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Adventure

Mountain biking

Adventures

Australians are taking their bikes off road and onto the dirt in increasing numbers. In this first column dedicated to mountain biking, Ash Gray, talks about why this is likely to continue.

I love mountain biking and I’m certainly not alone in that. Cycling (including mountain biking, road riding, BMX, etc.) is the fifth most popular sport in Australia (Source: Australian Sport Commission 2016). And it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with amazing new technology, riding styles and locations constantly shaping the way riders experience the outdoors. Every year, thousands of potential riders go instore or online, buy a bike and head to the nearest trails. For many, this is an experience they’ll never forget and it’ll spark a lifetime love of riding. That’s certainly how it happened for me almost two decades ago. But it makes me wonder  - are we loving mountain biking to death?

Mountain biking has come a long way in the past 20 years - wheel sizes have grown (and shrunk), suspension and frame design has improved immensely, and brakes now actually work! Not only have bikes improved in quality, their relative value has also increased. And with more people riding, the number of trails (both legal and unauthorised) has skyrocketed and so too has the impact on the environment.

Mountain bike rider

Now, I’m certainly not about to preach to you about how mountain bikers are killing the earth. Far from it! And I’m also not trying to tell you I’m a perfect, eco-rider myself. For over a decade, my local trail network was considered unauthorised single track. Yet I, along with hundreds of others, would head to these trails each week to explore the hills and enjoy the thrills that came with it. As traffic on the trails increased, so too did the erosion, litter, weeds and water run-off. Conflicts between riders and other users escalated and, in one case, riders were even physically assaulted. Mountain biking was becoming so popular that the land managers were forced to step in and act, and our love for riding our local trails almost led to their demise. But, thankfully, local riding advocacy groups worked closely with authorities to legalise the trails at the start of this year. The single track now has signage, is being updated to meet International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) standards, and is seeing increased visitation as the once ‘secret trails’ can now be talked about online without the fear of retribution!

Mountain biking is having a resurgence around Australia, as world-class, legal trail networks keep opening up. But these new trails don’t just appear out of nowhere. Thousands of hours of planning, surveying, designing, and construction occurs before rubber can meet dirt.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the once-sleepy town of Maydena, in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley, north-west of Hobart. Maydena has been transformed into a mountain bike Mecca, despite only Stage One of the trails complete. Built by Australian trail design and construction company, Dirt Art, Maydena features over 800m of vertical elevation to propel riders down some of the flowiest, most fun and best built trails anywhere in the world. And by using sustainable trail design principles and conducting regular trail maintenance, Dirt Art is setting the bar for environmentally friendly trails in Australia and around the world. Trails are ‘waterproofed’ with gravel (where needed), have drainage and are rock-armoured. In addition, careful trail design means the views are bloody spectacular and well worth the climbs to get there - which adds to the amazing outdoor experience.

Mountain bike jumping rock

Research shows that the environmental impact of cycling on a mixed use trail is almost the same as hiking, yet mountain biking is often viewed as being environmentally irresponsible. As riders, our impact increases significantly when trail features are added. Poorly planned (and often unauthorised) construction of jumps, drops, berms and ruts increases erosion, weed seed disbursement and vegetation removal. These features only fuel the negative stigma. Sustainable trail networks not only require environmentally friendly construction and planning techniques, but also community support. Thankfully, these go hand-in-hand.

Back on the mainland, Dirt Art has also recently completed a 34km trail network called La Larr Ba Gauwa (meaning ‘stones and mountain’) at Harcourt, an hour and a half north of Melbourne. Like with all its projects, Dirt Art has devoted considerable effort to construct trails which will stand the test of time. And, in doing so, both riders and local communities benefit. Harcourt and Maydena are two towns where the partnership between sustainable trail design and mountain biking are having huge economic benefits for the community. And the best part? These two towns are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to riding destinations. Built on solid foundations set by Mt Buller, Mt Beauty, Thredbo, Derby, and Alice Springs (amongst many others), we are at the precipice of some very exciting times for mountain biking in Australia.

With professionally built trails, riding destinations and legal single track now available right around Australia, it’s time to embrace these locations and consider stopping riding on unauthorised trails. Sure, this may mean a longer drive instead of a quick spin at your local, unauthorised single track. But by doing so, you will be supporting both a local community and the environment.

As responsible riders, we must present factual information about our sport and its impact on the environment. Instagram an epic view, Tweet about your ride and tell others how good the legal mountain bike parks are. Every small step builds a movement towards sustainability, for the environment, local communities and, ultimately, the sport we love so dearly.

MORE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

- Mountain bike race: Birkebeinerrittet, Norway

- There's more to mountain biking in Bhutan than speeding down winding roads past monasteries and snow-capped peaks

- Step up your bike maintenance game with these 10 hacks to improve the quality of your next ride