Does Australia have a hub for cycling? With such a density of roads, trails and riders in Victoria, you might think that’s the centre of Australian cycling. Or perhaps right in Sydney, given the population volume it has. But then Canberra and the ACT have many of the nation’s best trails and riders – although that leaves out Tasmania which is becoming a cycling ‘must do’. But if we look north to Queensland, there are lots of riders, bike companies and trail builders who choose to call it home - and we wanted to find out why. Is it the trails, the lifestyle, the climate – or the opportunity?
Words: Mike Blewitt, Anna Beck Photos: Mike Blewitt, Lachlan Ryan, TBS
HANDCRAFTED WHEELS BY CRAFTWORX
On the north side of Brisbane, there’s a small shop frontage that hides some impressive wheel production. Craftworx wheels was born in part from Velocity Rims, and what started as a wheel-building and repair service, has grown into a rim and hub design, hand-built wheel speciality company.
Meeting with Mark Kirby, he states that the company definitely has a South East Queensland feel – mostly as their growth has been so organic. Thanks to the skills of wheel builder Steven Craft, many people who buy Craftworx wheels have been personally referred by previous happy customers.
Made for riding
Craft and Kirby have developed a full range of wheels, including the carbon-rimmed Dirty Harry we tested last issue. But their range spans road wheels, XC wheels, trail riding wheels and wheels best suited to gravity riding. And while they have built rims and hubs with others in the past – they’ve used their long-term industry knowledge and cycling experience to develop hubs, rims and total wheel builds to suit each purpose.
“We are driven by function,” says Kirby, when I ask about what leads them in design. Wheels are designed with responsiveness in mind. Not total rim weight, or hub weight, but how the whole unit will operate. To this end, they avoid following trends - unless there is a true increase in functionality.
In the workshop Craft has a precision wheel truing stand, and a custom made jig for stressing spokes. Each wheel is pre-stressed to exact tolerances with the arm that has a built-in Wurth torque wrench. It helps seat spoke heads into the hub, stretches spokes, and beds nipples in too. It’s just a small part of making a long-lasting, great riding wheel.
But the rims need to be made for the task too. Craftworx has four alloy rims besides their Dirty Harry carbon rim. By working directly with factories to make the hubs and rims they want, Kirby and Craft believe they have made better wheels than what’s mostly available on the market. Each of their rims has a different width, but they’re also different in their stiffness. The demands of a rim for trail riding is different to that of a rim for gravity racing after all. It’s this ability to make the rim exactly what they want it to be that means they have only recently released a carbon mountain bike wheel – as alloy is such a hard material to beat.
“People remember reliability,” says Kirby, when asked about the key aim for their mountain bike wheels. And this message is starting to spread. Beyond the doors of their workshop, and beyond the Queensland border, more people are learning about the quality craftsmanship and intelligent design of Craftworx wheels. I was impressed with the Dirty Harry wheels I rode – maybe it’s worth checking out these Queensland crafted wheels yourself?
Alchemy and chemistry from the north
Owen Matthews takes being ‘Made in Australia’ to heart. His products are made and developed in Queensland, and even the bottles he uses for his acclaimed chain lube are made in the Sunshine State.
With a background as an industrial chemist, Matthews knew he could make a better chain lube in 2009. “At the time I was riding a lot of XC, up to about four hours, and needed a dry lube for my riding. Bike Milk formulation took about 18 months trials and testing. This involved mixing different formulations and then testing on my rides and also with close riding buddies and experienced mechanics.” The lube runs clean and is perfect for Australian conditions. Local mechanics he knew stocked it and used it, then he had more stores requesting it. “By the end of 2012 about 25 local shops were stocking it. Then I decided to expand the range with Bike Juice, Zalish, Downunder, Avaqua and Bike Butter.”
Queensland born and bred
Matthews adds: “I am a Queenslander and this is my home and the lifestyle I love. Most riding is done in dry and dusty conditions. Winter is pretty much perfect riding conditions all across the State. The rainfall in summer can be 100mm in an hour’s deluge so not many ride in that – too nasty for trails and bikes. So products need to be quite specific to the local conditions.”
But Matthews also keeps production local, with strong relationships with local manufacturers. “We can respond quickly to demands and adjust things whenever we want,” he explains. Matthews isn’t just thinking about holding stock and inventory, but about the country as a whole. “Australia needs a manufacturing sector and I am very happy with manufacturing Ride Mechanic products here in Queensland. When all manufacturing goes overseas then we lose the capability, including the support services and trades, and it does not come back.”
On the horizon
“Necessity is the mother of invention and when intelligent mechanics ask for something specific, I can make small lab runs of products and then refine with feedback,” he continues. “This is the best way to create something which works.” And right now, that new project is tyre sealant. But the task of quantifying what works and what doesn’t is long, and not something Matthews is leaving to guess work. He’s built a device to measure the rate air is lost at varying pressures, with different sized cuts, to test what is on the market.
“Once I have a better understanding of those basics then maybe I can try to improve and make one for riders to trial,” he explains. So next time you’re at your local shop, ask about Ride Mechanic products, and try something specifically designed for Australian conditions, and made up in Queensland.
