FAQ - What about logging?
This page is only really relevant for those thinking of heading out bikepacking or cycle touring on the backroads of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
Logging is a real complex issue. Here's a useful starting fact to remember: on most rides, active logging or road access are simply non-issues. You'll either not meet any active logging, or perhaps just encounter a couple of trucks. So most of the cautions below will not be relevant on most rides.
Once off main roads, you're almost always riding through areas logged over the past 20 or so years, on roads built by logging companies. Logging is cyclical, with long intervals between harvesting to let trees grow. Most places you ride may show evidence of past logging, but not have active logging at that time.
Like regular road networks, more established backroads networks can have main arteries, branches, smaller spurs and so on. The arteries are usually bigger, better maintained and wider - often used regularly by the public. Aside from being dirt, you can simply ride these tracks with confidence. As you get more remote and onto smaller tracks, you should always be a little more alert.
As you can see by the pic below, where the truck is off to the side on a pullout, logging trucks in the backroads are big wide things. The trucks must always be given right of way. Pull off to the roadside until they pass.
There's quite a lot to wade through below, so let me put forward 3 starting guidelines:
Always be on alert for truck traffic (pull over & give right of way)
Start off on backroads regularly used by members of the public (perhaps the lakes west of Campbell River, or Nitinat Lake)
Before going really remote, get some experience, and talk to locals you might meet
Loaded logging truck along Top Knot Main in the far north. This is parked for a time on a pullout to the side. These pullouts are very common as in many places 2 loaded trucks cannot pass each other in opposite directions. Trucks are linked by radio to ensure they pass safely
Logging has long been an economic foundation on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast. Most people you meet on the backroads come from places where logging has been part of the culture, and you probably want to be repectful of this if you plan to spend time out in in the backroads. Many towns have been hit hard as mills close, forests dwindle, and new equipment requires fewer human workers. Forestry can be a raw issue for some locals.
On more remote backroads, logging trucks often expect to be the only vehicles. They are linked by radio networks to ensure they know where other trucks are - but this does not include you on your bicycle. That said, once you're seen by a logging truck, or a worker, it's my experience they'll radio in that everyone should watch out for a cyclist on the roads.
Here's 2 useful things to keep in mind if you're making plans to head into an area with active logging:
1) most (not all) logging stops for weekends and holidays
2) most (not all) logging starts early and stops around 2 to 230 in the afternoon
This area near Pye Lake, NE of Campbell River had been logged over quite recently.
It's usually tough to know whether there is active logging in an area until you get there. You may see hints on the backroad, like lots of recent tracks or mud if it's been rainy.
Here's some key things to remember:
You'll usually hear a truck before you see it (remember, you're on a bicycle): pull over & stop. The trucks are big, wide & sometimes really move. There are a few times you may not hear a truck coming:
The BIGGIE - when going fast down hills, the wind in your ears can keep you from hearing a truck. If you do not have a clear line of sight well ahead, you must slow down and keep tight to your side of the road. Heavy winds can be a similar issue
Trucks returning empty for a new load of logs are often much quieter
If there is helicopter logging about (rare), you'll likely be unable to hear trucks.
Keep an eye and ear out for trucks coming from behind, as well as oncoming
If you meet one truck, assume there will be others.
Most drivers are friendly & will radio there's a cyclist to watch for. Be pleasant in return
Make sure you are visible and alert. Keep your flashers on.
As noted above, they usually shut down ~230pm & rarely work on weekends (yeah!). On hot, dry summer days, I'll carry a cloth dust mask, as the trucks can kick up dust.
Trucks aside, here's another issue you must be mindful of: the backroads are a maze, easy to get lost in, designed to access and extract logs, vs get people from point A to point B. If you go remote, if possible, use a GPS to record your ride track, so if need be you can always retrace your path. I have GPX files I can share for all the remote rides on the website - click here to read more on GPS devices & file sharing.
This pic was taken in the North Island, west of Port McNeill. You can see the area has been logged and cut trees stacked for loading onto trucks. If you see this, you can assume there will be a number of trucks.
Logging in new areas may involve road building. That sometimes requires blasting, and you may see signs like those in the photo below. This is very rare to encounter when bikepacking or cycle touring the backroads, and even if you should encounter this, it will be likely they are putting in a new spur up a hill that won't impact your route. But you would need to make sure you are seen, and someone will invariably come around to talk with you.
