A visit to Blue Derby in Tasmania is a must - and here's how to do it right.
Driving into Derby there are bikes everywhere — on cars, outside shops, bolted to the roofs of buildings and yes under riders too. With the recognition the Blue Derby Trail network has earned and the way the town is bustling you would probably guess that it has been around just as long as somewhere like Mount Beauty, but things only really took off in 2015.
Before Derby became a mountain bike town, it was a locale on the verge of going bust. When World Trail founder Glen Jacobs first rolled into Derby he remembers there was only one person out on the street, and they were boarding up the windows of a shop.
"People were living here of course, but nothing was going on, and it (the town) was closed," he recalls.
In only a few short years, Derby has gone from a 21st-century ghost town, to a bustling mountain bike destination, with a trail network that has earned global acclaim — including two Enduro World Series (EWS) Trail of the Year awards.
The story of Derby's boom and bust is one that's common around the world, precious metal was discovered in the ground — in this case, tin — and miners flocked to this corner of north-east Tasmania to get their share of the riches. Once all of the valuable material had been liberated from the ground, the mine closed, the jobs left and the town waned. On the brink, Derby was nearing something we would speak about solely in the past tense, but it turns out there was one resource that the miners hadn't dug up.
"The first thing I noticed about Derby... this township (was) plugged into a mountain," says Jacobs. "Then we looked at the mountains, and we'd never seen anything like the boulders, the soil, the waterfalls, the lakes, the trees, and the coast just over the hill. We came here, and we've gone, 'this place is going to be amazing.'"
And he was right; Blue Derby has become a world-class riding destination — the trails, the food and the experience in this little Taswegian town are a bit different than what you'd get somewhere like Verbier, Breckenridge or Park City, but it's every bit as good.
There is a reason that Kumma Gutza has earned the 2019 EWS Trail of the Year award; it is strewn with colossal granite slabs and boulders, and tricky off-camber sections with heaps of line choices to race your mates. According to the trail map it's a double black, but it's one of the less technically challenging trails of the EWS level singletrack in the network. The slabs are intimidating from the top, but there is heaps of traction (when it's dry), and you can slowly pick your way down everything.
Speaking of EWS trails of the year, it's worth checking out the infamous boulders on Detonate which earned the same accolade as its trail network mate. The crew from World Trail tells us they literally took a set of handlebars and cut the boulders to be just wide enough to thread the needle — and it's a tight fit at that. Be warned; Detonate can get pretty hairy, so don't expect a leisurely cruise.
If speed is more your speed, Flickety sticks is smooth, fast and flowy, with a few kickers thrown in for good measure. A trip to Derby wouldn't be complete without a spin through the iconic switchbacks on Rusty Crusty, or a ride through the infamous Derby Tunnel — initially used by miners to transport carts filled with rocks and ore, now the short descent takes you entirely underground for 350m and is complete with psychedelic blue mood lighting.
Derby's history has provided plenty of inspiration around the trail network. The Dam Busters loop takes its name from the Briseis Dam (which is now known as the Cascade Dam) disaster in 1929 after 125mm of rain fell in one-and-a-half hours in the catchment above the already swollen levee. Unable to hold the weight, the dam burst sending what's said to be a 30m high torrent of water down the Cascade River, inundating Derby.
The Dam Busters loop guides you around Cascade Dam, traipsing through old-growth beech and eucalyptus forest, and rolling past unsullied creeks, rivers and waterfalls along the way. The trail gains a good chunk of elevation over the first half, but the singletrack meanders up the hill depositing you directly on the shore of the dam — a perfect spot to cool down on a hot day. Dam Busters was already known for its descent, but World Trail has just given the downhill a facelift with new berms and plenty of opportunities to put air beneath your tyres on the way down. It's fast and flowy, and seemingly endless; your eyes will definitely be watering by the time you hit the bottom, but you will be grinning ear to ear.
Shuttle up, ride down
Before Blue Derby was Blue Derby, Buck and Jude Gibson who now run Vertigo MTB were the only uplift in town. They had one bus, and would hang out in the parking lot at the trailhead waiting for riders to trickle in. A few more players are operating in Derby now, but Vertigo is still ferrying passengers up the mountain, and shuttling allows you to get the most out of the network — that said there are still plenty of loops that don't require an uplift.
