Hardwood Ski and Bike, an incubator for youth development in cycling.

The following blog and photography has been provided by Colin Field.

Fifteen years ago I spent a summer working at Hardwood Ski and Bike. I lived with friends in nearby Sugarbush, and my commute was a 20-minute motorcycle ride through the forested, dirt roads of Oro-Medonte. It was a lovely summer. Hardwood itself was a Mecca of mountain biking. The sport was relatively new at the time, but Hardwood’s dedication to it was wholehearted. That early-adoption has ensured its survival.

Today, revisiting Hardwood takes me back all those years. I was a camp counsellor that summer and one of the kids in my Leaders In Training program, was Cycle Simcoe’s very own, Brendan Matheson. He was 15 at the time. And he was as energetic and overflowing with positivity then as he is today. I liked him instantly. We’ll no doubt be lifelong friends.

Physically, Hardwood looks more or less the same. Some stunts have come and gone, signs have received a fresh coat of paint and a bit more infrastructure popped up to host the PanAm Games in 2015. But the same smell is in the air. The same dust coats yours skin. And if I really think about it, the kids look the same too. Sure they’re on better bikes (gone are the creaky monocoque frames), they’re more comfortable in the air and doggone it, they’re probably straight up better riders than we ever were, or ever will be. But that’s the curse of being the older generation; back in my day we rode cross-country on 26-inch wheels! Imagine!

Wednesday nights at Hardwood still mean one thing; race night. The Wednesday Night Series has been running for 20 years now. Hundreds of people gather once a week; people of all ages, lining up at the start line. There are tiny kids with training wheels and run bikes, local teens, parents and grandparents ripping away from the start line to their respective trails. Family and friends yell encouragingly from the sidelines, a positive, inclusive vibe pervades.

It’s easy to see what is developing during these nights; the adults are challenging themselves while staying fit. The kids are learning to push themselves, learning to train, to work, and earn rewards. The really little kids are learning to ride a bike and develop skills that will benefit them the rest of their days. But most of all, and something I’ve always believed to be at the root of cycling’s success, is that it’s fun. The Wednesday Night Race Series is a chance for just about anyone to get into riding and racing mountain bikes. There is no judgement, no ego, no machismo barring participation. The true challenge is against yourself; how hard can you push yourself?

While other mountain bike venues may distract us with new trails, lift-access or shiny new smartphone-friendly doohickies, Hardwood Ski and Bike continues to plug away at what they do best; provide a positive, family-friendly scene that creates more than just the skills to tackle the world; it creates lifelong friendships. And there are no better friendships than the ones developed behind the handlebars while flowing down singletrack. Thanks Hardwood. Keep up the great work. Here’s to another 20 years of the Wednesday Night Race Series.

Learn more about the Hardwood Ski and Bike Wednesday Night Series.

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