Australia’s Busiest Trail: Manly Dam Scores an Upgrade.

Manly Dam is the most used trail not just in Sydney, but Australia, with approximately 150,000 uses a year, and up to 500 passes in one day! Despite this, the iconic 10km loop has seen better days. Eroding trail, track widening and confusing line choices are all features of the loop that riders have had to face for some time.

It’s rough, it’s bumpy, muddy and scratchy out there, it’s a fast ride, with loads of fun, swooping turns and drop offs everywhere.

The Sydney sandstone terrain exists in one of two surfaces, either hard steps of rock or soft patches of sand under your tyres, making it a serious challenge to ride, maintain and reduce massive erosion after rain. It’s also so unique and localised to a small area, so its hard to find anybody with experience working with the

Enter Trailscapes, the South Australian trail building and maintenance team headed up by Garry Patterson, a longtime and passionate mountain biker himself, with massive experience internationally and domestically in the business of trail building. The crew are currently hard at work in two areas; Manly Dam and across the road at Bantry Bay in Garigal National Park.

Whilst the work at Manly Dam is exciting news, what’s possibly even more exciting is the new trails being cut in across the road from Manly Dam at Bantry Bay. National Park? Yes, mountain bike trails are being constructed from scratch in National Park land, marking what is hopefully the beginning of a more positive relationship between mountain bikers and National Parks. For a long time there has been advocacy efforts to get trails at the site, NPWS is committed to providing quality, sustainable mountain biking experiences in selected New South Wales parks and reserves a commitment articulated in the NPWS Sustainable Mountain Biking Strategy. A priority project in the Strategy is the provision of a quality and sustainable mountain bike track in a northern Sydney NPWS reserve. With clearance from what we hear is the top level of state parliament, two brand new trails are being built, a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay West’ looping from the Currie Road Trail to the Cook Street Trail and a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay East’ looping from the Bluff Trail to the Engravings Trail. For more information click this link.

Warringah Council, which manages Manly Dam, has been a great supporter of the sport and has taken a collaborative approach to ensure the mountain biking community had input into the project.

The first stage of upgrade works costs $95,000 showing a real investment in mountain biking and protecting the environment.

Council has committed more funding over the next four years to continue the trail upgrade works that were identified during in the trail audit process.

Flow dropped by to see how the work is going, and meet the trail fairies in their office.

  • How have Trailscapes come to be working at Manly Dam?

We were contacted about four months ago by Warringah Council about doing some restoration/repair work on the trail, and then we started work about two months ago.

  • Why the need for a big operation like this?

As Manly Dam is one of the most popular mountain biking destinations not just in Sydney, but Australia, it gets worn down greatly. There has been a need for some time for more sustainable trail features to be put in place to accommodate the high traffic the area receives.

  • What can Trailscapes offer in contrast to regular Manly Dam/National Park maintenance teams?

Trailscapes can offer a better standard of work, as we are a professional trail building/maintenance company with vast experience in the specific industry of creating and maintaining mountain bike trails.

  • What is the main focus for the work to be undertaken?

There are four sections that we are focusing on. Putting in official A/B lines at the section known as ’19th Hole’, making A/B lines on ‘The Sniggle’, and finally we will be removing unsustainable trail features and replacing them with more future-proofed materials.

  • Are there any working conditions that effect the work being done here?

Well there’s a rider that comes through every ten minutes, even on a weekday (laughs).

  • What is the best part about working in the Manly Dam area?

The terrain here is just so unique. It’s amazing, and unlike anything else I’ve seen in Australia.

  • What’s the timeframe for the work to be completed?

Manly Dam: Late July

Bantry Bay West: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by October 2014

Bantry Bay East: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by February 2015

  • Will there continue to be more work done in the future or is this a once off operation?

The work we’re doing is predicted to have a ten year lifespan. Despite this, there are plenty of avenues for work to be done on the Manly Dam trail so we will most probably be back. With the complementing trail network being developed across the road at Bantry Bay, this area is about to become even more popular for mountain biking then it already is so who knows if we could be building more trails in the near future!

[divider]Manly Dam[/divider]

The bulk of the work will include:

  1. Introducing signposted A and B lines at technical sections of the trail. These include ‘the 19th hole’ and the steep roll off located on before the golf course lookout.

  2. Putting in more sustainable trail features, like using locally sourced Sydney sandstone instead of the previously used Dutch Ladders to prevent erosion of the trail.

Trailscapes 1
The Dam is littered with sensitive sections with moist surfaces.
Trailscapes 2
Cya later Dutch ladders! We won’t miss you.
Trailscapes 3
Garry’s favourite tool.

Trailscapes 5

Trailscapes 6
“If you build proper trails there’ll be less illegal stuff-it’s that simple”
Trailscapes 10
When Elliot isn’t working on the trail, you can find him backflipping at the dirt jumps. All the crew ride the trails the love to build.

Trailscapes 11

Trailscapes 13

Trailscapes 14
This is what 80 riders in one hour can do to sandstone.

Trailscapes 15

Trailscapes 16

Trailscapes 18

Trailscapes 19
“When you start from scratch with a trail everyone says ‘that’s great’, but if you tamper with existing trails it’s easy to get people upset, so you’ve got to consider your impact”

Trailscapes 20

Trailscapes 21
Sandstone materials handpicked from Gosford Quarries just north of Sydney are being placed over the soft patches of the trails to armour the surface for longevity.

Trailscapes 24

Trailscapes 26
Gary proudly unveils a new ‘B line’.
Trailscapes 28
“The work we are doing is mainly remedial, as well as putting in some A and B lines” said Gary. “We want a first time rider to easily identify the easiest line choice, and more experienced riders to have a more challenging line to ride”.

Trailscapes 29

Trailscapes 30

Trailscapes 31

[divider]Two New Trails For Bantry Bay[/divider]

The Bantry Bay trail locations are yet to be revealed, but do get excited it’s going to be a great addition to the existing trails of Manly Dam to provide a bigger loop network.

Trailscapes 34
Trail building is serious business! Tony suits up for battle.

Trailscapes 35

Trailscapes 36

Trailscapes 37
Tony Nolan, who’s been riding Manly Dam since 1995 and is currently working on the new trails at Bantry Bay, couldn’t keep the grin off his face discussing the future of the new trails at Bantry Bay and remedial work at Manly Dam.
Trailscapes 38
Yet more protection. It’s tough work day in, day out.
Trailscapes 39
“You just don’t use a wheelbarrow of dirt and you’re done”
Trailscapes 40
The Bantry Bay Trailscapes crew. Just one happy family.

 

Trailscapes 50
The surfaces are capped with only locally sourced materials, under strict guidance from National Parks.

Trailscapes 49

Trailscapes 48
It’s going to be a nice riding trail, quite tight and twisty through the beautiful National Park.
Trailscapes 47
Maite Petrement, full time trail builder with one of her favourite sections of trail.
Trailscapes 46
The trail work at Bantry Bay isn’t easy, the location is so remote that helicopters have been used to drop supplies such as rocks and dirt near the site.
Trailscapes 45
The time has come Sydney. Fresh, legal trails on the way!

Trailscapes 44

Trailscapes 43
Watch your head! These bags aren’t light!
Trailscapes 42
Trails don’t build themselves! Tony showing his team how it’s done with the mattock! “All of these trails are going to be amazing to ride,” said Tony.

 

Australia's Busiest Trail: Manly Dam Scores an Upgrade.

Riders who frequent Manly Dam either love it, hate it or find the challenging terrain a bit off-putting. The incredibly popular trail in Sydney’s Northern Beaches around the old water reservoir just a few km from the vibrant Manly Beach has long been in need of some care and maintenance. Judging by the number of hire bikes we see also around The Dam, it’s also a must-ride destination for beginners to the sport and visitors to Sydney.

Manly Dam is the most used trail not just in Sydney, but Australia, with approximately 150,000 uses a year, and up to 500 passes in one day! Despite this, the iconic 10km loop has seen better days. Eroding trail, track widening and confusing line choices are all features of the loop that riders have had to face for some time.

It’s rough, it’s bumpy, muddy and scratchy out there, it’s a fast ride, with loads of fun, swooping turns and drop offs everywhere.

The Sydney sandstone terrain exists in one of two surfaces, either hard steps of rock or soft patches of sand under your tyres, making it a serious challenge to ride, maintain and reduce massive erosion after rain. It’s also so unique and localised to a small area, so its hard to find anybody with experience working with the

Enter Trailscapes, the South Australian trail building and maintenance team headed up by Garry Patterson, a longtime and passionate mountain biker himself, with massive experience internationally and domestically in the business of trail building. The crew are currently hard at work in two areas; Manly Dam and across the road at Bantry Bay in Garigal National Park.

Whilst the work at Manly Dam is exciting news, what’s possibly even more exciting is the new trails being cut in across the road from Manly Dam at Bantry Bay. National Park? Yes, mountain bike trails are being constructed from scratch in National Park land, marking what is hopefully the beginning of a more positive relationship between mountain bikers and National Parks. For a long time there has been advocacy efforts to get trails at the site, NPWS is committed to providing quality, sustainable mountain biking experiences in selected New South Wales parks and reserves a commitment articulated in the NPWS Sustainable Mountain Biking Strategy. A priority project in the Strategy is the provision of a quality and sustainable mountain bike track in a northern Sydney NPWS reserve. With clearance from what we hear is the top level of state parliament, two brand new trails are being built, a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay West’ looping from the Currie Road Trail to the Cook Street Trail and a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay East’ looping from the Bluff Trail to the Engravings Trail. For more information click this link.

Warringah Council, which manages Manly Dam, has been a great supporter of the sport and has taken a collaborative approach to ensure the mountain biking community had input into the project.

The first stage of upgrade works costs $95,000 showing a real investment in mountain biking and protecting the environment.

Council has committed more funding over the next four years to continue the trail upgrade works that were identified during in the trail audit process.

Flow dropped by to see how the work is going, and meet the trail fairies in their office.

  • How have Trailscapes come to be working at Manly Dam?

We were contacted about four months ago by Warringah Council about doing some restoration/repair work on the trail, and then we started work about two months ago.

  • Why the need for a big operation like this?

As Manly Dam is one of the most popular mountain biking destinations not just in Sydney, but Australia, it gets worn down greatly. There has been a need for some time for more sustainable trail features to be put in place to accommodate the high traffic the area receives.

  • What can Trailscapes offer in contrast to regular Manly Dam/National Park maintenance teams?

Trailscapes can offer a better standard of work, as we are a professional trail building/maintenance company with vast experience in the specific industry of creating and maintaining mountain bike trails.

  • What is the main focus for the work to be undertaken?

There are four sections that we are focusing on. Putting in official A/B lines at the section known as ’19th Hole’, making A/B lines on ‘The Sniggle’, and finally we will be removing unsustainable trail features and replacing them with more future-proofed materials.

  • Are there any working conditions that effect the work being done here?

Well there’s a rider that comes through every ten minutes, even on a weekday (laughs).

  • What is the best part about working in the Manly Dam area?

The terrain here is just so unique. It’s amazing, and unlike anything else I’ve seen in Australia.

  • What’s the timeframe for the work to be completed?

Manly Dam: Late July

Bantry Bay West: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by October 2014

Bantry Bay East: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by February 2015

  • Will there continue to be more work done in the future or is this a once off operation?

The work we’re doing is predicted to have a ten year lifespan. Despite this, there are plenty of avenues for work to be done on the Manly Dam trail so we will most probably be back. With the complementing trail network being developed across the road at Bantry Bay, this area is about to become even more popular for mountain biking then it already is so who knows if we could be building more trails in the near future!

[divider]Manly Dam[/divider]

The bulk of the work will include:

  1. Introducing signposted A and B lines at technical sections of the trail. These include ‘the 19th hole’ and the steep roll off located on before the golf course lookout.

  2. Putting in more sustainable trail features, like using locally sourced Sydney sandstone instead of the previously used Dutch Ladders to prevent erosion of the trail.

Trailscapes 1
The Dam is littered with sensitive sections with moist surfaces.
Trailscapes 2
Cya later Dutch ladders! We won’t miss you.
Trailscapes 3
Garry’s favourite tool.

Trailscapes 5

Trailscapes 6
“If you build proper trails there’ll be less illegal stuff-it’s that simple”
Trailscapes 10
When Elliot isn’t working on the trail, you can find him backflipping at the dirt jumps. All the crew ride the trails the love to build.

Trailscapes 11

Trailscapes 13

Trailscapes 14
This is what 80 riders in one hour can do to sandstone.

Trailscapes 15

Trailscapes 16

Trailscapes 18

Trailscapes 19
“When you start from scratch with a trail everyone says ‘that’s great’, but if you tamper with existing trails it’s easy to get people upset, so you’ve got to consider your impact”

Trailscapes 20

Trailscapes 21
Sandstone materials handpicked from Gosford Quarries just north of Sydney are being placed over the soft patches of the trails to armour the surface for longevity.

Trailscapes 24

Trailscapes 26
Gary proudly unveils a new ‘B line’.
Trailscapes 28
“The work we are doing is mainly remedial, as well as putting in some A and B lines” said Gary. “We want a first time rider to easily identify the easiest line choice, and more experienced riders to have a more challenging line to ride”.

Trailscapes 29

Trailscapes 30

Trailscapes 31

[divider]Two New Trails For Bantry Bay[/divider]

The Bantry Bay trail locations are yet to be revealed, but do get excited it’s going to be a great addition to the existing trails of Manly Dam to provide a bigger loop network.

Trailscapes 34
Trail building is serious business! Tony suits up for battle.

Trailscapes 35

Trailscapes 36

Trailscapes 37
Tony Nolan, who’s been riding Manly Dam since 1995 and is currently working on the new trails at Bantry Bay, couldn’t keep the grin off his face discussing the future of the new trails at Bantry Bay and remedial work at Manly Dam.
Trailscapes 38
Yet more protection. It’s tough work day in, day out.
Trailscapes 39
“You just don’t use a wheelbarrow of dirt and you’re done”
Trailscapes 40
The Bantry Bay Trailscapes crew. Just one happy family.

 

Trailscapes 50
The surfaces are capped with only locally sourced materials, under strict guidance from National Parks.

Trailscapes 49

Trailscapes 48
It’s going to be a nice riding trail, quite tight and twisty through the beautiful National Park.
Trailscapes 47
Maite Petrement, full time trail builder with one of her favourite sections of trail.
Trailscapes 46
The trail work at Bantry Bay isn’t easy, the location is so remote that helicopters have been used to drop supplies such as rocks and dirt near the site.
Trailscapes 45
The time has come Sydney. Fresh, legal trails on the way!

Trailscapes 44

Trailscapes 43
Watch your head! These bags aren’t light!
Trailscapes 42
Trails don’t build themselves! Tony showing his team how it’s done with the mattock! “All of these trails are going to be amazing to ride,” said Tony.

 

Must-Ride: Cassowary Coast, Gorrell Track

Mission Beach
Mission Beach

 

Inland from the immaculate paradise of Mission Beach lies the Gorrell Track. It’s an old road, forced through the jungle long ago, part of an effort to connect the tablelands to the coast, passing through some of the most densely vegetated slopes imaginable. It’s proper rainforest out there, the air is thick with moisture and dangling wait-a-while vines and massive snakes move silently amongst the moss and decaying wood of the forest floor.

Flow Nation Gorrell Track 8

Wait-a-while vine. It'll stop you better than any four-piston brake.
Vines that grab your attention. It’ll stop you better than any four-piston brake.

Having just left the easily-accessible, landscaped perfection of the Atherton Mountain Bike Park, the Gorrell Track couldn’t have provided a starker contrast to round out the whole spectrum of mountain bike experiences we’d had in the Cairns area. Where the Atherton trails roll out right from the centre of town, just getting to the trailhead of the Gorrell Track is an exercise in itself, with the track starting 20km off the sealed road. To remind us just how wild things are out here, our path in was blocked by a four-metre carpet python that was so ensconced in its sunny position on the fire road that only a prod with a stick would move it!

Flow Nation Gorrell Track 18
Another crystal clear river crossing.

The Gorrell Track is a 24km long point-to-point ride – if you’re looking for it on a map, you’ll find it somewhere in a big patch of green between Millaa Millaa and Mena Creek – and at the time of riding, it has only just been opened up to mountain bikers. We parked a car at the far end and shuttled it, but if you were after an all-day outing, it’s perfectly rideable as an out-and-back from either direction.

Flow Nation Gorrell Track 21

 

While the whole trail is fire road, this is not a groomed ride, and the surface beneath you ranges from slippery clay to lumpy bits of black volcanic rock. The climbs are long, but the descents feel longer (and fast too), as the track plunges from valley to valley, with river crossings galore in between. Depending on rainfall, there’s a high chance that many of the causeways will be underwater too, but when we rode through only one was deep enough to cause any concern. Speaking of which, the water is good to drink, as you’re well away from any grazing country.

Flow Nation Gorrell Track 16

By the time we’d encountered our fourth black snake (including one we rode right over by accident) and had used our second and last spare tube, we’d begun to feel acutely aware of just how isolated you are out on the Gorrell Track. In three hours of incredibly scenic riding we’d seen no one else and we’d had zero mobile reception, and with the rainforest so dense around you there’s no outlook so it’s impossible to get an idea of where you might be in relation to the trailhead or finish. It’s really just you, your bike and the jungle. This is the kind of riding never, ever grows old.

Snake bite? Or snake bite?
Snake bite? Or snake bite?

After more than three hours, with our tyres pumped up rock hard to ward off another flat, we rolled out of the jungle, and not a moment to soon. Our plane back home was due to fly in three hours, and there was two hours of driving to be done to reach Cairns and two bikes to be boxed as well! Still stinking of the jungle, with mud on our faces, we crawled onto the flight south.

Flow Nation Gorrell Track 27

 

It was impossible not to reflect on the diversity of the riding we’d encountered in the Cairns region – from the history-steeped trails of Smithfield, to the surprise packet singletracks of Mareeba, the ever-expanding glory of Atherton and the wilderness of the Gorrell Track. In just three days, we’d tasted a motherload of sweet mountain bike fruits, and we want more. Next time we’ll be back to gorge on this tropical banquet properly.

For more information on riding in around Cairns, check out www.ridecairns.com.

The Soapbox: Down with negativity

As I got rolling, my confidence increased. After a few tight corners, some big rocks and a lot of deep dust, I had my head dialled into the trail. I could read it and trust it. I knew that anything with a double downward arrow was a part that I’d enjoy.

When I saw a triple arrow, it seemed like a good time to park the bikes and have a look. Was it wheels-on-the-ground stuff, or did the obvious lines go through the air? How much momentum would I need to keep rolling over the rough stuff? Was there anything that could get ugly if I wasn’t paying attention or my skills weren’t up for the job?

It pays to be careful the first time you ride any new trails. At this point in my time as a mountain biker, I was stoked to find that it was all very rideable. Go back in time a few years and I would have needed a much closer, slower look.

I felt like there was a mushroom cloud of negativity descending from the sky. I couldn’t handle it. I marched back up to my bike, jumped on board and got out of there, fast.

There were quite a few others checking out this section as well, and soon enough everyone started to offer their opinion. I like talking about how to tackle obstacles with other riders. But here’s the thing: everyone was talking about what not to do. How to mess it up, how to lose your wheel, where it would all go wrong.

I felt like there was a mushroom cloud of negativity descending from the sky. I couldn’t handle it. I marched back up to my bike, jumped on board and got out of there, fast. Note to self: I enjoy triple downward arrows on this course.

This scenario isn’t specific to one trail or event. You can be guaranteed to find similar conversations at almost any mountain bike competition. That’s because part of racing is testing yourself on tracks that you might not ordinarily ride.

It’s ok to be worried about whether you can safely navigate a section of a trail. It’s good to workshop this with other riders. Sure, a few negative comments are normal – they help us troubleshoot and debrief. But if neg becomes your norm, maybe it’s worth considering how this is affecting your riding in more ways than you think.

For starters, I’m pretty sure there’s not a sport psychology book out there that tells you to think in ‘can’ts’. And I have yet to hear of a top coach encouraging ‘can’t-thinkers’ to spout their anxiety far and wide – to complete strangers if they’ll listen – in the hopes that these attitudes become socially reinforced.

Why not walk the trail with your bike and break it down a bit? Talk through options that work, test out similar skills somewhere less daunting, and ask other riders for tips. Seek out handy words of wisdom to keep in your mind the next time you give a section like that a go. Look for markers on the trail to aim for if you can’t see the other side of a steep roll-down or drop.

If you’re not feeling it, just go easy on yourself. There’s no point building bad habits by riding tense. (But maybe note a few markers to aim for the next time you ride this section of track. You know, just in case.)

If you look and listen to successful riders, most of them are quite methodical about how they approach the sport. If you have to take a B-line or jump off and walk an obstacle, make it part of your race plan. Turn it into a positive – maybe a firm decision to skip it will free your mind from worry for the rest of the lap. Or time how long it takes people to walk it compared to riding it, and redeem that extra five seconds by focussing your attention where your strengths help out somewhere else.

I’m not arguing that walking technical trails is the best way to make friends and win races… But there’s a lot to be said for enjoying the way skills build progressively.

I’m not arguing that walking technical trails is the best way to make friends and win races. For starters, rules, etiquette and pride imply that if you’re off your bike you should always yield to someone riding through from behind. But there’s a lot to be said for enjoying the way skills build progressively. One of my favourite things about mountain biking is that every time you learn one thing, it opens the door to learning about ten more.

No one is ever going to bag you for riding within your limits. And I think you’ll find that if you tell people the good things about a ride, or an element of your riding you want to work on, they’ll share good things with you as well. You might find you end up riding much better as a result.

The same goes for riders who are always complaining about what they can’t afford, races they can’t get to and weekends they can’t get away for. Cheer up guys. I think you’ll find that the reasons you might not be riding the most expensive bikes in the universe 24/7 (spending time with your family, getting an education, owning the place you live in, having a life outside of bikes or working a job that provides you with a lifestyle you enjoy) are pretty good as well.

Must-Ride: Mareeba and Atherton, Qld

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-29
It was time to head up into the hills to the tablelands.

After sampling the goods at Smithfield and Port Douglas, we turned our attention inland to continue our exploration of the riding on offer in the Cairns region. The first stop on the itinerary was Mareeba, home to a passionate club of riders who harbour a network of singletrack that’s even sweeter than the pineapples the town’s famous for.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-41

Davies Creek lies about ten minutes outside of Mareeba, and it’s where the Mountain Goats play. We were joined on the trails by Rudi, the club secretary, who was fizzing at the bung to tell us more about the trails and show us their latest creations.

The feeling of riding a machine-built trail that’s yet to get chopped up or skidded out it is not an opportunity to pass up.

The arrangement at Davies Creek is a model we’d love to see more of across Australia. The land on which the trails are built is actually subject to a pastoral lease, with beef cattle roaming amongst the trails and termite mounds; the riders and farmers look out for each other, and both parties have a vested interest in keeping the place free from the scourge of rubbish dumping and motorbikes ripping up the trails.

Our timing could not have been better, Rudi told us. The club had recently secured a matched grant for the development of new trail, which was only days away from completion. And would we like to give it a test ride? Hell yes! The feeling of riding a machine-built trail that’s yet to get chopped up or skidded out it is not an opportunity to pass up.

 

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-42

The new Tank Trail is a gem. Just shy of 10km long, it takes in a huge variety of soil types and milks the most out of the terrain, but without feeling forced or awkward – it’s a great piece of trail building. After looping through gully after gully, the trail finishes up with a ridge-run that should top well over 50km/h once the ride line is established.

Davies Creek was a real surprise for us. The names of Cairns and Atherton are well-known in mountain bike circles, but little Mareeba, sandwiched in the middle, should not be overlooked. If you’re venturing up over the range from Cairns en route to Atherton, you’d be a fool not pull in to Davies Creek for a couple of hours and an ever greater fool if you didn’t get a milkshake from the joint down the road afterwards!

