Chris Birch is one of the fastest and toughest extreme enduro riders on the planet. He’s been successful at the Red Bull Romaniacs, Erzbergrodeo, Roof of Africa and Hell’s Gate. As a sponsored rider for Red Bull and KTM, Birch travels the globe, competing and also running his off-road riding school.
Lately, though, the coach and his young family have been in Western Canada, where he’s teaching on Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.
At the end of June, RidersWest was able to get Birch on the phone and here’s what New Zealand’s top off-road racer had to say about riding dirt bikes in our neck of the woods:
Hey Chris, thanks for doing this! So, what do you think of Vancouver Island and the riders?
Really good. The riding here is awesome. It’s absolutely a good place to do schools because the riding here is really technical, and in order to go and have fun on your bike, you need to have some pretty good skills in place. So it makes it easy to do the schools because everyone really wants to learn.
Chris Birch teaching a group of off-road riders near Victoria, B.C. — photo courtesy Kitt Stringer
How does the terrain compare to other places you’ve ridden?
We were talking about that last night over a few beers and Canada is definitely in the top three places in the world I’ve ridden. There is quite a lot of riding. It seems like a pretty good culture for trail building, as well. There are a lot of guys out there building and maintaining trails, which is quite unique in a first-world country. Normally, you sort of find that the poorer, more developing countries have a lot of trails because you’re basically just riding walking trails—trails that people are using to access the mountain for food or whatever reason. A lot of the first-world countries you go, people don’t do that.
Do you have an all-time favourite riding location?
It’s tricky, but I guess if I had to answer that, it would probably be Romania. I’ve had a lot of fun in Mexico as well. South Africa was quite amazing—loads of freedom and awesome terrain. Lots of rocks, though. (My) top three would be South Africa, Romania and Canada.
On the competitive side of things, your most recent race was Serbia’s Xcross Challenge where you finished in second place. Can you tell us more about that?
Yeah, it’s an extreme race that they are trying to get going in Serbia. It’s backed by Red Bull and they invited me over there as a Red Bull rider. I hadn’t done that much racing this year, so my face fitness wasn’t really up to the job. So it was a little bit frustrating because I definitely felt I could’ve won it because I kept catching up with the guy in the lead, and I would catch him and then my arms would give out and then—ahhh—I had to let him go again. But I really like the idea of going to visit Serbia. It’s a country I had never been to before so if you can go there and race, ride and meet cool people and explore a new country, that’s the winner for me.
Two weeks before he came to Canada, Chris Birch was in Tara, Serbia, for the Xcross Challenge where he finished second place overall. — Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool photo
Will you do it again?
I’d like to. The people were really nice and the terrain was great. With a bit more fitness behind me, I bet I could win it.
What other races are on your radar?
I’ll be honest, I don’t really have many races on my radar. I’ve been chasing the racing a lot for the last seven or eight years and kinda felt like I was in a bit of a rut, a similar routine, which I didn’t like. So I tried to slow the racing down a bit and see what other kind of things I could do with bikes that are still exciting, new and fresh. One of those is going across Canada in a camper with a motorbike.
Are there any sights you want to see or places you want to visit while you drive across Canada?
To be honest, we haven’t had the time to do much research. Both Monica and I prefer wandering around the place and seeing what we come across. It’s more our style than trolling through the guidebooks. The drive is (a more natural, organic way to) find cool stuff along the way. We might dip south and go through the top of the American side.
So this Kitt Stringer guy who organized the clinics for you in Western Canada—what’s he like to ride with?
He’s pretty funny. The best guys to ride with are the guys who are enthusiastic, and Kitt is definitely that. He’s definitely into the same sort of riding I’m into. We like the really crazy, challenging sort of stuff, and he knows where all that is. We have a lot of laughs, that’s for sure. Sometimes, I’m shaking my head whilst I’m laughing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
(I'd like to) thank all the different people at the stops we’ve had along the way. We’ve already had a lot of help from Canadian people.
Birch will wrap up the western leg of his Canadian off-road tour in early August. Then, he’ll be heading east to Ontario and Quebec for a month-long string of enduro and adventure bike clinics with Rally Connex. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.