How can one ribbon of dirt in the forest create so much impact, and last so long?
“It happens in little spot fires here and there around the country, it does happen, but I don’t think there’s a track that has lasted that long and has that much effect - there’s a lot to it - as you said with the World Cups and the World Champs, people riding on it and training and practicing, and shuttle companies using it. It’s got some depth of character. Kuranda is 27 years old now, coming up to 28, so I don’t think there’s anything like that in Australia and that’s what we’re really proud of. It did really set the scene because we knew nothing about mountain biking, we just rode bikes. We didn’t even know there was a club.” And that was the next step for growth. Having a club. But it came around by chance, according to Jacobs.
“There was a club in Cairns called ‘Beating Around the Bush Bicycle Club’. They were a mountain bike club and there were six people in the club. The president of that club came out to see us at the bottom of the hill one day after we ran our first race, which was 22 people, and it was AJ Hackett, and a couple of New Zealanders, it was a great little race.”
“She came out and said ‘what you’re doing is illegal. You shouldn’t be doing this. You have to be in a club’ and I go ‘What, we’re just riding bikes?’”
The group were then told that they would have to join the club if they were going to ride mountain bikes. With the AGM the next week, about 25 of them went along.
“There were only six of them in that club, and they were putting up for President, and unbeknownst to me, one of my mates put my name in. I went ‘Hang on, no. I don’t want to be President of a club’, but then all of a sudden I was President of the Cairns Mountain Bike Club. Well, we changed the name to Cairns Mountain Bike Club straight away. And that’s sort of where it started.”
And well, we know the rest right? Mountain biking grew in the area, they attracted a World Cup and World Championships in the mid 90s, and then two World Cups and a World Championship again in 2014, 2015 and 2017 respectively.
There’s areas there that look like you’re walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down onto the reef, the ocean and the beaches, and it’s beautiful.
“We didn’t have any aspirations to go big. We were just mountain bikers, we were just riding our bikes down this hill, but all these little stepping stones fell into place. And to think there were only six people in that club but there were 25 of us... So, you know, the time was right.”
So much has happenned in the region since these early days of mountain biking, but that’s not to say growth has stopped. Far from it. Since then the whole of Smithfield Mountain Bike Park has been built, there are trails up the range at Davies Creek and Mareeba, the RRR event was born and has blossomed, and now is part of a new 4-day stage race, plus of course the huge trail at Atherton on the Tablelands – mountain biking has been spreading through the whole region. But there’s a new trail being mapped out, with a plan that puts a twinkle in Glen Jacob’s eye.
“It goes from Palm Cove to Port Douglas, 72 kilometres long. For walkers that’s five days. We’ve designed overnight camping and glamping. It’s all happening. We’ve just delivered stage one, which is a concept plan.” So the plan is for a shared use trail, designed to reduce any complications with users who move at different speeds.
“There’s probably three or four times more mountain bikers than walkers. The trail goes past some really iconic waterfalls, swimming holes and beaches and cliffs and lookouts. It’s free. It’ll be probably free or you may need a permit, but basically, anyone can ride it, but if you want to stay at the glamping areas you’ll have to go with a tour company,” explains Jacobs. As mountain biking is growing, so are the options. Do you want high-end accommodation and meals prepared by chefs? There are options for that now.
“It’s called Wangetti Trail at the moment but it’s probably going to be called - I hope - the Great Barrier Reef trail. There’s areas there that look like you’re walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down onto the reef, the ocean and the beaches, and it’s beautiful.”
Jacobs’ excitement is building as he talks further about this new project, something that will link communities, offer something for mountain bikers, locals and visitors alike.
“That will be the biggest project in Australia by far. Stage one out of three is complete. Stage two is about to start moving forward and that’s the master plan. That’s where we walk metre by metre on the ground. We’ll work out if we’re going left or right of that tree. Is it going to have 142 suspension bridges, or is it going to have 80 lookout chairs, shelters, things like that. This is the next stage. Then it’ll go out to tender, and anybody can win this tender, but we’re hoping we can do it because it’s our baby and it’s our dream,” Given Jacobs has grown up in the area, he’s clearly invested in the success of the trail, and building it with World Trail would be a big part of that.
“Stage two will happen in the next 12 months then after that, Stage three, which is the construction phase, maybe 18 months to two years to deliver, with enough skilled professionals, and we don’t want to do it piece by piece, we want to do the whole thing. It’s an adventure trail. There’s no hardcore descents or nasty things. It’s definitely ‘green’. This is a cross between an adventure and wilderness trail. We’ll try and make it as raw and natural as possible - of course, sustainable - but fun for people to ride.”
This will be completely different to the Kuranda downhill trail, but when we’re looking at what has chaged over a period that will be about 30 years once this new trail is open – that’s exactly what should be expected. But that one trail dropping in from the range, off the look out, is undeniably what started it all. Mountain biking will continue to grow and expand, and the Kuranda downhill trail will still be standing, evolving and helping riders progress.
Words: Mike Blewitt Photos: Dave Acree