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-40
Creative trail building. This might steep slab of granite is an optional offshoot from the main trail. Plenty of chain-snapping traction here!

With a stomach full of dairy and still buzzing from the flow of Davies Creek, we rolled into Atherton once again. It was only a few months ago that we were in town for four days of amazing riding in this blossoming mountain bike hot spot, and it felt like we’d never left. Atherton is a fantastic town, and this place must go on your bucket list!

There’s a staggering amount of trail weaving across the slopes of Mt Baldy already, and the network is growing steadily. So to this the bike-ification of town, with plans to build a trail right from the centre of town into the singletrack, and business (like the Atherton Tourist Park, where we stayed) beginning to cater to mountain bikers with facilities like bike washes and work stands. We’ve got a feeling that within a few years, mountain biking will be the beating heart of Atherton.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-52
Hooking in to one of the amazing turns at the start of Trail 9.

Part of the reason for our return to Atherton was to ride a final piece in the puzzle that hadn’t been completed last visit, but which was now open for business. Ricochet (or Trail 9) is one of the gems of the Atherton Mountain Bike park, but until recently it was only accessible by a long, steep fire road climb – it wasn’t really part of the network. But that’s all changed now, with a new 14km section of Trail 9 completed, winding its way up to the pinnacle of the park, and this is what we’d come to ride.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-55
The climb is broken up into mellow, rolling pitches, and takes in some great views and features to make you forget all about your legs.

 

It’s not often that a trail is so good that you’re forced, totally involuntarily, to scream with happiness. We lost count of the number of times that the opening section of Trail 9 reduced us to howling like girls at a Beiber concert. The first section of Trail 9 is genuinely one of the nicest pieces of trail we’ve rolled tyres over. It descends into a gully that’s so steep you’d battle to walk down it, so the trail is layered down the slope with a series of massive switchback berms that suck you in and spit you out so fast you don’t quite know what’s happening. And these berms go on, and on, and on, and on… By the time you reach the valley floor, you’re not even sure which way you’re facing.

With a descent like that under your belt, the climb back up is forgotten in the afterglow. Once again, the trail is superbly built, biting off the nine kilometre climb in easily digestible chunks, with incredible views and rest spots along the way. Before you know it the whole valley is laid out beneath you. There’s only one way back to town, and that’s straight down the bobsled track of Ricochet.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-73
Richocet feels like you’ve been thrown down a bobsled track.

We’re not exaggerating when we say that the complete Trail 9 loop is one of the finest trails we’ve ridden in Australia. Nine kays of climbing may sound a lot, but it’s a fantastic ascent, and the opening and closing descents are ridiculously good. With the completion of this trail, Atherton reaches a whole new level, with some truly epic singletrack loops. And with plenty more trail in the pipeline, who knows how much better things can get here? We’ll definitely be back to find out again next year.

For more information on the trails in the Cairns region, check out www.ridecairns.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Training your Brain: Part 3 – Riding with Flow

As a psychologist I often advise athletes to trust their competence, not their confidence. Competence is about having the real skills to do something. Confidence, on the other hand, is unreliable and can get us in big trouble. If you know what you’re capable of, you can go out and do it. Confidence is mostly bullshit.

If you know what you’re capable of, you can go out and do it. Confidence is mostly bullshit.

So how do you increase your competence? The best place to start is to learn to gauge both your skills and your limits. I always suggest developing a realistic skills hierarchy and to use other riders as a gauge for determining where you sit. For example, for drops, a hierarchy might start with drops or rolls of ½ metre or less with an easy exit, moving up to drops (no rollout option) of up to a metre, then incrementing all the way up to 2+metres with difficult exits. Maybe give each increment a grade (e.g., 1A –really easy, to 5D – stupidly hard) and then determine where you are now and where you could realistically get to (with practice). It’s then pretty easy to rate a given trail based on its features and level of technicality, and to decide whether you can do some or all of it, and what you’d need to improve in order to ride the whole thing.

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Knowing your skills and limits also means that it’s realistically easier to say “no” when you come across a feature that you know is beyond your current skills. It’s worth pointing out that just because other guys make it look easy, doesn’t mean that it is, or that you should even ride it. If riding is about fun, then figuring out the maximum grade of risk you’re prepared to accept, and then working your way up to that level systematically, will result in a lot more fun.

There’s no need to punish yourself or feel like an idiot because you don’t have the skills you want right now – instead of looking at a drop and giving yourself shit about not being able to ride it, use it as motivation to learn to be a better rider.

Most importantly, grading trails and features, and then figuring out your current skills and limits, helps you to be able to ride without letting your head screw it up for you. Once you accept that a feature is beyond your current skill level, it’s a lot easier to simply walk your bike around it, and then work on developing a training program to build your skills up so you’re able to clear that section later on. This is probably the best way to get around the whole “my head won’t let me” scenario that all of us have come across. There’s no need to punish yourself or feel like an idiot because you don’t have the skills you want right now – instead of looking at a drop and giving yourself shit about not being able to ride it, use it as motivation to learn to be a better rider.

Increased competence is by far the best way to increase your enjoyment out on the bike. In sport psychology the term “flow” is used to describe a feeling of total immersion with an activity, where everything goes right, and time disappears. It’s an amazing feeling, and one of the main reason I mountain bike. Flow certainly isn’t guaranteed though, and there are lots of things that get in the way.

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So how do you get to have one of those rides where everything just works, and you finish up feeling totally buzzed? Here’s my recipe for riding a trail with flow.

1)   Flow is much more likely to happen when you get the balance between your skills and the level of challenge just right. This means knowing your limits and your skill level and then matching it to the trail. A trail that keeps you on your toes, but doesn’t scare the crap out of you is a good match. Go for enough challenge so that you max out at about 80% of your skill threshold.

2)   You can also increase the chances of flow by upping the challenge on easier trails (e.g., focusing on technique, like attempting to keep your hands off the brakes in corners, or getting your balance just right on a drop). Increasing skills levels also helps, because it means you can attempt increased challenges. See part 2 for an idea of how to do this.

When this happens, don’t just balls through it. Stop, take a breath, come back into the present moment.

There are two things that will always kill flow: too much challenge (resulting in fear and overthinking) and not enough skill. The kicker is that, when the challenge is too high and you get a fear response, you’ll probably go into fight or flight (see part 1) which means that you won’t be able to think clearly and your fine-motor control will reduce, meaning you’re more likely to stuff up. In other words, too much challenge gets in the way of skill.

When this happens, don’t just balls through it. Stop, take a breath, come back into the present moment (look at your bike and the trail and the trees), and then get on your bike and ride something that you know is within your ability (ramp down the challenge to match your skill). If your head starts giving you grief, take another breath, acknowledge that your head is giving you shit, focus on the trail, and remind yourself why you’re out there – you’re not there to go big or go home, you’re there to enjoy the ride as much as you possibly can.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com).

The Croc Wrestler: Gerhard Schönbacher of the Crocodile Trophy

Now in its 20th year, the Croc is an Australian endurance racing institution, so it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the race’s founder is not a local; Gerhard Schönbacher is the Austrian masochist behind this most-brutal of stage races. Flow chatted with the Croc wrestler to learn a bit more about taming the beast.

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Back in the day. No helmet, five spoke carbon wheels.

The Croc turns twenty this year! Tell us about the very first edition of this legendary race.

The first Crocodile Trophy was held in 1994. We had 68 participants and they raced for 2,670km for 18 monster stages from Darwin to Cairns. It was all about surviving back then. We constantly ran out of water, food was scarce – replenishing our storage trucks with food and fresh water was the biggest challenge! During that first race, one of the trucks that was supposed to bring more supplies got lost and we had to stop in a small town and wait for it for a day or two. We didn’t dare continue the race without enough supplies. What an adventure that was!

I used to race in a pro-road team in Australia in the early eighties and have always been fascinated by the vast Outback of this country. I love the red sand, the rough landscapes and the lush rain forests that we now still race through. For the past decade or so the region of Cairns and Tropical Far North Queensland has been our home.

We were told that many roads and fields were still full of mines at the time and the risk was just too high.

Is it true that the Croc was almost going to be run in Vietnam? What would you have called it then?!

Yes, we tried very hard to put together a stage race from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City at the time. But the bureaucracy was just too hard to tackle. Plus, we were told that many roads and fields were still full of mines at the time and the risk was just too high. We were already toying with names – but I probably would have gone with Hanoi-Saigon Trophy.

The Croc Trophy is known as one of the toughest races on the planet; what is the single factor, in your mind, that makes it such a challenge?

The heat and the rough conditions in the Outback that challenge both rider and equipment – as well as us as organisers and my crew.

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Why is the race so popular with Europeans? It’s a long way from home!

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am from Austria and used to race in Europe professionally for many years. I know a lot of the pro-road and mountain bike cyclists and have been able to promote the race also during my other event, the Alpentour Trophy, with is also a UCI S1 stage event. We race for four days through the Austrian Alps in and around Schladming and many riders come from Belgium, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and Austria of course. Everyone wants to visit Australia once in their life – if you’re a cyclist it’s tempting to experience the magic of the Outback in the saddle of your bike. We do get a lot of pros racing the Croc, but even more hobby riders and groups of friends who take on this challenge together, take some time off from their day-to-day working lives and love the adventure they have with us.

Everyone wants to visit Australia once in their life – if you’re a cyclist it’s tempting to experience the magic of the Outback in the saddle of your bike.

For the last three or four years we’ve put a big focus also on attracting Australian racers with our local partner, Rocky Trail Entertainment from Sydney. Martin Wisata will race the Croc for the fifth time this year and is a true ambassador for our race. His wife Juliane is our media manager in Australia and New Zealand.

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In the history of the race, what has been the toughest battle for the win that you’ve ever seen?

I think it was the first year that Urs Huber from Switzerland competed was very impressive – he was up against the big favourite Bart Brentjens from The Netherlands who is an icon, Croc Trophy winner and the first Olympic winner in a mountain bike discipline! You had the experienced old-hand and the young gun ride their hearts out every day. Urs took it out in the end.

 

And who has been the most impressive competitor in your mind?

I’ve seen a lot of great athletes compete at the Croc, they’re all so determined and we really grow together as a family in those almost two weeks we spend in Australia. You get the pro-cyclists, many of whom are Tour-de-France competitors, you get the hobby mountain bikers who love the adventure and we all sit together at the camp fire in the evening exchanging our daily experiences.

We always have women competing also – last year a Belgian rider had a fantastic result, riding into the top 20 overall. A few years ago there were two hand-bikers, two American ex-soldiers who were injured in the war. They decided to participate together with an able-bodied friend who rode with them. They had their own support car and spent many hours out there often coming into camp late at night. Both had to drop out a few days before the finish due to health concerns and their friend finished the race for them. But what an amazing effort! Some sections of the track are tough to conquer on a quad bike or 4WD, there are river crossings, steep ascents… and these guys did it all out of sheer will. So… it’s hard to pick one rider out, they all come with such an impressive desire to do this race, to challenge themselves and to do their best.

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Setting up camp alongside a billabong where possible is one way of battling the heat that can get well into the mid-forties.

 

The temperature at the Croc is a huge factor – what is the hottest it has ever been for the race?

We’ve had temperatures soar into the mid- to high-forties. Juliane once recorded 46 degrees in her media tent one afternoon. Nowadays the stages start very early, at 8am and by 2 or 3pm all riders are at the finish, which is when it gets really hot. Every 30km or so we have food and water stations or “depots” as we call them and there the riders can fill up on water, electrolyte drinks as well as fruit and muesli bars.

Most riders arrive a few days early to get used to the warmer and more humid weather in Cairns and I’ve even heard of some European riders who trained on a stationary bike in a sauna back home. But generally, everyone copes well and we have medical and physiotherapy staff that assist with the daily recovery. It’s important that riders cool down quickly, drink and eat a lot and right away – often we camp at billabongs or rivers that we can swim in.

 

Have you ever had to cancel the race because of the elements (too hot, too wet etc)?

Not the entire race but we neutralised individual stages – I remember one year where we had a bush fire separate the racing field in to two groups and practically halted the race. We got everyone back to the safety of our camp and re-started the race the next day. Only three years ago there were huge floods and rainfalls in Cairns and it was impossible for us to mark the second stage – two or three 4WD vehicles got stuck in the mud and it got too dangerous for our riders as well. We had them divert onto sealed roads and also neutralised that day. So, yes, everything is possible in this country.

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Feeding the Croc. She’s a hungry beast – check out Gerhard’s stats below!

 

Just how much food gets eaten every year at the Croc?

Huge amounts – and we encourage our riders to eat a lot and replenish their bodies! We have a chef from Austria who travels with us and together with Martin and Juliane from Rocky Trail and our local pasta and sauce supplier Il Pastaio he puts together a menu, which is based on pasta and rice and various meat and vegetarian sauces and side dishes to provide a balanced diet throughout the race. The estimated value of the all-inclusive catering offer is around $1100 per rider.

We always serve breakfast with bacon and eggs, various muesli types, bread and spreads. After the stage the riders get pasta and they can also help themselves to sandwiches and fresh fruit. For dinner we often add seafood as well as the usual beef and poultry and if we get it sometimes also kangaroo. We have a mobile kitchen with about 10-12 staff that cook in two teams for our riders. In terms of numbers, for instance in 2013 we used DAILY:

  • 25kg pineapples
  • 60kg bananas
  • 100kg melons
  • 40kg dry pasta
  • 20 litres milk
  • 12 dozen eggs
  • 60kg meat/steaks
  • 40kg fish (if on the menu)
A mid-stage depot ready to refuel riders.
A mid-stage depot ready to refuel riders.

How has the Croc changed from its first year till now?

We’ve gained a lot of experience especially in the logistics area – we now have around 70-90 staff and hire 12 trucks, 2 campervans and 14 four-wheel drive cars every year. We have also been able to build up great relationships with local clubs in the Cairns and Atherton regions and have a crew of local quad bike riders who accompany our riders, transporting camera crews and sometimes also medical and organisational staff when vehicles can’t pass through a track section.

For the first time and our 20th anniversary in 2014, we’ve secured the UCI S1 status for the Croc. This is the highest status for stage races within the UCI and the Crocodile Trophy is the event with the highest number of individual starters in any stage race world-wide. This UCI level comes with a lot more commitment in terms of price money – we pay out $30,000 this year. We will also have a crew of UCI Commissaires among our organisational committee and we’ll get even more media attention world-wide. Our race report is already shown in 25 countries via more than 40 TV stations and we get reports on numerous online portals around the world as well.

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Gnarly.

 

And how has it stayed the same?

What we have retained from the very first event back in 1994 is the adventure aspect and the mission to explore and ride through this beautiful country, providing a safe environment. It’s still a tough race, many call it the hottest and most adventurous one. It’s certainly still the adventure of a lifetime and if someone wants to take it on, they can be sure that they’ll find a lot of like-minded riders from all over the world at the start line.

 

Cory Wallace, flat out at Cooktown at the race's end.
Cory Wallace, flat out at Cooktown at the race’s end.

How do you see the Croc evolving in the future?

We certainly want to become bigger – traditionally we’ve had 100-120 riders and we’d like to grow it to 150-200 over the next few years. We’ve been working very closely together with the federal and local tourism organisations and councils in Far North Queensland – Cairns and Port Douglas will be the start and finishing hosting towns in 2014 and the Atherton region will be showcasing their fantastic network of mountain bike trails as well. On most stages riders will be able to not only camp with us at the event centre but also have the possibility to sleep in nearby hotels and cabins. This is to open the event up to people who are not so keen on the camping aspect, but prefer the comforts of a bed. In our camp riders can hire tents and camping beds that are erected by our crew daily.

We hope to have many more Australians race at our event and continue to attract all those riders from overseas and to keep shoawcasing this beautiful country world-wide.

 

Must-Ride: Cairns, Smithfield

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This berm alone is worth the trip to Cairns.

The colourful Cairns mountain bike crew deserve a lot credit for the fantastic state of Australian mountain biking today. Back in the 1990s, up in the rainforests of the Kuranda range, a wild bunch on mountain bikes began blazing their own trail. They were developing mountain biking in their own sweaty microcosm, not caring a damn about how the sport was shaping up in other parts of the world. This was Cairns mountain biking; raw, slippery, fun and independent.

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Exceptional trail building on Black Snake.

Soon enough the antics of the Great Cairns Hill Tribe began to capture the attention and the imagination of riders across the country and the world. Word and vision of just how far the Cairns crew were pushing the limits of mountain biking began to trickle out, and along with it an awareness of what an incredible haven of trails this mob had created. Eventually even the UCI caught wind, bringing the World Cup and World Champs to Cairns in 1994 and 1996. Suddenly Cairns was on the mountain bike world map. In this pressure cooker, talented riders blossomed; Kovarik, Hannah, Ronning and many others, all rising to the top of World stage and cementing the status of Cairns as a leading international mountain bike destination.

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But then in the early 2000s, things went off the boil, and the Cairns scene went a little quite. It continued to simmer away until quite recently, when a concerted effort by riders, local authorities and mountain bike luminaries thrust Cairns and its surrounds back to the forefront of Australian and international mountain biking once again. In quick succession we saw the revitalisation of the legendary Smithfield trails, huge new trail developments at Atherton (just up the road from Cairns) and the announcement that Cairns had secured a World Cup round AND the World Champs – all our Christmases at once!

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What locals are keen to emphasise now, is that Cairns itself is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to riding in the tropical north. In addition to the Smithfield trails, you’ve got Atherton, Mareeba, the Cassowary Coast, Port Douglas and a million different hidden trails in between, all within a couple of hours drive from one another.

Given we’d be in town already for the World Cup, the opportunity to explore the region was simply too good to miss. So we packed the bikes, rustled up some Hawaiian shirts and bug spray and hit the trails. First up on our itinerary, Smithfield! No sooner had the course marshals removed the bunting, than we were delving into the jungle to rip it up on the red clay.

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With graded, signposted, mapped trails, Smithfield is hassle-free riding of the finest quality. It’s the perfect place to get your tropical northern mountain bike adventure underway.

Smithfield is the ultimate place to start any riding trip in the Cairns region. Not only is the closest trail centre to Cairns itself, but the trails are signposted, mapped and graded, so it’s practically impossible to get lost and find yourself a victim of the Minjin (local mythical mountain panther).

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Flowing through the sea of green. Everything is alive and growing in the forest.

Given that Glen Jacobs was the driving force in the revitalisation of these trails, it’s no surprise that you feel like you’re carving through the vines on a hoverboard – these are classic flow trails for the most part, with a mesmerising rhythm, punctuated by the occasional A-line that requires you to really think about where you want to put your wheels.

There’s more than enough riding here for a full day of singletrack; get your fill, then head into town for some people watching by the lagoon – that’s our second favourite activity in Cairns!

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Terrible place. Just awful.
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The drive north to Port Douglas is stunning. You can see just how the mountain range plummets straight into the sea.

Just north of Cairns lies the honeymooner’s paradise of Port Douglas. It’s the kind of place where you could easily spend way too much time; most of the ‘locals’ we met had blown in from some far-flung corner of the globe and found themselves mysteriously stuck seven years later.

For mountain bikers, Port Douglas is home to the brake-cooking Bump Track descent, plus a bunch of rough and raw trails that lead you to some fairly special swimming holes – with the range teetering over the coastline, there are innumerable magic spots where water cascades down cliff faces and into deep, clear pools. The trick is knowing where to find them! We joined up with local guide Tom Dayshe of Bike ‘n’ Hike tours to worm our way through the forest and unearth some of these gems. When you’ve cooked your legs on Smithfield’s trails in the morning, this is absolutely magic.

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Bike n Hike Adventure tours, ready for action.

Flow Nation Cairns 9

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Get back to work, Mick!
Get back to work, Mick!

 

For more information about all the riding in and around Cairns, check out www.ridecairns.com. 

 

Alice in Winter and racing the Red Centre

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The mighty MacDonnell Ranges are always there, looming over you in Alice! The way the scene changes colour as the sun drops is incredible.

Alice in winter

By May, when other parts of Oz are taking a right old beating, in the Red Centre smatterings of summer rain have damped down the dust, and clear blue skies are the general rule until next summer. By May the daytime temperatures in Alice are in the high 20s, and the locals are starting to complain about ‘the cold’. Winter conditions like that put the muddy grey days of winter riding in Melbourne and Sydney to shame. Suddenly flights to Alice for you and your bike start to feel as justifiable as post-ride beers and chips.

Alice Springs locals love their winter riding, and the event calendar reflects that. Alice’s mountain bike club, the Central Australian Rough Riders, runs a marathon, a 6-hour, a 12-hour night race, a three-day Easter stage race and a point-to-point series – and they’re all awesome. But for many interstate riders, Rapid Ascent’s Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro is the drawcard.

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A cloud in the sky during an Alice winter is enough to make the locals stop and stare. You’re almost guaranteed perfect riding conditions, with clear days topping out in the high 20s.

 

The Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro

With seven stages over five days, the Ingkerreke (pronounced ‘in-gear-uh-kah’) is long enough to feel like a break, but not so long that you need more than week off work. Rapid Ascent has been running the Ingkerreke for years, so the event runs as smoothly as your bike does on that first post-drivetrain overhaul ride.

This year’s Ingkerreke attracted some fast elites, with Jo Bennett securing an overall win in the women’s division, ahead of Imogen Smith (second) and all-but-local Jess Douglas (third). In the men’s division, Taswegian past-winner Ben Mather took the honours after fighting off recently returned local Ryan Standish (second) and Veteran class winner James Downing (third – more results here). But one of the things we’ve always enjoyed about the Ingkerreke is that it’s not just a race for the sharp end. The Ingkerreke throws together elite riders, mid-fielders and keen mere mortals for a solid week of awesome riding in a beautiful place.

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Jo Bennet, on her way to another Ingkerreke victory, leading Imogen Smith through the ever-shifting, super-fast singletrack.

In contrast to 2013, which started with rain, this year’s first three days were dry – even us locals had to concede that the surface was a bit loose. As we slogged down the sand on Smith St at the start of stage one, we could practically hear the thoughts of the interstaters, who were trying hard not to dwell on all the suffering they were in for in the week ahead. But the groans transformed into grins at the 10km mark when we hit that Alice Springs singletrack.

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Cloud cover kept the first day cool; on days two and three the sun came out, cranking up the heat and restoring the local advantage. On day four a very un-Centralian rain toned down the heat, prompting the locals to resume their complaints about ‘the cold’. But rain is always good news for mountain bikers in Alice – it packed down that otherwise loose, tyre-swallowing sand and rejuvenated the singletrack in time for the final stage, which rode fast.

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The Ingkerreke’s infamous Anzac Hill sprint climb! A brutal 300 metres, but the view is worth it.

 

It’s all Central-ised

When it comes to logistics, racing in Alice Springs is so easy. Alice is small enough that all seven stages of the Ingkerreke can start within a 10-minute ride of wherever you’re staying, and you’ll be finishing your stages in time to lunch at a café. But if the town is small, its trail network is massive, and growing – it can easily accommodate a week of riding without repeating sections. There’s plenty on the track menu, too, from fast and flowing zip-lines and loose, off-camber turns, to tight, rocky and technical switchbacks and step-ups. You can taste every dish within just a few corners and then find yourself back at the top of the menu again. The riding has a raw backcountry feel that Victoria-based Scotsman Gareth Syme described as ‘like real mountain biking’.

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Singletrack and fire trail

Rapid Ascent used fire roads for early course sections to prevent singletrack congo lines. For the sharp-end, those fire roads were an opportunity to hustle; for the rest of us they were a chance to have a break and a yarn. Indeed, one-time-local Adam Nicholson said he was riding singlespeed because ‘there are more people to talk to in the mid-field’. (Adam spent his fire road time exchanging banter about gear ratios with his friend and fellow singlespeeder / bitter rival John.)

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Imogen Smith, Jo Bennet and Jess Douglas. Alice always attracts a classy, talented field.

