Saskatoon

Background: Some of the province's best mountain bike trails lie in the beautiful City of Saskatoon. The South Saskatchewan River slices the city in two, creating many bridges and, lucky for off-road cyclists, kilometers of winding single track through dense bush and riverbed vegetation. The trails blanket the banks of the river and offer a breathtaking combination of lush vegetation, wooded groves and hard-packed soil. The area is especially beautiful in the summer months when the system becomes engulfed by dense brush and fluorescent colors. Endless tunnels of trails emerge and seem to create the experience of riding through a kind of space-aged green tube.

The trails are largely clay and sand based, and ride very grippy, even in mildly wet conditions. To the northeast, the trail connects with the Sutherland beach area, home to the now provincially-famous Kona Cup. Even during years when the city has experienced torrential rains, the race continues, unabated by the wet, muddy conditions. This is due in large part to the high sand and silt content of the trail soil, which makes mud clinging not too serious a problem in the rain. Many of Saskatoon's trails are rideable in wet conditions, and this is no more obvious than driving past any number of locations to see die-hard cyclists out for the day in the rain.

Across the river from Sutherland beach, trails also extend to the north, and eventually on toward the Wanuskewin Park area. This system combines single track through poplar and aspen trees with riverside trails and rolling grasslands. Here, atop the plains, some of the area's natural beauty shines as the river below cuts its way through forested banks.

To the southwest, the Diefenbaker Park area offers very exciting single track through forested areas along the river. The trails lie directly below the parking facilities and spreads out into a maze of interconnecting channel ways. The system proceeds further south for many kilometers, winding in and out of trees, descending and climbing the riverbank before reaching marshland. Single track hugs, berms and cork-screw flanks, generate an almost roller-coaster like feel. The trails in this region will come at you in two basic systems, divided in the middle by the characteristic gravel road that emerges out into the river as a peninsula. These two systems are affectionately known as Gerald One (G1) and Gerald Two (G2), named after their creator. If you find the single track too difficult, you can take the upper double track over grasslands.

One interesting aspect about Saskatoon is the high number of cyclists throughout the city on any given day. It is not clear if it is the university, with its high number of commuter cyclists, or the appeal and lure of the city's trails that creates this phenomenon. City bike stores claim that in recent years the popularity of the mountain bike has grown at a phenomenal rate, in many cases disproportionately with respect to other outlets of cycling.

The number of cyclists throughout the city has forced police to enforce the use of bells on bikes. Be sure your bike has a bell or some device that lets pedestrians know you are coming.

As well, an extensive website has been developed to record information and maps on Saskatoon trails. This site is maintained by Neil Clarke and can be found at www.brucescycleworks.com

Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced - Unfortunately, the trails, while they may be beautiful to look at and exciting to walk on, are not the ideal ride for all cyclists. Many areas are extremely difficult, and in some instances, dangerous. This is especially true for the tight single track that runs below and parallel to the paved Meewasin Pathway, and for G1 and G2. You are likely to encounter steep ridges, sharp, corkscrew berms, very tight turns, on-coming traffic usually traveling at high speeds, and technical climbs.

The Sutherland Beach area to the north offers a beautiful ride through the trees with less technical requirements. There are one or two climbs that are difficult, however, the area is relatively open at that point. Riders will not be suddenly surprised by difficult features as they would encounter on some of the single track alongside the river.

The trails opposite the Sutherland Beach area also offer less technical riding. However, there is a new addition to this system, which is located in Silverwood, near the sewage treatment facility. Riders have the choice of staying low on the riverbank or continuing the ride northward on the grasslands. A tough single track with steep climbs and descents make up most of the area (except for a short double track by the Silverwood Golf Club). Due to its technical nature, beginner or recreational riders should not attempt the lower system, although technomanics may think they have discovered heaven.

Directions: The great thing about riding in Saskatoon is that you need only drop down by the river and you are immediately greeted with trails. The paved Meewasin Pathway runs on top of the east bank with the main single track system running parallel to and below it. To the north, you encounter the Sutherland Beach area; to the south, Diefenbaker Park; and Silverwood is located in the northwest end of the city.

What to Bring: Many of the trails are centrally located meaning you are never more than 20 minutes form the nearest services. Please note that you should have a bell on your bicycle as this is Saskatoon city bylaw.

A more complete trail guide is located in the Trail Guide section of the Bruce's Cycle Works webpage.