Explore the life and legacy of Stevie Smith in Long Live Chainsaw
Discover how Stevie Smith overcame all odds to ignite a new future for Canadian Downhill in new film, Long Live Chainsaw.
Watch the inspirational story of Stevie Smith’s triumphant rise, larger-than-life personality, and lasting legacy, in a new feature-length documentary film in the player above or on Red Bull TV.
As he tossed his bike aside and hoisted his hands into the air at the base of Leogang, Austria, Stevie Smith achieved the impossible.
Dropping last in a field of thirty-one — with the pressures of the 2013 world cup title decision resting on his shoulders — the Vancouver Island native flew down the track in typical Chainsaw fashion. He crushed the leading time by over a second and became the first Canadian to be crowned the overall UCI World Cup Champion.
“It brought tears to my eyes watching Stevie live out his dreams,” said professional freeride mountain biker Darren Berrecloth. “Just like that, a Canadian had proven themselves, and it changed the future of downhill racing in our country.”
Nearly a decade has passed since Smith delivered the most iconic race season in the history of downhill mountain biking, and since then, much has changed. On May 10, 2016, Smith passed away in an enduro motorcycle accident in his hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia. He was only 26 years old.
He left us far too soon. But he left behind a legacy that will live forever.
Smith was raised by his single-mother Tiana in Cassidy, B.C. and got his first bike — a second hand BMX — at the age of five. It’s said that his grandmother traded a years-worth of pies to local bike shop owner Bill Monahan in exchange for the BMX. Soon after, he would discover the Nanaimo BMX race scene.
I’ll always remember him as that snotty-nosed grom, that came from nothing, and got good at biking really, really fast.
Slick Steve, as he was known back then, always sought out the most ambitious racing lines, riskiest passes, and biggest sends on the track. Throughout his young career, he won 114 of his 165 career starts.
But by the age of 14, Smith caught the downhill bug — and his aggressive riding style would reach new heights on the rugged, steep trails of nearby Mt. Provost. He held a sign at the local bike shop in exchange for a downhill bike, and his mom Tiana, dedicated any free time towards shuttling him up the mountain. With each consecutive lap his pace quickened, and it became imminent that the Vancouver Island racer was destined for the pros.
“Stevie was always on another level,” explained Berrecloth. “He always pushed the limits, and always had to send it… Because if he didn’t, he was afraid he’d lose his edge. That’s just how he was wired. What made him great was that he managed to harness that energy, and make it happen.”
The rise of Chainsaw
Smith won his first national title as a junior in 2005 and soon took reign over the Canadian downhill scene. Then in 2008, he caught a glimpse of the international spotlight after winning gold at the U.S. Open in 2008 and began to build momentum. Around this time, Smith earned the nickname “Canadian Chainsaw Massacre” from commentator Rob Warner — given his tendency to massacre downhill tracks.
But it wasn’t until 2013 that the Vancouver Island racer would cement his name in downhill history following an epic UCI World Cup overall win against competitor, and reigning champ Gee Atherton.
2013 in a second: The season began with back-to-back wins by Gee Atherton at Fort William and Val Di Sole. Then midway through, Smith took a win at Mont-Saint-Anne, which went down as one of the greatest runs of all-time. Smith continued to build momentum, while Atherton experienced a series of poor performances, bringing Smith within 17 points of Atherton’s overall lead. In the final race in Leogang, Austria, the title would go to whoever finished higher — Smith or Atherton.
In qualifying, Smith was first and Atherton third — meaning Smith would drop last in the finals. French rider Loic Bruni posted a leading time that Atherton was unable to match. Dropping last, Smith only needed to beat Atherton to claim the title, but in typical Chainsaw fashion, he knocked 1.311 seconds off Bruni’s time and claimed his third win of the season, and the overall title.
“To be last out of the gates — with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders — and to win in that fashion, proves that he’s one of the best downhill racer of all time,” said fellow Canadian downhill racer Finn Iles. “Every time I rewatch that run, it gives me the chills.”
A true Canadian mountain biker, on and off the bike
“Any Canadian rider could repeat what Stevie did, and they will never compare,” added Iles. “It wasn’t just about his results, it’s who he was as a person that made him so special.”
As a grom climbing the ranks of the BC Cup Championship in 2013, Iles recalls the customary announcement made before each race, recognizing Smith as the all-time course record holder. “To be reminded that this legend-like figure — who could win on the world stage — rode the same courses and contests I was riding, helped me believe that maybe I could do the same one day.”
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that he had the opportunity to train, ride, and get to know Smith on Vancouver Island — and even though he couldn’t keep up, he always craved the challenge.Weeks before Iles competed in his first-ever Junior UCI World Cup downhill race in 2016, he approached Smith with his anxieties and doubts about the season ahead. Smith turned to him bluntly, and said: “You’re better than all those f***ers. Don’t be an idiot. Just ride your bike.”
A month and a half later, Stevie passed away.
“Those words will stick with me forever,” added Iles, who would go on to win his first race, and claim the 2016 Junior Men’s overall title. “His riding was beyond impressive, but his confidence, calmness, and approachability is what I really looked up to.”
“I’m grateful for the short time I got to spend with Stevie, because without him, who knows where Canadian downhill would be,” added Iles.
Iles and Berrecloth can both agree that Smith defined what it means to be a true Canadian mountain biker. He was someone who didn’t just excel at Downhill -- he could smash a technical hillclimb and rip the run down; hit dirt jumps and send the biggest tricks; and hop on a dirt bike and take a 40 foot jump to the flats. He would never say no to a good time; could hang with the hardest of partiers; and always honoured his B.C. roots by tearing up Whistler’s Crankworx — no matter how busy his schedule may have been. But, most importantly, he was an approachable, all-round good guy.
“That’s why people loved him so much,” said Berrecloth. “He always had time to stop for an autograph and a high five, and if someone wanted to chat his ear off, he’d always give them the time of day.”
He was truly a champion, both on and off the bike.
The Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation
Today, Smith’s larger-than-life, infectious spirit lives on through the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation.
Following his tragic passing in 2016, the Downhill community came together to form the SSLF to support Canada’s next generation of elite gravity athletes through sponsorship, mentorship, and community-building. The foundation presents the annual Steve Smith Memorial Award to a young and deserving un-supported racer who competes in all three major Downhill events at Whistler Crankworx.
“Our community all rallied together to get Stevie to where he was, and we didn’t want to lose that,” said Michelle Corfield, the founder of the fund. “We created the foundation to keep Stevie’s memory and spirit alive — for ourselves, the young athletes we support, and for Canada Downhill.”
Additionally, the foundation partnered with the City of Nanaimo to build the the Stevie Smith Memorial Bike Park; a 30,000 square foot bike park featuring an intro-level pump track, as well as beginner, intermediate, and expert jump lines. The facility designed to ease riders through the levels of progression — and, it appears to be working.
“Every time I visit the bike park, it’s always packed,” explained Iles, who’s seen upwards of 60 kids shredding the park at once. “Everyone always looks so comfy on their bike, it’s really amazing and encouraging to see.”
“It’s clear that the park is producing world class athletes in-the-making, and bringing enjoyment to the local scene — all in memory of Stevie.”