U of T shakes the trails

Jon Winfield racing at the last Ontario University Cup mountain bike race on Oct. 16 in Ganaraska. Courtesy of Jon Winfield.

Without motivation and countless hours of hard work, the University of Toronto mountain bike team wouldn’t be able to train in the centre of Canada’s largest city.

Toronto and mountain bikes are two images that don’t normally connect, but the school made sure it did.

“Often I am asked ‘how can you have a mountain bike team in the centre of the city?’ The answer is the Don Valley trails, and we don’t take these for granted,” said head coach David Wright, in an interview with the Toronto Observer.

Over the past 11 years, the team has removed more than 20 tons of garbage from the forest floor of the Don Valley trails during the team’s annual cleanup event.

“The team has also worked with the City of Toronto and volunteered countless hours on sustainable trail building projects in the Don Valley,” said Wright, who has 40 student athletes under his wing.

This benefits not only them and any other mountain bikers, but also dog walkers, joggers, birders and more.

“We love the Don Valley and are happy to give back to our community that way,” he said.

In addition to its environmental efforts, the Varsity Blues mountain bike team is also recognized for its sense of community.

“Our team philosophy totally embraces the concept of community. We want student athletes to feel a part of the team and our community,” said Wright.

It’s one of the reasons why Jon Winfield enjoys racing for the university.

“The U of T mountain bike team has been a great experience for me. The team is very much a community where new members are always welcomed,” said Winfield, who has been racing in mountain bike events since age 10.

Pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Winfield has been successful in his first season by respectively placing eighth, second, third and sixth at the Ontario University Cup mountain bike race series.

The University Cup races involve university and college students from all across the province in four events held at different venues in Southern Ontario.

“I am happy with my results this year, especially coming second at Boler Mountain and third at Hardwood Hills. The race last Sunday [at Ganaraska] started well, but I had a crash on one of the downhills which caused my handlebars to get twisted around,” he said to the Toronto Observer.

The native of Barrie, Ont., might not be on the team next year due to his program only being one year long, but he plans on competing for a long while.

Winfield began last summer racing in the Ontario and Canada Cups in the Pro Elite category, which is the highest level of racing in the country.

“My goal for the future is to improve my ranking in the Ontario and Canada Cup races,” he said.

Since its foundation in 1997, the team has been building a legacy, and is one of the first recognized university mountain bike squads in the province.

“These kids are on the mountain bike team today, but they will be the leaders of our community tomorrow,” Wright said.

About this article

By: Claudia Larouche
Posted: Oct 18 2011 10:41 pm
Filed under: Amateur Other Sports Sports

3 Comments on "U of T shakes the trails"

  1. David Wright | October 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm |


    You are right, the misuse of trails doesn’t do anyone any good. You are also correct that mountain biking can accelerate erosion, and create ruts (As can foot traffic, riding horses and walking your dog on any non-paved surface.) Should we all stay indoors? Of course not.

    I think the key point (some of which was not included in the story) to take from the article is the students from UofT work closely with the City of Toronto and the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) to help correct poorly thought out “spaghetti” trails and create SUSTAINABLE trails, which are carefully thought out and designed to not lead to the problems you correctly pointed out. In fact, these trails encourage other trails users into this urban parkland. Also note, we have helped close (and naturalize the habitat) almost as much erosion-prone trials as we have helped build.

    I know these experiences have inspired our students to write research paper, go on to graduate studies in environmental studies, and work in urban planning.

    With 80% of Canada’s population living in urban areas, this type of contact with nature is vitally important. These trails are open for all.

    Rough treatment of nature is not OK, but our greater concern is that NO treatment (or contact) with nature will not lead to any affinity to it, nor a wish to protect it in the future.

    David Wright, M.Ed.
    Head Coach
    UofT Mountain Bike Team

    PS – Without wanting to sound critical, the fact that 7 of the studies cited were written by mountain bikers does not make them unscientific. Missing the forest for the trees, the bottom line is that the mountain biking community is very concerned about nature. It’s not the environmentalist vs. Mountain Bikers – The mountain bikers are the environmentalists. As a father, I want my son’s to experience nature as much as they can. They will be at the next build, learning to appreacite and love nature and enjoy a healthy bike ride. Thats whats good about that.

  2. “Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?”

    You are right mike, it is probably better to stay home, play video game and watch movies..while eating processed food in our air conditioned homes

  3. Bicycling is not an appropriate use for parks. Parks are, at base, wildlife habitat. Bicycles are incompatible with that.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994: http://mjvande.nfshost.com/mtb10.htm . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see http://mjvande.nfshost.com/scb7.htm ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

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