Flying down A-Line grinning ear-to-ear, I suddenly realized there was someone standing in the middle of the next jump waving their arms wildly. As I hit the brakes the scene on the other side of the jump came into view. A rider was down, curled up into a ball with a handful of other riders gathered round looking worried. I recognized the helmet of the down rider as one of the Pinkbike test riders. As I got closer he was making those miserable sounds that people make while gasping for breath after having the wind knocked out of them. He was also contorted in a scary maybe-hurt-neck kind of way. Someone sped off to get a medic.
As he rebooted his breathing and returned to normal, his memory of the event was still there. The medic arrived and I turned to wondering what had happened. His cassette had somehow come off his test bike and rolled down the landing of the jump. I wondered, “How in the hell does a cassette come off?” Spotting his bike laying off the trail, the chainstay had failed and the rear end had twisted enough that the cassette had actually fallen off the wheel!
I sat outside the emergency room to watch the expensive test bikes. It was only after a few hours of waiting that I realized the hospital had bike locks they loaned out to injured riders. There was so many bike riders going into those doors! The news from inside was that he seemed to be ok but they were going to do some more x-rays and a few stitches. Watching the parade of people going to ER started to seem sickly funny to me. People walking crooked looking bikes in makeshift slings or with visors bent at odd angles on their helmets… there seemed to be a new patient every few minutes. The crash scene from earlier had really shaken my confidence, so rather than going back to riding, I stayed and watched the show.
I’d flown into Vancouver a few days before. The Pinkbike folks were doing this year’s Field Test and I was tagging along to meet the crew and try to think up cartoon ideas. They had a “cabin” on a mountainside in Pemberton that we stayed in. When I arrived a ride was about to head out. Complaining that I felt too tired after the flight and long car drive they put me on an eMTB normally used by the camera crew and up we went. I thought the e-bike was kind of cool, but it also felt clunky and hard to maneuver. Effortlessly climbing next to the much younger and much fitter riders on the steep fire road was surreal. Descending on trails that were a lot steeper than anything I was used to riding on such a heavy bike woke me up. Bombing down chutes where you can’t stop once you drop-in was new to me. It is a fun kind of unplanned looseness and my mind struggled to think fast enough. The old adage of “look ahead” was really important here… slipping into my bad habit of watching my front wheel nearly got me into trouble a few times.
In the evening the whole crew gathered around the dinner table together and the meal was prepared by whoever seemed into cooking that night. Having never met any of the Pinkbike staff in person I quickly started to feel welcomed and comfortable with everyone. They were all really busy with the Field Test and I had nothing to do, so I did the dishes. With a hot tub looking out into the valley and a fridge full of beer (not to mention a bunch of the best bikes and great trails just out the door) I was surprised how diligently everyone focused on work. The film and photo guys were editing and planning out the upcoming shoots. The test riders were washing bikes, setting them up and writing notes about the test rides. They also employed micrometers, digital gauges, and tape measurers to do things with suspension I didn’t understand. Even all the tires on the bikes had been changed to matching sets so that the bikes could be more accurately compared. They all seemed serious about their testing and reviewing. They even asked what I thought of the bikes, though I'm sure describing them as "boingy and springy" was not very helpful.
They took me on a few rides around Pemberton which was good, and then they brought me to Whistler’s bike park. It was SO good. I know everyone says that about Whistler, but really, it was astoundingly amazing! My first run there Luca and Mike Kazimer
led me into A-Line and that “trail” is one of the best things I’ve ever ridden. I’d find myself going so much faster than I had ever gone towards a jump. There’d be a couple little flags in the ground to signal that there was a feature and all I could see is a huge jump’s lip with sky behind it. Everyone tells you to "trust the trail" and it will work (and it does) but it is kind of scary those first few runs. Hands off the brakes... it feels like too much speed... trust that the landing will be in the right place.
The next day we headed back to Whistler and on our first lap of the day the test bike broke and we had the crash. I guess they’ll cover that more in the Field Test but on a more personal level it was pretty scary and very glad he’s ok. I flew home to Michigan soon after and carefully went through my entire bike before I felt safe riding it. I also found myself googling "how to move to Canada" and looking for way that I could go back to Whistler. I want to ride that every day... but maybe I'll wear pads next time!