Think that Victoria’s mecca of MTB can’t get any better? Think again, as the thriving town goes even further to cement its position as one of the best places to ride in the whole of Australia.
Words: Sebastian Jayne Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
What do you do when you’re onto a good thing? You make it great!
It might appear there is not much more to be said about the mountain bike mecca of Bright that hasn’t already been mentioned. After four consecutive national level events, including three National Championships, with each one being better than the last and an epic expanse of trails covering the Mystic MTB Park, it would be tempting to think that Bright’s place in the mountain bike world is totally secure. But to the locals it is not ‘job done’ - quite the opposite, it has only just begun.
Building on the trails that are already available is high on the to-do list for the Alpine Cycling Club and Alpine Shire Council. The Mystic MTB Park, Bakers Gully and river trail networks are known as some of the best natural and flowing trails around, but there is more to a great mountain bike location than just some flow. Recently, several upgrades have been introduced like trail signage and a proper trail head. This occurred after the legitimisation of the trail network that allowed all parties to agree on the great benefits that it could bring to the region. Some new signs and a trail head may seem insignificant, but they are the start of the process to getting more epic trails built for everyone to enjoy.
What’s in it for Bright?
Continued expansion from good to great costs money, time and effort. So why? Given everything Bright already has, why is there such a push for better? The answer lies in what Bright is. It’s a tourist town, a place where people come to escape. They ride along the rail trail with their families. They shred their mountain bikes down Mystic mountain, and then go and explore the area. They enjoy alpine beer at the brewery and freshly roasted coffee at the cafés - it’s the total experience of getting away for a holiday even if it’s only for a day. Another key factor is the importance of major sporting events in Bright, which are estimated to be worth an amazing $22 million to the local economy. Considering how much value sport brings into the little town, it is no wonder the interested parties are rallying behind the expansion of the Mystic MTB Park and other trail networks.
The 2014-2016 National Championships can be seen as a major driving force behind the increased focus of Bright’s expansion. After holding a very successful round of the National Series in 2013, the locals realised they could do much better, and potentially hold something much bigger. Even the thought of holding a World Cup one day grabbed people’s imagination. First it was the National Champs and the locals wanted new tracks to really showcase what Bright could offer. That is how trails like Buddha’s Hood, Slider and later Tombstone came about. The trails were built to offer technical challenges for the country’s best to battle it out on - but also to be a tonne of fun for people just on a Sunday ride. Considering Bright hosted three National Championships in consecutive years, with the overwhelming consensus that the tracks were awesome, it was a big win for Bright. The exposure the National Champs brought to the town was also a major coup, as local business and government realised how much a healthy mountain bike scene could benefit the tourism economy in the region.
When mountain biking leaves a mark
The legacy that a major event like the National Champs leaves on a town is not just in the trails but also the tyre tracks it leaves behind. This is evident on a Tuesday night in Bright, when the Alpine Cycling Club holds an after-school kid’s ride for the local juniors. Considering Bright has a population just over 2100, it’s staggering that the ride sees 100+ kids attend, every week! This was up from only around 20 kids prior to the National Champs. For those youngsters to be able to go and follow the tyre tracks left by Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson on their way to winning their National Championship titles and practice technical sections like Buddha’s Hood’s rock drops and steep pinch climbs is a massive blessing and also a major reason for local clubs to support the National Series and National Championships. Through building more mountain bike parks in regional areas and hosting rounds of the National Series and similar events, we can hopefully influence more kids to get on a bike and have a go.
Like the beer and the coffee, keeping things fresh is vital to Bright in terms of it continuing to prosper. That’s where the fresh loam and chest-high berms come in, courtesy of the hard-working locals and trail construction company Dirt Art. Simon French is the man behind Dirt Art and thinks Bright is close to being a perfect mountain bike town. He believes this is due to the “incredible trails that are an easy ride from town, great beer, wine and food, lots of accommodation and a very family friendly vibe.” This complete package is what makes great mountain bike areas stand out and Bright already has all this but there is still room to grow. French is one of many who believe this and says: “Bright has a massive future in the mountain bike destination market place.”
This massive future has already begun with the completion of the Hero Trail in December 2016. The Hero Trail is a very different trail compared to Bright’s well known tight and twisty tracks like Gorilla Warfare or Grevids Way. With sections of trail over five metres wide and punctuated all the way down with massive jumps and towering berms, the Hero Trail is setting a new standard for how big trails can be - not only in Bright but also the rest of Australia. Dirt Art are hoping this new style of track will make a big impact and make Bright attractive for an even more diverse range of mountain bikers. Simon French says of the Hero Trail: “There are some big jumps, but there are lots of smaller jump options, and the berms on the trail are going to really get people excited”. The Hero Trail will certainly keep Bright fresh and interesting for years to come. Given it is such a departure from the original trails, it may seem odd to deviate from the expected. This mix has proven very successful according to key members of the club, with positive feedback from riders and a further surge in rider visitation to the park.
Keeping things fresh doesn’t mean removing everything that is old. Just ask the hipsters. Upcycling the old trails to keep them fresh is a big consideration. Both the locals and Dirt Art see the importance in keeping Bright’s traditional tight and twisty hand-built tracks - as that is what most people identify with the town. Although the old trails are epic and everybody loves them, they do have some problems. A common complaint by visitors was that the trails were hard to find and when you did find them you usually ended right back where you started! The trail signage has largely remedied that issue, but what has also helped has been connecting trails that allow riders to link sections of trail into one awesome loop. Now you can utilise trails like the new Up DJ climbing trail built by the local trail fairies, and link it to other trails like the new technical descent, The Eiger. Being able to create these loops has greatly aided in developing an even better riding experience.
Build what you ride
While Dirt Art may cover most of the heavy lifting when it comes to trails like the new Hero Trail, it’s also down to hard working locals who handcraft the shredable lines for mountain bikers to enjoy. They are also the ones who bunt and sweep the trails before every event to make it the very best it can be. To the locals, it is a matter of pride that people who come to Bright love their time here. They want them to enjoy it so much that they come back or tell a friend how great it was to climb up and descend the freshly swept berms of Tombstone or the rolling rollers of Wombats Lair. Andrew Miller is a local who was a major part of the National Champs’ team, and is also part of the BASE promotion company behind the Thule Bright 24hr. He anticipates the upgrades to the trail network will be a big boost for not only the Bright 24hr but also all riding in Bright. Miller also hopes the new trails will help with new events and says: “We are hoping to evolve the Bright 24hr in 2017 to incorporate a gravity enduro element, on a separate course, and the recently completed flow trails within the park will be critical to accomplishing this.”
Building more mountain bike parks isn’t just something that the mountain bike community know to be great, but also the government is now seeing the massive benefit of them in boosting regional development. Projects such as the Mystic MTB park are key for local and state governments to develop regional centres for the future. Simon French from Dirt Art explains: “Well-developed mountain bike destinations are proven to attract major visitation to regional areas, and all levels of government are now realising this.” Grants programmes such as the national Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) have been started, which show the support for developing regional areas through infrastructure and community investment. French believes the BBRF and similar grant schemes will see increased mountain bike development in regional areas. This funding will hopefully mean a lot more mountain bike parks like Mystic or Tasmania’s Blue Derby being built in the future.