All about the mid-stroke
Aiden Lefmann is Sydney born and bred, but almost 10 years ago he moved to Queensland, primarily to escape the traffic – something many would empathise with. The abundance of trails around Brisbane was a surprise.
“I didn’t realise the mountain biking was so good. I looked at a map and saw Mt Nebo, and thought it couldn’t be a sealed road all the way up. It was, but I found plenty of trails to make up for that,” he says.
Cyclinic was set up in 2006, primarily as a skills tuition business. As a gifted bike rider, Lefmann’s long experience riding and racing on Cannondales meant he was also one of the best in Australia for servicing their Headshok suspension systems. In July 2014 he made the leap to opening a service centre to service and tune suspension full time.
“I hadn’t really serviced anything else except Cannondale suspension until then, but since the I’d say I have serviced more Fox forks than anyone else in the country!”
Cyclinic now has a team of five in Brisbane offering suspension servicing, custom tuning and sales for all of Australia. While Lefmann says Queensland accounts for up to 40 per cent of their business, they have suspension items sent in from around Australia – and even New Zealand – for their expert servicing and custom tuning.
Baking a better bar
Two years ago we reviewed the Megabake Witch Eater energy bar. It’s a home-grown recipe from Brett Ledger, who wanted to make a wholesome, naturally sourced energy bar for cyclists that wasn’t full of preservatives – just good food.
So in 2014, he started making his own. “I was tired of buying crap from the US, Europe and Asia – and I really wanted to make something that was good for you, from local ingredients.” Ledger now has three different bar flavours, and is just launching his own toasted muesli as well.
Megabake Kitchens uses a community kitchen in the West End of Brisbane, where lots of small businesses are based, sharing communal areas and ideas, with just about everyone focusing on local production and locally sourced produce.
The World Champion on the Gold Coast
Sharon Heap is one of our most consistently decorated riders competing at a national level in Australia. Her palmares includes more than 30 national titles in cross-country, marathon and cyclocross, and she recently added a world champion jersey to her piles of green and gold.
So who is Sharon Heap? She’s a punk rocker, a mother, moto-rider and shredder of all things bike. Based on the Gold Coast, she got into riding when she was 35 - 20 years ago - because her partner Les started riding to get fit for motorbike racing. Before then she was busy keeping her Mohawk looking good, while listening to three-chord specialist punk bands, and also having children.
“I always liked to be slightly different,” Heap says of her punk past. “And I think that’s where the shiny knicks came into it.” Heap was famous for her home-made sequined lycra in the early days of mountain bike racing in Queensland. “I thought ‘It’s a bit of comedy, a bit of brightness, in a situation where everyone is so serious.’ I am good at making my own clothes so it was cheaper than buying kit.”
Because partner Les was giving the moto racing scene a crack, Heap jumped right in and had a go too. “I got a motorbike when I was 30,” she says. “And started trail riding with the boys. I am not a sit-at-home person - I like to get out and have a go. We took the kids on camping trips and they had little bikes, then that progressed to trail bike racing. That lead to really good skills on a motorbike, then someone suggested I would be a really good downhiller so I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give that a try’. Everyone used the same bike and gave everything a try: downhill, cross country and trials.”
Heap adds: “The scene was pretty friendly, but full on. The numbers were actually pretty good back then, then it died off for a few years then came back better. My first bike was a hand-me-down hardtail from a friend, a second-hand one I got for $200, just a ‘have a go’ bike. And as for the trails, they weren’t as groomed. They were more natural, more like animal trails they fixed up. A lot of very narrow singletracks, it was just a case of make your way down the downhill trail as
best you can.”
Heap is lucky enough to have some of the most natural remaining trails in Australia right on her doorstep, as she rides several times a week at Nerang forest - the location for the 2018 Commonwealth Games cross-country course. “Nerang is cool because it is so diverse,” she explains. “From extremely easy, to stupid-hard and old school. There are so many trails in Queensland for everyone from the seasoned racer to the everyday punter with options in popular holiday destinations. I am excited for the Commonwealth Games right here in our backyard.”
As for her training on the coast, she says: “I train pretty much every day of the week, and with younger people; I am always chasing them. I do a lot of road riding around the Gold Coast hinterland, so I know I have so much endurance with that and then you have to perfect it with short races and that’s where CX comes in. It’s one hour full on which is perfect for
cross country racing.”
Heap went to the cross-country Masters World Championships in Vale di Sole in Italy in 2016 – and shocked even herself with her performance. “I thought I had come second in my group, which included the age group below me. I thought, ‘Well that’s pretty awesome’. But after I had finished they said, ‘No, you’ve come first’,” she explains. “It just didn’t connect for a while. I was like, ‘Is that true?’ I celebrated with the biggest bottle of champagne ever. I got so drunk!” Proof, if needed, that riding hard must be balanced with partying hard
Looking to the future, Heap adds: “My next aim is to maybe go back to Andorra and have a crack there. The woman I actually most feared didn’t turn up to my race. A woman called Gertrude from Norway. And I want to get a stripy jersey for cyclocross. Gertrude also races CX - I think I need
to beat her.”
Heap has some advice for newer riders, saying: “Get out there and ride everyday if you can - you have to ride with faster people to get faster. If you want to go fast and put the effort in, you’ll get there. You just have to keep trying.”