A coastal boy to the core, Steve “Chainsaw” Smith led the next generation of Canadian mountain bikers. But tragedy struck on May 10, 2016 when he crashed his dirt bike in his hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia and died from his injuries. He was only 27 years old. Fox MTB released a new video in honour of Steve and we share it here along with a story Seb Kemp wrote about him in Coast Mountain Culture magazine in 2013.
The mountain bike world has always kept an eye on British Columbia. The freeride movement started there in the mid-90s, and huckers have been making pilgrimages to the North Shore and Kamloops ever since. The Whistler Bike Park attracts over 130,000 riders to its manicured, lift-accessed utopia every year. Even the BC Bike Race, the gruelling seven-day cross-country stage race and self-proclaimed “ultimate singletrack experience,” sold out its 550 spots for 2013 before the door had even shut on 2012.
Yet, even with all the trails, communities and resources right here, Canadian downhill racers have been a little less than world class. A Canadian downhiller had not won a World Cup race in two decades. That was, until Vancouver Island’s Stevie Smith won his first World Cup downhill race in Hafjell, Norway, last September. It’s no surprise. Smith has been training hard for years, but his golden example is helping other Canadian riders catch up.
“When I was 16, I asked Gabe Fox [Smith’s manager] if I could make a living racing,” says Smith. “He said he wasn’t sure because no one else in Canada was doing it at that time.” Not having an example to follow meant Smith had to dig deeper, but at the age of 23, he is leading the pack. “It has taken me a while to get to where I could win and have the confidence to really step up,” he says. “There’s a difference in wanting to win and thinking you can win. I finally feel like I can win.”
Micayla Gatto, who had her best World Cup results in 2012, including a fifth place in Mont Saint Anne, Quebec, believes Smith set the bar for Canadians. “I think we didn’t have confidence in our ability to do well at the World Cup level,” she explains. “But seeing Stevie doing well shows us what is possible. It is proof to just believe in ourselves.”
With the successes that Smith, Gatto and other Canadians, like 2012 junior world downhill champion Holly Feniak, and Casey Brown, who placed fourth in Hafjell, Norway, behind Steve Smith, along with another generation in-waiting, like Smith protégé Mark Wallace and Rémi Gauvin, there is hope this will draw more Canadians onto the race course. “[The results] last season definitely made the world open their eyes to Canada’s racers,” Casey Brown says proudly. “We are turning heads and creating a momentum that people will follow and that will make us all improve.”
You inspired a generation, Steve. Rest in peace.