One of the pleasures of mountain biking is traveling to different parts of the country and seeing different dirt. If you ever get the chance to meet the people who’ve sculpted their local dirt into trails, it’s a greater pleasure still.
We had the right combination of sunshine and time while in Hobart for one more ride. We pulled our muddy rental car off the Tasman Highway to a little carpark just next to the B33 off-ramp. Here we met up with a small part of the Team Hellfire Crew to ride the Clarence and Belbins trails, their pick of the local parks.
Duncan Giblin and his partner, Sarah Kennedy, were enjoying some post-Hellfire Cup recovery now. They were visibly excited to step back on the bikes after over 18 months spent planning the inaugural event. Our guide for the day was local trail builder, Aub Carter, and his Boarder Collie, Jack.
Jack likes running so much he got Aub back into mountain biking rather than the other way around. They started out doing a fire road loop, progressed to more singletrack and now spend days together out at Belbins Road building trails for everyone to use. Aub and Jack helped to build a lot of the trails for the Hellfire Cup course as well.
We’re told that Jason Unwin and his crew work out here at night building trails too. In the heat of the morning they were nowhere to be seen.
The Clarence Mountain Bike Park features a series of purpose built trails, including a cross-country loop that is typically split in two. Our ride began on a series of very steep, tight, uphill switchbacks, a good test of fitness and form.
More tight switchbacks led us back down the hill, the sort that make you want to be confident in your bike handling skills. It was a fun alternative to the wider bermed corners we’re seeing in a lot of other recently built trails right now.
A linking track connects the mid-point of this Clarence loop with the Belbins Road/Stringy Bark Gully network. It’s a two-way track, but plans are in place for building a second trail for the return leg.
We thoroughly enjoyed our experience on the North-South Track a day earlier, but the looser, narrower, more organic feeling lines out at Belbins are a great throwback to mountain biking from decades past.
In summer the surface becomes glassy smooth with a powdery topcoat. Today it was grainy enough to keep us on our game, but tacky enough that our tyres still had some bite. Long erosion ruts ran down the middle of some long straights, they took some getting used to, as every now and then they were the best line to ride.
Jack ran ahead, clearly used to a faster paced ride. Aub tells us that at peak fitness he runs about 80km a week. He can complete stage one of the Hellfire Cup in an hour and a half, which is faster than most humans. Not bad for a dog who likes to completely immerse himself in puddles before having a drink.
After some steep and honest climbing we reached the Birthday Loop, a trail that Aub built for Sarah. It’s a twisty five-minute loop that stays dry even in the middle of winter. You can quite happily ride it a few times, work on your skills and keep your mental health in tact when the weather gets it down. Possibly one of the best presents one mountain biker could ever give to another.
Not far from here is another work of art, the Wedge Rock Track. Aub is a self-professed lover of climbs and doesn’t care much for descents, which is strange, because this one that he has built is excellent fun. Long straights, big corners, a trail that makes you feel like you have the hillside all to yourself. It reminded us a bit of the Bridges track in Tathra.
Like a lot of the trails here, it is built with rider habits and the Tassie weather in mind. It’s designed so riders can get around the corners without creating breaking ruts and positioned so the wind and sun keep it primed for quality riding. It lasted forever and was over too soon.
Before long, we were back on the sweeping, flowing descent back into and out of Clarence. Aub rode in front confidently knowing Jack was not far behind. The sound of the highway was a quick reminder of the urban location of our ride, a case of a great trail network on a big chunk of unused land.
Climbing, descending, steep corners, birthday tracks…Commercially built trails are an important part of the growth of our sport and key to seeing locations like this one become established riding destinations.
At the same time, places like this wouldn’t have half their appeal if it wasn’t for a man, his dog, and a quiet band of others who share their passion for quality, hand built trails.
Thank you Tasmania, you certainly are an island full of surprises. We’re looking forward to exploring more of your stunning trails some time in future.