Rumbling up a remote access road in Tasmania's Derwent Valley, I begin to realize the potential of Australia's latest gravity-assisted bike park: Maydena. We're comfortably seated in a 14-passenger bus with a trailer load of mountain bikes in tow, the excitement of the vehicle's occupants building as we approach the end of the 20-minute uplift. One of those occupants, Maydena Bike Park's (MBP) managing director Simon French, talks me through his vision of creating Australia's first dedicated, year-round mountain bike park.
"I came out here for the first time in 2008, when it was owned by (state-owned logging company) Forestry Tasmania," French says as he casually swipes away some of the mud from the previous lap splattered over his legs and jacket. "They were looking at turning it into a mountain bike park way back then, but they decided it was easier to hand off the project to another government department. It sat there for years, doing little, when we came to them with our proposal."
The state of Tasmania has depended on its resource industry to support its economy over the course of the 20th century. But with the rise of environmental protection (Tasmania was the birthplace of the Australian Greens Party), sustainable tourism is now the state government's favoured development plan for its rural areas.
"The whole state of Tasmania has a lot of potential for mountain biking," says French. "The Blue Derby trails (in the northeast region of the state) do a great job for trail riding, but there's no real gravity riding alternative here in Australia, at least nothing on this scale. We thought it was a great opportunity."
The town of Maydena is around a 90-minute drive out of the state capital of Hobart and boasts just over 820 metres of vertical, roughly 100 m more than Whistler Bike Park's Garbanzo zone. MBP opened in January 2018 with 35 km of trail and another 50 kms is slated to open by early 2019.
French has spent plenty of time in B.C. and has seen what makes a successful bike park function. But rather than cloning the design mastered by Whistler, Silver Star and the Coast Gravity Park, French utilized the experience of his trail building company Dirt Art and crafted a trail network to maximize the use of his unique land tenure.
MBP has a surprisingly high trail density for a bike park of this age; flow trails, jump lines and hand-built single track are already open at all four levels; green, blue, black and double black. But the beauty of Maydena is how it was designed to accommodate the ubiquity of do-everything enduro mountain bikes. Halfway down, you have the option to detour from the downhill trails and pedal out to climb a few dozen vertical metres and extend your run beyond the park boundary, a "wilderness" trail that French sees taking around a half-day to complete for some riders. If you're feeling fit, you can pedal the entire lower section of the mountain for a ticket price of AUD$10 to AUD$15 (depending on the season). At the base area, riders enjoy craft beverages and barbequed food in the beer garden while kids (great and small) play on the adjacent asphalt pump track.
MBP's development efficiency was aided by the fact that a lot of the infrastructure was already in place. The base area (including canteen, bike rental/retail store and admin area) is a former elementary school that MBP purchased a few years after it was shut down and sat empty after Maydena's population dwindled. An event-ready venue at the summit of the mountain (similar size to the Sea to Sky Gondola's Summit Lodge) was already built by the previous ecotourism proponents (and funded by the state government). The road up to the summit was also already built, unpaved but free of potholes and easily accessible without 4x4.
Yet no amount of business savvy and development foresight will make a bike park succeed without quality trails. French realized that in order to gain a reputation as one of the southern hemisphere's premier mountain bike parks, he had to open the facility with enough trail—from fun and flowy to steep and technical—to satisfy the most demanding of mountain bikers.
As I drop in to Skyline—the uppermost trail in MBP—I again realize the potential of this blip on the map of rural Tasmania. I accelerate around corners flanked by native eucalyptus trees, the odd rock feature keeping me on my toes in the wet conditions. As I descend down the ribbons of singletrack and expertly crafted berms, the unfamiliar smell of the Tasmanian rain forest fills my nostrils and mud continues to cover my clothes and my bike. I lift my helmet and spit on the side of the trail, realizing the wide smile on my face managed to let in a bit of Maydena's dirt into my mouth. There's still a couple more trails to go before I reach the bottom, but I'm already planning my next visit.
Vince Shuley is sold on Tasmanian trails. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram @whis_vince.