Like many great rides, this one started with a challenge. In Vancouver for a brief trip, I had two days to ride and wanted the quintessential North Van road experience. Being from a part of Ontario where the longest climb takes less than five minutes, I looked across Vancouver Harbour in absolute awe. I had to ride those mountains. People in this western Canadian city take the heights for granted, but there’s no other place in the country where a major urban centre is so close to such legendary climbs. Cypress, Grouse and Seymour – three climbs all waiting to be tackled.
My time in Vancouver started with an early evening group ride out of La Bicicletta Pro Shop on West Broadway. I was invited to join the ride, which turned out to be a 75-km sunset hammerfest up to the first lookout point on the road to Cypress Mountain ski area. The ride had more than 500 m of elevation in a two-hour, 36-minute jaunt that left me wanting the full Cypress experience. Unfortunately, in bragging about my experience to a friend and Vancouver resident, I was told if I wanted the true North Shore mountain experience, one big climb wasn’t enough.
“Anyone can ride one mountain in a day,” said Andrea Taylor, who works at West Point Cycles in Vancouver’s West Point Grey district and regularly leads group rides out of the shop. “You should try the Triple Crown.”
The Triple Crown, as I would soon find out, is a well-known Vancouver challenge that features riding up all three North Shore mountains in a single day. That’s 15 km and about 800 m up Cypress, 2 km and close to 200 m up Grouse and another 12 km and 900 m up Seymour. Andrea agreed to be my guide and, on a bright summer morning, we set out on our journey from the idyllic Stanley Park and across Lions Gate Bridge into Vancouver’s North Shore. There’s no particular order for hitting the three climbs, but we figured Cypress was a good place to start.
The climb begins as soon as you exit the Trans-Canada Highway at Cypress Bowl Road. The road features the longest of the three climbs: the gradient averages about five per cent and is fairly steady most of the way up. There are four curves en route to the top. At various spots, you’re afforded incredible views of Vancouver, Lions Gate Bridge and English Bay. While not terribly steep, the climb certainly wears on you. By the final turn, about 11 km in, you’re tired and looking for the ski resort parking lot, which is a ghost town in the middle of the summer. We reached the peak, stopped for a quick photo and headed back down.
After an incredibly fun descent, we crossed back over the Trans-Canada and headed south to Marine Drive. From there, we turned north onto Capilano Road toward Grouse Mountain, the shortest of the three climbs. Forming the middle point of our W-shaped Triple Crown ride, Grouse is merely a bump in the road at about 2 km and an average grade of roughly five per cent. Capilano Road turns into Nancy Greene Way, which takes you up the climb to the Grouse Mountain gondola parking lot.
While fairly steep, Grouse is short enough to hammer your way up, which we did. As my tour guide Andrea told me, some would say the true Grouse climb continues another 2.2 km up an insanely steep gravel road, but we decided to stop where the pavement ended.
After a quick coffee break at the gondola entrance, we were back on our way for a pleasantly flat 13 km trip over to the base of Seymour. This climb, as Andrea had warned me, was the beast of the east. Working its way through the Cove Forest to Mount Seymour Provincial Park, this pedal would be the hardest of the day. From the corner of Mount Seymour Parkway and Mount Seymour Road up to the ski station, you’re heading to an elevation of nearly 1,000 m on a 12 km stretch of road. The road averages seven per cent, but that’s deceiving because the first half of the climb is much steeper than the second. When it comes at the end of a long day of riding, Mount Seymour feels even tougher.
By the time we summitted Seymour, we were five hours into our ride and smiling. We had ridden more than 100 km, climbed about 2,000 m and had reached our goal of completing the Triple Crown.
Ride for others
The Triple Crown for Heart was launched in 2010. Each July, it offers riders a chance to ride the three mountains in support of the B.C. Children’s Hospital Heart Unit. It’s a great ride for a great cause. Visit triplecrownforheart.ca for more information.
Hit the dirt
While we focused on one famous road ride, the mountain biking around Vancouver is world class and worthy of a separate story on its own. If fat tires are more your style, check out endlessbiking.com for organized tours or the North Shore Mountain Bike Association at nsmba.ca for trail updates and events.
How to get there
Vancouver International Airport has daily incoming flights from every major city in Canada and many departure cities around the world. Once you arrive, the Canada Line rapid rail service is the easiest way to get downtown. To figure out the best bike routes, the University of British Columbia put together a fantastic route map available online at cyclevancouver.ubc.ca.
Where to stay and eat
There are too many options to list, but you’ll find everything from discount hostels to five-star hotels all within a short bike ride of the North Shore mountains. When it comes to food, you have enough choices to make chain restaurants little more than a last resort. For coffee and a chat about bikes, stop in at the Musette Caffè (musettecaffe.com) and say hello to owner Thomas Eleizegui.