How Shannon Bentley’s initiative is growing MTB in Ontario, Canada
10 May 2016
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Hello and welcome to our latest edition of the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading. I’m Gerald de Kock and for the next 10 minutes we’re talking mountain biking. Of late I’ve been privileged enough to travel to Rio de Janeiro to the Olympic Games.
Whilst there I bumped into all manner of people but one of whom is a fellow mountain bike nut and cyclist from Canada, Ontario, from Toronto, Shannon Bentley. Shannon, thanks for joining us here. Mountain biking, you’ve ridden a lot of events haven’t you?
Shannon Bentley: Yes, I have.
GDK: One in particular will be familiar to us in South Africa.
SB: Yes, definitely, I was a part of the Cape Epic back in 2007. What a fantastic event it was, one of the highlights of my life!
GDK: You’ve also ridden things like TransRockies, you’ve been to Naruta, you’ve ridden in Cuba, so this is cycling and with it mountain biking. It’s very much a passion for you?
SB: Absolutely. We kind of base our holidays around mountain biking and where we can go and do some events and races all over the world. It’s a great way to see a country and a great way to meet people there.
Government helping to grow MTB in Canada
GDK: And the business for you as I understand it, at some stage?
SB: Definitely, I’ve done quite a bit of media for some of those events. TransRockies I actually worked it and got to enjoy some of the fantastic trails out there as well. I also am the Marketing Manager for Mountain Bike Ontario. Which is an initiative created by the government, the provincial government to increase the numbers of mountain bikers in our country.
GDK: That’s interesting to hear because I think we in South Africa have got a lot of mountain bikers, a lot of events. but we often think, oh, in Canada, everyone rides mountain bikes. But you have a need to increase those numbers, is there a dwindling participation in numbers?
SB: There are dwindling numbers in organised events. So we really want to feed into our athletes and really want to grow the sport. As an athletic sport in things like the Olympics, we had some great cross backs this year. Our two women did fabulously, we got a Bronze and a fourth place. So we really want to push the sport and develop and just get people involved in the sport. For tourism, to develop athletes, that type of thing. We really want to get the numbers up.
GDK: Mountain Bike Ontario, just explain where the funding would have come from in order to do the marketing for that?
SB: We actually got a grant from the provincial government to promote the sport. We’ve kind of taken that money and allotted it in different ways to try to promote the sport. We’ve created a website, we’ve created some events. Beginner events to try to get younger kids into the sport and it’s been a great success.
GDK: Is cross country the focus or what style of riding?
SB: It’s any style of riding, as long as it’s kind of an organised event. We want to get people out there and involved in their communities, involved in active participating in the sport of mountain biking. Whether it’s stage races or whether it’s one-day races. O-cup races, which is our Ontario cup series, which is a very competitive series which funnels into our Olympic programmes and our professional athletes. It’s all good, it’s all relevant, so we want to just get more people into the system.
Trails are collectively maintained in Ontario
GDK: What about trails in Ontario. What sort of trails and are there a lot of them?
SB: We have tons of trails and a lot of them are maintained either by the county trail system, the county forest or mostly they’re organised and maintained by local groups. For example, where I live, is Durham county and there’s a Durham Mountain Bike Association.
They have a membership and you can join and there are organised trail builds. A lot of it is volunteer work. So a lot of it is people who just really enjoy the sport and have a passion for it, coming together and maintaining those trails.
GDK: It sounds very familiar to what we have in South Africa. But in a way, what are your thoughts on this… we’re in a transition in terms of mountain biking. From being a recreation where people just get on their bikes and trail ride and things, more and more events. It’s becoming a more formal sport and people are earning a living out of it, trail builders and the like. Is that part of where this is going in Ontario?
SB: Absolutely. I think we have to change people’s mind sets. It’s great to just go out and ride your bike and that’s fantastic. But in order to make the sport better for everyone, we need to support it. Whether that’s financially or whether that is through fees and membership fees. Things like that or whether it’s volunteering your time to go out and help. I think we need to change people’s mind sets about mountain bike riding and everything can’t be free.
You play another sport such as golf or tennis, you need to pay a fee, a membership fee. It provides you certain luxuries and rights and things like that. I think it makes that sport better. I think we need to just embrace that as mountain bikers and we need to pay our dues. Whether it’s financially through memberships or it’s with our time and volunteering for trail building.
