Mountain biking has become increasingly popular on Vancouver Island. (Black Press file photo)

COVID-19: Mountain biking jumps in popularity during pandemic

‘More people are on the trail than ever before, more in the bike store than ever before’

There has been a boom in mountain biking in Parksville Qualicum Beach and the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Kebble Sheaff, owner of Arrowsmith Bikes in Parksville, said since the COVID-19 pandemic broke, there has been a dramatic increase in people purchasing mountain bikes.

“I have been mountain biking on Vancouver Island for 31 years and I have never seen what has happened since COVID-19,” Sheaff said. “More people are on the trail than ever before, more in the bike store than ever before and it’s still growing. We ran out of bikes two to three months ago. People are in every day, clamouring to buy more mountain bikes.”

Sheaff spoke at the Regional District of Nanaimo board meeting on July 28 to support Nanaimo director Erin Hemmens’s motion asking staff members to come up with a report outlining opportunities to enhance multi-sector dialogue in support of leveraging mountain biking as both economic and cultural driver within the regional district. The board unanimously endorsed the motion.

READ MORE: Family-friendly mountain biking trails a new attraction at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park

Dana Wacker, president of the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club, and Dan Brady, executive director of the Nanaimo Hospitality Association, also spoke about the potential of mountain biking to tourism in the region.

Brady said the Ride Island campaign, a consortium from Lake Cowichan to Campbell River that works with Mountain Bike Tourism BC, has now been going on for a couple of years and has been a great success in attracting riders from across Canada and the United States to the region.

Wacker, whose non-profit club has close to 500 members, also indicated mountain biking has experienced immense growth on Vancouver Island.

“To put it simply, it’s booming,” said Wacker, noting the daily number of riders has increased by over 60 per cent from 2018-2019, with 2020 on course to set another record.

The club is involved in the ‘Nanaimo Trail Survey 2020: Economic Impact of Mountain Bike Tourism, Management Considerations and User Characteristics’, partnering with Nanaimo Hospitality Association, City of Nanaimo, Tourism Nanaimo, Tourism Vancouver Island and VIU’s Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Research Institute.

Wacker would like to see an open dialogue take place to discuss and investigate the significance of mountain biking to the regional district, and what can be done to support its growth.

“Moving forward, the NMBC is extremely excited for the opportunity to collaboratively work with the city, the regional district, the bike shop owners, community partners, stakeholders and citizens,” said Wacker.

Hemmens, an avid mountain biker, believes the RDN has the best trail system in the province. She said that this an opportunity for the district to explore and follow the footsteps of other regions such as Cumberland that have benefitted economically from the popularity of the sport.

Electoral Area G (French Creek, San Pareil, Little Qualicum, Englishman River) director Lehann Wallace supported Hemmens’s motion.

“I am so excited to see this,” said Wallace. “I think this is an amazing opportunity.”

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