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Ask Oli : Burnt Bridge Classic

90s mountain bike race reborn as Vancouver Island gravel fondo

Burnt Bridge Classic Ask Oli

There’s a new Fondo in Canada and it’s all about gravel! The Burnt Bridge Classic will take place on September 28th in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. I reached out to event organizer, Jon Watkin, and according to him, here’s what you need to know:


The name originated from the “Burnt Bridge Classic” mountain bike event that was organized by ProCom through the great efforts of David Smith. The original event ran through the early to mid 1990’s before stopping in 1998.

Now that it is no longer a sanctioned race, and is instead an unsanctioned gravel fondo, the event is open to the general public!

The general philosophy of the original Burnt Bridge Classic that made it so popular, was the event’s focus on having pure fun. This philosophy will be maintained in the modern event with an amazing ride, prizes, and an epic banquet dinner in the evening.

The event also offers onsite lodging at the venue with a wide range of cabins and private / semi-private rooms.

Burnt Bridge Classic. Photo: David Anderson
The Route

Burnt Bridge will kick-off its first year with an 82km route through gorgeous scenery and will feature over 1150m of elevation gain. Riders are given the rare opportunity to ride on exclusive gravel roads that are normally not available to the general public

Early on, there’s a very steep climb at around km 12, after which the course is rolly until you reach km 55 where there is a fast descent. It‘s then mainly flat for the last 20km.


As this is the first year, there will only be one ride distance, however equal prize money is up for grabs for the top 5 finishers for both men and women. There will also be a vintage bike category for men and women.

Merchandise draw prizes are to be won as well, so any participant has a chance to win some swag!

For the first year, registration will be capped at around 300 participants.


This event definitely targets the more experienced cyclist or adventure racer. Due to the steepness and remoteness of the terrain, event organizers want to ensure that participants have a reasonable fitness level and are somewhat able to handle the most common mechanical issues.

Rob Britton is expected to attend and hopefully some of our young National Champions show up like Carter Woods, Emily Johnston, Riley Pickrell, Erin Attwell, and others. Jon hopes some retired pro’s will show up as well who raced the original Burnt Bridge Classic in the 1990’s, faces like Andreas Hestler, Geoff Kabush, Leslie Thomlinson, Alison Sydor, Melanie McQuaid, Chrissy Redden.

Recommended Gear

Gravel, Cyclocross, Hybrids or Mountain-bikes with shallow tire tread are all suitable. If you are using a mountain-bike, a hard-tail is ideal instead of full suspension, unless you have lockout.
o Tire choice: A fast-rolling tire, with shallow tread and side knobs if terrain is dry and packed. However, it’s suggested that riders choose a more aggressive tire if conditions are wet and muddy
o Tire Width of 33mm or wider is recommended.
o Recommended rear cassette of 11-36 to 11-42T. There are some very steep sections at 20% grade.
o Bike mounted bags are highly recommended: Handlebar bag, seat bag, frame bag, etc. Load up with extra tubes, tools, food, bear spray, and anything else to be self sufficient.

Ride Support

The ride will be supported by Veloguide ride ambassadors and will have several Clif Bar feed stations along the route.

The expectation, though, will be that riders are capable of being self-sufficient in handling their own mechanicals and managing their own nutrition needs.


There will be a Bike Expo with some great brands, onsite mechanical service and support by Velofix, Bike Valet, Bike Wash, Food Trucks, and Coffee. Following the ride, the evening will offer a post-event banquet and awards presentation. And, if conditions permit, a celebratory bonfire.


Camp Pringle is right at the venue and offers a few options. Participants can book either a single bed, a private room for 2, or even an entire cabin for 11 people. Pricing will range from $20 – $60 per night per person depending on the lodging choice. For those wanting a more upscale stay, some special room rates are available at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort & Spa.

If you love gravel, want to challenge yourself, and are keen to ride some of the best gravel roads Canada has on offer, we’ll see you there in September! Head to burntbridgeclassic.com to register!