Alice Springs’s steadily growing tangle of trails can be confusing to the uninitiated, though some tracks are now officially mapped and sign-posted. With so many new tracks added in the last few years, Ingkerreke vet Ben Mather described this year’s event as ‘a totally different race’ to the year of his previous win, in 2009. But combining a mountain biking visit with an event like the Ingkerreke means you can follow the pink tape through some of Alice’s finest sections of track without worrying about geographic dis/orientation.

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James Downing, Ryan Standish and Ben Mather.

This year’s Ingkerreke covered some of the best trails, old and new, while retaining some iconic sections of fire trail from previous years. And on the nights we weren’t racing, there were things on at the Chifley Alice Springs Resort event base, showcasing some of Alice’s local music talent, including local rider Mick Cafe.

For the full results from the 2014 Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro, jump on in here.

Chris’s parting shot

So what is different about mountain biking in the Alice Springs? A lot has been written about that since Alice hit the radar a few years ago, but here’s my two cents: it’s cross-country riding at its purest. There are no big hills and no long technical descents, just endless undulations, pinches and flowing turns under a big sky. The riding surfaces vary, from hardpack to loose corners to short rockgardens to sand, and a bit of mud if you’re lucky. There’s nothing really nasty to spit you off, and the few serious obstacles have B-lines, but every corner promises something different, something to keep you on your toes.

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Training your Brain: Part 2 – Skills Acquisition

Let’s start with how we learn and what we can reasonably expect to learn. Riding a mountain bike is about programming in a very complex series of fine-motor controls so that we don’t have to think much on the trail. When we program our cerebellum to ride for us, it means we don’t have to think about every obstacle, so we can just ride over them (this is why good riders look like they’re riding without having to think about it – they’re not, at least not consciously). We can do this because our cerebellum reacts way faster than the conscious parts of our brain. The downside is that if you program in crap, you’ll ride like crap – automatically.

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Danny Macaskill; highly tuned.

As you speed up beyond what your conscious brain can process, you’ll be riding on your automatic systems without the ability to monitor or modify.

Learning a motor skill is a slow and frustrating process. When you learnt to drive, you had to think about everything, and it was hard to react properly in real time. Eventually though, you were able to program in these skills so you didn’t have to think about them. The same goes for mountain biking. When you’re learning you rely on conscious processing, and this is slow (reaction speed of seconds rather than milliseconds).

The good news is that while you’re riding under conscious control, you have the option to monitor what’s going on, and to make modifications – if you make the right modifications this means that you’re learning good stuff. In fact, whenever you’re riding under conscious control the conscious part of your brain is programming the automatic control systems (in your cerebellum) so you’ll be more efficient later on. But as soon as you speed up beyond what your conscious brain can process, you’ll be riding on your automatic systems without the ability to monitor or modify.

Annoyingly, most of us don’t learn to ride like we learn to drive. Rather than getting proper instruction and then practising until we’re competent, we usually just ‘go out and ride’. And because we often practise bad habits, we end up with these bad habits deeply programmed into our brains (meaning you’ll ride like crap whenever the trail gets tough and you don’t have time to think).

Because we often practise bad habits, we end up with these bad habits deeply programmed into our brains

So here’s how to program your brain in order to learn or improve a bike skill (whether you’re a beginner or an expert), so that you won’t have to think about it on the trail.

1)   Start by figuring out what you want to improve: braking, balance, cornering, line selection, drops, rock gardens, whatever.

2)   Get some information on how to do whatever it is you want to learn. Maybe from an instructor, a mate who’s good at whatever it is you want to get better at, a website, or a video.

3)   Find an appropriate spot to practise and start basic and slow. For example, for a drop, find a kerb and start by rolling over it, concentrating on getting your weight distribution right. When this feels easy, try going a bit higher and slowly rolling off, focusing on smooth weight transitions and landings. The trick is to make sure that you’re always consciously aware of what you’re doing and in control of your actions. This will be frustrating and the temptation will be to speed up and go bigger. Don’t.

4)   Keep practising until what you’re doing feels easy, and then get some feedback from riders who know what they’re talking about. Modify based on their feedback and keep practising.

5)   Start speeding up and, or adding complexity. Make sure you never go beyond a point where you can maintain conscious control of your bike. As soon as you find yourself reacting rather than thinking, slow down.

6)   If you find yourself freaking out or getting anxious, stop. Go back to a simpler or slower version and practise until it feels easy.

7)   Likewise, try not to overthink. Picture what you have to do in your mind’s eye, and then do it, keeping track of the key factors (like hand and body position). If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the task at hand.

8)   As your ability increases, try mixing it up and trying out your skills on new sections of trail. Try to stay slowed down and in control.

9)   Remember that skills programming is slow, but not necessarily boring. Whenever you start to get bored, remind yourself that this will make you a much better rider. It’s worth thinking about what riding means to you, and remembering that mastery isn’t about getting to the bottom of a trail, or about having big balls, it’s about being good on the bike. Lots of riders can get down something or huck a big gap, but not many do it well.

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Chris Kovarik. Effortlessly amazing around a filthy off-camber corner.

If the steps above sound strange to you, you’re not alone. Very few of us actually learn to ride this way, so instead of consistently getting better at the thing we love, we just ride the same stuff week by week, making the same mistakes and getting frustrated because we’re not improving!

Obviously, it’d be boring to stop riding and just do skills work. I suggest taking a deliberate 1-2 weeks every 2-3 months (especially when you come up against an obstacle to your riding) and going through these steps.

In part 1 of this series we looked at how your brain helps and hinders your riding. In this section we looked at how to use your brain to program in good riding. In part 3 we’ll look at putting this all together so that you can ride with flow out on the trail.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com).

Must-Ride: James Estate, NSW

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James Estate in the upper Hunter Valley is breathtakingly beautiful; rolling valley plains filled with green rows of grape vines and bookended by the sandstone ridges of the Wollemi wilderness area. It’s the place that Graeme calls home, it’s the place where he works, and it’s also where he plays on superb, hand-built singletrack.

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When Graeme set up shop here at Baerami, three hours from Sydney, he moved away from the singletrack that he loved. If he was going to ride trails, he was going to have to make it happen himself. And so that’s what Graeme did; escaping into the bush on the vineyard’s fringes with a shovel and pick, he began to create his own personal mountain bike playground.

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Fast forward a few years, and the native bush that abuts the Wollemi Wilderness area is a net of singletrack, the product of one man’s toil. And the other staff at the vineyard, who once thought him crazy, now have the bug too, with three of the crew now taking to the trails as well.

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This year, for the very first time, one of Sydney’s premiere mountain bike events is coming to James Estate. The JetBlack 12hr, after many years at Dargle Farm, will roll on in to the upper Hunter Valley on 12 July 2014. And if endurance racing is your kettle of fish, this is one event you’d be foolish to miss.

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The trails are fantastic and absolutely ideal for multi-lap racing, with a good mix of flowing singletrack and fast fire road across the 11km loop. There’s camping amongst the vineyards (and if it’s a clear night, there’ll even be a full moon) and the setting is as perfect as you’ll ever encounter on your mountain bike. Oh, and there’s a lot of good wine too, so the post-race party should be a cracker.

The fun, friendly and relaxed feel of the JetBlack 12hr is legendary, and when you combine that kind of vibe with a setting and trails like these, well you’re kicking some serious goals. Get involved in the JetBlack 12hr. 

 

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Training your Brain: Part 1 – Rebooting

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Then I realised something important: I’ve never really learnt how to ride a mountain bike properly. In fact, if you’re anything like me you probably learnt to ride your bike by trial and error with your mates (who were maybe slightly better riders than you). Like me you never learnt the basics, like efficient braking and balancing through corners, let alone the harder stuff, like drops, picking lines through rock gardens, or staying upright on sketchy corners.

Then I realised something important: I’ve never really learnt how to ride a mountain bike properly. In fact, if you’re anything like me you probably learnt to ride your bike by trial and error with your mates.

So I spent the summer going back to basics. I rode easy trails at slower speeds, and forced myself to concentrate on what I was doing. By slowing down I was able to focus on riding my bike properly and, in the process, reprogram my brain so that these gains stayed with me when I sped up.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. To be the riders we want to be, we’ve got to go back to basics and ask an important question: what controls our riding, our brains or our bodies (hint: it’s your brain)? So let’s start with a bit of neuropsych 101 (I’ll keep it brief).

As a mountain biker, one of the most important parts of your brain is a region called the cerebellum, an area responsible for most of your fine-motor control. Your cerebellum is the part of your brain that keeps you on the bike when things get sketchy before you’ve even figured out what’s going on*. Most importantly, you can’t access it consciously, it’s basically a completely separate system to ‘you’, that responds a lot faster than the ‘conscious’ parts of your brain. Because you can’t access it directly, there’s only one way to train it: lots and lots of practice (see part 2).

This is crap for riding, because it’s hard to ride well when you can’t think.

There are two other brain regions mountain bikers should know about: the limbic system (your monkey brain) and the prefrontal lobes (your human brain). The limbic system contains your ‘fear centre’ – it’s best to think of this part of your brain as a “don’t eat me” system. This fear centre activates a process called the ‘fight or flight’ response, which kept your ancestors alive when bears tried to eat them. When activated, it triggers a cascade of physiological reactions (including increased release of adrenaline and cortisol) that helps you to run away – including a shut down of your prefrontal lobes: the parts of your brain that you think with (you don’t need your prefrontal lobes when bears are chasing you). This is crap for riding, because it’s hard to ride well when you can’t think.

Being a good rider is about learning to use the parts of your brain that help, and getting over the parts that get in the way.

As humans, we’re often the victims of the more primitive parts of our brains (like the limbic system), but we’ve also evolved an amazing ability to learn to do complex and remarkable things. Being a good rider is about learning to use the parts of your brain that help, and getting over the parts that get in the way. So, in part 2 we’ll look at how to (re)program your brain to make you a better rider. In part 3 we’ll look at dealing with your fear systems so you can ride with flow.

* We call this muscle memory. In reality, however, your muscles don’t have any memory: they’re controlled by our brains (specifically by a combination of our motor control strip and the cerebellum).

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com).

Must-Ride: Orange, NSW

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With a passionate club, super active trail builders, all-year riding weather, regular race meets, properly equipped bike shops and a healthy cycling vibe throughout town, it’s got all the foundations to grow into one of the leading regional mountain bike destinations in Australia.

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Rodney Farrell. Local mountain bike agitator.

Over the years we’ve made many a trip west to spend some time on the singletrack that laces its way through the pines of Kinross State Forest, though we’d never found the time to explore beyond the confines of the 25km Kinross network. But in recent months, local mountain bike stalwart Rodney Farrell has been in our ear, with near-weekly phone calls: “Guys, you have got to come ride Mount Canobolas. We’ll do some proper mountain biking, on a proper mountain.”

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Hold me back!

Lately, the excitement in Rodney’s voicemails had begun to reach a fever pitch, and with good reason.

The determined voices of a few visionaries with the Central West Off Road Bike Club had captured the ear of Orange City Council and a seed was planted. Pointing to the hugely positive impact that mountain biking has had on towns like Forrest and Atherton – and the huge numbers of riders travelling to destinations such as Mt Buller – the CWORBC crew began to spell out their vision for Orange: a dedicated and large-scale mountain bike park on the slopes of the Mt Canobolas.

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Kinross.

Canobolas lies just outside of Orange, overlooking the town from a towering 1430 metres above sea level. It’s a deceptively massive mountain – the rolling surrounds leave you unaware of its bulk – but when you find yourself on its peak, as we did one chilly morning, the scale is awe-inspiring. The terrain is incredible too, with ridge lines sprawling in all directions, huge granite outcrops, gorgeous native bush and endless swathes of pine. In short, its the kind of canvas that trail builders can only dream of.

“You’ve got to come out here and see the potential,” Rodney urged us. And so we loaded up the Flow Mobile, packed the knee warmers, and headed west once again.

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Canobolas. It’s big. very big.

Rodney was right. Mount Canobolas is potential defined. In just a few hours, we rode all kinds of awesome trails – from flat-out fireroads, to steep chutes, to jump-riddled descents through the pines. But what got us most excited wasn’t the stuff we rode, but the stuff we could imagine riding in the future. The sheer scope of Canobolas gets your mind spinning with possibilities.

All the boxes are ticked: Incredible terrain; an established riding community; a pre-existing reputation as a mountain bike destination; great weather; proximity to a capital city; plenty of accommodation; stuff for a family to do; bike shops… The only thing needed now is a council to push the go button and trail builders to put shovel to soil.

If the Canobolas Trail Project goes ahead, it’s no exaggeration to say we believe that Orange could become Australia’s own version of Rotorua. Here’s to putting the Can in Canobolas!

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Lake Conobolas.

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See you again soon, Canobolas!

Inside the Belly of a Giant: Factory Tour

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Standing tall outside of a small town is the Giant HQ. It’s here where the high level bikes are made and the HQ offices are located.

Like seeing a cow on a farm and being reminded of where our food comes from, and all the hard work that goes to put it on our table, visiting a bike factory feels the same for me. I wanted to see the scale, the engineering, the humans behind it all, and the hard work it takes to put a bike in my garage. I too wanted to feel a little less arrogant and grateful.

Lucky for me my dream came true on a grand scale as I recently got the chance to visit the Giant HQ Factory in Taichung, Taiwan.

Giant is arguably the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world and the HQ in Taichung is one of half a dozen locations that churn out over 6 million bikes a year. That’s a massive scale that can only be seen to be appreciated and as we walked amongst the people and machines I was struck most notably by the scale of human effort it takes to build our bikes. Yes, there are some fantastic machines and amazing modern engineering involved but building a bicycle still isn’t at the level of robotic craftsmanship like the auto industry – every piece of our bikes is touched by a very hard working and dedicated Giant employee.

What I took away from my visit wasn’t the amazing skill and workmanship, or scale of the operation, it was the very family nature that even such a large scale operator as Giant has. Despite what you may think of manufacturers at this scale, I personally found that they still do love bikes too. Even the CEO loves riding bikes and dedicates a far portion of his time and money to help others in Taiwan enjoy the same. Here are some photos of our tour. It’s pretty much near impossible to capture the whole process so here is a very abbreviated version. If only I was allowed to take photos of the research and development work spaces. So many cool toys.

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I travelled to Giant with Liv/Giant Ambassador Katie Holden and our journey took us from Taipei via 300kph high speed train to Taichung. Taiwan is densely populated but is surprisingly beautiful as well.
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A quick introduction to Taiwan was lunch without pictures or words. I nearly order fried fish-eye balls but was too much of a wimp and just got fried rice instead.
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Giant has been a leader in aluminium manufacturing for decades and Giant shapes and forms all their own tubing in-house.
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Each and every bike touches many human hands as is passes along a manufacturing process. There are also several checks and balances along the way to ensure quality control.
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Here is where the carbon magic starts. Giant manufactures there own carbon sheets from the raw carbon threads. This machine was the coolest.
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Like a sewing pattern, after the carbon is turned into sheets it is cut into various sizes and shapes and then added to a build “kits” for the builders.
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Layers and layers of carbon are added then heat and pressure is applied to make it form the sold tubing. It’s pretty amazing to see soft flexible sheets turn into solid tubing within about 30 mins.
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The frames have been built. painted and decal’d and this is the end of the line, where the bikes have their final assembly.
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Each person on the assembly line has a specific role and ensure the bikes are built while keeping the line moving constantly.
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Parts and build kits are all waiting to be added to the frames. There’s no guessing what part goes on what bikes as each part kit is delivered to the assembly floor exactly as needed.
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The final stage. Into the box and off to a big ship and showroom somewhere in the world.

 

Countdown to Cairns #4 – Downtime in The Tropics

As the heart of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforest, Cairns pulses with energy. More than 600 tours a day make the most of the year-round outdoor lifestyle while world-class sporting events and festivals embrace the cosmopolitan city’s vibrant tropical culture.

Check out tours and day trip options here

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So tropical…
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The Smithfield MTB Park has many trails not used in the World Cup, and will be open to ride.

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Energised by nature, Cairns is the place to soak up the tropical lifestyle. Discover an exciting city that takes pride in its cultural heritage and where time seems to last a little longer. Swim at the Esplanade lagoon, sample local produce at a farmer’s market, enjoy free entertainment, shop for a summer wardrobe or cruise around the marina.

Take a tip from the locals for a cool dip at a secluded freshwater swimming hole, jump on a bike for a sightseeing tour along the city’s network of cycle paths, marvel at tropical plants in the Botanic Gardens, browse the galleries or catch an act in a unique rainforest venue.

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The Green Ant Cantina (above) was once a great old mountain bikers hangout, good mexican food in Cairns town.
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A short 40 minute ferry trip from Cairns harbour is Fitzroy Island, an oasis of clear water, swimming, and kayaking.
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The Woolshed – a wild night out guaranteed.
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Driving out from Cairns, west to Atherton is a great trip. Cane fields and epic views from up in the high tablelands.
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The old bowl is still there, an iconic playground featured in many a Mudcows film.
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Port Douglas is a delightful place to unwind, and soak in premium accommodation.
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The Daintree Forest a few hours north from Cairns is stunning. Where the forest meets the see.

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After dark choose a lively bar for drinks, taste local seafood at an award-winning restaurant, party on a dance floor, discover treasures at the markets or watch a local cultural show.

The compact city is easy to get around and has the reef, rainforest and outback on its doorstep. With the Cairns International and Domestic airports only 10 minutes from the Central Business District, Cairns is the ideal entry point for a Tropical North Queensland adventure.

Travel from the city’s Reef Fleet Terminal to the Great Barrier Reef and its islands, raft the white water rapids in the rainforest, step back in time with a train ride to Kuranda or treat your tastebuds to one of the many food and wine trails on the Atherton Tablelands.

Video: Port to Port MTB, course preview

Now it’s the east coast’s time, the same crew will bring us four days of racing, from Port Stephens, to the Port of Newcastle, NSW in May 2014. From the rolling sandy trails around Nelson Bay, out to the rugged mountain ranges above the Hunter Valley and the fast run into Newcastle, it’s sure to be a great ride. And a real adventure, exactly what we love about stage racing.

In its inaugural year, Flow journeys up to the region to find out exactly what the race planned on taking in, the trails, the region the scenes and off the bike activities.

What are our thoughts? It’s a challenge, in a beautiful setting.

So, play the video and soak in the images as we paint the picture of how this event will take you through some very fine country, this May. See you there.

More details here.

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Countdown to Cairns #3: The World Cup Cross Country Course

So let’s take a look at this incredible unique and challenging XCO course, Jenni King and World XC Eliminator Champ Paul van der Ploeg take us through it.

 

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A myriad of line options, and ‘A and B’ sections will open up the racing to passing and overtaking.

 

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The higher you get, the steeper the terrain in Cairns.

 

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Many benched in sections of trail carry the flowing singletrack through ultra rugged terrain.

 

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Expect to see the racers letting out some flair and style from one of the many jumps and natural kickers all through the track.

 

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A rock garden that a World Champ has to walk down? Yikes.

 

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This section dubbed ‘The Croc Slide’ is so ridiculously steep.

 

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Descending Jacob’s Ladder, named after the original and returned trail designer, Glen Jacobs.

 

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Steep? Yes!

 

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How To: Fit Frameskin Like a Pro

Having attempted to fit a kit in the past with complete disregard for the instructions, it was a bit of an eye opener to see just how good the results can be if you actually use the correct methods!

In this era of plummeting resale values, anything you can do to keep your pride and joy looking fresh is a good move, and Frameskin is by the cleanest, most durable and comprehensive protection we’ve seen. Check it out at www.frameskin.com.

 

Bike Buller: Holy Sh*t My Milkshake

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“Holy shit my milkshake!”

Decoding Will’s particular blend of babbled enthusiasm, I know that the Delatite River Trail has lived up expectations and has left him, as we promised, as frothy and shaken up as any good vanilla ‘shake should be. Thinking back to my first ever run down the Delatite, I can recall how he must be feeling – the manic speed of it all, the stomach clenching fear as you get off the ride line and big rocks start flicking your wheels about, the disbelief at just how long it keeps it on descending. And finally a mixture of relief at having survived unscathed, and desire to just do it all again RIGHT NOW.

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Grinning at Will’s excitement, and with the alpine sun scorching in a perfect sky, dust in my nostrils and one of my favourite trails in the whole world ahead of me, I remember once again why I love coming to Bike Buller. This event is one of the best, an event for true mountain bikers, one that rewards a blend of skills, fitness and insanity, not just the strongest legs.

Continue reading “Bike Buller: Holy Sh*t My Milkshake”

#southcentral – Wide Open hits Central Otago’s Southern Lakes, NZ

The intended goal is a bit of a combination of just hanging out and drinking beers with his entirely South Island based team, as well amassing a bunch of editorial content for the web, for advertising and for Spoke.

#southcentral – Team Wide Open’s 2014 team road trip from Stash Media Worx on Vimeo.

So in late January this year we piled into an assortment of cars and headed out for Part 2 of Wide Open’s attack on lesser known Central Otago gems. Alexandra and Naesby were our last stopping points so we choose to kick things off in Wanaka, and what better meeting place than the recently loved up Lismore dirt jumps, guest Wide Open rider Wyn Masters and Conor Macfarlane set to work quickly shredding the place like it was their local set.

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Conor Macfarlane, Lismore, Wanaka.

With the rest of the boys all arrived and dirt jumping being the flavour of the evening a quick sojourn up the Cardrona Valley to JK’s Valley Trails was in order, complete with BBQ essentials; Hellers gourmet snarlers, bread and beer. The evening wrapped up with a solid session on the technical four pack and some very happy riders.

That epic light in the background wasn’t to be despite our early wake-up but the spot and riders delivered.
That epic light in the background wasn’t to be despite our early wake-up but the spot and riders delivered.

The following morning we tried desperately to catch some early morning light at classic Wanaka spot that that we had revitalised the night before. Typically low Wanaka cloud came into play, but for Team Wide Open Grey Bird skies are perfectly fine. Any fear that there would be enough speed to make the landing was quickly put to rest as mellow guniea lines saw Conor and Matt Scoles more then clear the rather long hill top.

Conor Macfarlane and Matt Scoles on a gem of a trail overlooking Lake Wanaka.
Conor Macfarlane and Matt Scoles on a gem of a trail overlooking Lake Wanaka.

All round shredder and trip filmer Rossco took us to a bit of a secret Wanaka Spot where some serious nug mining ensued, in fact the session got so heated that we had to head to the Albert Town bridge for a mid day dip. Conor would have swam laps across the river all day had we not already planned to hit up the dark as hell Sticky Forrest trails where a night light during the day wouldn’t go amiss.

Matt Scoles and Conor Macfarlane get their huck on.
Matt Scoles and Conor Macfarlane get their huck on.

The boys shut things down as usual, using up every last bit of the non-existent light and almost all of Baggage’s phone credit with his constant calls making sure we were actually getting the goods.

Seriously Sticky Forrest so so fricken dark it’s not even funny… Matt Scoles wasn’t laughing.
Seriously Sticky Forrest so so fricken dark it’s not even funny… Matt Scoles wasn’t laughing.

We figured it was probably worth spending a little time at that other lake over the hill and if that was the case it would have been rude not to smash out at least one lap up on Skyline, before we hit up one of Queenstown’s most recent additions the Coronet to Arrowtown trail, affectionately known as Corotown…

Smashing laps in Queenstown’s Bike Park.
Smashing laps in Queenstown’s Bike Park.

In three days the crew amassed some solid photos and video, stoked and rekindled some longtime friendships and consumed copious amounts of  CC and Dry, all that indicates that another Wide Open team trip is now successfully in the books.

You’ll be able to check out the full story in Spoke 56 due out May 5th in NZ.

Or digitally via Zinio here.

Countdown to Cairns #2: The loins that birthed Aussie mountain biking

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Mountain biking may not have been born in Cairns, but once its tyres gained purchase in the fertile dirt and steamy greenhouse temperatures of Australia’s loosest state, it grew like a cane toad on steroids into something radical, magical and downright dangerous.

