What gets mountain bikers really pumped? Is it purely the thrill of the trails? How does riding through a unique natural environment sound? Maybe you have a bucket-list of world-class events? And how about bolting on some bangin’ adventures when the quads are taking a break?
If you’ve got whiplash from nodding, here’s why you should pack your bike bag and take off for some world class riding in Queensland’s Wet Tropics.
Just 20 minutes drive from Cairns Airport, you can ride a network of volcanic trails that twist through the highest profile rainforest system on the planet.
But that’s only one of the factoids Smithfield Mountain Bike Park is famous for. This 60-kilometre network of trails, first carved out in the 80s by a group of local thrill-seekers, has long been credited as the ignition point of Mountain Biking in Australia.
“The Mudcows”, as they were known back then, became a cult global hit for filming their mountain biking antics in the challenging wilds of The Wet Tropics. “They’d never seen anything like it,” explains original Mudcow member, Glen Jacobs. “It started with a few friends taking our regular street bikes and looking for old trails. It was really about adventure and exploring.”
The crew didn’t know it at the time, but they were forging the “Freeride” style of mountain biking; a term that wasn’t coined until many years later. In Far North Queensland, freeriding meant tackling anything the remote rainforest threw at you; riding rocky outcrops, vertical drops, waterfalls, the risky business of crashes and crocodiles. Think Danny MacAskill stunts in a land that inspired the movie Avatar and you’ll get the picture.
Glen learnt much from those young heady days. His passion for building trails that survive the battering of Queensland’s weather led to a full time profession which took him around the world.
As a professional trail builder, Glen has created hundreds of trails in 20 countries across the globe with his company, World Trail. In Australia, every world cup, world championship and Olympic course has been designed and constructed by Glen and his team.
Glen has also been a driving force behind creating fun and sustainable trails for all. “This sport is for anyone with a bit of skill and fitness, who loves the outdoors and enjoys the thrill of the wind rushing by,” he says.
From Glen’s Smithfield backyard, 700-kilometres of mountain bike trails for every level of rider now stretch throughout the Cairns region all the way to The Cassowary Coast. Between them, trails at Atherton, Mareeba, Mission Beach, The Misty Mountains and Port Douglas cater for beginners and families while still keeping the experts jumping with joy.
All are mapped and well marked, but if you want to find the best gnarly tracks, croc-free natural pools and beauty spots, it’s best to hire a local who knows the routes.
If big jumps are your thing, you can test yourself out on the trails of World Champions. Back in 1994, Smithfield drew the attention of the world’s mountain biking who’s who and it became the first venue in the southern hemisphere to host The World Cup. It was held on the steep jungle tracks Glen and his mates forged in their backyard.
The best of mountain biking will descend on the iconic rainforest trails once again for the UCI World Championships. The event will feature over 300 riders from 35 countries and be broadcast to an audience of over 6 million across 18 different nations.
Those into barking-mad challenges will love the 650-kilometre Crocodile Trophy which takes place later in the year. Known to be one of the most demanding bike races in the world, it runs across eight gruelling stages with 12,000 metres of quad-burning elevation.
Riders will experience the region’s best trails, camping on cattle stations and in historic mining villages and even on a coffee plantation.
Glen and his crew also birthed “The Triple R” race, short for “Rural Rainforest and Reef”. From a humble start of 30 hardy riders, the longest running point-to-point mountain bike race in Australia still pulls in over 700 race punters after 27 years.
“The idea was to showcase the diversity our region,” Glen explains. Both routes (35 and 70- kilometres) start at Wetherby cattle station among emus and kangaroos, before heading into the rainforest and down the famous Bump Track, which spits riders out among the coconut palms of Four Mile Beach. Glen and a few of the original Mudcow crew still take part. “A lot of those guys are still in cairns and we all still ride. But we’re older and got grey hair,” Glen joked.
Glen says best thing about Far North Queensland is the adventurous nature of the region. There are hundreds of trips to consider when you’re giving those quads a break.
If you still feel the need to feed the adrenaline junkie, it doesn’t come better than a 14,000 foot leap from a plane over the Great Barrier Reef. Canopy surfing in a rainforest that’s ten times older than the Amazon is taking off too.
Back on solid ground, explore the Daintree rainforest and from the safety of a boat observe the five-metre man-eaters that “could live up to 12 months on one belly full of human.”
As wild and as woolly as that sounds, the region isn’t all rough and tumble. It’s a film-location favourite stuffed with enough swanky accommodation, chic boutiques and award-winning gastronomy to keep Hollywood’s hottest happy.
Apparently, the locals didn’t skip a beat when the likes of Matthew McConaughey propped up the balmy bars of Port Douglas. Singer Pink preferred to sip cocktails while racing cane toads. It sums up a region which prides itself on its being down-to-earth and different and the mountain bike scene is no exception.
As Glen and his mates put it, mountain biking in Far North Queensland, Australia is like going on a religious pilgrimage into “a sacred space”. The only question that remains is: Have you started packing your bike bag yet?
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