Words and Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith

One of those photographers is Tim Bardsley-Smith. Born and bred in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Tim loves riding steep, technical trails, and capturing our sport as it evolves.
We asked Tim about some of his favourite images and locations – and the riding that is around.

TELEGRAPH STATION
Alice Springs, NT

Alice Springs has to top my list for unique mountain bike photography opportunities. This particular summer had been the wettest in recent memory, and the vegetation had gone nuts. The landscape was littered with white trunked ghost gums and yellow tussock grass contrasting wonderfully against the red dirt of Australia’s centre. The Telegraph Station trails are located to the North East of town, the gateway drug to the addiction that is Alice’s trails. There is really nowhere else like it in Australia, if not the world, for both riding and photography alike. I took this image of Imogen Smith from the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team during the Easter in the Alice stage race held this year. It was taken in the closing kilometres of the first 90km stage. It was an amazing day in Alice with crystal clear skies. I had been shooting all day in 40-degree heat and really hadn’t found the images I wanted or needed to do the landscape justice. So I rode my bike in reverse from the finish for the day, hoping to catch the lead riders on a high point just before the final descent. The light was just starting to warm up for the afternoon and the view at the top of the small climb opened up to a great view of the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges. I could see riders making their way up the last climb in the foreground, I knew it would make a great emotive image. I love expansive shots, the riders are often small showing how amazing the landscape can be, and literally how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. The photograph was taken with my Canon 1DX and a 70-200mm lens. It was set at about 130mm for this shot. I had played around on previous riders, trying different framing and zoom lengths of similar shots, but this was the one I liked the most, I was able to get enough of the background to make an impression, whilst still keeping the rider large enough in frame. I also wanted as much of the texture from the tussock grass to create as much foreground interest as possible to draw the viewer’s eye to the rider. It’s always a delicate balancing act.


 

Where else to ride: There are a couple of hundred kilometres of single and double track in Alice. Whilst it all has a similar visual appearance you can play a lot with different points of interest, backgrounds and light directions. If you manage to get out there for the race, then there is also a good chance you will get to climb the magnificent Mount Gillen that overlooks town. The road is usually closed to the public except for the racing over Easter.

Type of riding: Most of the trails in Alice are fairly basic and there is nothing too technical, although the riding surface can be a little tricky to master, with traction being slightly unpredictable. An XC to a medium travel trail bike will suit you best. Although there are a small number of locals keen on making the most of some of the surrounding hills with Downhill bikes.
 
When to go: The shoulder months are best. Temperatures are pretty scorching in the middle of summer, and winter still gets pretty chilly. Night riding is popular in the summer months.

Places to stay: Alice is reasonably touristy, so accommodation is plentiful and of varying standards, everything from 5 star to backpacker. Although the Lasseters Hotel sponsors the racing each Easter and is probably the best place to start.
Eating and drinking: The food options are not the best in Alice, most tourists seem to eat in the fancy hotels, it still really resembles a country town in this respect. Think old school Chinese restaurant, or classic pub meals. There are a few cool modern cafes in the town centre, but check opening hours, especially over Easter.

Best opportunities for photography: Anywhere in the Alice Springs trails will offer unique trail photography, but looking for a high point will offer the best views and perspective. Shooting the golden hours will work best if you can. Make sure you’re up early and well prepared, Think about the direction the light will be coming from and where it will rise and set… the sun can rises and sets pretty quickly so make sure you use the time wisely. 


TEWANTIN
Noosa, QLD

The Tewantin, or Wooroi, trails just west of Noosa, QLD are a little mountain bike sanctuary in the land of surfers, triathletes and roadies. If you want to escape winter or just love the summer sun too much it’s the place to go. With a cool mix of traditional Aussie bush and tropical rainforest. Photographically this is what I like the most. There is always cool foliage to make your shots look amazing without the super dense dark rainforest feel. The contrast between the two different types of vegetation can really be used well. This image is of Ethan Kelly a past member of the Aussie Junior XC team and a Sunshine Coast local. Lucky for us Ethan is a morning person and regularly gets out before work to ride his home trails. So getting him out at 5am for some amazing early morning Queensland light was a no brainer. I had spied this little dry creek bed on the recce ride the day before and was keen to see it with the morning sun. It didn’t disappoint. The light really draws focus to the rider and rock path crossing the creek bed and the foliage frames the image perfectly. I also liked the fact that it showed Ethan enjoying his bigger bike, trading in his lycra for some baggies. It just shows how relaxed home makes him and how much he just enjoys shredding his local trails. Overall it was a pretty simple shot that did not take many goes, the light was just right and did all the hard work for the image and it would have looked weird if he tried to ride it too hard. Not every image has to be all wheelies and skids.

