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Pat Ferris: The go-to guy for biking in Fort St. John

People of the Peace

Pat Ferris can still remember the first time he rode a bike. He was in the second grade, and he was with his dad in their grassy Victoria backyard.

As nobody had little bikes back then, he had to ride on an “awful old” adult sized bike.

“I always kind of enjoyed [biking],” he said. “I enjoyed going the distance.”

Ferris has certainly gone the distance when it comes to biking, acting as a founder of the Blizzard Bike Club, Fort St. John’s premiere cycling club that has gone on to produce national champions since being created.

In his younger days, Ferris was a competitive cyclist.

He said he was “top class” for cycling, but it wasn’t as big back then as it is now.

For Ferris, cycling has it own unique benefits.

“Cycling is fun because there’s a whole range of strategy and mechanics and coolness to it,” he said.

Ferris never became a professional racer, opting to go into the natural gas industry. For that, he had to leave Victoria, which was “dead for jobs” at the time.

He soon became a trainer for WestCoast Energy (now called Spectra).

When he told people he was coming up to Fort St. John, the reaction he received from others wasn’t totally accurate.

“Everybody had their uncles dogcatchers mailman’s first cousins best friend knew somebody who flew over and that was pretty much all we got out of them,” he said. “It was winter all the time, it was a bit of a non-dog sledding weather in the second week in July.”

Ferris did not plan to stay here long, but he has been here over 30 years.

“I kept going and going, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “WestCoast was a great company.”

His biking career wasn’t as active then. It wasn’t until a friend, Gary Leung, pushed him that he began to re-discover his love.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” he said.

While only about 15 per cent of people in Fort St. John bike or walk to work, according to a city report, they may be missing out.

“I don’t think people realize how good a place this is to cycle,” said Ferris. “We have the roads that (people in Victoria) wish they had.

“It’s a pretty countryside,” he said. “It’s a pump jack here, a field of canola here, and it’s fantastic. It’s not even a consideration to big cities.”

Eventually, he and Leung decided not only to ride together, but start a club for that purpose. Playing off the perception of the area receiving snow all the time, Ferris suggested the name “Blizzard Bike Club.”

The club began in 1982, and it’s grown since then.

“It probably took five or six years to build the numbers up,” he said. “Our first schedule was five or six events; now we have 105 events to do (for 2015).

“For us to have 25 riders out for a race is pretty good,” he said. “We’re a bike club that normally would be in a city of more like 50 to 100,000 people.”

The club’s name isn’t just for fun, though, as the club does hold rides in March. Ferris and others have ridden in -22 degrees weather, as well.

This dedication may have helped it produce some notable champions.

Professional cyclist Geoff McDonald trained with the Blizzard Bike Club under Ferris.

"I started cycling up here, and what Pat does for the cycling community is amazing," McDonald said on Sunday afternoon from the club's Baldonnel circuit. "He could write a textbook on how to build a cycling community in a small town."

"He basically got me into cycling," he added. "He deserves any support he gets. Just the national-level cyclists he's built out here, there are five guys who are ranked in Canada and largely because of Pat. He's taught us more over the years, mechanical and tactics, and he's always so positive."

Ferris is also one of the lucky few that was able to make his hobby his career, although it came from something of a difficult circumstance for many in the region.

In 1997, WestCoast was bought out by Spectra, and downsizing during that time laid off many people.

His training department was being laid off, and rather than go work in another aspect of the company, he decided to start his own basement business repairing bike parts.

Before his shop, “you could not even get a tube for a flat tire,” something that always annoyed him.

“You had to do mail order from the States and hope that you make it in time,” he said.

Ferris started to grow the shop, but his wife got sick of people coming in at all hours for bicycle repairs, so he opened a storefront for Ferris Fast Cycles in Fort St. John.

It’s still the only dedicated bicycle shop in B.C. north of Prince George.

“We get people from Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, all over,” he said. “They want to talk about cycling, we’re the ones they talk to.”

For Ferris, biking has also taken him to some unique places. One of these was the Rás Tailteann, Ireland’s most famous bike race. He and some other Blizzard members went over to participate in the bicycle race throughout the Emerald Isle.

Starting in 1953, it’s an eight day race over 900 miles, and when Ferris came to Ireland, a stranger asked him for an autograph.

“I didn’t realize how big a deal this is.”

He was impressed what he saw travelling through Ireland, with its historic monuments and lush, green scenery.

Some of it was undercut, however, by allergies that wreaked havoc on him throughout the ride.

“It was hilly, it was tough, it was nasty,” said Ferris. “We had a hard time.”

Ferris’s life is obviously not just about biking, however.

One day, he bumped into another Fort St. John writer. Hearing about her experiences made him want to try it himself.

“I thought that’s the coolest thing ever,” he said.

Ferris said he wrote a short stories. A friend told him not all of them were good. The friend told him one story in particularly was good.

This story was about a Trinidadian woman named in Giselle stranded in Tucson, Arizona, which Feris described as “a cycling mecca.”

“She meets this band of Canadians who are basically sports people trying to make a go of it, living like rats, living as cheap as they can while trying to catch this professional cycling dream, hence the name gypsies.”

It wasn’t always easy to find the time, but he’s written two of them,  “Gypsies” and “A Gypsy Engagement.”

It showed that a club isn’t the only thing Ferris can create.

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