Ontario trails some of the most fun in Canada
GDK: You know what happens with the Cape Epic trails, I think you rode the Point to Point one, Knysna to Stellenbosch. But what are the trails like in Ontario? A lot of people talk about BC and Vancouver, but tell us about Ontario.
SB: They’re a lot less sandy in places, I definitely learnt how to ride sand when I was in South Africa. In Ontario in particular, there’s a lot of single track, heavily forested. So the single track, you are very close to large trees, all the way through. So it’s interesting riding, very rocky as well.
We’ve got a lot of, what we call Shield, Canadian Shield. It’s just big, giant boulders and rocks that you ride over, through the Canadian Shield. There’s a lot of that out on the West Coast as well. The West Coast is a little more extreme, so you get the ups and downs, huge ascents and huge descents and a lot of technical riding.
GDK: Ontario is not quite as mountainous as say Vancouver and the like?
SB: Absolutely. In fact, I enjoy riding Ontario, probably more than out west. Because it’s just fun. There’s a lot of fast, flowy trails in Ontario. you get up a lot of speed. I ride a single speed, a Ridges single speed for my bike in Ontario because it’s just so much fun.
You get back to the basics of riding, you’re not worrying about shifting or anything like that. You just fly through the forest and it’s challenging. Because there are climbs, it’s not flat by any means. But it’s more the rolling, fast, fun mountain biking. That’s how I’d describe it.
GDK: As it should be. So, visitors, they’re flying over to Canada, again, the focus might be, I’m going to go ride in other areas. But if they were to come to Toronto, how would they go about finding where the trails are, how to ride?
SB: That is one of the other challenges that we’re trying to address with our funding and the grant. Is to get people the information that they need to join the sport. To participate in the sport, there’s not a lot of that. What we do, is we’ve got a website setup, mountainbikeontario.ca. It’s got a list of all the trails, where you can go, all the clubs that you can join, things like that.
I recommend just, if you show up in Toronto, hit a local bike store. They will be able to tell you where the closest trails are. There are, in fact, really cool trails in the heart of the city. We have a river that runs through the city and they’ve built, the Toronto Biking Association has built trails all along the riverside. There’s some technical things up there. It’s kind of up a valley and it’s quite technical.
There’s some manmade obstacles and everything in there as well. Some good riding in there. But literally less than an hour away, north of the city, you are amongst hundreds of kilometres of trails. To find out about those, go to your local bike store or our website. You’ll be able to pinpoint some of those great trails.
Support is monitored and pre-planned
GDK: You mentioned the grant for the marketing of mountain biking. Does that come from government?
SB: Yes, it’s a provincial grant, so they are interested in developing healthy lifestyles, that type of thing.
GDK: Are you accountable to them –
GDK: You would have to report back at some stage?
SB: Absolutely, it’s a very strict grant. How the money is spent is definitely put down in paper. We know we’ve got X amount for this, X amount for that and it’s distributed. It’s pretty much all allocated for before they give us the money. We take it from there.
GDK: It’s fascinating. There are a lot of similarities to where we are in South Africa in that sense, a lot of early, well not early days. But I think the next step in mountain biking, formalising it a bit more, making it more accessible. What’s your next event?
SB: That’s a good question. I haven’t been riding at all and it’s killing me. I’m dying to get on my bike, I’ve been here for two months in Brazil. I did the Olympics and the Para Olympics which has been a fantastic experience. however, it’s been a bikeless experience, which is a little frustrating.
GDK: Well, we hope one day you’ll come back to SA and enjoy our trails there. Hopefully some of you out there listening to this might look up Shannon, her husband rides as well. follow Mountain Bike Ontario and go and ride in Toronto.
SB: Fantastic, we would love for you to come and visit. I will definitely, you are on my map and my Bucket List as well to come back. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life, to go to South Africa and ride there. So I will definitely be back.
GDK: Shannon Bentley, thanks very much for chatting to us from Toronto in Canada, in Ontario. Marketing Manager for Ontario Mountain Biking at the moment and therein is a story as well. Government putting a little bit of money into formalising the mountain bike sector and creating opportunities for riders.
Food for thought I think here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Thanks for downloading, hop you’ve enjoyed that. We will be doing more chatting about mountain biking, as you know, regularly updating you on the world of mountain biking. Until then, take care, ride carefully, cheers.