Meet the mountain bike park behind the social marketing hype!
The drive from Hobart to the small town of Maydena had all sorts of things going through my head. I’d seen the Instagram feed. Like everyone else, I had images in my head of scuplted berms in the forest, steep lines through dense trees, and massive machines digging huge jump lines. The image of the top building sitting high above the valley also leaves a huge impression. But the question is – how much of that was just social media promotion, what would actually be on the ground in Maydena? Putting tyres on the dirt with Simon French from Dirt Art, the mastermind of the whole project, was clearly the best option to find out.
“If you build it, they will come.”
Apparently this is one of the most popular misquotes from movies, but the true quote from Field of Dreams of “If you build it, he will come” is probably of little interest. A mountain bike park the size of Maydena isn’t being built for one person, it’s being built to draw mountain bikers from around the world. And Simon French from Dirt Art really believes what his team are building is unique. With over 800m of vertical drop to play with, the Dirt Art team have got a special location in the small town of Maydena, about an hour out of Hobart in Tasmania.
“It’s hard to find a place that has this much vertical with a town at the bottom of it. That’s the challenge. Maydena, albeit a small town, still is a town, and it’s a good base to land all the trails. We were looking at a number of other sites for a similar thing but nothing has this sort of elevation. It’s pretty unique. Obviously we’ve got the building at the top of the hill as well, which is very unique, so to join the dots with a trail network through that sort of elevation is going to be hard to replicate elsewhere.”
While sometimes it seems like every regional area or town are investing in mountain bike trails, it doesn’t work on a large scale for bringing in riders from great distances unless everything works. And access to all amenities is one of those big things. You need the trails, accommodation, places to eat and drinnk, somewhere to hire bikes, somewhere to fix them and somewhere to socialise. Dirt Art have purchased the old school building and property in Maydena, and it’s being fitted out to house the fleet of Canyon hire bikes, the bike school, ticketing, a pizzeria and even a brewery down the line. A number of houses are already set up for accommodation, and it’s only going to grow. The success of Blue Derby means Tasmania is onboard – they know mountain biking will bring people into town, and Maydena is ready.
That whole experience of heading away for a few days of riding is what is being created here, says French. And while they are hard at work in the valley with the essentials for off the bike, it’s what’s up top that is also special.
“We’ve always said a successful mountain bike destination is only partly the trails and part of that here is the wilderness you’re in, but also the views up at the high, high vertical elevation. You don’t get that a lot in Australia. You don’t often get mountains in Australia anyway, certainly not in a capital city, so being an hour from Hobart is pretty unique.”
We pile into French’s Ford Raptor, with our bikes slung over the tray, and head towards the shuttle road. It feels a little like the helicopter ride to Isla Nubar with the Jurassic Park creator John Hammond. We’re getting a sneak peek at what is going to be revealed to the public, without full knowledge of what lies ahead. The ironically named Raptor climbs the shuttle road with ease, and French estimates the shuttles should be about 20 minutes total, from loading to unloading, so only about 6-8 minutes more than a chair lift for the height being gained. Not that a chairlift is out of the question...
The forest the road cuts through is thick, and I do ask French if any Jurassic Park style gates will be fitted. He laughs, but no – not big wooden gates and fire pots. But as we talk and I hear the scope of the project, gates seem to make sense. This is going to be a mountain bike theme park, with one of the best settings imaginable. The land is a mix of habitats, with three distinct areas of flora. We get to the sub-alpine top section and pile out to the top building.
As you’re reading this, the park is open. But on this morning in early December the top building is quiet, and the views across to Mt Field National Park and the whole of Tasmania’s South West wilderness feel uninterrupted. This is where the trails start, and in time more will be added, including a 35km long wilderness trail.
While Maydena Bike Park has had a lot of work put in through 2017 to open in January 2018, French has been up to this point many times – even ten years ago. But the time had to be right for the mountain bike park of his dreams.
