guess that is when I first started training.
And why did you end up moving to QC?
FB: When I was 16, my mom got another job opportunity in Tremblant. My parents decided to move back for a number of reasons. I was worried. I thought all of the cool mountain biking was in B.C., but it turns out that the XC scene is really big on the East Coast. I just jumped into the more classic XC and I got a coach, and my parents saw how much I loved it. They had been worried that they were taking me away from something that I loved. I knew I was going to come back eventually.
When you moved back to Tremblant from Whistler your bike handling skills must have been strong relative to the local scene?
FB: For sure. When I came back I had the skills. And when you are younger you push yourself in a way that is harder to do when you get older. You know, your friend hucks off something and you are like, well, I gotta do it now I guess. I think it’s good that I got to do it when I was younger because my skills…I don’t feel like I practiced them too much. I just feel like I have them naturally. And I think it’s because of growing up as a younger riding in Whistler going off drops and riding in the bike park. I think it just sticks with you.
So when did you and Quinn [Moberg] meet?
FB: It’s kind of a funny story how I met Quinn. I knew who he was, so I looked up to him, and then at the end of the summer before I moved back to Tremblant there was a Team BC selection camp. I knew I was moving away but I wanted to meet the coach and see what the environment was like. They set up a bunch of races and that’s where I met Quinn. We did a time trial, and I had a great time. Quinn invited me to stay at his place in Squamish, because I was living in Whistler and the camp was in Squamish. I had never talked to the guy, but I respected him and knew who he was.
We kind of kept in touch, like if he had a good result I sent him an email, and if I had a good result he sent me an email and we started planning trips together. When I moved out here my first year of UVIC I didn’t have a place to stay and I sent him a message and he said come live with us and that’s really when we got to become good friends. We’ve got a really good set up.
University keeps a man busy. How often do your training schedules intersect?
FB: I would say regularly, but what makes it hard is our school schedule. We don’t have the same school schedule and so it makes it hard to coordinate training times so if I have classes in the morning and he doesn’t he’ll go training in the morning and I will come back and go in the afternoon and that makes it hard but almost every weekend we get one ride in together and as much as we can time it with school. Basically, as much as we can. Probably about two rides a week I would say.
How important is it to have someone that is easily accessible to train with?
FB: It’s huge. I think on the bike it’s important, but I think the biggest part is off the bike. So much of the training and the benefits and the ways that you want to progress happens off the bike. And Quinn and I keep each other motivated and if I see Quinn eating something unhealthy I’m like ‘are you sure you want to be eating that?’ He’ll say the same thing for me, and we support each other. Sometimes motivation is low when you’ve got other stuff going on. I think that’s where it really comes in.
Many people have a hard time just getting through University, and yet you have a race career as well. How do you prioritize?
FB: I think a lot of it is just planning and thinking in advance. And I prioritize both equally. I think in the fall I prioritize school a little bit more. Because I know that the training is a little less important at that time of year. And I take more courses. And then in the spring I prioritize biking so I plan my homework in advance and get to go for longer rides on the weekend and never kind of get caught off guard with the homework or anything like that.
Do you feel like you’re missing out on the party lifestyle of school?
FB: We are not living the mainstream school life, which can be hard sometimes. You have these friends who party and they have these stories you don’t have. But I don’t feel like I am missing out on social stuff because I am hanging out with my buddy and we’re doing the same thing. It’s kind of like working on a project with a friend.
What about the riding in Victoria?
FB: I really enjoy it. There’s plenty of gnarly stuff. The biggest thing is I love is the mountains…getting up into the alpine. I love doing something epic and that’s the only thing it’s missing. But the potential for adventure is huge. Out in Sooke—once you get in those woods—it feels really wild.
Victoria is the best spot for training. A super good community of riders that support each other. A bunch of racing. The road riding is great. Because it’s raining a lot, you get used to riding the challenging terrain and conditions that constant rain creates. When you go elsewhere you bring those skills with you. You go to a race course in California and people are calling it a hard course but it’s sunny and beautiful and it’s a great day for mountain biking.
You and Quinn are buddies, but do you have to be friends with a training partner to be successful?
FB: For me, I have to train with buddies. I’ve trained with the national team, where you ride with super talented riders and learn as much as you can. But it’s hard to be a in an environment where you are competitive all the time. It’s just not a life I want to live all the time. I prefer to train with people that I can hang out with after. It’s a social thing…especially when you’re doing base miles, talking about world problems, relationships, etc while you ride…it’s a lot easier to balance everything. You don’t have a lot of time to go out and do different things when you are living this life so it helps when your social life is your riding life.
What has Quinn done for your riding?
FB: Quinn is probably the smartest guy I know. His approach helps me the same way he does. He takes a different look on it. For example, when you plan trips, Quinn will analyze things in a way other racers won’t. He’s also a great bike mechanic. He helps me with bike set up. On the bike, Quinn is really tough. He won’t complain. He won’t pull out. I mean, obviously within reason. If he’s bleeding or something…[laughter]. That helps me. If I am tired but he’s still going, I won’t complain either. We’ll just get it done. Our riding styles complement each other as well. He’s a punchy rider and sometimes I have to ride his style. I usually hold a solid pace but it’s good to balance each other out with different styles of riding and training.
I finished high school and moved back here and now I’m going to UVic and riding for Rocky and when I was younger in Whistler I saw the guys riding for Rocky and I always looked up to them. It’s kind of a dream come true. Even though I’m from the east coast and people don’t really understand, I feel like I grew up with the West Coast riding culture and riding for Rocky is a dream come true.
Do you remember the first time you met Felix?
Quinn Moberg: It was around 2012 and we were at a Cycling BC team camp together. It was right before he moved to Quebec and he actually stayed at my house. And we weren’t friends, I had never met him.