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Not many realised it at the time, caught as they were amid the lairy hair, big air and audacious attitudes being styled by some of the chief protagonists, but even before the tropical town shocked the pedal-pushing planet by scoring a World Cup in 1994 and then the UCI MTB World Championships in 1996, the history of Australian mountain biking was being scrawled in the Queensland mud and a vision of the future of downhill mountain biking was being scarified into the flanks of the Tablelands.

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The Corkscrew section of the 1996 Worlds course has been rebuilt, and will be raced once again come April.

The leader of the pack was a bloke whose name is now synonymous with worldclass trails all over the planet: Glenn Jacobs. Long before he became an internationally renowned trail architect, businessman and Mountain Bike Hall of Famer, however, Jacobs was a signwriter who had one of the first mountain bikes in Australia and some big ideas about ball-tearing descents bouncing around in his brain.

‘Nothing existed, so we were writing the rules as we went along. We explored and tried everything and anything. We were racing quad eliminators back in 1992, essentially a precursor to 4X. We got dropped off by a chopper at the top of the Pyramid for the world’s first ever helibiking expedition. Nothing was too steep to try riding down. We used to say that if a tree could grow on it, we could ride down it. I remember GT wouldn’t warranty its bikes on anything north of Townsville.’

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In the mid-nineties GT Bikes were all over the place in Cairns.

At the suggestion of a visitor from UCI, Cairns chucked its name in the hat to host the 1996 World Championships, and to everyone’s utter shock, including their own, they won it. Then the trail building really went into overdrive.

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‘No one had seen anything like the course we built for the Worlds. It was steep, technical, nasty. The word ‘rockgarden’ didn’t appear in the mountain bike vocabulary until after the 1996 World Champs. We were building timber features here years before Canada’s North Shore.’

‘We had no idea what was going on elsewhere. We just went out and bought bikes and rode them down the steepest, roughest hills we could find. The RRR race only came about because we were searching for new downhill trails and someone a led us to the Bump Track.

‘When we went down to our first nationals in Canberra in 1990 we got a real shock. These guys were riding down tracks you could drive a Commodore down and calling it downhill.’

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These trail-blazing, bike-breaking days were all caught on film, with Jacobs shooting some of the first – and definitely the maddest – mountain biking movies ever made. Ice Cream Heads from Outer Space was filmed in 1990–1991, followed by the Mudcows series, and these videos had an impact on the way people looked at mountain biking way beyond Australian shores.

MICHAEL RONNING CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA. UCI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 1996
Michael Ronning, 1996 Worlds.

‘Cairns is at the edge of civilization,’ observes Mick Hannah. ‘When you head outdoors from Cairns, you’re really out there, so the locals grow up with no real concept of a limit about what they can do or achieve. There were a few wild boys in that crew, but you also had Michael Ronning and Sean McCarroll, who showed they could knuckle down and ride consistently in the top 10 in the world at the races.’

The arrival of the UCI World Championships in the tropical town in 1996 was both a coup and a catalytic moment for the Cairns mountain biking community.

‘It put Australia on the mountain biking map,’ says photographer and mountain biker Peter Blakeman, who shot the event for Inside Sport. ‘To this day, after covering hundreds of events, I reckon the Cairns World Champs was the best thing that has ever hit the Australian mountain bike scene – over and above the Stromlo Championships and the Olympics in Sydney.’

The old Rockslide Descent in the 1996 course, so insanely steep.
The old Rockslide Descent in the 1996 course, so insanely steep.

It was an extraordinary testimonial to the quality of the tracks that Jacobs and the club had constructed, and to the respect and reputation the local riders had earned, but the enormity of the event and the pressure it put on the people involved took its toll.

For Glenn Jacobs, there’s no doubt that his hometown will write a new chapter in the history book of mountain biking. ‘I’m proud of where Cairns has come from and the place it has carved out in the sport,’ he says. ‘The Worlds will return to Cairns in 2016, and a World Cup in April, 2014. It’s a better place to come to than Canberra – Cairns is a place the world needs to see, with jungle, coral reefs, cassowaries and crocodiles.

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When Diamondback were huge. For the Cairns Worlds, they had a outdoor pool and bar set up in the pits, and Shaun Palmer takes a dip with his silver medal around his neck and a XXXX in his hand.

‘And the world is a different place now. In 1996 there was no such thing as an event manager, there was no IT, there were no professional track builders. We were feeling our way in the dark. This time around we’ll be building things out of stone. This time it will last forever.’

** This article originally appeared in Flow Mountain Bike Magazine, Issue #1. Our magazines are still available for sale on our online store here.

Countdown to Cairns #1: Three reasons why you should bring your bike

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BRING. YOUR. BIKE.

If you’re sitting on the fence, wondering whether or not to bring your bike up to Cairns, let us make that decision on your behalf: BRING IT. The riding in and around Cairns is status-update-worthy stuff (“OMG! Just rode Kuranda! #sick”), with legendary downhill tracks littering the escarpment and a great network of easily accessible cross country trails within Smithfield Mountain Bike Park too. And, from our experience, watching others race is just about the best riding inspiration there is, so bring a bike and satisfy your urges!

Smithfield:

Flow was lucky enough to spend some time on the Smithfield trails last year, not long after they’d received a revitalisation at the hands of Glen Jacobs and the World Trail crew. These magnificent jungle trails are world class – rolling, rhythmic and funky, with more than enough of offer to keep you busy in between sessions trackside.

Signed, mapped and well marked. Lucky, as the jungle is thick and riddled with trails.
Signed, mapped and well marked. Lucky, as the jungle is thick and riddled with trails.

View the trail map here, along with some vision from our session on the trails, below.

Buffed perfection. This berm was so perfectly polished and hard packed you could almost see your reflection in it!
Buffed perfection at Smithfield.

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Atherton:

But you’d be foolish to confine your riding just to Cairns. The whole Tropical North Queensland region has evolved into a serious hot bed of mountain biking goodness, from the rocky Douglas Mountain Bike Park in Townsville up to Cooktown (finishing point for the legendary Croc Trophy), particularly with the recent blossoming of Atherton into one of Australia’s leading trail centres.

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Leasie’s Lookout in Atherton.

Atherton is a special place to ride; just an hour’s drive inland from Cairns, up in the cooler air of the tablelands, this gem of a town has one of the best trail networks we’ve ever encountered in Australia. There’s well over 40km of professionally constructed singletrack already in-situ, with more than 30km still to be developed. We were fortunate enough to spend three days there, in paradise, recently. See for yourself what it’s all about.

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Waterfall, a must-ride in Atherton.
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Dropping in on Ridgey Didge in Atherton.

Marathon racing:

If you’re feeling inspired by the World Cup, Atherton will also be playing host to round #5 of the Real Insurance XCM Series on ANZAC Day, April 25. We can think of fewer better ways to see all the trails, so if you’re marathon inclined, make sure you check out all the details here.

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Must-Ride: Mt Buller, Victoria

Over the past half dozen years, Mt Buller has really stepped up the game in Australian mountain biking. Working with trail building powerhouse World Trail, the Buller team has doggedly pursued an audaciously ambitious plan to craft the slopes of Mt Buller, Mt Stirling and surrounds into an absolutely stunning network of trails.

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Riding in Buller is simply amazing. Far from your normal trail centre experience (park the car, ride a loop, go home) Buller offers something far more substantial, immersive and rewarding. The hills are huge, the distances big, the trails challenging – this is mountain biking as it should be.

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As Buller’s reputation has spread and as the rider numbers have increased each year, so to have the facilities in the village to support the influx. More and more accommodation options have flung open their doors, there’s quality bike rental, guiding, great food and coffee.

We’ve showcased just a sample of Buller’s wares here, but there’s plenty more to explore, and come late 2014 there’ll be another 40km once the Epic trail opens!  Enjoy the video, soak in the glory of the photos below and don’t hesitate to plan your own road trip to Buller.

Get all the low down right here.

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Sunsets from the summit, just behind the village, are unmissable.

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The new Gang Gangs climb makes the return loop to the village much nicer than in years past.
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Perfect turns on Copperhead.
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Misty Twist, definitely a favourite.
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The summit of Stirling is a rewarding climb, the views are sensational and gives you a real sense of just how much terrain the Buller trail area covers.

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The Delatite River Trail.

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There’s even a Buller app with trail maps, trail conditions and more.

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The trig station on top of Cornhill has become a bike sculpture. Some nice XTR chain rings on there actually!
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Descending Cornhill.
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Quality on-trail signage.
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Wild flower season in Buller.

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Following Ryan on Misty Twist.

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Shuttles, bike rental and servicing and food. What more can you ask for?

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STONEFLY. How can one trail have Australia’s nicest climb and one of the best descents too?

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More Stonefly goodness.
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Insert sound of your brain exploding in joy here.
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We lost count of the number of bridges across the river on the Delatite River Trail – maybe 13? Amazing trail building.
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Text book singletrack perfection.


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More Delatite. More awesomeness.
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Soaking away your cares at Merimbah.
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Riding the thermals.

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Must-Ride: Atherton, Queensland

Atherton has been receiving a lot of attention lately, after the tireless work of local mountain bikers secured a near unprecedented level of funding for trail construction as part of a regional development grant. Over the last twelve months this funding has been put to work, dug into the rocky hillside of Mt Baldy. Almost 40km of professionally designed and built singletrack has been put dug in so far, with close to another 30km to be built throughout 2104.

Naturally, Flow had to check it out.

Atherton is about an hour inland from Cairns, up on the tablelands at around 800 metres above sea level, amongst the rolling hills of cattle country and banana plantations.   It’s cooler, and a little drier, than Cairns down on the coast, making it the ideal escape from the maddening humidity that can plague this part of the world. We have a feeling this town will become a popular refuge amongst the Europeans in Cairns for next year’s World Cup!

There are plenty of things that make Atherton a special place (the volcano lakes and colossal pubs are two), but the proximity and the quality of the trails are really amazing. A five minute pedal from the coffee shop will see you deep in singletrack, where you can lose yourself for a few hours in the steep terrain, riding deep benched flow trail. The local crew are all quality folk too, and more than happy to have an outsider lob in on their ritual morning ride, leaving at 6:00am every single day.

We’ll let the photos and video tell the story. Atherton is truly one of Australia’s must-ride destinations. Ah, take us back, we can still taste the mangos!

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60km of purpose built mountain bike singletrack, that is plenty!
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Being up high in the tropics is a unique experience, like nowhere else in the country.
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A social ride at 6am happens every day, as there is a healthy riding scene in town and growing.
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This trail is named Bandy Bandy, which evidently the name of a snake. We didn’t see one, just deliciously green bush and deep flowing turns.

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Best coffee in town, Gallery 5, and coincidentally the hub for any social cycling gatherings in Atherton.

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Can a trail flow up a hill, too? Yes.
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Bush tucker and Stans Sealant, make sure you’re running tough rubber and a tubeless setup, or else.

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A short and scenic drive from Atherton, is Millaa Millaa Falls. Heavenly!
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The tropics can dish out some big afternoon storms, which can both cool down and boost traction to the trails.
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High up in the clouds, the beginning of Ricochet Track is the place to engage ‘extreme mode’.
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Keep an eye out for sneaky gap lines and doubles on Ricochet, the keen eye will see many creative lines to shortcut through the air, if you’re game.
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There must be at least 8000 big, fast berms on the Ricohet descent.

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It’s not the type of trail you’d normally find in the middle of the Aussie bush – rather under a chairlift in Europe or Canada!

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Dirt Art were munching away at the earth when we were in town, adding a bunch more singletrack to the area.
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From Leasie’s Lookout you can sit on a stone sofa and feast your eyes on the green rolling hills of the tablelands. Absolutely stunning views.

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Chase a chook, ride a horse or squash a cane toad, all in a day at Atherton.

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Early bird gets the nicest conditions, with the middle of the day quite warm, we snuck out at first, and last light to make the most of it.

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It was hard to pick our favourite trail, but Ridgey Didge is a solid contender. Following a rolling ridge line this track milks the terrain for speed and maximum fun.

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Lake Eacham, the ideal way to spend the hot hours of the day. Swimming in a big, blue volcanic lake. Simply divine! And there are turtles.

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Rock armouring on the sensitive areas will ensure the trail can withstand heavy rainfall, high traffic and the slim chance a fiery volcanic apocalypse.
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Waterfall Track was one of our most favourites, for the scenery and natural features that it takes in. Chapeau to the trail builders, they’ve not only made them fun to ride, but a great way to experience the beautiful bushland.

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This big corner, named Croc Belly is a masterpiece. Just check out the amount of work that has gone into it!

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The green grade trails around the flat lands open up the area to all rider abilities, once you master them it’s time to head up into the steeper terrain for the juicy stuff.

 

Interview: Wildside Winners, Ben Mather and Rowena Fry

To win the Pure Tasmania Wildside is one of the big honours in Australian mountain biking.

Bags not sorting the laundry.
Bags not sorting the laundry.

The event always draws the best riders in the country to compete with. To achieve the fastest overall time, a rider must be fit, technically skilled, be able to back up over four days of racing, be well prepared, and have a little bit of luck on their side when it comes to mechanicals or the odd spill.

Row, happy to be racing.
Row, happy to be racing.

Flow caught up with 2014 victors Rowena Fry and Ben Mather as they tucked into the post event BBQ on the beach in Strahan. Rather than rehash tactics and blow-by-blow accounts of the race, we were curious to hear from the proud Tasmanians about what this race means at a local level.

Congratulations to you both on winning the event. It’s not the first time that you have both done well at Wildside. What is it that makes you decide to come back and do it again?

Ben: It’s just one of those things that comes around every couple of years and being Tasmanian and local, it’s one of the must do events for us I guess.

Row: Yeh, it’s a pretty iconic stage race.

Row: It’s always one that’s on most mountain bikers’ bucket lists and we’re lucky that we live here so it’s a bit logistically easier for us to do it.

Ben: And I think it gets back to the roots of mountain biking too. It’s good that there’s a lot of all this mountain bike trail being developed, groomed trail and that, and it makes people excited. But Wildside, it’s raw. You know, it’s on the West Coast of Tassie and it’s not following purpose built trails. It’s rough and rugged so it gets back to the roots of mountain biking.

Catch me if you can!

It’s an event that brings a lot of people from all over Australia for the journey through the Tasmanian landscape as much as the race itself. As proud Tasmanians, do you enjoy seeing people come and experience this part of the country?

Row: Yeh, we’re pretty patriotically Tasmanian. We love our state. We think it’s an awesome place to live, and there’s lots to see and do.

We do get bagged out a bit sometimes because of bad weather, etc. But I reckon we’ve got awesome riding here and this is only a little bit of it. It’s growing and growing and growing. Give us five years and mountain biking’s going to be huge in Tassie.

Ben: I think for us the enjoyment is twofold. Running our own local shop here in Tassie (AvantiPlus Launceston) we’ve got so many customers and friends that want to come and do Wildside. To help them along the way as well, and to see other people come down (here) is pretty special.

Do you think living here  gives you much of an advantage in the race, due to knowing the type of riding the event throws up?

Ben: No, it doesn’t. I mean, I haven’t been over to this area for four years. It is on the West Coast, it’s somewhere that we don’t visit very often. It’s definitely a slight advantage having done Wildside before and knowing what to expect. But in terms of riding, as I said, I haven’t been here for four years, ‘cause I missed the last one.

Ben Mather put it all on the line in the final, sandy stage.
Ben Mather put it all on the line in the final, sandy stage.

Row: And I think that’s why it’s still appealing to us – because we don’t come here and ride the trails very often. It’s exciting to see what they’re like again after a while.

There were some close battles in both the women’s and the men’s categories during the event this year. How did you find it out there in terms of the racing?

Row: The women’s was fairly close from day one. Different people were winning different stages. Between Jo, myself and Jenni, it was super close racing.

Jenni King turned the hurt on. Owwwch.
Jenni King turned the hurt on. Owwwch.

I had a bad second stage and was a long way down. I’d pretty much written myself off…Jo was riding incredible the whole time…To win against those girls (is something) I was wrapped with. The racing was just incredible – really good work outs, and fun.

Jo Bennett won the final stage.
Jo Bennett won the final stage.

Ben: I’d worked so hard all week to get everybody else up and going. To rock up here and win it was beyond my expectations. I looked at the start list and I knew a few of the guys go pretty well.

You can never write Adrian Jackson and Sid Taberaly off, they’re seasoned competitors. And I knew Mark had been riding really well, I’d been watching his results nationally. So it’s something that I didn’t expect to happen. But after the first day it sort of just clicked and I thought, well, I do have a little bit of a shot here.

Mark Tupalski in another solo break.
Mark Tupalski in another solo break.

When Mark snatched the lead back off me on day three I was sort of angry at myself. I knew that the penultimate stage was going to suit him, I just didn’t realise that I’d lose so much time. I probably slept on it a little bit that night and came up with a plan and thought if all the stars align I could have a shot. To win Wildside is pretty special. I’m pretty happy with that.

The racing was also very competitive in a lot of the age categories. Do you both find it exciting seeing so many people newer to riding come through the field?

Ben: Oh look, I’m super excited with the young Tassie guys coming through. Mainly the young boys at the moment, hopefully a few girls come on later but you know, to name a few of them, your Tom Goddard, your Scotty Bowden, your Ben Bradley, Sam Calow, Jackson (Howell) from the North West Coast, Brendan Adair…

There’s a couple that haven’t come to Wildside because they’re a little bit young as well. We’ve got some really good talent coming through. Hopefully they’re inspired by what both Row and I have done here and we get the next crop of Tassie riders coming through.

While numbers were low in the Under 23 women, there have been a lot of strong riders in the Masters and the Super-Masters and Grand-Masters categories pushing into the top ten. What are you thoughts on that?

Row: Just to actually see more women on bikes is just incredible. To see so many older women as well, it just goes to show that mountain biking is a sport for the ages, there’s no limitations out there. And they’re having a great battle in the Masters and Super-Masters categories, and always smiling. I reckon it’s just great to see.

It was great to see Comm Games rider, Emma Colson, smashing it down the decents. Once a wold cup rider, always a world cup rider.
It was great to see Comm Games rider, Emma Colson, smashing it down the decents. Once a wold cup rider, always a world cup rider.

I’d love to see some more younger females coming through, but I think numbers in general of female mountain bikers is really picking up, especially in this format of event where it’s a non-threatening racing environment.

Lastly, with so many events on offer in Australia at the moment, do you have any advice for anyone thinking of giving Wildside a go?

Row: If you’re a mountain biker in Australia and you haven’t done Wildside before I’d put it on the list of events to do. It’s on every second year. Bring friends, spend a week or two weeks in Tassie. There are great places to see, great places to ride, make it a really big trip and have a blast!

Not much time to enjoy the views up the front.
Not much time to enjoy the views up the front.

Ben: And don’t rock up under prepared. Make sure you’ve got your bike in good working order and all that sort of thing. If you’re going to spend the money to come down and do Wildside, come prepared.

And come prepared for any sort of weather as well.  As you can see, the first day was horrible. It was raining and it was cold. Now we’re sitting in 30 plus degree heat with a total fire ban. Anything can happen, so definitely come prepared.

Row: Yeh, pack your down jacket and your bikinis!

Interview: Giant's Carl Decker Spills The Beans On his Aussie Team Mates

American Carl Decker is a legend and stalwart of the Giant Factory Off-Road team. He’s been with Giant for over 10 years and is an absolute smasher on any bike he throws his leg over.

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Carl has had an Aussie on the team for over ten years. Is that a good or bad thing?

In those 10+ years Giant has always had an Aussie in their program and thus Carl has been able to spend probably too much time with three of Australia’s best mountain bikers; Jared Rando, Amiel Cavalier, and Josh Carlson. Find out how he ranks his previous and current team mates against important bike skills like cleaning, drinking, and crying.

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Josh Carlson is the newest member to the Giant Off-Raod team and his unique character and smashing riding makes him a standout.
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Amiel Cavalier was a raw talent and the 2nd Aussie to join the Giant team.
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Jared Rando was the longest serving gravity member of the Giant Factory Off-Raod team and he continues to be a favourite son.

Racing: The Pure Tasmania Wildside

Dressed in a down jacket and shorts, I’ve just spent the evening at one of Strahan’s few restaurants. Fine dining, local wines, a west coast sunset, sharing laughter and stories with friends I’d met over the last few days.

Extreme changes in the weather is key to making the landscape what it is. You can’t have one without the other. We were very, very appreciative that Wildside 2014 was relatively dry.
Extreme changes in the weather is key to making the landscape what it is. You can’t have one without the other. We were very, very appreciative that Wildside 2014 was relatively dry.

I pause and turn to the right to take in the view of this quiet coastal town knowing I might not see it again. Images of wild, rocky, rooty, green, muddy and sandy landscapes from the last four days rush through my mind. This one contrasts in its stillness.

The event that keeps on giving. This was the view from our accomodation in Strahan.
The event that keeps on giving. This was the view from our accomodation in Strahan.

I reach the hotel room with enough energy to set my alarm clock one more time. ‘So this is what it’s like to finish Wildside,’ I think. My mind is empty. No worries or cares, just the calm, drowsy happiness of post-stage race bliss.

Welcome to Wildside

When the Pure Tasmania Wildside began in 2002, the event team, PANEA Pty Ltd, wanted to offer riders something different to the lap format endurance races that were becoming the trend at the time. Uncertain as to whether many Tasmanians would pay to ride in their own state, they designed a course that included key tourism locations as well: Cradle Mountain, Montezuma Falls, Strahan.

Race stages take in challenging sections on the dirt, while cruise stages, often on the tarmac, tie it all together. The format works a treat.

Even the trails were green on day one.
Even the trails were green on day one.

The elite riders finish most stages around or under the one hour mark. In terms of climbing, duration, intensity and pain, each race stage is akin to a lap or two of a teams 24 hour race, but the pleasure of it all is spread out over four days instead of two.

‘The stages are really short so you need heaps of power, but then you need the endurance to get through the cruise stages,’ says Chris Ryder from Sydney, a manager of remote area fire fighting with the Rural Fire Service.

Terri Rhodes cleaned up the Open Women's category...and was almost always smiling.
Terri Rhodes cleaned up the Open Women’s category…and was almost always smiling.

‘It works well. It gives you time to chat with people and meet people while you’re riding. You normally end up linking up with the same group that’s in your start wave so that’s cool too.’

The course

Over four days of riding, mountain bikers take in 200km of terrain. We were surprised to learn that this dramatic fragment of the world is an area many Tasmanians rarely visit, let alone most mainlanders.

The racing started high up in the moss-covered landscape of Cradle Mountain. The view was green in almost every direction. Even the trails were green as blankets of soft moss and grass had grown over them from the sides. The afternoon stage followed the rolling, rocky hills of a power line track. These stages favour those who can put power through the pedals.

Jenni King showed a lot of guys how to ride technical trails.
Jenni King showed a lot of guys how to ride technical trails.

Day two kicks off with some slippery, rocky climbing and a wild, wet and rooty descent. The iconic Wildside image of the long swing bridge past Montezuma Falls happens after lunch on this day.

A long section of unpredictable four wheel drive track was cut out of the afternoon route in 2014 as it was deemed unridable after a 4WD rally late last year. Instead we spent an hour or so hopping, pumping and sliding in and out of mud puddles, some that were deeper than your drive train. The unusual juxtaposition of warm weather and sloppy, downhill mud made for some of most thrilling and fun riding you can do on a bike.

A short time trial kicked off day three with riders paired up with the person next to them on the GC. A long, white gravel cruise stage took everyone to lunch at Trial Harbour, the windswept coastline a promise of things to come.

Wildside attracts a lot of people who seek out stage races as away to experience a new place and to meet likeminded riders.
Wildside attracts a lot of people who seek out stage races as away to experience a new place and to meet likeminded riders.
The Spray Tunnel time trail was held in perfect weather, a big contrast to the dripping mud of 2012.
The Spray Tunnel time trail was held in perfect weather, a big contrast to the dripping mud of 2012.