The majority of the vans and buses headed up the mountain leave from the bus depot across from the trailhead and take you up to Blackstump; the junction of Roxanne, Snig Track, Return to Sender, Upper Flickety Sticks and of course Upper Blackstump. Using the trails at this junction also makes for easy access to Kingswall, Kumma Gutza, Shearpin and Detonate.
All of the shuttle operators in town also make trips up to the Blue Tier and Atlas. The Blue Tier forms the 'blue' part of Blue Derby and is a second trail network which descends from the top of the Blue Tier wildlife reserve and flows down into Weldborough with trails like the Blue Tier Wilderness Trail and Big Chook.
The Atlas trailhead sits about 400m above the Derby part of the Blue Derby network and is a 10km point to point trail starting from the ruins of the Atlas tin mine. It's mostly descending, the surroundings are bursting with natural beauty and in the typical World Trail fashion the singletrack is chock full of tacky berms and jumps. At the end of Atlas, you emerge from the trees at the top of the Dam Busters descent with the option to head for Krushka's or Trouty too.
If you're looking for a ride that's a bit more high octane, Evolution Bikes have just turned the key on a fleet of CanAm buggies. The side-by-side ATVs are quite a bit more capable than trailer laden vans and busses and can access more rugged areas of the network, like the new 'Big Pappa' Shuttle Drop, above the Atlas descent adding more than 100m of vertical to the already sizable drop on the Atlas Trail.
All up, six shuttle operators can give you a lift up the hill in Derby, each offering a slightly different program — with some offering private charters, group packages and even airport transfers and accommodation too.
Eat local, stay local
Mountain biking breathed new life into Derby, and with all of these new knobby tyre toting tourists coming into town, they needed places to stay and eat.
There is nothing quite like spending a few nights in a country pub; roll in after a day on the trails for a beer and burger before you dance the night away with the locals for the full Derby experience.
There is a host of brand spanking new luxury accommodation that has been constructed since the trails have opened catering to groups and families like The Derby Lodge, Tin Mountain and the new River Cabins Derby.
If you're coming with everyone and their cousin, the Dales of Derby can sleep up to 24-people. All of these places have been designed with mountain bikers in mind, and feature bike wash stations, work stands, and the garages at the Derby Lodge even have a full set of workshop quality tools.
Of course, mountain biking has its roots in dirt bagging and if this is more your style, the Derby Park campground is free and there are coin-operated showers just around the corner. BYO baked beans for dinner.
Derby itself is a pretty small town, and during the busy times of the year, accommodation books out fast. Just a stones throw down the road is Branxholm, and with the new 8km town link trail the ride in ride out possibilities have exponentially expanded.
Eventually your stomach will begin to grumble louder than your freehub; our go-to spots in town were The Hub for handmade pizzas, and the breakfast burritos from Two Doors Down proved to be the perfect way to start the day — not only are they portable, they don't repeat on you 20-minutes later when you're heart rate begins to rise.
No mountain biking trip is complete without a few apres beverages, and on a sunny day, the Sidetracked outdoor beer garden is second to none. Pouring suds from Little Rivers Brewing Co, you can sit in the sun enjoy a cold brewski and recap how you cleaned the rock garden on Roxanne, or that sketchy landing you managed to ride away from on Air-Ya-Garn.
Be fair warned, everything closes up pretty early in Derby, so when dinner time rolls around there aren't many options in town, but just up the road in Branxholm, Casa Pinico is the place to go if you're looking to carbo-load for the next day, and the Imperial Hotel has some of the best pub food we've ever had.
Or, if you just want to show up at the airport and have everything taken care of for a 3 or 4 day visit, give Tara and Steve from Blue Derby Pod Ride a call. When we say everything, we mean everything; gourmet meals, locally sourced snacks, bike hire, a guide to show you the best spots in the network, and of course your very own pod to lay your head, hidden inside the trail network itself.
AMB's Blue Derby favourites
So what are our picks? After a few visits and countless nights spent in and around Blue Derby here are our favourite places - or ones that are on the list for next time!
Top 5 places to stay
Top 5 places to eat and drink
Two Doors Down Cafe
Top 5 trails