On 7th February 2015, 20 kilometres of world class mountain bike trails were opened at the then almost ghost town of Derby in a relatively remote corner of Tasmania.
The rest, as they say, is history. Derby has boomed. People of all over the world have come to visit. International events have followed with successfully hosted rounds of the MTB Enduro World Series.
The return on investment has been so compelling that regions around Australia have been putting their hand up and saying, ‘Me too! I want to be the next Derby.’
Suddenly, local, state and federal governments who in some cases have put little if any other money into cycling, are approving substantial investments in new trail. Many of them know or care virtually nothing about bikes or cycling. It’s all about capturing tourism dollars and the high return on investment that MTB trails can offer.
In compiling this article, there was no single source of information about all the new trails being built and the amount of funding approved, but the complete list totals approximately $100 million dollars of direct government funding, plus millions more of private funding in the case of the ski resorts and private MTB parks.
For the Australian bike industry, this represents an opportunity for us to grow our sales, not just of good quality bikes but of all the accessories and servicing that goes with it. With so many new projects underway or in the pipeline, we should expect further growth in an already strong MTB market.
Given the fragmented information available, we decided to speak to someone right at the epicentre of the MTB activity. Denise Cox is Chief Operating Officer at Mountain Biking Australia (MTBA), the national body that oversees the sporting side of mountain biking.
“I’ve been with MTBA for five years,” she said. “But I’ve been in the sport and recreation field for 30 years and I’ve been riding bikes since the age of three. In my previous roles I was a sport and recreation planner, working on new facilities planning. I’ve also worked in local government where I was responsible for facilities. I also prepare funding applications, so I have a good understanding of federal, state and local level funding.
“One of my areas of responsibilities is trail development and advocacy. I provide information to clubs, all levels of government or consultants who are doing feasibility studies and master plans. They have conversations with me and we provide letters of support for funding applications for mountain bike parks.”
Given her role, we asked Denise if she’d noticed a trend in the level of funding for mountain bike parks?
“Definitely!” she replied. “I’d say that the investment that’s coming from all levels of government has increased. State governments are looking for return on investment. The return on investment can be significant from a mountain bike trail development.
“With the mountain bike tourism boom and the success stories that we have in Australia and overseas, there are certainly a lot more regional areas that are keen to reap some of those benefits from mountain bike tourism to help regenerate their communities and provide a community asset for the locals to engage in physical activity.
“In my conversations Derby is held up as the poster child of what can be achieved in a small regional town and how it can be turned around using mountain bikes as the catalyst through mountain bike tourism. Certainly a lot of people that I talk to who may not have a great understanding of mountain biking tell me, ‘We want to be the next Derby!’
“But each area has its own unique characteristics and challenges. So instead they should say, ‘We want to create our own unique experience.’”
With so many depressed country towns and local governments in particular wanting to jump on the bandwagon, are we in danger of reaching, ‘peak MTB’?
“That question has been asked before,” Denise acknowledged. “They need to find their point of difference to help position themselves.
“How many kilometres of trails an area has will influence how long people will stay.
“But the sport continues to grow and certainly that’s reflected in our membership numbers. “We know that many more people ride who are not affiliated with MTBA as the national body. Our current membership is around 17,500. It has grown by 59.7% in the past five years. That’s a hefty growth.
“With the changes in bike technology and rider skill levels the market can change in what type of trail they’re looking for.
“Not just e-MTB’s, but also advances in regular mountain bikes. Compare today’s bikes to the ones in the 1990’s. We’ve certainly moved on a lot. And ebikes are opening up the market to many new people,” Denise concluded.
Summary of MTB Parks Recently Opened or Underway
This is far from a complete summary of new or expanded MTB parks currently in the pipeline. We’ve ploughed through some long and detailed feasibility studies and other planning documents to extract these numbers.
The level of planning and consultation required to get a major MTB park funded, environmentally approved and then constructed is truly staggering. Many of these projects span a decade from start to finish.
We’ve organised this summary by state or territory, in alphabetical order.
Across the ACT
The ACT government committed $374,000 for MTB trails to be spent over 2019 and 2020.
A master plan includes an extensive range of upgrades, not yet funded.
A new MTB pump track was opened in March 2019.
