As Cliff Miller explains it when he and Kevin McLean started the Test of Metal they didn’t know what they were doing they just wanted to create a good cross-country mountain bike race.
“We didn’t know any better it’s been trial and error,” said Miller.
The Brody Test of Metal was first run in Sechelt and that race moved to Squamish in 1994 when the Sechelt site was logged. Even then it was still just a multiple lap race like most cross country mountain bike races.
It wasn’t until 1996 that Miller and Mclean launched the grueling 67-kilometer route that remains largely unchanged to this day.
The route was borne from a night of drinking at the Cliffeside Pub in Valleycliffe and Miller said they decided on 67-kilometers because that was as much as they could fit on the beer coaster they were mapping the course out on.
The 1996 race hosted an already impressive 450 riders and this year’s race, which sold out in 48 minutes, will see 800 riders from all over the world battling the course.
A District study last year estimated that the Test of Metal brings in $900,000 in direct economic benefit – visitors staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and shopping at local stores. Miller noted that figure doesn’t include people who come in to ride the course pre-race or what it adds the Squamish’s reputation.
“But the point of doing it was never to make it an economic engine, none of us make any money doing it, it was always just for shits, giggles and beer,’ said Miller.
He said at one point the race went up to E1 sanction, which is one step below World Cup but he said they quickly realized it wasn’t worth the red tape involved.
“We don’t want it to cease being fun, otherwise no one wants to be involved and it took a long time to figure that out.
To put on the race it takes 35 ‘test pilots’ who work throughout the year in various capacities and on race weekend 300 volunteers make sure it goes off without a hitch. So Miller knows it is important to keep things fun and interesting for all involved.
Al Ross proprietor of Tantalus Bikes said they have tried to add to the party atmosphere with their own contribution.
“At the top of Powerhouse we created the Feed Zone where we supply water or special drinks and other nutritional needs to our racers and customers. But we started the tradition a few years ago of making it a beach party, we brought in two truckloads of sand, which is pretty much still there and we have a DJ, one year the Fox girls were up there, we’ve had hula dancers, you can hear the music from power house to the top of rip, things like that give it its own flavour,” said Ross. “All my life, I’ve ridden in World Cup events and I’ve never seen such spectator enthusiasm as we have here,” he added.
For him the weekend and the weeks leading up to the race are busy ones. “A lot of people start coming in on the weekend looking for info, we sell lots of accessories and even the odd bike when people realize how big the course actually is.”
Dave Heisler at Corsa Bikes said he gets about 50-60 bikes through his shop for repairs in anticipation of race day. “Dozens of people from all over start coming in a few weeks before the race starts looking for info and looking to doing a pre-ride,” he said.
His wife Sandra Brull adds, “We just had a 40ish couple from Maple Ridge who’ve never done it before come in the store. We get lots of visitors from Washington State and even a couple from Texas. It’s amazing there’s a lot of new light shining on this town because of events like this.” This year, since it looks like it will be wet he advises that riders ad a fender to their bikes. “It’s just an inexpensive way to save yourself a lot of grief, it keeps the muck out of your face,” he said.
Heisler has his share of Test of Metal lore and said perhaps one of the best or wildest stories he’s heard is the one about the grouse.
“This definitely is true Squamish/Test story; there was this grouse that sat on top of the rip and it would spook riders with the sort growling sound grouse make. So one year Robin Drygas stopped, killed it, stuffed it in his jersey took it home and ate it.”
Miller tells of the one legged man who rode in the race one year,” I don’t know how he did it but he did quite well. There was also the couple on the tandem bike, I don’t know how they did, but they never came back.”
Ross also talked of the time Lisa Manzini who rode almost the entire race but stopped to help a fallen rider with a broken clavicle. “It killed her race but I think that’s a good example of the type of camaraderie there is in this race.” But said Heisoer one of the biggest highlights for him personally was the year he finished second and Ross finished a close third. “For the two of us to finish so high in such a tough race that was pretty incredible,” said Heisoer. “There’s not too many bikes hop owners who are as friendly as us, but I think that’s another example of why the Test is such a good race.”
Ross agreed that one of the best experiences he’s had was riding with Heisoer, who he has trained with for years. “I’m riding again this year, I wish Dave was,” said Ross.
“It’s the first one in a long time that I’m not doing it,” admitted Heisler. But he will be hosting the Mini-Test behind his store in Garibaldi Station for the sixth year in a row now. “I haven’t missed one yet, there’s not too many climbs though.” The race is multiple laps for children three to nine, Heisor said he gets about 200 – 300 hundred kids each year, some of them on tricycles and a few have now graduated to the real Test of Metal.
Ross said the youngest racer to compete in the Test of Metal was Michael Mee who Ross said was eight or nine when he first set out on the course. “That was the first and last time we’ll ever have someone that young because there are course cut-off times now,” said Ross. Although Mee has since gone on to race in the Test of Metal about seven times now, “that’s amazing he’s barely out of high school and his time of six hours has of course come down a lot,” said Ross.
His personal best is a very respectable 2:52, although he admits it’s been a few years since he rode the course that fast. Heisler says his is in the 2:59 range and according to Miller the fastest time on the most recent course was 2:44 posted by Neil Kindree in 2006 his sister Megan Kindree was the also the first female at 3:21, their father Paul Kindree is also and avid racer.
According to Heisoer Neil is the man to beat again this year and says he will probably beat his 2:44 time. Although the best time ever is still 2:37 by Chad Miles from Whistler in 2000.
“But to me it’s not the elite riders, it’s the weekend riders who have no time to train and finish in 5 hours who get my respect,” said Heisoer. “It’s really about competing against yourself and holding your own over time that’s what the Test of Metal is about.”