And so you were both at a high level at that time?
QM: For our age, yeah. We weren’t phenomes by any means.
QM: Yeah, closer to that end of the spectrum I would say.
Racing XC in the Sea-to-Sky—where it’s predominantly an all-mountain/freeride bike culture—is there an automatic kinship when you meet someone that is geared toward XC?
I think so. When I was living in Squamish I was never good buddies with Felix. We moved to Victoria at the same time and that’s when we started to become close, but I knew him for a few years when I was in Victoria and he was in Tramblant. There is a fairly close-nit group of cross country racers in Sea-to-Sky and on Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast…but there is a style. If we go to race around the country there is a west-coast style. I think it’s derived from what you are explaining, that casual freeride…you know, mountain biking. It’s represented in our racing style.
Tell me about the moving from Squamish to Victoria.
QM: This is my third year [in Uni]. Victoria is rad. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than Squamish, I like Squamish too, but there are pros and cons. The weather is better in Victoria. The “true” mountain biking is obviously better in Squamish. Training is good in Victoria…there are good training partners, the forest is beautiful the terrain we ride in is unbelievable. Same as Squamish but it’s different. We’ve got Arbutus trees, moss and rocks and ocean here. Even though Squamish is a community on the water you don’t ride by it every day.
Other than the fact that you have year-round riding, has Victoria’s riding scene or the Victoria riding style affected yours at all?
QM: Yes, for sure. It has improved my riding a lot. Believe it or not. In the Sea-to-Sky corridor there are definitely tech sections, but a lot of what is “tech” is just having big balls. You have to just man up and ride it. In Victoria, there is some of that but it’s few and far between. But it’s still real tech, and it’s humbling because you don’t have to “man up” all the time but you have to be on it. Really focused. The rock is a lot slicker here. There is more root. A lot less groomed terrain. Probably because the bike scene is a lot smaller. But it’s a lot more technical. And I think that catches people by surprise. But you lose that big-line, all-mountain feel. You never feel out there, but it’s nice in other ways.
If you are an XC racer, you need to be able to get quickly through technical terrain…trails that might not be fall-and-get-hurt-type terrain, but if you aren’t on your game you are going to lose a lot of time.
QM: Yup. When you are mountain biking in Victoria, if you aren’t on it 100%, it’s going to really show. In Squamish, leaving my parent’s house and going to ride Rupert’s or another “average” Squamish trail, you don’t have to be that dialed to make your way down. Or up. But if you came to Victoria and you weren’t focused or fresh or ready to go mountain biking, you are going to be slow. I guess that’s the biggest thing that Victoria has taught me. The focus, and riding technical stuff.
It’s great that Vancouver Islanders get to ride all year, but it comes with a whole new level of wet and gnarly weather. You guys are probably training four or five months in pretty wet weather? How does that shape you?
QM: It makes you tough, for sure. You can ride all year, but it’s five degrees Celsius and raining. There’s no excuse not to… but it makes you hard, for sure. I think it’s advantageous. Spending the time…I’m not going to use the word miserable. That’s something that I’m trying to avoid. But it’s hard. It’s hard to do.
What about gear? Do you think that a company—or at least an R&D team—must be based on the wet, west coast in order to build product for it?
QM: It’s an advantage for sure, and I am conscious of it. Felix and I train a lot together and bounce ideas off each other but there are also other guys in town. Felix and I have the same gear. It’s a huge advantage having what we have. We can be way more comfortable. Our bikes are made to ride what we ride what we’re riding. We are set up very well, even with the parts our bikes are built with.
When you talk about XC racing, especially, every advantage is a good one. It’s often just the tiny little ones that help.
QM: Being literally as comfortable as possible. It’s unreal. It’s really nice to have.
What is the difference between a solo ride and a ride with Felix?
QM: There is an extra push with Felix. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it, but we are somewhat competitive, in the sense that we push each other, he pushes me in a lot of facets of my life close to what my maximum would be. But it’s not competitive. I don’t want to better than him. I want him to be as good as he can and if that’s better than me, that’s perfect. But I am pushed by him. And it’s not just the training. It’s having that person there that is going through training and school. It keeps you accountable. It would be very easy to just gap and not get school work done.
In mountain biking, there are a lot of “teams,” but how often are they actually working together? I know in road biking it’s a lot more common, but it seems like you have a more traditional relationship, where you are pushing and living and training with each other and it all becomes holistic in a way.
QM: Absolutely. I think it’s pretty unique. I have been on the Rocky team and a couple of smaller teams but I have never looked at my “teammates” as someone that I am working with. They are just sponsored by the same person. And I think that if Felix and I were sponsored by different people we would still work together. Having that same sponsorship, there is something extra special there.
University seems impressive to me on its own, but you guys are taking almost a full class load and also racing at a competitive level. Do you miss out on other parts of your life because of it?
QM: Thanks, yeah, I think I do. There is definitely a big sacrifice. People talk about a university experience…and I don’t know if I missed it. I mean, my life doesn’t suck at all, but I don’t party very frequently, or barely at all. And I skip out on post lecture hangouts in the hall between class. I try to be really efficient with my time, that hang-out time is sacrificed. The biggest thing is staying organized with your time and focus and, once you are organized, committing to that. Not letting up. But to be clear I’m not upset about anything. If I wanted to do something different I would just do it. I’m doing this because I want to.
I asked Felix what you have been able to teach him. What has he been able to teach you?
QM: A few biking things: he’s a really skilled rider. I think his skills are underrated. So, bike skills are a big thing…just following his speed on trails. It pushes me. He’s damn good bike rider. Life balance also. Sometimes I’ll get obsessed with biking or school or some other thing on my mind and I think Felix keeps me stay healthy.