“The sport’s a lot bigger now, “explains French. “It’s a lot more mass market now and there’s a lot more general tourism riding off the back of it too, mountain bikers aren’t necessarily a mountain biker day-to-day, but they’ll pick up a mountain bike while they’re on holiday.”
“We’ve got a lot of support within government agencies and there’s a big push in Tasmania for tourism and adventure tourism so for us that was a great fit, and you’ve got a lot of successful mountain bike destinations now - Blue Derby, Thredbo, Buller, that have set a precedent now that people are travelling to go and ride their bike. That certainly gives us a lot of surety in pushing ahead with this.”
But compared to some of the places French has listed, Maydena sits apart. It has more elevation. It has more trail options than many – and it’s a private park. This is a high-end gravity park – something that has otherwise been missing.
“There’s an opportunity here with the elevation and the layout of the site that fit really well. Obviously there’s a lot of people interested in that now with the rise of enduro and downhill becoming less scary and niche than it used to be, so that was why we’ve pitched that to start with, then we are looking at cross-country as a stage two.”
We take a run out on the opening stretch of trail, something still being constructed at the time by experienced builder Rob Potter. With the surrounding sub-alpine plants at a little over head height there is a true feeling of being up high. Along the trail you see the ridge lines on the other side of the valley. It’s an expansive view that isn’t on offer at many places in Australia. You’re on the top of a big hill, and it turns out that at this point, you’re about to enter a choose your own adventure bike park.
Steep and deep
The gravity trails for the opening have been built in three distinct sections. As the upper most section was being built when we visited, we dropped down an access road to enter a black rated flow trail. Thomas Booth from Hobart and Andy Butler from Launceston have been invited along with us, giving us an indication on what Maydena will mean for Tasmanian riders. Their smiles say a lot already.
French explains that they will also have a blue flow trail down to the next junctions. But for now, the descent from the very top isn’t something for a beginner. There are access trails that contour across the mountain that break up the sections, which are not just there for emergency access and trail maintenance, but so you can choose the exact trail mix you want to go down. The further down you go, the more options you have.
This trail is steep – I’m way off the back of the bike and all of a sudden a 180/160mm rotor combo seems way too XC. Each berm is packed in, catching you and pushing you along the trail, into the next berm and the one after it.
We’re in dark forest, passing old-growth trees and huge tree ferns. There’s bird song amid the chainslap as we descend, and the scent of hard working brakes permeates the air, mixing with the sweet scent of eucalypt forests.
The sustained, steep descents are unlike anything I have ridden in Australia – mostly for how long they keep going. Plenty of descents have a similar feel – but they’re just not steep for so long - and that’s exactly what our Tasmanian riders Thomas and Andy are excited about.
“A lot of the trails around Hobart are council built, and they have to be of a certain specification. So they are quite suited to cross-country riding and walkers, a lot of them are multi-directional, so this is really good,” says Thomas Booth, who has been sending his Mondraker off everything in sight.
Tasmania - go natural
We join onto some lower trails, entering a really natural build. This section is where the Dirt Art builders had free range, essentially being told they could build what they wanted. It’s tight, with fadeaways, drops, small gaps and crazy deep loamy soil. But French informs us that not far to our left the trail is super-scuplted, and another further along is machine built.
We drop further down and Andy and Thomas hit a huge gap at the base of the trail, before we come out to the final cleared area.
Here, there are three jump lines going down to the bottom. The blue and green runs are complete, with big machines hard at work building the black run. Simon French also points out the start of the climbing trail. That’s right – Maydena isn’t 100% gravity. The climbing trail means you can access the bottom 200m of trails (that’s vertical metres) and therefore you don’t need to be shuttling. With some of the greatest variety in the bottom section, this is a really good option, and shows that Maydena will be expanding beyond what appears to be a pure gravity focus from the outside. The Wilderness Trail, being built this year, is a big part of that.