New South Wales
Synergy Trails, 1 hour north of Sydney, 10 km west of Gosford.
Proposed 120 km of trails 1,500 hectare private wilderness property
Stage 1 due to open Easter 2020. 15 km of gravity trails. They’re trying to fund the trails by preselling shuttle passes. No government funding has been announced for this project.
Cringilla Hills MTB Park, Wollongong NSW.
Funding approved for $1 million, 11.8 km trail network that is within the Wollongong urban area. Master plan created by Dirt Art, was released 12th November 2019.
Greenvalleys Mountain Bike Park.
A private park, on private property between Albion Park and Macquarie Pass, about two hours south of Sydney. With a growing network currently of 10 gravity trails. Shuttle bus fees and memberships fund the park.
Two new trails, Woodys and Ricochet.
Thredbo Valley Track extension was recently opened. It now goes 61 km in total from Dead Horse Gap to Jindabyne. The 21 km extension cost $9.8 million.
The Red Centre Adventure Ride
$12 million in approved funding. Over 200 kilometres of new trails linking Alice Springs to Glen Helen Gorge. The design tender was awarded and announced 30th April 2019.
Tourism options will include guided tours with ‘glamping’ self guided tours.
Eungella National Park 25 km trail to Finch Hatton township. There are detailed plans to set up a gravity style trail in the township where there are cafes and other amenities. Detailed strategy plan was published Feb 2019. Not yet funded.
94 kilometres in length from Port Douglas to Palm Cove in far north Queensland. $36 million dollars committed by Qld state government for construction, which is underway. Completion expected by 2022. Will be shared multi day hiking and MTB trail.
2 ½ hour drive south from Cairns. This park will be called Be’anu (heavenly like). It will consist of 35 individual trails, 1,000 metres vertical elevation. It’s about halfway between Cairns and Townsville. Only at proposal stage.
Spicers Hidden Vale
This privately owned wilderness MTB park one hour west of Brisbane already has a huge trail network that is popular with mountain bikers. Subject to Council approval, plans have been submitted to create the Bubbling Springs Trail Head with camping for approximately 250 people and a central amenities area.
Melrose Cycling Masterplan released March 2019. Not yet funded but the plan calls for extensive an MTB Trail and Rail Trail expansion totalling well over 100km
$4.4 million funding approval announcement in March 2019. 24 trails totalling 84 km across three sites near Georgetown, which is on the north coast of Tasmania. Trails designed by Dirt Art.
$4.5 million 66 kilometre ‘stacked loop’ network just south of St Helens was officially opened on 23rd November 2019.
An additional 44km point to point wilderness trail from The Blue Tier to the ocean near St Helens is currently under construction by World Trail
2nd stage with four trails was opened late 2018.
Inland from Hobart. Private gravity MTB park, commercially funded. 62 individual trails, 120 km trail length 820 m elevation drop.
Over $10 million of approved funding from local state and federal government sources for the ‘Warburton MTB Destination’ consisting of 120 plus kilometres of new trails plus a skills park, skills clinics, an area to do coaching and training. The site has over 1,000 metres of vertical elevation difference from the summit of Mt Donna Buang to the town of Warburton.
Construction tender was awarded to World Trail in April 2019.
Falls Creek Ski Resort
Plans have recently been released for 40 km of new MTB trails across 14 trails to add to their existing 40km network.
Mt Buller Ski Resort
60 km of existing trails
Two new trails opened 2019
Beechworth to Yackandandah
$2 million dollars of funding secured, from Council and Federal government sources, announced March 2019 to construct a 44 km point to point cross country trail from Beechworth to Yackandandah.
Ride High Country program
$12 million Victorian state government funding of a multi-faceted 10 year plan to grow cycle tourism in the Victorian High Country.
Opened mid 2018. 34km network funded by the state government for $2.5 million. .
East Gippsland Shire Council. $4.5 million approved funding for over 100 km of trails on public land. Currently in advanced detailed design stage.
Approximately hours south of Perth. $10 million funding approved and construction underway. Total network of 100km of high-quality mountain bike trails between Wellington National Park and the town of Collie. Connects with the existing1,000 km Munda Biddi Trail.
$3.5 million of federal government funding announced March 2019, includes 20 km of new trails, a new bridge and upgrades to the Mundi Biddi trail.