 

Where else to ride: There is another mountain bike park called “Parklands” which lies further South towards Brisbane. It is similar, but with less elevation and less of a rainforest feel. Because Tewantin is just under 2 hours from Brissy, you could also include some of what the Queensland capital has to offer.

 

Type of riding: The riding is pretty typical bike park trail. There are some technical sections and larger gap jumps, but the majority is pretty XC friendly fast and flowy. The surface is quite dusty and hard packed. There is also a very quick tar climb, which is closed to cars up the side of the hill. It makes for some easy pedal runs, for those just chasing the descents.

When to go: The warmer weather means a winter getaway could be ideal, However early summer rides are pretty special, and leaves the rest of the day for other activities. Avoid the school holidays if possible. Noosa and surrounds are super popular vacation destinations. While this probably wont effect the trails... no one loves lining up for lunch.

 

Places to stay: This tourist town is amazingly well set up for visitors, with holiday rentals and hotels in abundance. Just book early during peak times to avoid disappointment.

Eating and drinking: You’ll find an amazing selection of food choices both in town at Noosa, and in the little outlying suburb of Noosaville.

 

Best opportunities for photography: Look for the open twisty sections, as the park faces North East, the morning light will make most of the trails look amazing. However you will have useable light for most of the day. Just look for cool features, and foliage, or anything interesting to make your photographs stand out.



 
THE RAMEKA TRACK
Nelson, NZ
 
The Rameka track, a bit over an hour North West of Nelson, has an almost endless supply of New Zealand descending goodness. Think tree fern lined singletrack, exposed wet roots, rocks and creek crossing after creek crossing. It then opens up to an exposed scenic traverse before hitting some loamy pine switchbacks into super rocky, fast river-side trail. It really has it all with roughly 1300m of descending over nearly 40km. There is a little climb up to the start, but considering the ride, it’s almost enjoyable as the anticipation builds. The trail is an old pack track, and has that super old trail feel, where trees have grown in and around the well worn trail. The trail is quite dark up the top and you will need to be creative with the available light, avoid using your on camera flash. It just flattens the image and gives it a very 2 dimensional feel. Most camera’s these days have very useable high ISO sensitivity, make sure you use it. This photograph is of AMB editor Mike Blewitt, taken on a Winter trip to Nelson last year. We had quite a large tour group with us, which made shooting a little difficult, trying to let the group go ahead, but not too far, while we shot at the back and aimed to not hold people up. I absolutely loved this short little pinch, the light was coming through an opening in the trees at the end of the top forest section. The main feature I wanted to include was the mossy rock slab behind Mike, the ferns in the foreground give it that great NZ feel whilst also helping to frame the rider. Once again the sun and light is the hero in this image, it lights Mike in a very directional and interesting way and his red shorts, pack, helmet and shoes really make him pop. The red contrasts with the green foliage really emphasizing the rider. The negative space from the tree trunk also helps frame the image and push your eye to the rider making the viewer’s eye move through the image. Due to the dark, thick forest, the wide fisheye lens really helps capture whole scene. Being unable to get off track really limits the angles you can shoot, hence the wide lens being the go to lens for mountain bike photography.

 


 

Where else to ride: Nelson and its surrounding area has an immense amount of riding, all which is world-class. Everything from smooth bike park trails, though to rough bikepacking epics. All have their own little unique feel, and offer limitless opportunities to photograph.

Type of riding: The Rameka is a fairly technical descending trail which needs to be shuttled. It’s not the best start for a beginner, a rider with some skills and some persistence in getting your line right will be required. The wet roots really require a loose ‘feel the flow’ attitude. I really can’t see this top section ever drying out, but that just adds to the adventure for me. I really love this type of riding.

 

When to go: We went mid winter, and had a blast. Sure it was a little cold, but once you get riding discomfort is quickly forgotten until nothing’s left but a massive grin. Summer would more than likely be just as amazing.

Places to stay: There aren’t too many options out near the Rameka Track, but Nelson has its fair share of accommodation. Nelson is supposed to be the sunniest part of all of New Zealand, so once again it’s a popular tourist destination with quite a few options.

 

 

Eating and drinking: Nelson has a great selection of fantastic food. There is also some great craft brewery bras as well as the fairly mainstream Mac’s Brewery bar. Which just so happens to be equally amazing as all the micro brewers. There is a little town called Takaka at the bottom of the descent which has a cool café.

Best opportunities for photography: Seriously this trail is endless with great photo ops. It just really depends what you’re chasing. If you want to show off steep and technical descending, amazing views, super interesting rocks and trees or that typical scenic river trail shot it’s all here. The descent faces west so afternoon light will be great. Just don’t leave it too late. You can lose the sun quickly in New Zealand with its high mountains. It’s also not a hill you want to get stuck on in the dark.