The Trial Harbour to Granville Harbour stage in the afternoon included some steep climbs and fast, rocky, rutted descents. Further back in the field the lines became more obvious making it a less daunting ride.

Catch me if you can!
Catch me if you can!

A fast hit out along Ocean Beach in Strahan, followed by soft sandy ups and downs is the final stage of the event. With the event team unable to solve the question of how to get from Granville Harbour to Strahan, this is the only section that doesn’t link together in the point-to-point format, but the call to still include it works well. Riders finished on the beach, bathed their legs in the ocean, and celebrations began.

Sand shredding, day four.
Sand shredding, day four.

Up the front

The event saw reduced elite fields this year, perhaps a sign of many racers funding their own way through selection events for the Commonwealth Games or the Cairns World Cup. But this didn’t reduce the speed of the racing in the men’s and women’s fields with course records broken daily and the final placings up for grabs right up until the finish line on day four.

The overall lead swapped daily between Ben Mather and Mark Tupalski. Tasmanian, Mather’s victory was well-earned and sure to inspire younger riders in the local community.

Tupac, showing massive strength, taking second place overall.
Tupac, showing massive strength, taking second place overall.

‘Tupac’ took a wrong turn up a sand dune in the final kilometres of the race after some confused communication with a marshal. While his performance in recent months has left many people talking about wins to come, it must have been disappointing for the young Canberran to come so close to the win only to fall eight seconds short.

Mather’s fiancé, and former Australian XC Champion, Rowena Fry, took out the women’s title in a commanding display of fitness and skills. Jo Bennett powered away to some emphatic stage wins with Jenni King never far behind. These women all finished in the top 30 overall, with Fry breaking into the top 20 on the stages that were more technical.

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With start groups seeded on cumulative stage times, there were many races within the race, and age groupers kept each other working hard as well.

As legs got tired, camaraderie became stronger. It’s not surprising that new groups of friends form through events like this one, and like-minded mates seek out new riding experiences together in the future.

What makes Wildside different?

Most mountain bike events in Australia right now draw numbers by pushing the quality of the purpose built trails they traverse. The trails at Wildside are far more organic; shaped by wind, rain, (four wheel drives) and the sun. They’re often wider and far less predictable, which is precisely what makes them so fun.

As a rider you’re constantly scanning ahead, thrilled if you get the line right, and reacting quickly if you don’t. Most rougher sections can be ridden at slower speeds by less skilled riders, but they offer the chance for more technically minded riders to push the speed and up the adrenalin, especially on days two and three.

Plenty of river crossings kept riders on their toes.
Plenty of river crossings kept riders on their toes.

Anything that may be preferable to walk was clearly signed. And anything that can’t be safely ridden was marshalled. While the event team say they are constantly refining the way they run the event, riders agreed that they couldn’t ask for anything more.

Angelique Sanders is going from strength to strength after only two years on the bike. She finished thrid in the Women's Masters. Nice one Ange.
Angelique Sanders is going from strength to strength after only two years on the bike. She finished third in the Women’s Masters. Nice one Ange.

Lunches between stages offered more than we could eat. Accommodation, transport and shuttle options take care of logistics. The course marking was clear and members of the extensive event team were everywhere you looked, working hard with positive rider experiences as their aim. In short, after 12 years experience running this event, the organisation was impeccable.

John and Lance (from Penguin, Tasmania) played about 5000 different roles in keeping the event running. One of them was shuttling us between accomodation and the event. Thanks Penguin-ites! Events like this are so lucky to have people like you.
Joan and Lance (from Penguin, Tasmania) played about 500 different roles in keeping the event running. One of them was shuttling us between accomodation and the event. Thanks Penguin-ites! Events like this are so lucky to have people like you.

Chris points out that while some people have travelled to Tasmania and done the touristy things before, it’s the terrain that links the stages together that makes the journey so spectacular.

‘It’s a big contrast from up at Cradle Mountain on the first day in rain and sleet and the freezing cold, to the last two days at 30 degrees where you’re absolutely baking and riding along the beach.

‘It’s pretty awesome, and you couldn’t do it just going away on your own, ‘cause you wouldn’t think to go to the places where we went.’

‘To try and organise to do four days the same as this with a couple of mates, it would just be a nightmare. I think it would be even more expensive than doing it as part of a race. And you wouldn’t get the same feeling with all the different people and hanging out.’

L-R Pam Ness, Jonathan Trollip and Brian Ness. These inspiring riders filled our ears with tales from the Tour de Tulli which follows elephant trails in Africa. Another one for the bucket list?
L-R Pam Ness, Jonathan Trollip and Brian Ness. These inspiring riders filled our ears with tales from the Tour de Tulli which follows elephant trails in Africa. Another one for the bucket list?

While photos and video footage of the race blur the landscape into a mix of coast and bushland, on the bike the scenery and riding surfaces changed dramatically from one stage to the next. Experiencing these unique environments was the biggest thrill of all.

Like Chris said, it’s not a journey you can easily do on your own, or with a couple of mates. And given the ways the experience is heightened by sharing Tasmania’s West Coast with 400 or so other riders, why would you want to? I’m pretty sure I had a similar thought as I looked at Strahan that last time from the stairs.
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So start saving now for Wildside 2016. Punchy stages, challenging riding, excellent organisation, friendly people and somewhere you might not otherwise see. The Pure Tasmania Wildside is one for the bucket list for sure.

Comprehensive results are available at the event website.

The end.

Racing: Counting Down to Wildside 2014

The four-day stage race takes riders on a journey through the lush landscape from Cradle Mountain to Strahan. Most days feature two race stages, with transit or ‘cruise’ stages in between. These allow riders to spin their legs and catch up with people who bust through the competition stages at different speeds.

‘The journey passes through the very unique landscape of Tasmania’s West Coast. It starts in alpine country, descends through rainforest and ends on a wild beach,’ says Race Director Nic Deka.

‘Along the way, the race follows historical trails, visits small, welcoming communities and provides a diversity of scenery and experiences that are unique in Australia.’

The entry list typically sees a 55/45 split between local and interstate or overseas competitors ready for the adventure. Previous winners include Olympians Sid Taberlay (a record five times), Mary Grigson, Lisa Mathison and Dan McConnell. This list exhibits the calibre of the racing on offer and the high regard riders have for this event at the elite end of the field.

The Montezuma Falls stage is one of the best. Fast, lush and with this swing bridge to navigate too.
The Montezuma Falls stage is one of the best. Fast, lush and with this swing bridge to navigate too, it’s certainly memorable.

But Wildside’s longstanding success lies in the way it offers a fun, rewarding and unique experience for riders with a range of goals.

‘We continue to get many people who are not serious riders who set Wildside as a challenge to recover from a serious illness or injury, something to do before they die, or simply to improve their health and fitness,’ says Nic.

‘It’s great to see the excitement and the tension at registration, the buzz at stage finishes, but most of all the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that people get from finishing the event in Strahan.

‘The fact that about 50% of our entrants are returning competitors also adds to our enjoyment because we get to know our competitors and it makes the whole experience more personal both for them and us.’

Canberra Liv/Giant rider, Eliza Eldridge Bassett, is returning this year after sharing the experience with her immediate family in 2012. This year the party list is even bigger.

‘(Last time) my dad, James, and my brother, Til, raced, and my mother Julie did the support and vehicle driving. My mum saw how much fun we had last time and decided she wanted to join in on the action too.

‘This year my uncle and aunt will come along and do the support. We’ve really made it into a whole family affair!’ Eliza’s partner, Mark Tupalski (TORQ Nutrition), will also be along for the journey pushing the field at the pointy end.

‘Mark will be at the race to fight for a position on the podium, I’ll be there to have fun and challenge my time from 2012, likewise with my father and brother, and my mum will be there to have an adventure on her bike and take in the stunning scenery,’ adds Eliza, pointing toward the broad appeal of the short stages that travel through a little seen part of the world.

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‘For me, the biggest draw card is the country we race through. The landscape is stunning, and being able to ride through it adds a different dimension from the usual bushwalking and driving trips I’ve done through the area.

‘I love the format of the race itself. The stages are reasonably short and super fun, although sometimes quite hard! And the cruise stages let you recover from the racing and have some social time.

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‘Starting in waves each stage lets you get to know your fellow riders and have a ‘mini race’ within the race; and when you’re not at the pointy end of the field like me, it means you get to feel like you are!’

The event has a reputation for tight organisation, catering that people rave about, and, most years, at least one stage that sees riders covered from head to toe in mud. Accommodation and transport packages are available, although many riders choose to bring someone along to drive a support vehicle and fill up additional accommodation options nearby.

The physical and mental journey of the race is sure to complement the visual journey. Getting from point to point with a tight crew of family or friends adds to the experience, making it more special still.

‘The fact that families and friends share the experience is something that we encourage,’ says Nic. ‘It’s very much reflected by our organisational crew who are our friends and family members too.’

Over 400 riders will start the journey on Friday January 25. They will take in 140km of competition stages, and 60km of transit sections. Entries are open for a few more days.

 

Must-Ride: Thredbo, NSW

But despite its strong history, over the past ten years it had started to become clear that Thredbo’s lustre was fading a little; other alpine resorts were investing heavily in mountain biking and Thredbo was losing ground. Simply having ‘the hill’ was no longer enough. Thankfully, rather than allowing the mountain biking program to slip metaphorically downhill, Thredbo too have launched a program of rejuvenating the mountain bike side of their operations. Since our first trip to Thredbo over 15 years ago, we’ve held this place in high esteem, and so we had to come see for ourselves just what changes were underway at Thredders.

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Tim Windshuttle from Thredbo MTB, feeling the love on the freshened-up downhill track.

What we found left us feeling extremely positive. After years of talking about expansion, it’s really happening. With Resort Operations Manager Stuart Diver at the helm and a seriously passionate crew running the Thredbo MTB outfit, the wheels are in motion. Already there have been some great revitalisations to the downhill track, the new Kosciusko Flow Trail has been souped up, the magnificent Thredbo Valley Trail is ready to roll and a master plan for 40km of new trails has been unveiled.

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One hell of a place. Thredbo’s setting in glorious.

We spent four days in Thredbo: you can read about each of them here, here, here and here. During that time we checked out the absolutely stunning Cascade Trail, rode the downhill and Flow Trails, and took in the Thredbo Valley Trail too. Whereas in the past we’d only considered bringing our downhill bike to Thredders, there’s now a true variety of riding on offer and you’d be silly to leave your trail bike behind. It’s only going to get better too, with more cross country trails planned for the valley floor, and an new 11km-long all-mountain trail going in from the peak too.

As we said in the video, this trip to Thredbo left us feeling more positive about this old dame than we’ve ever been before. New trails, spruced up oldies and big plans for the future make us sure we’ll be spending a lot more time in Thredders than we have for many years, and not just for racing, but simply to ride. Thredders, it’s good to see you back on top form.

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Our first ride in Thredbo was actually outside the village, on the Cascade Trail, which Stuart Diver called the ‘original Thredbo downhill’.
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The Cascade Trail. Idyllic.

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It feels vast up here at Dead Horse Gap. If you come to Thredbo and don’t ride this trail, you’re really missing out.

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Brumbies. We were very excited to catch a glimpse of some wild horses, but the locals tell us they’re everywhere.

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The second day of our trip to Thredbo was a real contrast! After sunburn the previous afternoon, we awoke to snow! Even in December, the high country weather can be pretty unpredictable, so it pays to be prepared. Thankfully it had largely melted by the following morning.

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The valley terminal hire centre is huge now. The workshop has been greatly expanded, as has the hire fleet of Giant Glorys and Reigns.
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Workshop guru, Petri, in his domain.
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The view from Eagles Nest at the peak of Thredbo never gets old.
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That Thredbo fire road corner. Gotta love it.

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The new nine-metre canyon gap on the downhill adds some huck to the mix.
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The Snakes and Ladders section of the Cannonball downhill has been opened up to make it faster and more flowy. A welcome change.
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The bottom of the downhill track gets some flavour too, with a new wall ride, doubles and a big 30-foot table top.
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Good cub scouts are always prepared. Jackets, hats made from dead animals and beer.
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The Flow Trail adds a whole new dimension to the hill, offering a 10-minute chair-lifted descent that’s purpose built for the kind of bikes most of us ride.

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The Thredbo Valley Track is a multi purpose trail running alongside the Thredbo River. It’s not the world’s most technical trail, but it’s absolutely stunning.

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Along its course, the Thredbo Valley Track criss-crosses the Thredbo River eight times, on bridges that are built to withstand a once-in-a-hundred-year flood.

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Photo Feature: Steamboat Springs – Bike Town USA

I can recall it vividly; I was having lunch with a sales rep in Park City, Utah and he was describing his sales route. A dream job of frequently travelling to some of the best riding locations in the USA – from Moab in Utah, across the western Rockies and all the way up to Idaho and Wyoming. I asked where he might go for a week of riding, if he had to choose, and rather than spitting out the obvious, he started to talk about Steamboat. I was instantly hooked because of his description of the town, not just the trails.

I love a town that embraces bikes and loves bikes and biker riders as much as me. There have been times where I have ridden some amazing trails but then left a little short of that “feeling” at the end of the day when I returned to town. Like there was always a sense of warmth and genuineness missing. Steamboat, my sales rep friend detailed, was a place that makes you feel at home on a bike, a town that lives for it, and a town that wants bikes to be number one. I was heading there.

And he was right. Steamboat Springs, Colorado is that perfect bike town, and it’s funny as that’s what they call it too. Welcome to Bike Town USA.

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The drive across from Utah to Colorado was lots of this. Steamboat Springs here I come. I have to admit that I am in love with mountain biking in the USA and the driving with epic scenery is part of what makes it special.
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Steamboat Springs is a ski town but come summertime, it is taken over by bikes and people having fun in the rivers. Orange Peel is one local bike shop that’s worth the visit – it happens to be right next to the river.

“Bike Town USA” Initiative is a community movement with a vision for Steamboat: The Ultimate Destination For Cycling Experiences. Chatting with the local community revealed a crew who are passionate about their very ambitious goals of improving safety, building the community, and providing economic development through cycling.

Initiatives and ideas like this do take more than human spirit and the “Bike Town USA” group was lobbying to divert hotel tax revenue into cycling infrastructure, facilities and programs. As you can imagine, diverting such large amounts of money into bicycling would be a hot issue in any community with other user groups also wanting the same resources. It’s such a hot topic in fact that the community is voting on the proposal this month.

Removing myself from the politics of the moment, my personal experience from spending a week in Steamboat showed that even at this early stage, the ideas and the community feel are already working. With over 500 miles of trails in the area, a lifted gravity park, a thriving local cycling industry including being the home of Moots and Stinger, and just a sense of mountain biking being front and centre.

Steamboat Springs has to be one of only a handful of mountain bike destinations in the world where you feel at home and welcomed from the moment you arrive. Although it is a long way from Australia I highly recommend that you add this town, and this experience, to your wish list. It’s not very often that as a mountain biker you are welcomed into a community with such open arms.

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My first ride included waking before the sun came up and getting to the top of the mountains for first light. The mountains surrounding Steamboat Spinrgs aren’t the massive epic ones you might expect in Colorado so climbing to the top is more a like a couple of hours, rather than half the day.
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Green is not a common colour for most of my riding so it took a little while for my eyes to adjust. Getting access to land and building trails isn’t at all straight forward but complex land swaps and other deals have opened up even more trails for mountain biking.
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Emerald Mountain Trails are the closest trails to the township and offer anything from a quick hit out to all-day epics when connected with other trail networks. Access to the trailhead was a few minute’s ride from my hotel, and conveniently there were plenty of pubs on the way back. Perfect.
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I have an unfounded fear of being attacked by a mountain lion when I am riding but the statistics are by far in my favour. Yep they’re out there watching me as I ride, but I am more likely to be attacked and killed by a bee than one of these. You may see the posted signs but there’s really no need to stress.
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The Aspen forests are a dream to ride in and endless trails let you explore and be one with nature.
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Trails don’t just appear like magic and there is a dedicated crew of locals who sacrifice their own time to play their little part in the vision of Steamboat Springs. On one of my rides I just happened to come across two of Steamboat’s best, Marc and Gretchen. Ski Instructors in the winter and mountain bike riders and builders in the summer.
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This was one of my favourite trails on Emerald Mountain. Who knows what is was called though as it was part of a great network of trails from the top of the ridge line, all the way back into town.  It must have been over 5km of descending and a more than worthy reward for the climb.

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A short drive from Steamboat was the Rotary Trails. Exposed, very flowy, and a little different, but it’s that diversity that makes any destination more appealing.

 

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Some flowers for the flower lovers.

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Myself and Doug Davis on the way up to Rabbit Ears Pass. It got really steep at the end but the breath-taking views were more than worth it. If you consider the diversity of mountain biking available in Steamboat there aren’t many bases not covered.
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I saw a moose on the trails. I saw a moose the trails.

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My silly fear of mountain lions and this is the only thing that attacked me. Kinda felt a little let down.
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Bike Town USA Director, Doug Davis took me riding a few times as we explored his favourite trails.

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The Steamboat Ski resort turns into a lifted gravity orientated bike park in the summer months. It’s still in its infancy as a developing location, nut already they had completed building some amazing trails with the Whistler Gravity Logic team. More work is always planned and the resort wanted to keep showing me more but I was just happy doing run, after run, after run, after run.
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On the way back from a soak in Strawberry Springs. Life was tough for the week or so I was there.
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I did journey a little down the famous Continental Divide Trail but snow got in the way of that adventure. If you ever visit, make sure you do it in the height of summer and get a shuttle to ride one apparently amazing trail back to town.
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It’s the little things that count. Beer, small animals that don’t attack, discovering that these were dog prints, and a random hood ornament.
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The locals really make Steamboat Springs what it is and I cannot thank them enough for showing me the trails and guiding me to the best places to eat and drink.

Trails: Clarence Mountain Bike Park and Belbins Road

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.

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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.

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Head out here if you get the chance and feel your way around before it gets too popular. It’s only a ten-minute drive from the Hobart CBD or you can ride there along the Hobart Airport Cycling Route.
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The trails are unsigned at the moment but Google and Strava will help you track down maps online. There is also one at the Clarence trailhead.

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.

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These trails have a much more organic feel to them. When you look closely, you can see the rock armouring that keeps them in place and it’s obvious that there’s an active group of people who keep them well-maintained.

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.

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Built by ‘volunteers and hands’ the Belbins trails are a nice contrast to the machine built trails and wider singletrack that follow grant money and trail building as a business.

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.

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While Belbins has been home to a growing trail network for several years, it’s only recently that these trails have become legal. It’s a nice example of guerrilla trail building done well and leading to a positive outcome.

Racing: Dirt Maidens Challenge

They may never be the big names in the sport, and they may not be the most ‘sik’ or ‘shred-ready’ riders on the trails, but they know how to get involved and support one another in taking up a new sport.

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Riders from as far north as Port Macquarie and as far south as Phillip Island gathered with new friends at the starting line, which appeared as a sea of stripes, stars and spots- girls dressed in theme to identify them to their team. Over 35 Jindabyne girls signed up, many for their first ever mountain bike event, as the sport amongst local women has grown at an unprecedented rate.  With a large number of girls entering the event alone, these teams were successfully designed to encourage inclusiveness and also spark a little competitive rivalry between friends. Magnificent costumes and vibrant colours wound their way through the flowing trails; fast and fit, or slow and steady- the event catered to all levels of riders.

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Dirt Maiden Challenge

With an all-male volunteer crew spicing up the trails, pink bunting and cheeky signage around the course, and a relaxed and social atmosphere created by sweet tunes and a charismatic MC, there was nothing for competitors to do but smile, ride, and enjoy themselves. Rolling Ground Jindabyne showed their support with professional timing and the setup of a sensational course, leaving the girls raving about the trails and keen to come back for more. Beers for every rider, courtesy of local sponsor Kosciusko Brewery, were well received on completion of their final lap, as was the free yoga session for riders to stretch out their weary muscles.

This was all followed by presentations, a mouth-watering meal and rad live music where participants, volunteers and spectators could socialise and enjoy the balmy temperature in a perfect setting for an after party on site at Bungarra.

Prizes were in abundance, thanks to our generous sponsors, and as well as prizes for the fastest in the XC and gravity events, prizes were awarded for a number of other achievements. The ‘Iron Maiden’- was awarded to those that battled on despite crashes, mechanicals and lack of experience, ‘Mini Maiden’- for the youngest rider, and the ‘Maverick Maiden’- which is awarded to the token badass that turns up with a bmx, a hangover, or in this case-no bike at all.

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Dirt Maiden Challenge

The following day, after a cruisey morning exploring more trails in the area, a large crew of girls gathered in Thredbo to show their support to one of our sponsors, and to our local gem and downhill legend, Tegan Molloy- who also generously donated a horde of prizes. No one was disappointed by the show she put on, as she hit the last jump and got bigger air, and applause than most of the lads.

For a first time event, with no marketing budget and no reputation to precede it, the first ever Dirt Maidens Challenge has been hailed a great success. With nothing but positive feedback, there appears to be a large number of girls who will be back- with a posse of friends in their wake. This means we will also be looking for more sponsors to make the event even better, and more volunteers of the (single) male variety to come along and support the girls, and spend a weekend riding in the beautiful Snowy Mountains.

Video: Cannonball MTB Festival, Thredbo

The Cannonball MTB Festival is already locked in for the first weekend of December next year once again – see you in Shredbo.

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The Thredbo team couldn’t believe their (un)luck when a huge dump of snow arrived in the first week of summer, two days prior to the Cannonball MTB Festival. In the end it actually added a really cool element to the event, as the snow had all but disappeared by Saturday morning. By Sunday it was genuinely dusty out on track once again. Crazy alpine weather, huh?
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Loads of respect for Mick Hannah who embodied the ‘no dig, no ride’ ethos, helping to shovel snow with the other volunteers.
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This is what Bunny Walk on the downhill track looked like with practice due to start in half an hour! The first practice session was run from mid-station, but the whole mountain was open and running after lunch.

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The Rock Shox Pump Track Challenge was a seriously cool event – a perfect afternoon with the finals held under lights, a DJ and grandstand seating.

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Thomas Crimmins hooks in on his way to third place.
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Cash prizes were part of the appeal of the Cannonball MTB Festival for the fast crew – no hats or old tyres for the elite riders here!
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Troy Brosnan and Tegan Molloy nabbed the wins on the pump track. Tegan got super lucky, handed the win after Tracey Hannah and Danielle Beecroft were DQ’d for accidentally chucking in a pedal stroke. Brosnan looked calm and in control, never getting loose or pushing it too hard, but lapping fast and clean.
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Remy Morton definitely had the speed to take the win, but pushed it too hard in the slippery exit of this berm that claimed a few. This Queenslander kid is on the rise, big time.
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Day two was massive: downhill practice, the finals of the Flow Motion Cup, downhill seeding and then the whip wars to cap it all off. Here: the iconic Eagle’s Way fire road corner.

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Canberra’s Old Jamesy Collins in the Flow Motion Cup.
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The snow melt left the top third of the Flow Trail a little muddy, but once the track emerged from the woods on the ski runs, it was perfect.
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Danielle Beecroft had a huge weekend; third here in the Flow Motion Cup, a win in the Whip Wars, and third in both downhill and the pump track too. She was the only woman to take part in all four events – legend.

 

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Ben Cory proved once again that he is a pure animal on any bike. A convincing first place in the Flow Motion Cup.
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It was a good weekend for Tegan Molloy – her plentiful time on the hill paid off to the tune of $500 (and a handful of cannonballs) in the Flow Motion Cup.

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Andrew Crimmins, left, showing a hint of the speed that he unleashed in the downhill final.
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Thomas Crimmins and his brother Andrew call Thredbo their local track, and it showed.
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Troy Brosnan, fast qualifier and the brightest bike.
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WHIP WARS! Such a simple, awesome event. Take one big jump. Best whipper wins. Easy.

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Tim Eaton, cracking it.
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Dave McMillan and Luke Ellison were the joint winners of Whip Wars. Effortless, lazy, crazy style.


