FREE TO FLYCatarina Almeida
Canadian Reece Wallace has an exhilarating way to find new trails and explore inspiring terrain.
Riding mountain bikes has been one of the most important things in my life for as long as I can remember. Since I was a kid, I dreamt of the freedom a bike brings—riding into the woods at a moment’s notice, exploring new areas, and pushing my boundaries.
When I grew up and my passion for riding turned into a career, I continued to look for new ways to chase this feeling. Being truly unleashed and not tied to anything but my desire to explore and ride is what drives my passion.
Over the years I’ve chased this feeling by competing, building new trails and stunts, and travelling to ride and explore new areas. Finding new ways to stoke the flames can help develop your riding and keep things fun. For me, the way I go about finding and riding new places changed just over a year ago when I earned my pilot’s license.
After completing flight school and passing the flight test, the first thing I did was load my bike into the back of the school’s plane. Realizing this was the next logical step for me, I purchased a little red 46-year-old Cessna—basically the Honda Civic of airplanes. This plane opened the door for me to explore British Columbia and continue chasing that feeling.
I live on Vancouver Island, and when the pandemic hit the ferries shut down. That’s when my plane proved more useful than I had imagined. With my Giant Reign Advanced loaded in the back, I frequently made the quick flight across the water to Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler or Abbotsford to ride. What used to take five hours now only took 45 minutes, and I was burning fewer fossil fuels than my truck. That’s a win, win. I decided this was too cool not to film and began working on this video.
Flying and riding have more in common than you might expect. Banking the aircraft into a turn feels like riding a long sweeping berm. When the air becomes unstable, it’s like going from a blue trail to a black diamond. It’s the same sensation of freedom behind the controls of my Cessna as behind my handlebars. Being able to fly or ride in whatever style I want is what it’s all about.
During flight training, my flight instructor (also a mountain biker) said to me: “Flying an airplane is a lot like riding a bike.” At first I laughed it off, but it really is true. The spatial awareness, reaction time and decision-making that mountain bikers experience on the trail all come into play when flying an aircraft. Understanding where your body, bike or aircraft are in space is vital to making split second decisions. The similarities with biking and the seemingly endless freedom are why I love flying.
I take a similar approach to my riding as flying: precision, calculation and safety. Though I may appear to push it on my bike, I’m methodical in my approach—just like when I run through a pre-flight checklist. That’s not to say I don’t send it on my bike or do the odd weightlessness moment in my plane.
The first place I wanted to ride for this video was Vancouver Island where I live. The island is filled with an array of different terrains. From Mt. Prevost’s steep and technical descents, to Mt. Tzouhalem’s flow and berms, it offers everything. We spent several days filming here before hopping in the plane and departing to Squamish.
To load up my plane, I remove the front and rear wheels from my Reign Advanced, then lean the downtube and fork over the passenger seat—similar to using a tailgate pad in the back of a truck. The wheels and the rest of the gear fit snuggly in the back. It’s about a 10-minute process to remove and assemble my bike.
On the approach to Squamish, I could see the town’s most iconic trails through the trees. Though I’ve ridden these trails before, this was the most excited I’d been to ride them. Seeing rock rolls and the smooth lines of the trails from the air is oddly satisfying.
There were a couple gnarly moves for the shoot, and I had to keep reminding myself: If I get hurt, I’m the only one who knows how to fly home. Fortunately, everything worked out and no co-pilot was needed. Unfortunately, my aircraft wasn’t as lucky.
Though I didn’t break any bike parts during the shoot, my plane suffered lost compression in a cylinder, a broken transponder, broken altitude indicator, and some oil and fuel leaks—pretty standard problems for a 46-year-old plane. This kept me grounded for a little while, but I managed to fix all the snags and get airborne again for the second part of the video.
The last riding location in the video is Abbotsford—a city just east of Vancouver with phenomenal riding. I wanted to film here because it’s a lesser known area of Vancouver that’s often overshadowed by the North Shore. Flying into Abbotsford also meant practicing the procedures of entering the controlled and busy airspace of the large international airport.
As I landed and then taxied the plane, I was following jets that must have been 100 times larger than my little Cessna. Pretty humbling. When I was unloading my bike from the back, however, I like to think I saw a look of jealousy in the eyes of one of the big jet captains.
After wrapping up all the bike filming, we decided to fly to the west coast of Vancouver Island and land in the small coastal town of Tofino. Tofino is a tourist hotspot with beautiful beaches, water and mountains rising from the ocean. From the airport we rode down to the beach, but it was absolutely packed with tourists. After chilling for a few minutes, we got back in the plane and took off looking for a new spot.
Once in the air, we spotted a small remote island with a pristine beach just north of Tofino. Though there was no runway, there was a massive beach that looked almost like a landing strip. I had heard of pilots landing on beaches but had never tried it myself. Conditions looked perfect with a small headwind and low tide—so I decided to go for it. On the final approach to landing, I had the same nervous but excited feeling I’ve grown used to from riding my entire life. Mixing this freedom and precision into a calculated risk is what it’s all about for me.
Wheels down and the beach was smoother and firmer than I had anticipated. The plane rolled out and I came to a stop. I unloaded the bike and sat on it. Then it hit me—I was riding my bike on a remote island beach, and I got here by flying a plane.
What an ideal way to end the shoot. Feeling totally free and truly unleashed.
Rider & Pilot: Reece Wallace
Video: Matt Butterworth
Photos: Liam Wallace