A Singletrack Life

Words: Mike Berard

Photos: Rocky Mountain Bikes

Andreas Hestler has been on the competition trail a long time, but it may be his contribution to the uncompetitive side of the sport that has impacted riders the most.

Legacies are evolving. As we grow older, the idea of who we are turns and twists like singletrack through west coast rainforest. It can be smooth, bumpy, technical or flowy at times, but it’s the end result that forms the whole. With 49-year-old west coast legendary mountain biker Andreas Hestler, a legacy of two wheels continues to spin deeper into B.C.’s bike culture with every decade.

Photo by Rob Shaer.

Andreas Hestler—who both friends and fans refer to as “Dre”—has made a few laps around tracks of all types, and around the winners’ podium. The Victoria, B.C. born-and-raised mountain biker was an urban bike courier, did 13 years on the World Cup circuit, has represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics–where he placed a respectable 31st place–taken home five national championships, and was a three-time Trans-Rockies champ. But his greatest legacy may be the BC Bike Race.

Dean [Payne] and I founded the company back in 2006.” Says Hestler. “He came with the crazy idea—he was in adventure sports, doing the Sea to Summit— and I was at the top of the game in the multi-day mountain bike events, which is something I have always enjoyed.”

Photos by Brian Boldstone.

Hestler’s background in multi-stage MTB was a natural fit. “My enjoyment with stage racing certainly stems from being good at it,” he says. “But it’s no different than a one-day XC event or an enduro. It’s all mountain biking, but what can be better than a whole lot more of mountain biking?” Enter the BC Bike Race. When first launched, it became an immediate hit, resonating with trail-minded racers by selling itself on a guaranteed 40 per cent singletrack terrain. That number now sits at 75 per cent. Dre and Dean knew there was a market for a true mountain bike focused multi-stage race, and they filled that hole.

“Trans Rockies were the pioneers of the multi-stage race, we give them full credit for that.” Says Hestler. “But this is B.C…. it’s all about singletrack. We were going to create a race more like what we like.”

Thirteen years later, BC Bike Race is now a marquee event, well on its way to mountain bike history. The seven-day singletrack-heavy mountain bike stage race now attracts 600 international racers and can sell out in a mere 24 hours. Over the week of racing, BC Bike Race visits six or seven different riding communities–from iconic (North Shore, Squamish) to burgeoning (Cumberland, Powell River)–throughout the week of competition, facilitated by four beautiful ferry trips across the Salish Sea. It’s a legitimate tour through the best of the B.C. coast, and riders literally come from around the world to race it, with over 40 nations represented coming from as far as South Africa, Norway and Australia. The format has even been adopted by other races, including the five-day, 400-mile-long Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. Something about BCBR is resonating with racers.

“I think BC Bike Race resembles a lot of the values of how we and our friends ride.” Hestler says. “It speaks to mountains bikers: exploring, travel, camaraderie. The days are hard, but not too hard. Long, but not too long. At the end, time for a beer.”

Casual but committed? Sounds like a real mountain bike race to most, but most fat-tire focused stage races continue to primarily run on fire roads, gravel and doubletrack. It’s a weird path, and Hestler thinks many people are starting to question why. “I think our race has challenged the other people to ask ‘why are you a mountain bike race if you have no singletrack? Gravel road riding is great but now we have gravel bikes for that. We are on mountain bikes. We want to be on singletack.”

No junk miles—it’s an ethic that runs throughout mountain biking’s legacy, and one that follows Hestler’s legacy from Victoria grom to the fast, smooth singletrack of the Atlanta Olympic track. Far from over, Dre’s legacy is still being built, one metre of rooty, rugged, lovely B.C. singletrack at a time.