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Blue skies for race day. The weather gods smiled on the Australian Open Downhill.
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With a massive tail wind, the canyon gap (bottom left) saw a few race day casualties.

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There was a lot of expectation place on Troy Brosnan and Mick Hannah (shot below). Everyone expected it’d be one of these two internationally experienced pros standing on the top step. But in their off season, that wasn’t how it panned out.

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Andrew Crimmins knocked his older brother out of the hot seat and that’s where he stayed, taking a huge win against some of the world’s best.
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The consummate racer, Mick Hannah finds a way to avoid a jump that others launched – low is fast.
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Crimmins, top, ragged, wild and hanging on. McMillan, below, looking good as always.
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The greasy pole, something we haven’t seen at a mountain bike race since 1995! Go Thredbo, bringing it back!
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Three balls. That’s what it takes to win $5000 at Thredders.
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Tracey Hannah’s experience came to the fore when it counted, but Tegan Molloy and Dani Beecroft aren’t far off the pace. It’s great to see some quality women’s racing. In the men’s it was a great day out for the Crimmins family, with Troy Brosnan splitting the siblings in second.

Must-Ride: Mt Wellington North-South Track, Tasmania

When a trail is a really good one, you’ll know it’s name before you even know where it starts. Hobart’s North-South Track is one of these masterpieces. A ten kilometre (mostly) descent that takes riders from a signposted car park at The Springs, half way up Mt Wellington, down to Glenorchy Mountain Bike Park.

This is a track that is purpose built but has nothing to do with racing. It’s genius lies in its ability to thrill riders of all types, a carefully crafted journey with a landscape that changes dramatically along the way.

Postcard city views.
Postcard city views.

Our partner for this ride was Simon Townsend, a bushwalking guide in a past life who knows the Tasmanian bush like the back of his hand. The pannier racks on the back of his bike give him away as the father of a bubbling two year old and someone who is refreshingly unconsumed by new bike technology.

We couldn’t have asked for a more local, Tuesday afternoon experience. This is a track where you simply come to enjoy the riding and relax.

Moss thrives in the rainforesty first part of the trail.
Moss thrives in the rainforesty first part of the trail.

Moss thrives in the rainforesty first part of the trail.

Starting in rainforest with thick moss on both sides of the trail it’s hard to decide whether to take in the scenery or focus firmly ahead, pumping the surface for thrills and speed.

Simon says: 'Let's get going already!"
Simon says: ‘Let’s get going already!”

All of a sudden, the wide, hard packed singletrack catapults riders into an enormous rock-scape. An oversized scree slope created by a glacial melt, frozen by time, covers the hillside to the left. While not an uncommon sight in Tassie, it’s not something you’ll see on the mainland.

The rocks take some momentum to get over, but they’re not the type to spit you off line or make you feel unstable on the bike.

The rocks take some momentum to get over, but they’re not the type to spit you off line or make you feel unstable on the bike.
The rocks take some momentum to get over, but they’re not the type to spit you off line or make you feel unstable on the bike.
Better to pack your own food.
Better to pack your own food.

A paved rocky trail shoots you past moss-covered boulders to more closed in bushland. Cast your head right for a quick view of the city.

The rocky scree slope is an amazing sight to take in.
The rocky scree slope is an amazing sight to take in.

If we could ride a trail like this regularly, we’d shoot through here yelling, screaming and holding our speed. Not sure when we’d see such a dramatic landscape again, we had to get off our bikes to take it all in.

The Octopus Tree is hidden off to the side of the trail early on in the journey.
The Octopus Tree is hidden off to the side of the trail early on in the journey.
Raised bridges and a few drops are well signposted on the side of the first part of the track offering extra challenges for advanced riders who aren’t afraid of heights.
Raised bridges and a few drops are well signposted on the side of the first part of the track offering extra challenges for advanced riders who aren’t afraid of heights.

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It was here that were blown away with how many locals we met enjoying the trail as part of their day. The sun was out after a wet couple of months and the quick draining trails were almost dry. It was such a lift to see so many people outside on bikes making the most of the afternoon. A few lycra-clad warriors were riding in the South-North direction but they were less keen to stop and chat.

The half way point, time wise (the first section of the trail has some climbing), is marked by a cabin where you can take a moment to sit and refill your bottle. You can give your arms a rest if you’ve been clenching the bars too tight or are out of practice riding sustained singletrack descents.

Junction Cabin is a friendly place for a break.
Junction Cabin is a friendly place for a break.

The other side of Junction Cabin was built later on in the project under contract by many skilled trail workers. This included Dave Mason from Mountain Trails who built a lot of the singletrack for the Hellfire Cup. The Eucalypt bush is drier here and the grainy singletrack heads almost completely downhill.

It was here that I could feel my calves start to twinge from spending so long standing on the pedals, the only indicator of how long we’d been riding. Time felt frozen for the rest of the experience on the trail.

We started to cross over fire trails and other paths that signalled possibilities for extending the ride into a longer or different loop. We snaked our way left down big, grainy berms all the way to the Glenorchy Mountain Bike Park.

Glenorchy Mountain Bike park. Practice your skills, extend the ride, or call for a lift back up the hill.

Glenorchy Mountain Bike park. Practice your skills, extend the ride, or call for a lift back up the hill.
Glenorchy Mountain Bike park. Practice your skills, extend the ride, or call for a lift back up the hill.

Despite the high profile races that have taken place here, the park was almost a let down in comparison to the journey we’d just been on. The rutted trails and weedy landscape a stark contrast to the impeccably maintained singletrack we’d traversed for the last 10 kilometres.

In contrast to the social experience of the North-South Track, there wasn’t a person in sight save a couple of dirt jumpers enjoying the sinking afternoon sun.

What blew us away most about this journey is that this is a trail that brings riders of all types to jump on their bike and experience a place. You can loop it up on your own, or get dropped off at the start and collected again down the bottom.

A lot of money and infrastructure is being invested into mountain biking throughout the country for economic growth, primarily through tourism, in regional towns.  The North-South Track certainly attracts a lot of holidaymakers to experience its thrills.

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But perhaps even better than that, and what struck us most about the North-South Track, is that it adds so much quality of life experienced in a capital city. Imagine if a trail like this was around the corner from your place.

 

Video: Ride Rotorua Top Ten Trails #10 – Challenge

Even if Lisa’s infectious grin hadn’t done the trick, Challenge is the kind of trail that forces you to smile and holler. It’s 100% off the brakes; roller, berm, double, double, berm, berm, roller, step-up…. you get in the flow just thinking about it! It’s a trail you can ride on any bike and with a five minute cruise back up the fire road to start it all again (or perhaps you’d prefer one of the other similarly awesome options in the Challenge Block) it’s no wonder this has become one of the most popular in Rotoland already.

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Video: Helmet Camera Footage of Cairns 2014 World Cup Downhill Track, With Tracey Hannah

World Trail lifted the barriers off the course for a day of track testing and previewing, Tracey Hannah takes a roll down the track with her Sony Action Cam. With a wet season bringing extraordinary amounts or rain between now and the big race in April, World Trail have built a course designed to withstand the rain, and be ready for a few tweaks here and there before the big guns arrive from all over the world.

Check out the mental rock garden, and see if you can spot all the gap line options along the way. It’s going to be a wild race!

And below are some images from our track walk in October.

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Throw in a whoop section, just when speeds will be pushing 50-60km/hr. Hang on tight.
Throw in a whoop section, just when speeds will be pushing 50-60km/hr. Hang on tight.
The drop in elevation here is crazy. With huge moguls and mounds of hard packed soil to either use as a jump, landing or faceplant into.
The drop in elevation here is crazy. With huge moguls and mounds of hard packed soil to either use as a jump, landing or faceplant into.
Photos don't quite do it justice. The rock garden is seriously full on.
Photos don’t quite do it justice. The rock garden is seriously full on.
Left, right, jump, or wipeout?
Left, right, jump, or wipeout?
Do the rocks fall from trees around here? So much rock, it's mental.
Do the rocks fall from trees around here? So much rock, it’s mental.

The day the barriers are lifted, the public will be free to test out this incredible course, any day of the week.

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Tree roots are a major feature all through Smithfield, not such a challenge in the dry weather, but with a little rain they turn the track surface into chaos.
Tree roots are a major feature all through Smithfield, not such a challenge in the dry weather, but with a little rain they turn the track surface into chaos.

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Video: Ride Rotorua Top 10 Trails #9 – Taniwha Downhill

Taniwha Downhill is more than just a track down a hill with shuttle access, it’s a real race track that will take the best riders to their limits. With world class events like the Oceania Champs and NZ national rounds transforming the steep gradient into a myriad of lightening fast and wide lines, deep turns, rapid step down jumps and doubles so big you could park fifty trucks between the takeoff and landing ramps.

We tried our very best to keep up with the local pinner, but all we could do was see him boost away into the mist and catch up for a sweaty handshake at the bottom.

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Lewis Hamilton – can shred, can whip, can flog us.
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Dave Hamilton, the local cop does a great Lewis impersonation.

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A wild mix of loam, and greasy tree roots will confuse even the grippiest of tyres.

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Interview: Duncan Giblin – One Hell(fire) of a Battle

The upside is that this crew have been forced to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Flow sat down with Event Director, Duncan Giblin, at the end of the four-day race to talk about some of the battles he’d faced getting this event off muddy ground.

 

Duncan, first fires and then floods. The environmental impact on the event is obvious. Can you talk us through some of the extra challenges you’ve had in putting on Hellfire Cup that riders might not be aware of?

From the outset we wanted to put on a race that we felt suited the riding that we really like doing in this area. It’s a very beautiful area. One of the big challenges for us was the process of change within the forestry industry that was going on, so getting land tenure was pretty interesting. One of the land managers that we use was a major forest holdings group that went into bankruptcy. Then with the Tas Forests agreement going on, where there’s changes to things like logging access, there was uncertainty about who was going was to manage the land and what people were going to be able to do there. So there was a potential risk to access for stuff we’d previously been given permission to use. We now have all this resolved which is great for the event’s future.

Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.
Heavy rain before the event meant time went into remedial trail work. The event village was still in construction when competitors started to arrive.

One of the other challenges is that we’re in a smaller economy here, where unemployment’s really high. That means there’s not a lot of extra government money around for new projects or a lot of cash around for corporate sponsorship.

Financially too, running it again the second time after the postponement, you almost run two events off the one income. For your first major event like that you always take a loss anyway but that made it harder.

Do you think that following the influx of mountain bikers to the regional community over the last week, local businesses might be more likely to come on board for future events?

Yeh. A lot of local businesses and community groups have been fairly heavily involved and inundated with the bushfire recovery itself. Everybody from the mayor to the guy who runs pub are part of the bushfire recovery group. I think they’re at a place now where were they are really able to embrace mountain bike development in the area. They have been really supportive of the event and its future.

 

Do you think that for some of the local community, having seen the amount and the type of people coming in, might be more interested in being involved in future events too?

Totally, they needed to see it first. We had a few concerns about traffic management from community members. Now people in the community are there cooking sausages for riders and asking when the next race is on. They were a major part of providing alternative venues to keep the first Hellfire going.

 

On the topic of the race just past, things were looking good for the rescheduled event, but then the rain came to town. What did you have to do, logistically speaking, in order to keep the stages running each day?

Our goal was to try to make sure that we’ve got a rider experience that people can engage in that’s worthwhile. We also had to work out competitor safety.

What a day like that looks like is we come home from the race village and we look at maps, and weather maps and we then go back out in the bush and we make changes to the trail at night. We reset a whole course while we’ve got a little bit of daylight and then drive back home and do the admin and answer the emails. We also do the work plan to get the next stage happening. We’d do that until about five in the morning, then get up and actually run the stage.

 

Did you also have to deal with road closures and permission to access different areas to hold the redesigned stages?

Yeh, so when we change a stage, people might think it would be a great idea to just go somewhere else. But to get access to the public roads and the management of that, that’s a formal process. We had to use routes within our existing road permit.  Also a big thing for us is that we use properties that have shared use, so if we change something it affects so many other people. It changes the plans and the requirement on the volunteers, it puts them under more pressure too.

We also have to look at the logistics of the race itself when we change; how do we manage our timing, how do we manage our basic rider comfort and safety, how do we manage the concerns and the requirements of the media guys and the promotion opportunities for our sponsors.

 

The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.
The event centre was relocated twice during the event. The third one was the best of the lot.

Did you ever think of just calling it off?

We thought about it, but basically we didn’t come this far after the fires to just pull the pin on it. People came here to ride and so we were going to ride. That’s basically that.

 

Given the time that has gone into making these decisions, do you think the things you learned from this event make for a much better management plan for next year?

Well we know we’ve got a good fire management plan, we know we’ve got a good flood management plan. Look really, I don’t have any worry about our abilities to adapt the racing, but what we are focused on is dealing with adverse circumstances and maintaining the quality of the event.

 

When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.
When the sun turns on, this is a really beautiful part of the world.

What improvements do you think you’d make to the event overall having seen the experiences riders had this year?

I think anything that supports that atmosphere that we have, which just makes it an enjoyable experience. I have a background putting on raves and other events, and I like to bring that whole feeling to bike races. Our 24 hour events have always had great a great atmosphere, I want to improve that, work on it more.

We’ll have an elite only option so it’s fairer on age category guys competing against them. We had hot showers that we were going to use at the race village and the problem when we had to relocate is that we weren’t able to set those up. And they should have been set up earlier.

We’ve engaged a site manager for next year so we can get earlier set up and more transferable services. The lunches will be more substantial and we are looking at increasing the variety for the evening meals including some more gourmet product. We’ll also have an electronic timing system that will be used for the 2014 event.

 

Some riders have been saying they’d like to see less prize money and more funds going into ‘all you can eat’ kind of catering.  At the same time, the amount of prize money pitches the Hellfire Cup, in terms of the public perception and marketing, as a world class event, which gets people here. What are your thoughts on that?

We are planning to improve of the quality of all services, including food for competitors, without compromising an attractive prize pool for professional riders. We want the experience to be great for all riders punter or pro.

If you build it they will come.
If you build it they will come.

What does it mean having so many people from all over the country, as well as high-profile international riders, come to the event?

It’s really nice to be supported like that. I think for us it makes us more determined provide riders with great trails and good times. It’s been really good for the local community and most people have been really happy about being part of that community recovery, just by coming here and riding their bikes. It also shows that people are interested in what we’re up to and what we want to do. Although it’s been hard over the last 18 months, it makes us more determined to actually provide a better experience and support our local community by having people here.

Interview: Peta Mullens

Well I’ve just signed with the Wiggle Honda Professional Women’s Team which is one of the most successful outfits on the European road scene in it’s second year. It’s the first female team run and owned by an Australian in current Commonwealth Games Champion Rochelle Gilmore, which is a big step for Women’s cycling within our country and around the world. To me it’s special because the team allows me to juggle both my aspirations on the MTB and road, and because they’ve signed my partner Jarrod Moroni as full-time head mechanic for the 2014 season 🙂

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As a British team based out of Belgium, will you be spending a lot of time in Europe?


My calendar is yet to be finalised but it looks like I’ll spend about half of my nine months abroad in Europe, with the remaining time spread across Australia, China and the UK.

 

What about on the mountain bike? Are you still on Target Trek?

To set the record straight and slash all speculation, YES, I will be continuing my partnership with the Target Trek MTB Racing Team. It wasn’t a hard decision for me to make- I had some great results this year, but it was testing times through my back injury and Rich Peil, Peter Dowse and TREK provided their full support the entire way. The team is even bigger and better next year with some exciting announcements coming up and some new signings for the season. Our team has also been a driving force behind change at MTBA and I want to continue to be a part of that to better the future of the sport.

 

What will your 2014 calendar look like? 

Busy! I’ll have over 100 race days for the year which is nearly unheard of! I’ll spend most of my season in Aus up until the National MTB Championships in March, and then join the ‘Wigglettes’ in Europe to follow the team race calendar for the majority of the season. I’ll step away for the MTB World Cups and pending selection, the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Then come October Jarrod and I will have to weigh up whether or not Europe is for us, and decide whether to return home and support the domestic MTB season, or have a short break and do it all over again.

 

Will you be able to piggy back any mountain bike racing onto your road racing, or vice versa?


I’ll try my best to have a week off leading into the MTB World Cups and if selected, a good block of MTB’ing before the Commonwealth Games and again before the World Championships. It’s quite an easy transition from the MTB to the road, but the transition from road to MTB is quite difficult so I just need time to account for the differences in disciplines and find my place on the dirt again.

 

How do you see the balance between mountain biking and road looking for you?


The scales are definitely tipped in the favour of road, it’s about a 70:30 ratio. But I’m very open in saying that MTB is my priority for the season, and that my target races will all be on the MTB. I’ll be acting as a domestique on the road for Wiggle Honda so it’s more important that I’m fit, healthy and consistent the entire season rather than ‘pinging’ for every single race.

 

We see a lot of athletes move from mountain bike, to doing a bit of road and then finally moving entirely away from mountain biking (Steele Von Hoff, probably Jack Haig, Lachie Norris) – do you see this as a course you’ll likely follow? How can we please keep you?

Well I’m very flattered and you won’t be losing me anytime soon, I feel like I’ve only just jumped ship TO the dirt! I’ve been to Europe and done the road ‘thing’ before but it’s the curiosity of MTB’ing and a new challenge that has driven me to make the International leap again. Whether I am overseas or in Australia my passion lies with MTB’ing. On the topic of lost talent, it’s a shame to continuously lose our dirt talent to the road, but such is the nature of the beast and we have plenty more talent to capitalise on if steered in the right direction with the right support. The Target Trek team are real drivers behind these visions and are slowly but surely growing the sport of MTB’ing.

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Do you think mountain bike and road can complement each other, or conflict with each other?
 

I think that in the right environment and with the right support network they do complement each other, but it’s a tricky balance. The calendars will always conflict, so it’s about compromising my race program in order to fit in my target races but represent both teams fairly. The sponsors will always clash, so once again it’s about negotiation and compromise on their behalf. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by sponsors, and team owners like Rich and Rochelle Gilmore, who put my own dreams in front of their interests because they are passionate and supportive of what I do.

Come Hell or High Water: The AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup

In the lead up to the AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup we ran a story called ‘Sharing the Holler.’ This article described the pairs format stage race as one born out of a desire to bring people to the kind of trails that inspire you let the brakes off, relax, and yell like a small child on a jumping castle as you rip through the bush.

The pairs format for stage racing added a nice dynamic to the event.
The pairs format for stage racing added a nice dynamic to the event.

Bushfires held back edition one, their impact on the local community still visible nearly a year later. Come November, it was rain and floods that dampened edition two.

Mountain bikers did what they often do in such situations: they stayed positive, hardened up and rode anyway.

‘Come hell or high water,’ said an email from determined event director, Duncan Giblin, which arrived at dawn on day two, ‘We will keep you riding as long as we think it can be done in a safe manner.’

The trails held up really well in the mud…and were great fun to ride.
The trails held up really well in the mud…and were great fun to ride.

The event team were up until 5am each morning negotiating ways to keep things moving forward. On this occasion we’re not actually sure they slept at all. The passion and commitment of this Tasmanian team got them through one bottleneck after another, a commendable effort indeed.

Energy went into rerouting courses and sorting out the logistical side of making the next day’s racing a reality. Unfortunately this meant never fully realising the infrastructure or trail networks that were the main attractions of the event. It wasn’t safe enough for one and there simply wasn’t enough man power for the other.

Road tactics certainly came into play.
Road tactics certainly came into play.

Hot water for showers was never installed in the camping area, dirt jump expos, live music, an open air cinema and kids events were cancelled as well. Disappointed by the catering, riders hung out in nearby towns instead.

Jack Haig and Nathan Earle won the overall classification by one minute after just over three hours of racing. Jack: I was here with Nathan Earle who’s going to Sky next year, a road cyclist pretty much. We weren’t even thinking about winning or anything. To see that Nathan can actually ride a mountain bike pretty well was nice and then we got second on the first stage. We thought, “Hang on a second, this could be possible!”
Jack Haig and Nathan Earle won the overall classification by one minute after just over three hours of racing. Jack: I was here with Nathan Earle who’s going to Sky next year, a road cyclist pretty much. We weren’t even thinking about winning or anything. To see that Nathan can actually ride a mountain bike pretty well was nice and then we got second on the first stage. We thought, “Hang on a second, this could be possible!”

Competitors were very understanding about the impact of the weather and applauded the effort undertaken by Team Hellfire to give riders a positive racing experience. But as an inaugural event there were always going to be a few extra issues that would show their teeth.

‘I think for a first year event, maybe there needed to be more of a focus around infrastructure and getting those sorts of things right, rather than a massive prize pool for the elite riders,’ said Peta Mullens (Target-Trek), who won the mixed pairs category with partner, Jarrod Moroni.

Peta Mullens: I think with the right infrastructure in place it’s sort of like beers, with your mates, in the bush, and maybe a little bit of pedalling in the morning. I think that’s what the atmosphere of the event is trying to capture here, just a good time.
Peta Mullens: I think with the right infrastructure in place it’s sort of like beers, with your mates, in the bush, and maybe a little bit of pedalling in the morning. I think that’s what the atmosphere of the event is trying to capture here, just a good time.

The generous prize pool on offer is a big part of the Hellfire Cup’s appeal and its marketing as a world class event. It is also a big gesture from the organisers who want to see our top riders better supported financially than is typical of the sport in this country. But most riders, including those in the elite field, agree that the $12,000 top up given to the outright winners would have been better spent on the event as a whole.

Peta elaborates: ‘You see people like (World Cup winner) Dan McConnell and (2012 Junior World Champion) Anton Cooper on the start list and you probably go, “Well, I’m not going to win the 15 grand.” As soon as there’s a couple of elite riders at that level, the rest of the guys aren’t in it for the money, they’re just here for a really good time.’

Make some noise!
Make some noise!

It was such a shame then that, despite close racing provided by the rerouted stages, things that would have set this event apart just weren’t able to happen. The singletrack on the morning of day one was a teaser, but a forecast of up to 250mm of rain meant uncertainty for the three days ahead.

‘The first day was amazing,’ said Peta, who has recently signed to the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling team but whose heart is still clearly held by the dirt.  ‘Even though it was muddy it probably just emphasised how good the tracks really were.

‘Then there was a hell of a lot of fire trail. We really haven’t stepped off fire trail since that first day, which is a little bit disappointing for an event that was boasting a lot of good trails. And that’s kind of the reason that we came.’

Kellevie. Home of the orginal event centre and an annual 24 hour race.
Kellevie. Home of the orginal event centre and an annual 24 hour race.

The final stage was a twisty loop around a paddock that took the fastest riders about a minute to complete. Despite the short distance, this stage had the best atmosphere of all. Cowbells sounded, riders cheered, and people were happy to have made it through a very challenging week.

As I left the race my heart felt heavy. Everyone had made the best of a tough situation. While the atmosphere echoed the positivity you get from holding hands around a campfire, tough conditions had sapped the buzz.

The cancellation of afternoon stages allowed time to see the sights. Port Arthur was much bigger than we expected.
The cancellation of afternoon stages allowed time to see the sights. Port Arthur was much bigger than we expected.

I got on my bike one more time and headed out to re-ride the trails we’d seen in the opening stage. I was joined by Andrew Hezel, from Mansfield, who we met on Flow’s Bikes and Brews tour earlier in the year.

At the bottom of a valley, the original event area was soaked in water and car tyres had cut countless circles in the grass. The river was running high and it was clear that it had been a good idea to move the racing elsewhere.

With just the two of us in comparison to day one’s muddy crowd of 300, the trails just flowed, literally, as a lot of them resembled small rivers. But they flowed in the regular mountain biker meaning of the word as well. I could imagine the laughter that would have come from riders in the original singletrack relay stages and enjoyed hooking in, leaning my bike through the terrain.

Anthony Shippard heard there were spot prizes for 'Best Chameleon'.
Anthony Shippard heard there were spot prizes for ‘Best Chameleon’.

