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The Inertia

“North Shore Betty” didn’t start riding mountain bikes until she was 45 years old. It was 1987 when she got her first mountain bike — just something to ride around campgrounds; nothing too serious — but it was a bit of a life-changing moment.

Up until then, she’d led a life that even the most adventurous person would call exciting. She was a world-class wave sailor in Hawaii in the 1980s, climbed mountains, and generally treated the world as a playground. Her real name is Betty Birrell, and she’s an inspiration to anyone who knows her. Young or old, male, female, or anything else, Birrell leads a life that’s devoted to her son and her fun.

A few months after she had her son in 1987, a life of rough-and-tumble play caught up to her. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips, and her doctor told her she had to cut impact sports. Fast forward a few years to 1993, and she decided to get her first “real” mountain bike because she was having a hard time exercising her dog.


“That’s when I went, ‘OK, I gotta get a real mountain bike here,’” she told North Shore News. “So I went and got my first real mountain bike in 1993 and just immediately started downhill mountain biking.”

Now, she’s a legend in Vancouver’s North Shore community, a place where downhill mountain biking is a way of life. Of course, she can’t ride as hard as she used to be able to, but that’s not stopping her from sending it as hard as she can. Aging isn’t easy for anyone, but Birrell has a good outlook on it.

“Once I got through that [aging] process, I am still having so much fun and loving it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at – if you’re having fun, that’s what it’s all about… I want to keep riding until my nineties.”


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