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South Okanagan mountain bikers taking in the view above Vaseux Lake
Photo by Johnny Smoke

Exodus to the South Okanagan

Posted on Jul 14, 2021 by Johnny Smoke

The exponential rise of real estate, extra taxes and costs on almost everything, overwhelming traffic, cooped up in the same area, and the rain...always the rain. I know why I moved away from the Coast, but that was over 15 years ago now. The pandemic has finally kick-started a new exodus, and it seems a few folks are following Highway 3 inland. I know my reasons for settling in the Penticton area, but I thought I’d ask a more recent immigrant why he chose the South Okanagan.

Dean Payne is the founder and chief instigator of the BC Bike Race, arguably the biggest and best mountain bike stage race in the world. When I asked him what brought him here he was quick to answer, and it’s the same answer I would give. Simply put, the amount and variety of riding within an hour of town is nearly overwhelming. As Dean says, “ there is an incredible amount of riding in the area; a vast area to explore.”

It helps that there is a long history of cycling in the area. I like to refer to the “South Okanagan Bubble” to describe the scene. In the early days, there was always a strong mountain bike presence here. A famous shot of the Deep Cove Bike Shop team from the early 80s was actually taken at Apex Ranch, as the race scene got an early start here. Other events soon followed, like the Championship of the Universe and the DQ ActionQuest in Summerland. But the construction of the Coquihalla Connector meant that much of the traffic that used to come up via the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3) now bypassed Penticton. The mtb community didn’t exactly wither on the vine, but it did develop in relative isolation for many years.

In recent years however, a few important developments have led to a resurgence of interest in the area. One big one is the rise of The huge amount of singletrack available makes for an overwhelming experience if you are not familiar with the networks. Having reliable maps at your fingertips is a big advantage. Have a look at this South Okanagan trail map if you think I’m exaggerating.

The many high profile cycling events in the region in recent years has also helped foster a strong cycling community. The Penticton and Area Cycling Association fosters both road and off road activities. As such they boast a healthy membership and are used to dealing with large events like the GranFondo and Ironman. When the BC Enduro Series kicked off, Penticton was the very first stop.

That rise in popularity of Enduro bikes is tailor-made for the terrain in the Okanagan. While many BC residents are used to the near-vertical mountains of the Coast or the Kootenays, the Interior region has much gentler slopes. The combination of large vertical with less slope angle is actually perfect for this style of riding. Descents of up to 20 km can be found here, although they’re not pure DH. “Mostly downhill, almost all the time,” is how we like to refer to it!

Indeed, with the recent influx of new residents, there has been a revitalization of the local businesses. Along with the now established wine industry, there are now many new breweries and surging food culture to go along with the natural assets of mountains, lakes, and trails. Clustered near the north end of town are several new breweries that boast unique menus and innovative brews on tap. It’s just a quick downhill along the KVR from the popular Three Blind Mice and Campbell Mountain networks to the patios of The Cannery, Neighborhood Brewing, Bad Tattoo, and Slackwater Brewery.

All this talk about history and events, and we haven’t even delved into the 2200 km of singletrack available within an hour of town. Like everywhere in BC, there are great trials for the expert rider. What’s exceptional here is the amount of beginner and intermediate terrain available. It’s no problem for multiple generations to have a great cycling experience here, from casual jaunts along the KVR to hot laps in The Mice.

Maybe that’s why Dean has chosen to base the BC Bike Race here for the foreseeable future.

“It’s such a place of contrasts,” enthuses Payne. “Lakes, vineyards, high mountains, and perfect weather to ride in early October. Penticton is a world-class tourism destination of bike beer wine and epicurean experiences and beaches - peak to beach everywhere. How could I not run an edition of the BCBR here?”

For visitor information on Penticton and the South Okanagan checkout Visit Penticton. Please support the great work that the Penticton Area Cycling Association does to maintain the local trails by purchasing a membership or by making a donation.