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Hometown Mountain Bike heroes

Mountain bike columnist A.J. Barlas takes a look at the amazing amount of Squamish residents involved in the biking community
Riders enjoy a new structure on a mountain bike trail created by Gary McFarlane.


Small towns often seem to have more volunteers, or perhaps more easily recognizable volunteers, than the major centres. Perhaps it’s simply due to ratio, given the bigger centres obviously contain more people to outweigh the number of cyclists. Regardless, I often find myself thinking there are more community-oriented, motivated individuals in small towns. Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton are no different, each with their well-respected contributors to the local cycling scene, and many doing it just because, while keeping it low key. 

In Squamish there are numerous unsung heroes of the mountain bike community, some of whose names may sound familiar; but often, they fly under the radar. There is no doubt that you have enjoyed the countless volunteer hours put into the trails by people like Gary McFarlane, David Reid or Jim Harvey, to name but a small few, and if you have ever attended any of the local Squamish cycling events, whether as a spectator or a participant, you have no doubt reaped the hard efforts of folks like Cliff Miller, Melissa Sheridan and many others. Why they do it may seem odd to some and could be an essay of its own, but in the simplest terms, contributing feels good and seeing something grow to the vision had is incredibly rewarding for these community players.  

Little do many of Squamish’s riders and visitors realize just how much time these hard working, passionate members put in behind the scenes. Though we often refer to the trail fairies, the truth of the matter is the trails in town don’t just miraculously appear and we owe the accolades Squamish receives from riders the world over to our volunteers’ efforts. 

But perhaps the town wouldn’t have the great community feeling that it does without the social events and races that happen within? These events definitely result in a more unified effort and camaraderie, making the cycling scene what it is, and without it, perhaps the trail fairies wouldn’t feel as motivated to contribute.

We’ve only just tapped into two of the key volunteer categories in Squamish, but a new effort has come forth this year, supported by many of the same individuals already referred to. 

This effort, while going in a slightly different direction, is equally beneficial for the community and its members — the inclusion of a cycling program in local schools. The first of its kind in Canada, local teacher and fellow cycling nut, Joel Harwood, took his education and passion for cycling and melded them together. Realizing the benefits of cycling among individuals and young students, he has created a program that will see Squamish youth take cycling for school credits, further embedding the sport into our community and benefiting its members.

Cyclists in town took note, too, with Joel being nominated for, and winning, the Kazlaw Award entry to the B.C. Bike Race — a seven-day cycling epic throughout some of the best trails and cycling communities in coastal B.C. 

This isn’t the first time Squamish has had a local member win the Kazlaw Award either, with our own Roland Benesocky, SORCA’s trail maintenance coordinator and an individual synonymous with local events, winning an entry in 2013 in recognition for his efforts. 

The race will pass through the trails of Squamish this Friday (July 4) and will no doubt see a number of fellow cyclists out in the woods cheering on our local and visiting athletes, as the event nears its final stages in Whistler. It’s a day that will see us showcase many of our assets to riders from the world over, from the amazing new trails to the more classic ones, our community support of mountain biking and, of course, its valued members, as Joel and others will rip through their local woods after battling it out for five days already and travelling hundreds of kilometres under their own power. Bikes are awesome, this community is amazing, and the future looks bright with the youth even more integrated into the sport and benefiting from yet another great asset to the community. Hold your head high Squamish. We’re doing all right.

A.J. Barlas is an avid Squamish mountain biker with deep roots in the local cycling community. A transplant from Down Under, he posts his own ramblings and creative works on his blog at and is also currently writing for Vital MTB.

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