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Local trio leverages area's trails, terrain in new mountain biking venture

Red Pine Tours is starting up just as tourism is facing a major challenge due to COVID-19

Local business owner Reg Peer has been interested in sports his whole life. By late high school, he had developed a passion for mountain biking— that was when the seeds to found a mountain biking business were first planted.

Peer is now the co-owner of Red Pine Tours, a mountain biking company that organizes tours in the scenic trails in and around Sault Ste. Marie. The company was born out of a desire to make the most out of Northern Ontario’s natural beauty.

In an interview with SooToday, Peer said, “I grew up here in Sault Ste. Marie. I’ve lived in a few different parts of Canada and Ontario for work. And whenever I was living away from the Sault, I found it tricky to find places to mountain bike and road ride.”

It was not until three years ago, when he returned to the city, that he noticed a potential in the industry.

“The bike scene here was a lot larger when I moved back home than when I started mountain biking . . . in the early 2000s," said Peer.

For Peer, mountain biking was love at first sight.

“When my friend took me mountain biking I was hooked instantly. After that first ride, I bought a mountain bike then a road bike and cycling started to take over my world.”

The idea for starting a mountain cycling company originally came from a conversation with a friend.

“We joked around about [starting a business] and thought of it as a neat little vision: tour people around and show them some scenery and try to give them a neat experience.”

Peer’s vision began seeming a lot more plausible after he entered Crank the Shield, a mountain bike race that attracted participants from Canada, the United States and Mexico. If Crank the Shield can bring together such an audience, why couldn’t he? 

From there, he teamed up with friends and fellow cyclist enthusiasts Graham Atkinson and David Kochanowski to turn the concept into a reality. Peer said that “people were interested in gravel rides and Hub Trail rides, so we started Red Pine Tours. What we really want to do is build cycling in the community.”

Atkinson and Peer were inspired to name their company while riding down the Red Pine trail in Hiawatha, which is home to 200-year-old red pine trees.

Since opening for business in 2019, the company offers guided tours around the Sault and and area's privileged bike trails. These range from two-hour trips to an overnight 'bikepacking' excursion. 

The tours are fairly personalized. “We try to have the client let us know their skill level so it’s easier for us to plan the route accordingly," said Peer.

Currently, Red Pine is working with the Water Tower Inn and other Sault tourism businesses and outfitters on a contest meant to help take the sting out of the local COVID-19 tourism slump. The winner will receive “an adventure prize pack” made up of various local attractions including a half day bike trip with Red Pine and a Group of Seven-style painting class with an Art Gallery of Algoma artist.

The goal of this is to offset some of the financial damage the tourism industry has taken because of the Coronavirus pandemic. As a border town, the Sault saw its tourism industry get hit particularly hard when the U.S-Canadian border shut down.

Regardless of how or where they cycle, Peer recommends to “have a quick look over your bike, have enough water for an appropriate distance and a few snacks and have a good time.”

Northern Ontario has some especially breathtaking bike paths. “We have such a great area here in Sault Ste. Marie that kind of gets overlooked by a lot of people,” said Peer. “We have a lot of great terrain and trail to promote mountain biking and people have to experience this.”

While Peer has come a long way in growing a passion and business in mountain biking, one thing has not changed: the simultaneous adrenaline rush and calmness he gets from the sport. 

“You get to tune out and not focus on day-to-day life. The only thing that matters is spinning your cranks and trying not to fall. It is one of those things that’s pretty hard to try and you have to experience it yourself. It’s a pretty good thrill.”