Gearhead’s Guide To Mountain Biking The Pacific Northwest
The Gear We Recommend & The Trails To Ride
Kendall Zylstra has been with Backcountry since 2018. He’s an East Coast transplant who quickly picked up mountain biking in Utah’s hot summers and now pursues the gravity side of the sport, riding the bike park and racing enduro.
While I love our trails here in Utah, making the pilgrimage to the verdant, coastal environment of the PNW was a welcome relief from the dusty nature of our home trails. This trip to the Cascades was part of Backcountry’s Outervention—trips where Gearheads bring customers and ambassadors to far-flung destinations to break free of the 9–5 burnout.
On this trip, I got to shred with Justin, a long-time customer, ambassadors Brooklyn and Kait, and we even met up with pro rider and Squamish legend Remy Metailler for a day. Here are highlights from our trip, suggestions for mountain bike trails to ride in the PNW, and gear advice for the terrain.
Shuttling In Darrington
We began our search for loam and cooler temps in Darrington, WA where we found moto-inspired tech trails that flow like a machine-built bike park. Natural doubles with rooty takeoffs let us build speed into perfectly-supported corners—check out the Skyline trail if you’re keen to check out a super fun shuttle ride. Rallying downhill on a relatively quiet trail network with some sweet mountain views was a perfect start to the trip.
Bellingham–The Ultimate MTB Hub
My initiation to the PNW started with a rookie mistake: I threw my goggles on with dark lenses and left my clear ones at camp. Brooklyn, a WA local, quickly pointed out that the dense trees make the light conditions so soft and tricky to read that clear lenses are required—many mountain bikers ride with no glasses at all. This wisdom became even more valuable the next day as we ventured to Bellingham where we were greeted with light morning rain and hero dirt as a pleasant surprise.
We sessioned some jump lines at Cedar Dust in the morning and moved onto a long fire road climb in the Galbraith trail network in the early afternoon. I rode in Backcountry’s Slickrock Pants and was thoroughly impressed with how they kept my knee pads in place and even kept me feeling dry and cool through the long climb. The combination of a session on the dirt jumps and a mellow fire road climb was a welcome relief for me as I could finally let my mind unwind and refresh after making the long trek from Utah to the PNW.
Gearhead Take: loam is aerated soil that’s damp, but not quite wet, and offers high traction for riding faster through flow sections.
Riding Technical Features & Slab In Squamish
After getting our fix for flow trails in Bellingham, we found ourselves itching for some tech riding—so we headed north. Squamish is famous for its grippy rock rolls, granite slabs, and traction-rich corners that hold moisture long into summer’s heat thanks to dense vegetation in the area.
That moisture is great for traction, but it can build grime on the bike. I switched to MucOff’s Lube for wet weather, which accumulates less grit and muck than the standard dry lube I used at the start of the trip. Clean shifting comes in handy in technical terrain because last minute shifts can make or break transitions from descending to squirming up an uphill root section.
We met up with Remy Metailler to ride the infamous In-N-Out Burger rock slab in Squamish and he gave us some great tips for brake control. Heavy front braking was mandatory to maintain traction on the rock without skidding—counter to what most people expect for steep descents. One game-changing recommendation from Remy: Adjust your brake lever’s reach as far from the bike’s grips as possible to maximize the range of braking modulation and improve control.
Whistler’s Best Trails
This brings us to my favorite moment of the trip, when we experienced mountain biking’s crown jewel—the Whistler Bike Park. This mecca of mountain biking has enough trails to keep riders of all abilities entertained for seasons on end, and while we really only experienced a taste over two days of riding, all of the flavors were there.
Whistler’s upper mountain tech trails delivered perfect dirt from high-elevation snowmelt and cooler temps between seemingly endless rock rolls with natural gaps galore. Unique rock formations extended over long sections of trail where my tires didn’t even touch dirt for the span of several features, like on the Original Sin trail.
We got to hit one of the world’s most famous hip jumps—the legendary Oakley Sender—on our way down to some flow trails on the lower mountain. We focused on progressing through jump lines, taking several warm-up laps on the Crank It Up blue line before testing out our skills on the 30ft tabletops of the renowned A-line.
Gearhead Take: In bike lingo; all jump lines = flow trails, but not all flow trails = jump lines. Flow trails have smooth surfaces, are typically machine-built, and may or may not have jumps.
Big Travel For Whistler’s Greatest Hits
So what was our go-to big-travel MTB for Whistler? One thing became obvious: more suspension travel means more traction. I felt well-prepared with 166mm of rear travel on my Evil Wreckoning, but even found myself bottoming out my 170mm fork from time to time.
The sizeable drops, high-speed compressions between features, and eye-watering G-forces in the corners all make Whistler worthy of as much suspension as you can get. While I couldn’t get my hands on one in time, I’m itching to go back to Whistler with the new sixth-generation Santa Cruz Nomad and try out some features with its 170mm of travel. The Nomad now has a mixed-wheel design, which would be perfect for jumping with the added playfulness of a 27.5in rear wheel.
Heading to the Pacific Northwest anytime soon? Hit up one of our Gearheads to talk tech and figure out what gear is best for the riding you have planned.