Photo from off Museum Main, S of Port Alberni
You may also encounter areas where they are felling trees from hills in such a way that they fall down near the road, where they are easier to pick-up, de-limb and stack (using a feller/buncher) for pick-up. This is also very uncommon to encounter, as such delimbing and stacking is usually done on side roads off the main backroad you'd be riding. Usually, such road blockages are well signed, only last a partial day (or two), and crews will leave the road passable at the end of each day. On occasion, crews have paused their work to let me pass.
Railway logging, which passed into history when truck logging replaced it, was still practiced along a line south from Nimpkish Lake. In 2017, there was a tragic accident where 3 workers died. Here at Maquillard junction, a giant boom for loading and unloading railway cars.
On Vancouver Island, particularly in the south, some extensive areas are actually owned (vs leased) by the logging companies - an inheritance from a long ago deal to trade land for the building of an Island railway. In such places, and other areas with active logging, you may encounter private property signs or road gates put in place by logging companies. This is the legal right of the companies. Such barriers to public access appear to be on the increase.
From talking with lots of people, this trend to limit access seems to be in response to a bundle of issues, caught up in big, multi year trends.
there have been unfortunate episodes of equipment vandalism (very costly), or simply drunken misbehaving
there's fear that backwoods campers (or partiers) might start forest fires
there may be liability concerns should members of the public be injured on logging roads or by logging operations
as forests dwindle and harvest cycles get shorter, some logging companies may not want the public to see poor, unsustainable logging practices
it's cheaper for logging companies to simply limit access for members of the public, vs ensure certain safety measures are in place
as logging companies are increasingly owned by large stock-holders, some of these stockholders want the companies to restrict public access to reduce the likelihood of the above issues impacting their 'economic assets'
as fewer people actually work for logging companies, they have become separate and disconnected from local communities. Old practices such as setting up and maintaining Rec campsites for the public are in decline.
Recent logging off Memekay Main, SW of Sayward - one could taste the recent cuts in the air. Stacked along the roadside for ready pick up.
Here's a useful fact - one that can make travelling remote backroads by bike less risky than travelling by a 4 x 4 vehicle: it is not uncommon to pass through open gates, with signs warning travellers that the gates could be locked at anytime. This rarely actually happens, but if you're in a vehicle you've got to weigh this risk. On a bicycle if you encounter such a closed gate at the end of a trip, you are not stuck.
Another fact to be aware of: during hot dry stretches, you'll sometimes see fire bans enacted. When this happens, backroads access may be shut down to reduce the risk of fires getting started.
It's fairly common to see expensive logging equipment like this along the roads out in the backwoods. Vandalism is often referred to as a reason for closing off access. This pic from West Jordan Main, NE of Port Renfrew.
In the long term, I suspect that, particularly on the southern half of the Island, there will be more restricting of backroads access. In Courtenay, local outdoors clubs (hiking & mountain biking), have worked out agreements with logging companies to enable access to lands for members, who are required to buy trip specific insurance.
In the future, I suspect communities themselves will want to exercise more control over what happens to their hinterlands, as tourism and recreation increase in importance, and they discover that they can get much higher tax rates if land is used by cottagers.
A number of times, from a wide range of people, I heard the current logging business model described as a sunset practice (that said, I will not hold my breath).
Helicopter logging off White River Main, west of Sayward. In this case, they were picking up logs from just up the very steep hillside, and depositing them here below for truck pickup. They sure make a lot of noise in river valleys!
So - what does all this mean in terms of backroads riding access?
The presence of logging should not stop you from getting into backroad touring if you like getting out into the wilds. There are many ride areas where you will not meet backroads logging, and in other areas it's simply not a problem if there is logging in the vicinity.
Provided you are safety conscious, logging trucks and workers are respectful of your safety, often friendly. I know some truck drivers who are avid mountain bikers. On occasions, I've had a logging company staffer stop to chat and alert me about times and areas where there might be heavy hauling. If I encounter heavy truck hauling (which has been very rare over the years), I may stop for a while, or change plans. Or I may continue with added caution.
Hanging out in some big trees at Carmanah Walbran, one of the few true old growth forests still left on Vancouver Island - a great ride in & magical destination.
I've tried to bring a range of issues onto this page, so it no doubt makes logging more fearsome than the reality. Get some other advice, and start gradually if you want to ride the backroads. There's a bunch of Fav backroads rides into areas regularly used by the wider public, which would be a great way to get some familiarity before trying anything really remote.
There's incredible riding, camping and natural wonders waiting for bikepackers and cycle tourists out on the backroads of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, one of the world's most spectacular regions.