“The Wilderness Trail will be a big one for us,” explains French. “The same time that we launch the Wilderness Trail next year we’re looking at a beginner flow trail from top to bottom. Big flowy berms all the way down. The Wilderness Trail, kind of similar to the Blue Tier trail up at Blue Derby, is something that will be an experience in itself and I think you’ll get a lot of people who will travel down just to do that trail, because it will be a very special kind of experience.” The difference with Blue Tier though is there will be twice as much altitude loss.
Maydena Bike Park
by the numbers:
Vertical drop: 820m
Total people on the mountain at any time: 300 at peak
Bike hire costs: From $135/day, but less for multi-day hire
Bike school cost: From $99, with weekend coaching options for men and women
Number of trails: 30
Kilometres of trails: 30 kilometers
Talking it over
We rode on a superb summer’s day, and it was time to take 5 in the shade and grab a cold drink from the cafe. It was also time to speak to Thomas and Andy who had joined us for the ride. Both riders have seen the promotion, and Thomas signed up to the limited offer of premium membership as well. But is it what they expected?
“There’s a lot of vertical metres there, and I was hoping there would be a lot of steep and fairly technical stuff, so I’m pretty happy with what I have ridden,” said Thomas. “it’s a different style of riding here to Derby. There it’s a little bit more flow and cross-country, here it’s a bit steeper. You wouldn’t ride a downhill bike in Derby, but here you’d really be happy on one.”
“The social media was pretty flat out for this place, but it’s definitely lived up to the expecations, I’m really happy to have ridden here today,” said Andy, who had made a longer trip from Launceston to join us. “I think it’s pretty incredible, and I don’t think a lot of people understand how big it is here and how big it will be, even internationally. It’s the kind of riding I like, with everything from beginner to pretty crazy pro lines.”
The two were really happy that it is in Tasmania too, not just for having trails that aren’t designed as multi-directional, or for walkers as well – but something that allows the sport to grow and riders develop. Plus, “it gives Tassie even more great trails” as Thomas put it pretty simply.
And that’s a big part of it. With the success of Blue Derby, and numerous other trail areas like Hollybank, trails around Hobart, Penguin, and now Maydena – why would you fly east to New Zealand when you could head south to Hobart, and even take your car on the ferry? That’s something that Simon French is already seeing reflected in bookings.
“Our bookings at the moment are mostly interstaters, so people coming generally for multi-day stays, two, three, four-day bookings. We’ve got a lot of interest from Hobart and people from within Tasmania that are coming for a one-day trip quite regularly. It’s a bit of both. Given the nature of the elevation, the trail style, we’ll probably have a higher number of interstate, internationals than some of the other mountain bike destinations because we are quite different from other offerings around the place and hopefully we will be the southern hemisphere’s gravity mountain bike park - taking some of the traffic away from New Zealand if we can.”
It’s a big call, but with what was already on the mountain by the 1st of December, and the plans that Simon French has mapped out – it’s hard to think it won’t work. Dirt Art already have their first big event planned beyond the opening weekend. The Endurofest from April 26-29th will be four days of gravity events. From pump track, to enduro, to whip offs, Air DH and more. That seems to be a pretty familiar program, matching to some global players.
“What we want to do is have a small number of really good events, rather than saturate ourselves with a heap of smaller events. There’s certainly a few things in play at the moment. It’s more about coming and riding some enduro and dual slalom and just having a good time, so that’s our focus for next year,” explains French.
But as Thomas and Andy pwack up to head home, I’m looking back up the hill. You can’t even see the top of the mountain, just the immense face, and the cleared lower section which has ample room for a slope style course built into the cleared area of forest, all which funnels down to the hub where pizzas will be baking, there’ll be room to sit and chill and swap stories, or even watch a big screen. Simon French and Dirt Art are building a huge facility. And what’s most exciting is that while it has opened with a big gravity focus, the park will grow from there, offering something for just about every mountain biker.
Words: Mike Blewitt Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith