Erstellt am: 12. 1. 2012 - 16:50 Uhr
The Kangaroo Trail
An amateur video of a mountain biker being rammed by an antelope in South Africa had been doing the rounds so, as cycling pro Justin Morris kitted me out with a bike at the cult bike shop Cranks in central Sydney, my joke was as weak as it was predictable. “I suppose I'll have to watch out for kangaroos when biking in Australia?”
But the hazards posed by bouncing marsupials are no joking matter Down Under. Justin answered in all seriousness, wincing at a painful memory "My good friend Nick Both, who was a top level mountain-biker, saw his career almost ended by a kangaroo which jumped in front of him when he was doing 45km per hour. It smashed his collarbone!” Ouch!
Justin, who became a pro despite been born a Type1 diabetic, had just got back from competing in the Crocodile Trophy, a ten day, 1,200 kilometre stage race through the Australian Outback that was founded by Austrian ex-cycling professional Gerhard Schönbacher (the race, not the Outback that is). The organizers claim it is 'the hardest, longest and most adventurous” mountain bike race on the planet. Racing all day and camping at night, you see plenty of Australia's exotic fauna en route, including kangaroos, of course, but also emus and poisonous snakes and spiders. As you speed though the iconic red earth of northern Queensland you even risk running into animals that I'd never even heard of. What is a cassowary?
Old Testament Thrills Winter mountainbiking in the southern Spanish Alpujarras.
A Mountainbike Hero
Justin's partner on the Crocodile Trophy was an old friend of mine, Mike Blewitt, the Europhile founder of the platform MarathonMTB, who I'd met on the Trans Germany. During that race, travelling on a zero budget, he'd finished higher up the field than many hotel-dwelling semi-pro team-riders although, like me, he was sleeping each night on the floor of school gyms amid the snores of a hundred other riders and servicing his own bike. I've never met anyone more passionate about the sport.
I'd guided Mike around my favourite circuit in the Vienna Woods the previous European summer. As with Austria's Wienerwald, top-quality mountain-biking is accessible on the edge of Sydney, Australia's biggest city, and, when I arrived in town, Mike had promised to return the favour by taking me on one of the most iconic city-based mountain bike trails in the world.
Riding in Sydney might be just scratching at the surface of a massive continent, but the rocky and twisting 11km circuit of pure single trail at Manly Dam is famous across Australia. Sydney lies in a basin of crumbly bedrock called the Hawkesbury Sandstone which makes for beautiful but tricky terrain. The single-track is sandy and rocky and the trail is tightly hemmed in by scratchy eucalyptus trees. There are dusty ruts to slip into, boulders to drop off and off-camber rocks that have made damp by the various creeks that criss-cross the forest.
More on Australia
- Meeting Moby Dick - Whale watching in Australia
The risk of erosion in this fragile ecosystem has meant it has been a battle to get permission for a mountain bike track. Now bikers and authorities have entered a compromise of mutual respect. Mike and I had to cancel our date to ride together a couple of times because the park ranger closed the trail due to rainfall. To limit damage the sensitive parts of the trail are boarded, making for quick, narrow and slippy sections, but for most of the ride you can really feel Australia under your wheels.
From the City to the Bush
As soon as the sun was out and the trail had sufficiently dried out and we set off from central Sydney, through the hilly back-streets of suburbia where purple-flowering jacaranda trees lined the streets and where white-clothed figures fought out cricket matches on the rare stretches of flat grass. White cockatoos, with their yellow heads, were squawking overhead. They are as common as pigeons in Sydney and about as popular. At the top of the hills there were glimpses back over the various finger-like, yacht-filled harbours. The great thing about mountain-biking while travelling is that it really feels like a flowing form of sight-seeing. Yet as soon as we had to leave the residential areas, the city traffic was appalling. We had to negotiate aggressive horn-honking queues of multi-laned traffic and so I was relieved to finally dip into the quiet of the woods. Yet before we shot into the narrow opening, I fingered my still intact collar-bone and asked one last time:
"So I really won't meet a kangaroo around one of these corners?"
"I doubt it" said Mike, "But we might see a wallaby or a lace monitor or a water dragon."
But Mike was already off and away on a forested track that was so narrow and twisting that I'd soon lost sight of him. I set off in pursuit.
A Rollercoaster Ride
Riding Australia's Manly Dam is not for the faint hearted! The gradient at the beginning of the trail, sloping downwards but not steeply, invites you to ease the bakes and go faster into the tight corners than is perhaps advisable. The scratchy eucalyptus leaves, which dapple the dazzling light of the Australian summer, brush against your helmet and shoulders as you lean into the corners like a motorcycle racer and as you emerge around the bend there are large jutting rocks in the way. Hemmed in by the trees they unavoidable and look as immoveable as Uluru.
"It's great having this on your door step," enthused Mike, "it always gives you a technical refreshener."
An Ego Basher
The fierce afternoon sun was catching on the yellow dust, the white of the tree trunks and the gold of spiky ferns. Mike, who races marathons in Australia in the southern hemisphere summer and in Europe during our summer, had told me to relax my arms, keep my body weight central and trust in my suspension so I clattered over the rocks and roots in a state somewhere between exhilaration and blind fear, splashing over the slippery rocks of a shallow creek before panting up the other side.
Even on the steep dusty climbs I had to keep pedaling a fairly big gear to negotiate the rocks that now guarded the middle of the trail like so many sentries.
There were sections that Mike described as "rock steps" where you had to inject a burst of energy on the pedals to push the front wheel over one after other. "You are continuingly working," said Mike. "It's a full body workout." You have to go at the rocks fully committed because if the front wheel doesn't quite make it you'll be tripped you up and sent flying over the handlebars. But it's counterintuitive to sprint at something that looks to promise such a painful landing.
Mike advised me to "stay honest" with my bike position, which meant maintaining by balance over the pedals to make sure I could keep them turning during the trickiest sections. "If you just try to power your way up, you'll probably end up coming off your bike or putting a foot down," he said. "And if you are riding with mates that's no good for your ego."
My already fragile ego did take a beating. I had to get off and carry my bike when the boulder drop offs brought images of hospital beds and tricky insurance claims to the forefront of my imagination. At one time on a descent I was so slow that I lost the guiding sound of Mike's suspension clanking over the rocks ahead, took a wrong turn and briefly worried that I'd be lost forever in the bush, turning up as a News in Brief item in the European papers. But I absolutely loved the ride in the vivid brightness on Australia's Technicolor landscape. And as we headed back into town, speeding back down the steep suburban streets at sunset with the black hulking frame of the Sydney Harbour Bridge acting as a target my soul was on fire.
If you find yourself in Australia, rent out a mountainbike. I swear you won't regret it.