We saw a long bermed descent bunted out with Mountain Trails tape. I’d heard so many good things about these guys and I was itching to see their work. The soft sand was too steep to ride up, but we soon found an equally well-built climb. This trail was ‘the Elevator,’ designed for the hill climb stage that one team mate would do while another raced a crit.

The climb up had some steep pinches and would have put racers on their limit. The descent featured berm after wide berm, with some long fast straights traversing the in-betweens.

This trail is so good that you wouldn’t just save it for the hill climb stage. Riders would be recommending it to each other during the off time between race stages as well.

We yelled into the crisp air, got covered in mud from head to toe, probably did six months damage to our bikes, and rode back up the climb to do the descent one more time. This was the holler.

The pairs format adds an extra excitement to racing. By splitting some stages each rider still got to unleash the beast and show their strengths on the bike.
The pairs format adds an extra excitement to racing. By splitting some stages each rider still got to unleash the beast and show their strengths on the bike.

In his gentle way, Andy pointed out that while the event team had seen so much positivity from the way riders had banded together to make the most of the previous few days, what they’d missed was seeing people genuinely excited about the trails. Trails that so much work, pride and time had gone into. Trails that were the biggest selling point of the event.

In that moment, I got it. I could understand why Duncan and his team so badly wanted to hold an event and bring so many people to a place. They’re passionate trail builders and what they have here are a collection of some of the best.

Held together with a festival atmosphere, race-branded beers, music, film, sunshine and a sense of festival the days would have gone from one high point to another.

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The AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup is scheduled for the same time next year, November 20-23. The organisers have already begun communicating their intentions to build on the lessons learned from the last few days: better catering, electronic timing, improved plans for dealing with the unexpected. To attract the field they’re hoping for, their biggest challenge will be to communicate to riders how well they take this year’s feedback and turn it into a reality.

‘Although it’s been hard,’ said Duncan after the event, ‘It makes us more determined to give riders a better experience and support our local community for having people here.’

With the right infrastructure, and the weather on their side, this event could create a holler so loud that you could hear it from the mainland.

Head to the event website, www.hellfirecup.com, for detailed results from all categories and images of these great trails in the dry.

Video: Ride Rotorua Top 10 Trails #8 – Boulderdash

The recently built Challenge block has brought a whole new element to the forest in Rotorua, giving riders a bunch of trails that are both easily accessible and just plain fun to ride.

Every weekend this section of the Redwoods is jammed with kids and families, punching out run after run – when it’s a five-minute ride back up the fire road to the top, why not?

Boulderdash is one of the best. It’s a mad, fast freeway of a track, a ribbon of great turns and step-down jumps. It feels like it’s over far too quick, but the trail has a sting in its tail, a steep rock section from which the trail gets its name. Bryce Shapley, all limbs and speed, shows us the way its done.

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Flow Gone Troppo – Tropical North Queensland Part 4, Cooktown and The Croc Trophy

How far north can mountain biking take you in QLD? Well, the Crocodile Trophy has finished in Cooktown the last couple years and we were really quite privileged to not only take the journey up from Port Douglas to Cooktown, but as guests to The Croc Trophy we actually had a rare chance to ride the final stage of the race.

We were a long way north now, and loving the climate, food scenery and chilled QLD vibes. But our road trip was winding to an end, and that was not to be loved.

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Cooktown has a west-facing harbour which makes for a beautiful sunset over the water.

In between Port Douglas and Cooktown wasn’t any chance for real mountain biking as such, but we took a few opportunities along the way to stop and soak in some colourful tropical sights, long beaches, incredible ice creams and freaky animal spotting.

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Fresh ice cream made from the fruit trees on the property, delectable! Don’t rush from point to point when travelling in North QLD, stop every now and then to soak it in.
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QLD, so hostile yet so inviting!

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Now, for this Flow fellow, participating in The Croc Trophy stage race is a far fetched reality with the sheer difficulty of the event enough to frighten away any inkling of consideration. Nine stages, 850km from Cairns to Cooktown, through absolute gruelling conditions and terrain. It’s a logistical challenge from a riders point of view, hence the $2500+ entry fee, and would take the best part of one year to prepare for.

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Hydration preparations before The Croc.

But, 48km isn’t too far really, and we were just along for the ride so we put our hands up and we said yes to riding from the remote town of Hopevale to Cooktown, and join the final stage festivities and presentation.

Off we went, the fresh legged impostors hidden amongst the weary croc warriors.
Off we went, the fresh-legged impostors hidden amongst the weary croc warriors.
Liesbeth Hessens from Belgium won every stage, pure Belgium dominance. The press buzz around her on the final day.
Liesbeth Hessens from Belgium won every stage in elite women, pure Belgium dominance in shorts and a helmet from 1999. The press buzz around her on the final day as she toyed with the elite fields endurance.

The final stage was really just a bit of a celebration, a cruisy ride to the finish like the Tour de France ride into Paris, but it’s too hot and bumpy to be drinking champagne like those high rolling roadies do. The majority of the categories were pretty much wrapped up, and only a serious setback or mechanical would change the results. So, when we set off about ten minutes before the fast bunch we settled into a comfortable pace, but always kept an eye behind us for the elite riders that would most certainly catch and pass us before the finish.

Don't get in the way of Martin Wisata and the finish, he's on a mission!
Don’t get in the way of Martin Wisata and the finish, he’s on a mission!

Dry, dry and hot. But we certainly kept those thoughts to ourselves, the guys and girls that we were riding with had ridding in far drier, much hotter and for nine days by that stage!

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We’ve all heard about the Croc for as long as we can remember, we’ve read the reports, seen the photos and watched videos, but to be there in person and get the feel for how damn tough and strong the competitors are. We learnt another level of respect and admiration not only for the Euros that travel so far to battle it out in the intense tropical conditions, but the fact that The Croc has grown into an event that can also support and welcomes participants, not just the pros.

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This was the part where the elite bunch mowed us down, we held onto them for about five minutes before we almost had to get off and walk.
This was the part where the elite bunch mowed us down, we held onto them for about five minutes before we almost had to get off and walk.
Mike Tomelaris from SBS Cycling Central is the patron of the event, he tells us to stop eating bananas and get back to it.
Mike Tomalaris from SBS Cycling Central is the patron of the event, he tells us to stop eating delicious bananas and get back to it.
Finished!
Finished!
The final stage was a celebration, with fancy costumes and good cheer to sign of the epic nine days.
The final stage was a celebration, with fancy costumes and good cheer to sign off the epic nine days with a laugh.
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Local croc imposter.
Mangoes everywhere, we tried slicing one in the spokes of our wheels, it didn't work.
Mangoes everywhere, we tried slicing one in the spokes of our spinning wheels, it didn’t work.
The presentation dinner and closing party starts with a few mid strength beers with your new mates.
The presentation dinner and closing party starts with a few hundred mid-strength beers with your exhausted new mates.
The amount of food consumed is hectic!
The amount of food consumed is hectic!

Farewell Tropical North Queensland! We’ll be back under your delicious tropical canopy soon for the Cairns World Cup, in April 2014.

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Back to reality for us!

Must-Ride: Atherton, day 4 in paradise

Our trip to Atherton could not have been planned any better; our final day of riding took place under blue skies, but the very next day the rains rolled in. For the next few months, that relentless pattern of morning mugginess followed by afternoon downpours will be the norm – the wet has arrived.

The tremendous rainfall in this part of the world is the reason it all feels so alive and vibrant, but it does present a challenge for trail building. Everywhere we looked, clever drainage and armouring solutions had been employed to preserve the trails. We were fortunate enough to grab a chat with Glen Jacobs from World Trail, the man who developed the Atherton mountain bike master plan, and he explained some of the techniques the team had used in weatherproofing. Glen cut his trail building teeth in Cairns, an area that can get over seven meters of rain a year, so he knows a thing or to about drainage.

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There are numerous junctions in the Atherton network, allowing you to put together loads of different loops. It’s not like you come here and just ride in a circle.
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Top: Pepper the cattle dog practices her skills, rounding up this chook. The resulting Mexican standoff was priceless. Bottom: Arty the horse comes in for some muesli.

There’s more rock armouring in Atherton than just about anywhere we’ve seen, no more so than on the magical Waterfall track. This was the final trail we rode in Atherton and it’s spectacular. It climbs deep into a gully, traversing across two waterfalls along the way. These weren’t running when we rode, but we’d love to come back to this track after a decent rain as you’d literally be riding through the cascading sheets of water.

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The signage in Atherton is spot on. Numbering the trails makes it easy for out-of-towners to find their way around, while the locals tend to use trail names instead.

We guess we’ll just have to make another trip back up to Atherton soon for that experience. It won’t be difficult to woo us back; the trail network in Atherton is growing like lantana in February, and with Cairns and its trail just down the road too, there’s more than enough riding on offer here to keep you in a singletrack daze for a few days.

We’ll have our full Flow Nation video from Atherton up very soon.

 

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Climbing up the Waterfall track – note the rock armouring across the gullies.
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The Crocodile Belly berm on Waterfall.
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The pay off – ripping back down Waterfall. The perfect grade reversals surf the hillside.
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Glen Jacobs has been involved in the Atherton development process for almost a decade now.

Video: Ride Rotorua Top 10 Trails #7 – Hot X Buns

By the time we reached trail #7 of our ten-trail odyssey in the Redwoods, the Flow crew was starting to feel a little peckish. But Mike Metz of Bike Culture knew just the thing to revive us; a heaped serving of Hot X Buns. And, man, was it tasty.

Hot X Buns is a trail that just feels amazing when you’re going fast. Cruise down it at a mellow pace and you could easily overlook its brilliance – if you’re going slow it’s kinda lumpy. But when you’re trying to hold the wheel of Mike Metz, one of Rotorua’s fastest riders, going slow isn’t an option.

With the speed turned up a few notches, Hot X is easily one of the best offerings in the forest. The pines rip by your bars, what previously looked like ruts become perfect berms to slap your tyres into, the little pinch climbs turn into kickers and it all makes sense.

The trail squirts you out over a good-sized jump into the clearing directly above B Rude Not 2, so you can keep it rolling on another of Rotorua’s best.

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Video: Friday Night At The Flicks

WEMBO 2014

WEMBO 2014 from frazer on Vimeo.


SEGMENTS – Ep. No.3 – Squamish by Trail

SEGMENTS – Ep. No.3 – Squamish by Trail from Mitch Gulliver on Vimeo.


Swift RockyMountain Season 2 Ep2

This episode follows the team to round 2 of the VDHS at Granton which saw the return of the flooded pits, similar to Canberra National champs last season. Ben Hill took the fastest qualifying time outright, backed it up with a win in 19’s and 5th fastest of the day.

The team then moved on the round 2 of the Alpine gravity Elevation series in Bright, this event saw the return of Luke and a thunderstorm in the elite mens second race run, playing in Crundy’s favour, seeing him take home 5th place.

Swift RockyMountain Season 2 Ep2 from Jake Lucas on Vimeo.


PROJEKT ROAM: Landscapes Vol. 3

Landscapes is a film series that celebrates and depicts the fruit of the earth’s time and toils with the elements that have helped to create and shape the terrain we mountain bike across today. Volume 3 of Landscapes captures the charm and range of Whitefish, MT. Throughout this rugged and tumultuous topography, trails abound. Ripe for exploring, this town is a treasure cache of mountain biking diversity.

PROJEKT ROAM: Landscapes Vol. 3 from Projekt Roam on Vimeo.


Nostalgia for the MTB Riding Season | Over the Edge, Ep. 3

As the warm days of Summer are fading further and further away into the memory banks, we can’t help but feel Nostalgic about those longer days, and all the riding we could fit into them.

In this episode, Bas van Steenbergen is adjusting to the cold and wet annual closing of the mountain bike and downhill riding season while looking back at the better days only a few months previous.

Also featuring MTB, BMX and dirtbike riders Ray George, Carson Storch, Tom van Steenbergen and Dennis Langenstam.


Video: Seven and a half hours at the CamelBak Highland Fling

The 2013 CamelBak Highland Fling took place in conditions that would’ve made a Scotsman feel right at home. After eight gloriously sun-kissed Flings, this year’s edition took place under gloomy, drizzly skies.

While there were a few PA heckles served up to riders who pulled the pin (must be made of sugar) over 1700 pros and punters still fronted up to tackle the Half Fling (58km), Full Fling (116km) and the Hundred Mile Fling.

The racing was hard fought, as it always is for this prestigious marathon event, but we’ll admit to our own degree of softness; with the rain chucking down, the comfort of a warm van was too tempting for us and we pulled stumps before the Elite Women came across the line. Apologies to Peta Mullens, who rode by herself all day long to clinch the victory ahead of WA’s Jo Bennett.

Keeping toasty pre-race.
Keeping toasty pre-race.
Conditions were cold enough to turn your head and feet blue.
Conditions were cold enough to turn your head and feet blue.
Heavy hitters.
Heavy hitters; Dylan Cooper would pull the pin with cramps, while Blair and Johnson would grab second and first respectively.
Gary Millburn won the competitive Half Fling convincingly.
Gary Millburn won the competitive Half Fling convincingly.
Mark Tupalski was undisputedly the strongest rider on the day, but he worked too hard on his own and was caught with just a couple of kays to go.
Mark Tupalski was undisputedly the strongest rider on the day, but he worked too hard on his own and was caught with just a couple of kays to go.

 

Interview: Jared Graves, Part 2: Training, Diet, Tech, And Your Questions

Welcome to part 2 of our interview with Jared Graves. In part 1 we discussed his thoughts on the Enduro World Series, the merits of the various Enduro formats, and his performance at the downhill World Champs. In part 2, Jared talks about training and racing across so many disciplines, and answers the questions you submitted through Facebook.

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In part 1 of out interview, you talked about your decision to race your SB66 at the World Champs a being based on the fact you where most comfortable on that bike. On that matter of getting comfortable on a bike, you’ve obviously jumped between a lot more bikes than most people, including a cross country bike. Where did your decision to race XCO at the National Champs come from?

I got a road bike again after not having been on a roadie for about 10 years. With the EWS coming up I knew I had the skills and the power, but I had to get as fit as I possibly could. So I started road riding in October, but by the time I got to the new year I was feeling strong on the road bike, and I got a cross country bike too. I did a few of the local races, just having fun and I won some of them quite comfortably ahead of guys who’d done quite well at Nationals previously. At that point I decided I’d give Nationals a go.

I managed about six weeks of specific training for it ahead of the event. Again, the only way I can really stay motivated to train 100% is if I have lots of mini goals along the way. And it was just another bit of motivation to keep the training up for the Enduro season.

I’m looking forward to doing it all again. I’ve spent the last three weeks on the road bike and I’m hoping to take things a step further in XCO this year. It’s hard with cross-country training – I don’t want to lose my top end power and become just a climbing machine. It’s always going to be hard when I’m carrying 10 or so kilos more than most of the other top cross-country guys. But it’s good fun and I’m looking forward to giving it a good nudge.

 

Just on that, tell us about the process of shedding weight to race XCO.

Yeah, it was hard. In BMX and 4X there’s a lot of emphasis on maintaining your maximum strength, and most of the guys are carrying a bit of excess body fat. There are very riders out there who can be at their maximum strength and stay super lean. The first bit of weight came off pretty easy, but the rest was hard, 200g per week or so. I pretty much spent six months of the year feeling a little bit hungry the whole time.

 

How many calories a day were you limiting yourself to?

I don’t know, to me calorie counting and that kind of stuff just does my head in. If you’re watching that kind of stuff every day it just wears you down – you’ll end up in an asylum if you monitor that stuff too closely. I would just eat when I was really hungry, and only eat to the point I was satisfied.

Straight after the Australian National XCO Champs race I went back up three kilos, I started eating properly again because the focus changed to getting that top-end power back for good solid five minute efforts. When you’re primarily going downhill in enduro, weight’s your friend to a degree, helping you keep momentum.

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You could’ve smoked lots of cigarettes to supress your appetite.

Yeah, and that’ll shrink your lungs too, so that’d help save weight too!

 

Do you have general level of baseline training that you do regardless of what discipline you’re focused on at the time?

Yeah, definitely. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around. I had about five days completely off the bike when I got home from the World Champs and after the EWS too. And that’s about my limit – after five days without riding I feel like I’m a fat, lazy bum, and I need to get back onto the bike. It’s like a bipolar mood swing I have if I don’t get to ride!

As long as I can get in 8-10 hours on the bike a week, you know you’re keeping a decent level of fitness and it’d not too hard to get back up to a peak again from that level. That’s the minimum for to do to not feel like a sack of turd.

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Do you do a lot of cross training?

Nah, I mean I do exercises in the gym, but nothing else really. In the gym it’s not really about upper body stuff, just some core stuff and working on some muscle imbalances. You know, when you’re always riding one foot forward, then one leg will have different strength. I always have trouble with my right leg being stiff from having one foot forward, and this causes muscle imbalances in my hips and back.

All my training has some good wiggle room in there for my sanity; if I don’t feel like doing one thing one day, I can mix it up. But when you’re doing road, gym stuff, cross country, downhill runs there’s always something you want to do, which is nice.

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Do you have a coach?

No, it’s always something that I’ve had an interest in, and I’ve learnt a lot from sports scientists that we had access to over the years through the BMX program. Obviously there are some areas of specific knowledge when it comes to certain aspects of training, but for a lot of it it’s not really rocket science to work out what you need to do.

I’ve always on the computer looking for articles by different coaches, anything I can get my hands on. Now’s the time of year when I can experiment a bit more, a bit of trial and error to see what works for me. You get good at fishing out the stuff that sounds like absolute rubbish and the stuff that you feel will work for you.

 

We wanted to ask you about using power meters in your training. Is power training important to you?

Yeah, I can take my files from a racing and then apply that to training. But also I use it racing too, particularly in races where there are timed liaison stages. I could take my knowledge from using the power meter on the road bike and know what power output to sit on where I was able to recover but still maintain a decent speed. Whereas a lot of guys would ride flat-out to get to the top of the next stage so they could rest up when they got there, I was able to use the climb to the top of the next stage as an active recovery.

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Now, the Cycling Australia awards have just happened a couple of weeks ago. Despite coming second in the EWS and third at the World Champs in downhill, you didn’t even get a nomination – what’s the story?

Yeah, I figure they didn’t include the Enduro stuff because it’s not a UCI series… I don’t know, I’ve won that award a couple of times before, and the last time I won it I totally didn’t expect to even be nominated. So when I did win it I was overseas training already. This year, I thought I was a shoe-in for a nomination, maybe even with a chance at winning it. And to not get a nomination was hard to understand. It’s just one of those things.

I just get the feeling there may be some people there making the decisions who aren’t really that into the sport. I mean, I’ve always been a really big mountain bike fan, I can list off the names of the top riders from all the different disciplines, I follow it all because I just love cycling. But I think there are some people behind those awards who couldn’t name five of the top Enduro riders or five of the top downhillers. That’s what frustrates me, they’re meant to be in charge of our sport in this country.

 

How old are you now?

I am thirty.

 

And where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Ha, who knows? Running around with the kiddies somewhere, just cruising. I don’t know – one thing I’ve learnt is that life has its own plans. You can map things out but you never really know; I’m lucky that things have always kind of fallen into place for me to some extent. Opportunities come up, and if they interest me I’ll take them as far as I can.

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You’ve won titles in most disciplines. What do you rate as your greatest cycling achievement to date?

Jeez, there’s probably not one. I put a few of them on pretty level par. I think the things where I’ve really gone after it are what make me proudest. The Olympics is one of those things – I’d only been racing BMX for a couple of years, so to get to that level in a relatively short time made me pretty happy. And this year again, getting to the level I’ve got with Enduro makes me proud. I guess anything where I’ve really worked my butt of to get to a goal and then achieved it I rate equally, it’s about as satisfying as it gets.

 

Is there any goal you must tick off before you’ll be completely happy?

Ah, I don’t know about a ‘must’. I’m too competitive to not win races, so what’s most important for me is to keep progressing. If there’s ever a time that I feel I’m not going forward then that’s when I’ll be done with racing.

 

We’ve got a few questions that have come to us via Facebook, including someone asking if they can see you in the nude. Ok, number one: If you to pick one, which discipline would you race for the rest of your life?

Oh, it’s got to be Enduro. It’s the one I would’ve picked from the very start had it been an option all those years ago.

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What’s one cycling item you couldn’t live without?

I’m pretty partial to a good set of riding duds. Whether it be lycra on the road bike, or some good baggies on the mountain bike – any really nicely made shorts. You know it when you’re wearing crap shorts.

 

What is your diet like – are you picky?

I’m not the perfect eater, but I am conscious of what I eat. You definitely won’t see me lining up at the Macca’s drive-through. We try to eat good veggies, fruit and meat, stay away from the crap. There’s always a few little things in the house, biscuits and things like that. My wife Jess is actually probably more of an influence on my diet than any constraints I’ve put on myself. That said, if you put a block of chocolate in front of me I can’t keep my hands off it.

 

A tech question from Facebook: I notice you run Saint calipers with XTR levers for Enduro, but at the downhill World Champs you had normal Saint brakes. Why?

Ha, that’s someone who has spent too much time looking at photos! Nah, I just prefer the feel of the XTR Race brakes – I use the Race levers, without the Servo Wave just because I prefer the smooth feel of the levers. At the Worlds, the only brakes I had in the team stock were Saint, so we just threw them on there. It wasn’t a performance thing.

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Have you experimented with different wheel sizes much?

You know, it’s so funny reading all the comments online about this stuff. It seems there’s two different types of internet warriors: there’s the ‘wheel size is everything’ guys, then the ‘rider is everything’ side. It’s obviously the rider, but the wheel size is a factor. 27.5” works, and it’s obviously the future. I think Jerome Clementz said it well in an interview I read, when he pointed out that the big reason to still be on 26” still is that tyre manufacturers haven’t quite caught up yet and there’s not the same range of tyres out there yet in 27.5”.

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Do you run tubeless on your enduro bike?

Oh, yeah, there’s no way you could run tubes. I run ghetto tubeless, using a 24” tube. With the ghetto tubeless setup, there’s pretty much no way you can burp your tyre, unless you hit something really, really hard. I run EXO sidewall tyres from Maxxis, and I didn’t have many flats all year, and none in my race runs.

Here’s something that speaks volumes about the ghetto tubeless setup; I had a pretty beat up wheel that I’d installed in practice for Whistler. We put a brand new tyre on with a 24” tube ghetto tubeless setup. When we pulled the tyre off a couple of days later after it was pretty beat up, I found ten pinches in the tube where the tube overlapped the rim bead. That would have been ten pinches in the actual tyre had I been using a standard tubeless setup. And dead set, the rim looked like a stop sign it was so beat up, but it was still sealed up fine and holding air.

 

Final question, what would you like to be remembered for: versatility, competitiveness or raw talent?

I guess the only way to answer that would be as a combination of all three really. They’re all really important to me, so that’s what I’ll go for.

Must-Ride: Atherton, day 3 in paradise

Our third day on the fine Atherton trails was all about catching a juicy sunrise from the sweet singletrack high above the luscious town of Atherton.

Building trails atop a ridge line makes for some fast undulating riding, Ridgey Didge is a great fun track joining up three hilltops above town has gorgeous views and ripper singletrack that undulates its way high up in the range. When passing through Leasies Lookout the day before we knew that this would be a particularly nice spot to start the next days exploring, with its easterly aspect overlooking green pastures. Returning there just after sunrise dressed in no warm clothing whatsoever, we were greeted with a glorious warmth in the air and on our faces as the sun began its day of cooking everything it touches.

Early bird catches the warm hues, and low temps.
The early bird catches the warm hues, and low temps. Leasies lookout, a fitting place to park up and soak it in.

We thought we were up early, but it turns out we weren’t alone, many friendly locals passed by on their morning ritual on world class singletrack before their day grinds onward. It’s clear that mountain biking is becoming more integrated into the way of life up here, the locals are embracing it, and we even bumped into a German couple making their way from Canada, USA and Australia with their mountain bikes. They too were surprised what they discovered when the rode out from the quiet country town and into the forest.

