Australia is synonymous with sand, sea and surf, but the 'Lucky Country' offers as much for mud-loving, landlubbing, trail-thumping mountain bike riders as it does budgie-smuggler and bikini-wearing beach-goers and board balancers.
Mountain biking (MTB) was born in the grit of Repack Road in Marin County, California, but it evolved in isolated pockets all over the planet, and the fecund rainforest cradle of Cairns produced perhaps the most anarchic and exciting offshoot brand of the mongrel sport.
Throughout the 1980s, on twisty tropical trails rudely scraped into the legs of Queensland’s Tablelands, a mullet-topped posse known as the Minjin mob, led by Glen Jacobs (now one of the world’s top trail builders), pioneered freeriding. When Jacobs lured the Mountain Biking World Championships to Cairns in 1996, riders were confronted with trails like they’d never seen before, and Australia bloomed as a major MTB destination.
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A continent-sized country with a small population and immense tracts of raw wilderness – encompassing every sort of rideable terrain from desert tracks to alpine ridgelines and tropical rainforests, all largely uncluttered by historic buildings, private property and long-established rights of way – Australia proved perfect for purpose-building mountain bike trails.
Mountain resorts in the Australian Alps, faced with an ever-shortening snow season as the globe warms up, have invested heavily in green-season activities, and mountain bikers are emerging as the grinning winners. The lifts at Mt Buller in Victoria (a shuttle service is operated in summer) and Thredbo in New South Wales are now busy with bikers most of the year, and the downhill and cross-country trails in these places are world class.
Every state and territory has outback areas striped with singletrack, often dedicated purely to those on two wheels. Trail networks are typically well maintained by local clubs, marked, graded and free – just rock up and ride. Bike shops serving top gear and quality coffee are usually found nearby, and some offer rental bikes.
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Wildlife encounters are common while bush biking. In the south you can expect up-close kangaroo and wombat sightings, while in the far north creek crossings have crocodile warning signs, big-as-your-face spiders make massive morning webs across tracks, man-sized roosters called cassowaries stalk the forests and even the flora fights back at every turn, with stinging trees and wait-a-while vines ambushing unsuspecting riders with Triffid-like fury. There’s never a dull moment in the saddle here.
The Australian Capital Territory
The bush is never too far away, even when you’re in Australia’s major cities. The nation’s capital, Canberra, welcomed the UCI MTB World Championships to Mt Stromlo in 2009 and the Capital Territory also has stunning riding at Majura Pines, Sparrow Hill and Kowen Forest.
New South Wales
Thredbo is the big pull card for pedallers, but the Snowy Mountains are liberally crossed with cracking trails between the high flanks of Mt Kosciuszko and Lake Jindabyne. Closer to Sydney, great riding can be found in the seductive embrace of Royal National Park, around Manly Dam and amid the eucalyptus-infused haze of the beautiful Blue Mountains.
Mt Buller is one of the Southern Hemisphere’s best MTB destinations, and the action continues across the Victorian Highlands, from Mt Beauty near the high-point of Bogong, to Warburton in the Yarra Ranges. Elsewhere, sensational cross-country trails roll through Forrest, a graded trail complex in the Otway Ranges, close to the Great Ocean Road; the You Yangs near Geelong; Wombat State Forest in Woodend; and at Lysterfield on the outskirts of Melbourne, where dedicated MTB loops are a legacy of the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The Yarra Trails also wend wonderfully alongside the river that flows through the state capital.
The Adelaide Hills have been luring mountain bikers for years, and the little outback town of Melrose in the Flinders Ranges is a dedicated MTB destination, with bespoke accommodation specifically for bikers and a Fat Tyre Festival every June.
Just outside the tropical city of Cairns, Smithfields has twice won hosting rights for the MTB World Championships. High above, on the cooler terrain of the Tablelands, a newer tangle of top trails have been built around a hub at Atherton. Australia’s oldest mountain-bike event, the Triple-R, takes riders from the Tablelands to the beach at Port Douglas, while the Crocodile Trophy, an annual 10-day, 1200km stage race in North Queensland, is one of the world’s toughest MTB races. Further south, Brisbane’s mountain-bikers head to the trails in Mt Coot-tha Forest.
Australia’s little island of Tasmania offers a stunning range of riding. The North–South Track on the flanks of Mt Wellington is a favourite for Hobart’s mountainbiking community, while Derby in the northeast is the newest area to see a network of world-class singletrack being built. Ace events include the two-day Blue Dragon in the northeast and Wildside, a four-day epic along the rugged west coast from Cradle Mountain to Strahan.
The cream of Western Australia’s MTB trails – including Margaret River Pines, Albany and Dwellingup – are linked together by the annual four-day Cape-to-Cape event, which traces the incredible coastline of Australia’s southwest corner, combining hundreds of kilometres of singletrack with overnight stops in vineyards and boutique breweries.