Ridgey Didge is filled with line choice options, with a drop or small step-down on the insides of corner to hit on your second run through.
Ridgey Didge is filled with line choice options, with a drop or small step-down on the insides of corner to hit on your second run through.

From Ridgey didge, up Bandy Bandy we went, snaking our way up big switchback turns that seem to help you elude that unsavoury feeling of grinding up a long climb. And from crackling dry scrub, to whistling casuarina forest, random rocky outcrops and pockets of bright green bracken, Bandy Bandy takes it all in.

With berms big enough to hold more than twice your speed we hurtled back down the other side and around to the start of the loop, wondering how the descent could have given so much back, earned from what seemed like quite an enjoyable climb.

Dropping in off a sneaky inside line on Ridgey Didge.
Dropping in off a sneaky inside line on Ridgey Didge as the day warmed up.

We are really getting a feel for the lay of the land up here now, you could really take in some epic loops as many of the trails link together really nicely.

It’s a good life up here, we are loving the gentle pace of lifestyle, exciting and unique climate, great trails and remarkably sweet pineapple.

Until next time, we’re off for a XXXX.

 

Must Ride: Atherton, day 2 in paradise

The mountain bike community in Atherton is a dedicated mob, and we’re not just talking about their persistence, patience and perseverance in acquiring over $1.5 million in trail funding.

Our morning's ride began on the cruisy green trails of the park's flatlands, before heading up over Ridgey Didge.
Our morning’s ride began on the cruisy green trails of the park’s flatlands, before heading up over Ridgey Didge.

Every morning at 6:00am sharp, a local crew gathers for a ride in the main street, sometimes on the road bikes but generally on the mountain bikes. From town, they roll the two kays out to the trails and get in some quality singletrack time while most of the world is still sleeping. We figured that joining some locals for a dawn ride was as great way to meet some of the crew and get a feel for the trails on our first day in town.

Atherton Knowles Nard
This bit of trail is named after Atherton Cycle Sports Club president, Mark Knowles. It celebrates the glory of his Nard… whatever that is.

On this particular morning four fellas happened to have turned up for the daily social ride; there was Drew, Dean, Mark and Chris. As we rolled through the mellow entry-level trails that occupy the lower slopes of the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park we learnt a bit about them. The crew – a mixture of recent arrivals and lifetime locals, business owners and semi-retirees – took us up and over the fantastic Ridgey Didge and then back into town for a surprisingly great coffee.

Stormy skies gather over the local crop.
Stormy skies gather over the local crop.

This is the tropics and our trip comes right on the cusp of the wet season. Needless to say,  as the day warmed up, the storm clouds gathered and the heavens opened. But our local ride guides for the afternoon weren’t deterred – they had a true gem of a trail to show us.

Ricochet (trail number 9 on the map) starts way up high above Atherton on Mount Baldy. While many of the locals pedal up the fire road, we took the lazy man’s option and piled the bikes into the back of the ute, driving up into the clouds.

Mountain bikers in the mist.
Mountain bikers in the mist.

 

The scene at the trailhead was straight out of Jurassic Park, the mists swirling through the vines, but the trail itself was more like Disney on Ice! The afternoon’s rain had turned the top third of the run into a super slick slide; following 15-year old Behailu through the greasy berms was an education is going with the flow. This kid is one to watch, his style and playfulness on the bike are unreal, not to mention his commitment! Behailu spotted a gap that would have been tricky enough in the dry but was borderline impossible in the wet, but he wasn’t going to be talked out of it. You’ll have to wait for the video to see how it all went down, suffice to say we’re still not quite sure how he stuck the landing.

Behailu leads the way with a fearlessness that made us feel very, very old!
Behailu leads the way with a fearlessness that made us feel very, very old!
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By the sixth berm like this, you’re pretty dizzy.

It’s hard to do this trail justice – it feels like the flowiest parts of Whistler’s A-Line have been mellowed out for trail bikes and then transplanted into the Australian bush. Huge berms, rollers, doubles and drops come at you in rapid succession. While the trail stands alone from the rest of the network at present, it’s only a matter of weeks until a 12km linking trail is completed and it’ll be possible to string together a truly epic loop crowned by the Ricochet descent.

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The flat out lower section of Ricochet tempts you to make gap jumps out of rollers that seem impossibly far apart until you hit Mach 1.

Must-Ride: Riding the Fox Creek Core Loop, SA

The Fox Creek trail network is located 45 minutes out of Adelaide SA and it’s a place you want to visit. This fully signposted trail network has something for all mountain bikers. There is even a vineyard at the trailhead with a pizza oven. Great times.

Flow caught up with IMBA Australia director and trail builder Nick Bowman for a ride on the brand spanking Core Loop, to look around and see how he and the crew go about making some of the most fun and flowy trails in Australia. We also checked out an unassuming little yellow dozer that makes building trails a whole lot quicker.

Being one with the bike needn’t scare the shit out of you. If a trail flows and challenges weekend warriors and elite riders alike then it’s the right thing for mountain biking and the growth of our sport. This trail hit the mark perfectly; on one level it’s designed for your kids or other half to catch the mountain biking bug, but faster riders will soon find how the rollers morph into doubles and start spotting inside lines and catch berms.

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IMBA director Nick Bowman with the bike-washing stand. A clean bike is very important as it stops the transfer of seed and disease for one trail network to another. Vitally important in a town (city) like Adelaide with five trail parks and counting.

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What’s in an Australian trail builder’s pack? Coffee, water and a fire extinguisher.
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Proud as punch of this little dozer. This thing can cut a berm as the blade pivots on the horizontal and vertical axis. Dozers need lube too before a ride.
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Calm and cute, then pure power. Seeing this little dozer in action is fantastic! It’s purpose built in the states for trail building and is the only one in Australia. I would like to say that it’s all repairable with a multi tool, probably not though.
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This is basically a before and after. The dozer cuts a 1.5m wide section. The trail then narrows over time and ultimately the riders decide on the final lines.
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The trail is cut in by the dozer is then hand finished.

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The climb features big open vistas at the top and Aussie bush at the start. The trail reminds us of places like Rotorua in parts. It’s a pleasure of a climb but was built with national cross country riders in mind.

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Dropping on the techier parts of the trail (originally the escape route for the dozer) at the bottom of the descent. It’s a very fine ending to a fantastic trail.

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The Green Smoothie trail is half descent and half climb. The descent takes 6-10 minutes and was recently used as a stage in Gravity Enduro SA race. The trail is high speed and super fun. With big berms and table tops it’s designed for big and little kids alike.

 

 

Must-Ride: Atherton, day 1 in paradise

Up where the cassowaries play and the kangaroos swing from trees (for real), there’s a little town called Atherton. A little town, with a big plan for mountain biking.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve heard ever increasing amounts of talk about Atherton, and finally we decided to pack our bags, head way north and see it for ourselves.

Three hours from Sydney, and you're in Cairns, add one more hour and you're in Atherton with singletrack galore.
Three hours from Sydney, and you’re in Cairns, add one more hour and you’re in Atherton with singletrack galore.

Atherton is real banana bender territory; it lies about 80km from one of Australia’s seminary mountain destinations, Cairns, but away from the coast up on the tablelands at about 800 metres above sea level. It’s cooler, calmer and there are far fewer poisonous jelly fish. It’s incredibly beautiful too, with volcanic crater lakes, rolling pastures and rainforest clad ranges.

Signed, mapped and growing.
Signed, mapped and growing.

But Flow’s here for the mountain biking, and over three days of filming and shooting we’re capturing what riding in Atherton is all about. There’s over 30km of amazing singletrack in the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park already, but the long-term plans for mountain biking in the town are colossal. As the old saying goes, ‘build it and they will come’ and that’s exactly what they’re doing here, with plans for well over 60km of world class trails.

Chris and Mick flowing up - and out of - Bandy Bandy, one of our favourites loops.
Chris and Mick flowing up – and out of – Bandy Bandy, one of our favourites loops.
Ridge line razzing on Ridgey Didge.
Ridge line razzing on Ridgey Didge.
And as we've discovered, there is plenty of tropical goodness to entertain us off the bikes. This photo is not fake, Mick cops a freshwater head massage in the rainforest after lunch.
And as we’ve discovered, there is plenty of tropical goodness to entertain us off the bikes. This photo is not fake – this place exists – Mick cops a freshwater head massage in the rainforest after lunch.

Our impressions so far? These trails are sweeter than a Mareeba pineapple. We’re in heaven.

Video: Ride Rotorua Top Ten Trails #6 – Tokorangi

This hillside, which felt the touch of the bulldozer’s blade not long ago, has become a real treat for Rotorua’s trail builders. Gunna Gotta, Corridor, K2 and plenty more have either been reborn or created anew on this slope, where the felling of the trees has left room for creative minds with shovels and dozers to have some fun.

Tokorangi is a treat; it was built in 2012 with permission from the local Iwi, Ngati Whakaue, and like it Gunna Gotta doesn’t loiter in the logged areas for too long, soon dropping into the native bush. It’s a fast ride, with pumps and jumps galore, but make sure you lift your head to take in the magic views across Rotorua before the trail heads into the trees and swoops down the steep side of the hill in a string of awesome 180-degree berms. We were lucky enough to score Tokorangi on a stunner of an afternoon, where the sun burst through the clouds just before sunset – it’s pretty hard to overstate how good it feels to soak in that kind of a scene before taking a rip down such a fantastic trail. Sam Osborne and Paul Gray from local bike shop and hire business Planet Bike show us how Tokorangi is meant to be tamed.
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Jared Graves Interview, Part 1: Enduro World Series and the DH World Champs

Jared Graves has had an incredible year. Perhaps the most versatile and dedicated mountain biker of our time, in 2013 he claimed second overall in the inaugural Enduro World Series, bagged a spectacular third place at the World Champs in downhill and raced at the sharp end of XCO at the National Champs.

We caught up with Jared Graves, calling in from his hometown of Toowoomba. Incidentally our chat came just a couple of days before his local club played host to the Queensland State Enduro Championships (on the same day as his first wedding anniversary!). In part one of our interview, we chat with Jared about his successes in both the Enduro World Series and the World Champs, but we begin by asking him about the scene right there in Toowoomba.

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How’s it all looking for the race this weekend?

Yeah, it should be good. We’ve got great trails for Enduro racing. There’s about 300 metres vertical to play with here, so for Australia that’s pretty solid. One stage is about six minutes if I have a good run, so that’s pretty decent.

 

Things really seem like they’re going very well for Enduro in Queensland.

Yep, we’ve got some good guys here, people like Ian Hardwood really pushing it. That’s what you really need, some people who just push it. It’s been really successful; I’ve got a few downhill bikes in the garage I’m trying to sell, but no one wants to buy them! Everyone just wants the enduro bike, something they can do anything on.

 

You’ve probably had a bit of an impact on that.

I don’t know, I feel like that’s the way the club has been going for a few years now. There used to be talk about getting another downhill track, but more and more trails general have been going in. We’ve got a really solid network now – it’s probably a good three-hour ride to take in everything we’ve got. There’s new stuff going in all the time. You’ll go out and suddenly see a new section of singletrack with a couple of diggers parked in the middle of it. It’s cool. We’ve got a good group of maybe 20 guys who love getting in there with a shovel.

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Let’s have a chat about the Enduro World Series (EWS). What are your thoughts about the series in its inaugural year?

Going into it I had no idea what it’d be like. I had the idea that if you were a well-rounded rider, you’d go ok. I mean I’ve got a downhill background, and a cross-country background from when I was a young fella. And so I sort of trained with that in mind; I really just worked on everything to be as fit and strong as possible.

One thing I knew would work in my favour is that I’ve always ridden the smaller bikes better than the downhill bike. It’s almost like that as downhill bikes got better, as suspension technology improved, my results went down. I mean my focus changed too, but the smaller bikes suits my style a bit more, I tend to go faster on the small bikes. I think it’s just my technique – I’ve got a good position on the bike, using my body more than just the suspension. You see so many young guys now on World Cups who you can just tell have never had to ride the fully rigid cromo bikes with cantilever brakes. I started pre v-brakes.

You see these young guys now who absolutely rely on the bike, they just plough through a section. If you put them on hardtail they’d have no idea at all. The really good kids would be fine, because they ride all kinds of different bikes. But there are so many kids who just say ‘I want to be a downhiller’ and all they ride is their downhill bike.

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When did you make the decision to make the EWS your focus?

Well, the start of 2012 I trained hard for downhill, but as soon as we got underway with the World Cups, I realised that deep down it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing.

It was kind of a bit of a weird time. We did this one enduro in Spain, we thought we’d do it for a bit of fun, for a bit of variety in the training. It wasn’t the most competitive field, but I won it and I really enjoyed it. After that I thought I’d do Crankworx, because I was going to Whistler anyhow to train. So I did the Enduro there and won a stage, and I thought I had just been stuffing around, I only got there the day before and did a tiny bit of practice. So I thought, ‘shit, I could probably go pretty good at this’. And I just love the style of riding too, you get more time on your bike, it’s just how I wanted to ride.

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So how did the actual series go from your perspective? Was it a good cohesive kind of series even with the variety of different formats?

Yeah, I think everyone really liked the varying formats! Some people got confused with it, but you really only needed to spend half an hour on the internet to work out exactly what was going on – there are a few different formats, the Italian format, the French format etc. But once you read about them, you knew what you were in for. Some riders did better at a certain format where you might get more practice, while other riders did better at the French format where you only get one practice run then have to go flat out into it. And again I think it showed the more rounded rider as you needed to be good regardless of the format. I hope they continue doing it like that.

 

Do you think we’ll see more specialist Enduro riders in 2014?

I think that’s how it’s going already. For the downhill guys though, enduro is really the perfect way to train. You get a lot of time on your bike, it’s physically hard, and you’re in that race frame of mind.

Still, it doesn’t necessarily translate; there are some guys who are fast on downhill bikes who aren’t nearly so quick in Enduro, and vice versa. I mean, there are a lot of downhill guys who were scratching their heads wondering why they weren’t going faster or placing higher in the Enduros.

I was thinking about it the other day; I don’t think you’ll ever be at your full potential in downhill without motocross, I don’t think you’ll ever be at the top of 4X without BMX and I don’t think you’ll ever be at the top of Enduro unless you race a bit of downhill. The cross-training goes hand in hand.

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What makes a good Enduro rider fast?

When you look at downill and Enduro, the mentality is the same. But the trails and style are different. Enduro trails tend to be more raw, more natural. But downhill I feel is getting more like motocross. The tracks are very man made; the trails start off quite man made and groomed and then get more and more rutted out. To me it’s not really a pure form of mountain biking anymore.

Perhaps that’s why the speed doesn’t always translate. Minnaar for example, at the first round in Italy, he didn’t do that well. And everyone on the forums was saying, ‘oh he was just there having fun,’ but he was deadset scratching his head wondering why he was so far off the pace, losing 30 seconds in a five-minute stage. I can’t put a finger on what it is, but I had expected Minnaar to be up there too.

Then at the second round, Greg turned it around and got third overall, he got a stage win. It’s just a different form of racing and something doesn’t always click.

 

From a rider’s point of view, do you feel like the coverage missed anything?

Oh yeah, sometimes, for instance there might only be time for media to film the pedally bit at the bottom because there hasn’t been enough time for them to get tot the gnarly bit up the top. A bit like the World’s course in South Africa – on TV you’d think it was all just pedalling and the groomed jumps at the bottom, when there was actually some proper full-on downhill up the top. But then you’d rather have that coverage then no coverage at all.

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Spectating must be hard.

Yeah sure, but at some races the spectators were wild. Like in Whistler or in Italy – in Italy there were masses of people out on course.

 

Can you quickly explain the different formats?

The Italian format generally sees you climbing to the top yourself. The stages are generally shorter because you can’t obviously have five stages in a day where you need to climb a thousand vertical metres each stage. You tended to have two days of practice before the race, which was normally enough to have a couple of runs down each of the stages.

The French format, because they have such big mountains, it’s good to take advantage of that vertical and have some really long stages, so they tended to have uplifts. Some of the races had a minimum of 800 metres vertical descent each stage, with up to 1500m – 15 minutes of pure downhill, very physical, high speed. Some people say ‘that’s not enduro’, but the enduro aspect comes from having very long, very physical descents. Some of the French races had two hours of racing per race.

In the French format you have one practice run per stage, right before the race. So you do a practice of stage 1, then your race run of stage 1, then a practice of stage 2, then your race of stage 2.

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That sounds so awesome.

Yeah, I loved them. The courses flow really well and you can see far enough ahead that you can hit them very fast even on the first run. They’re careful to not put things in that will completely catch you off guard. I like to go pretty much flat out on my sighting run, so I can see how it all feels at speed and see what might catch you out. And that’s kind of a skill in itself, knowing how to make the most out of a practice run. You don’t have time to stress about it.

The two in America, at Crankworx and at the Winter Park race, they had a combination of formats. Actually at Winter Park we mainly used the chairlift because of the altitude. They actually ended up shortening some of the stages because people were passing out in their race runs; a lot of the stages started at over 11,000ft, the base of the mountain was even over 9,000ft. At that altitude you can go into oxygen debt in like 30 seconds. A well-paced race run at altitude should feel very slow at first. If you’re breathing hard in the first few minutes, you’ve blown it pretty much!

 

In Australia, there’s definitely a lot of discussion of what the most appropriate format is. 

I think the Italian format is definitely the best in most instances in Australia. But still, that can be hard too because that’s a lot of pedalling for the some riders you’re trying to encourage into the sport. But overall I think riding to the top is the best option. Shuttles can be a pain in the butt to organise, they can add to the expense and things go wrong. I mean, some places like Thredbo or Buller obviously use the chairlift, but somewhere like Stromlo you should definitely be pedalling back up.

One thing I have seen from race reports in Australia is that some Enduros just become mini downhills on trail bikes. To me, that’s not what Enduro is, that’s just multiple stage downhill racing. Even here in Toowoomba, when I was riding with some of the guys and looking at trails to include in the Enduro State Champs, I pointed out one trail and said it’d be good, but they said ‘oh, but it’s got a little climb in it.’ But that’s just meant to be part of it – it brings the fitness side into it. I mean, the good thing is that Enduro can be whatever the race organiser wants it to be. The only thing I don’t like is when there’s just a one-minute downhill – that seems pointless to me.

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Did you change your bike setup much during the season with the massive variety in formats?

I tried to keep it the same mostly. I guess the thing is, when you practice the track you get an idea of what the terrain is like you might make a few tiny changes – chain ring size, brake rotors perhaps. But the pressure in my fork and shock didn’t change one bit all year. You just don’t have time to change your setup to suit different stages, and every time you change your setup it takes a run or two to adapt and get comfortable.

I think that’s good too, especially for people getting into the sport, that you don’t need to make that many changes. At World Cup level in downhill, suspension can make such a huge difference, but in Enduro you can kind if take that aspect out of it and just go ride.

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What’s your relationship with Jerome Clementz like?

He’s a really good guy! I mean, the Frenchies can have a reputation for being a bit happy to get into the grey areas when it comes to shortcuts on the course. But Jerome isn’t like that; he’s the perfect guy to have as the face of Enduro, he’s a nice guy who loves riding his bike. He’s everything that Enduro is all about in my mind.

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Moving on to downhill. What was more important to you; getting third in downhill at the Worlds or second overall in Enduro?

Well in terms of my year goals, I was more focused on Enduro results for sure. But at Worlds I knew it was a track I could do well at and a medal was always my goal. And I didn’t realise until after the result what an effect my result would have; so many people just blew up about it, it got so much attention, it’s been really cool and a nice bonus at the end of the year.

I knew it’d take a really good run, and that’s what I got. I had to take it a bit steady up top on the little bike, but on the bottom half of the track the bike paid dividends. As far as a single result of the year goes, it’s the best.

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Was there a point that you regretted riding the SB66?

Well, my downhill bike was there. But it came down to what I was comfortable on. At the Fort William World Cup at the start of the year I was just there having fun, but even still I didn’t really ever feel comfortable on the downhill bike, even after three days straight on it. For me it takes a couple of weeks on a bike before I feel like I know exactly what it’s doing, like it has become an extension of my body. And at Fort William I was coming into rough sections and not knowing fully how the bike was going to react. And that’s always going to slow you down.

I knew I’d need to be fully comfortable on the bike to get the result I wanted at World Champs. And when we walked the track after the juniors had been on it for two days, I was a bit unsure – you sort of forget how rough bits get after they get chopped up during practice. It felt a bit sketchy at the start of practice on the SB66, but then everyone was saying they couldn’t find grip out there, so I wasn’t the only one. But then by the day before race day I knew I’d made the right choice.

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Come back soon for part two of our chat with Jared Graves where we talk about training, racing across multiple disciplines and Jared answers your questions.

 

The Rapha Supercross, Sydney

Flow attended our first ever cyclocross event today. Not as racers, but a spectators, keen to get a feel for what this malarkey is all about.

CX has been booming in Victoria for the past couple of years, and in the last 12 months or so has taken off in Flow’s hometown of Sydney too, which is where the latest Rapha Supercross event took place.

We’ve got to say, it was an absolute hoot. As an event, the Supercross blew most mountain bike races out of the water for atmosphere; having the event so close to the centre of the city obviously really helps, but it wasn’t just proximity that made it a good day. A simple, but challenging course that had riders visible then entire time (1.1km long), a well-stocked bar, a costume race and a foam cannon all played a part in creating the very fun vibe.

There was an elite race too, of course, with mountain bike legends Andy Blair and Nick Both both having a crack. Blair came awfully close, but Shawn Lewis (no, not Andy’s regular team mate, but another Shawn Lewis… confusing!) turned it up a notch in the last two laps and Blair ended up second. National CX Champ Allan Iacuone was there too, but a crash on one of the many off-camber grass corners ruled him out.

Anyhow, enough blabbing. The shots tell the story!

Nick Bonich from the Spokes People, who pulled this whole event together.
Nick Bonich from the Spokes People, who pulled this whole event together.
Hydration is paramount.
Hydration is paramount.
Second corner, first lap of the elite race.
Third corner, first lap of the elite race.
Blair put in a huge effort for second place, especially considering the Highland Fling was only a week ago.
Blair put in a huge effort for second place, especially considering the Highland Fling was only a week ago.

Rapha Supercross-5

Bondi Rescue
Bondi Rescue
A little bit of Flanders flavour.
A little bit of Flanders flavour.
The clouds menaced all day, with the rain only arriving right at the end of the costume race.
The clouds menaced all day, with the rain only arriving right at the end of the costume race.
Blair held Lewis at bay for much of the race.
Blair held Lewis at bay for much of the race.
Blair gets some sweet air. Not even all the elites were hopping the barriers.
Blair gets some sweet air. Not even all the elites were hopping the barriers.
Puppy love.
Puppy love.
The pink and black Rapha tape marked out the 1.1km course.
The pink and black Rapha tape marked out the 1.1km course.
Allan Iacuone had a tough day.
Allan Iacuone had a tough day.
Blait and Lewis again.
Blair and Lewis again.
With the race held only ten minutes' ride from the centre of Sydney, a good turnout was guaranteed.
With the race held only ten minutes’ ride from the centre of Sydney, a good turnout was guaranteed.
Chris Herron from Atelier du Velo led the open men's race early, but rolled a tyre on this corner two laps later.
Chris Herron from Atelier du Velo led the open men’s race early, but rolled a tyre on this corner two laps later.
The eventual winner of the open men's race (sorry, we didn't get a name!) drops it on the most problematic corner of them all.
The eventual winner of the open men’s race (sorry, we didn’t get a name!) drops it on the most problematic corner of them all.
And then the bubble cannon came out.
And then the bubble cannon came out.
Nico Bailey cops a load of froth.
Nico Bailey cops a load of froth.
And the bubbles got deeper.
And the bubbles got deeper.
And deeper...
And deeper…
And deeper still…!
And deeper still…!
A job well done!
A job well done!