It was looking grim; we weren’t going to make it. We were in Tassie for a family reunion and I’d slipped the mountain bikes into the luggage on the proviso that I’d actually get to all of the pre-arranged family engagements.
Racing back to Launceston, I’d entered our hotel details into Google and we were just 6km away; time to wipe the mud off and get changed before a genial dinner with the in-laws. “You’ve punched in the wrong location!” Bangers, my faithful singletrack buddy (and wife) roared as she gunned the engine. It was hard to argue with her. We were less than 6km from the CBD and all I could see was rolling hills and the odd cow. Rounding another hill with 5km to go and all of a sudden there it was; Launceston. I was saved!
Launceston is lucky enough to have a number of fun trail networks at its doorstep, and we’ve previously featured Kate Reed Reserve, Trevallyn and Hollybank in Mountain Biking Australia (Feb/Mar/Apr 2015). With these trails already in place and a population just north of 100,000, you could well wonder why the tiny town of Derby (over an hour east) was chosen as the site for a multi-million dollar federally funded trail project. Derby barely has a population, let alone a riding population. Imagine if this money was put into building trails near one of our singletrack starved capital cities.
So a part of me was a little sceptical. The initial announcement for this development was $3.5 million dollars to be spread over three locations – Hollybank, Derby and Blue Tier – with 2.9 million of it directed towards Derby. The goal was to create a world-class mountain biking destination—the fact that they didn’t have a demand for trails around Derby didn’t enter into the equation.
North Eastern Tasmania is beautiful, but then it’s hard to find a place in Tasmania that isn’t. Our Lonely Planet guidebook of Tasmania spends less than 6% of its pages looking at the northeast, so for many this is a forgotten segment of the Apple Isle. The new trail network was commissioned on a ‘build it and they will come’ basis.
Work in Progress
It was a couple of days into the trip before we gave the in-laws the slip and headed out to Derby. Rolling hills, tight roads and logging trucks were the order of the morning. When I visited around 25km of trail was open with the epic Dam Busters loop set to launch the following week. By the time you read this, 36km of the planned 80km network will be complete. The grand plan also includes a huge descent from the nearby Blue Tier mountain that will link through to the Derby trails.
There’s a clearly marked trailhead right in the middle of the town; it’s fully equipped with showers, toilets and even a bike washing station—nice! We parked, prepped and headed out on the trail like two puppies let loose at a children’s party.
To kick off, the 500m long Riverside trail led us alongside the river in cycle path style; a good warm up for the legs as we crossed the road to another trail head. Yes, there are two trailheads in this one small town! We hung left onto Chain Gang, a fun little warm-up loop. Some kids were already having a blast around this trail and it’s well suited the beginners or family rides.
Now we were ready for some meaty singletrack. The best tip we’d received was to ‘hang right at all intersections’ so we headed out on Axehead; currently the main access route for the broader trail network. It drops into the darkness with rolling grade reversals diving under some humongous ferns. This signals the start of the real MTB trails—it was on!
With clay based soils, the trails are quite grippy and while they are mechanically made, the constant ducking and weaving meant that it never felt particularly wide. Soon we started climbing and came upon an amazing section called Twisties; a true showcase of what’s possible with a machine and a skilled operator.
The scenery was stunning and the trail engaging, so much so that we blasted past the turnoff to ‘Tasty Trout Falls’, a beautiful little waterfall that we discovered on a later lap. We got to the end of this track with huge grins on our faces. It was only later when looking at the elevation profile that I realised how much climbing we’d done.
A right turn took us onto Long Shadows; a cruisy climb that leads up to a road. With no marker we got a little confused here. While the heart said ‘downhill’, the head said ‘of course it’s uphill you fool’. Later we found that the downhill would have taken us straight back to town. Thankfully we didn’t need to slog all the way up the road; turning left onto Flickity Sticks offered a chance to get the heart rate down (it’s relatively flat to begin with).
From here the trail starts to descend, gently at first then progressively getting steeper and faster. Before you know it, some high-speed rollover jumps are looking like a good idea and the adrenalin is surging. Next a series of perfect berms launched us through the final section of trail delivering us back to the start of Long Shadows.
We stood there stunned for a moment before the hollering and the high-fives started. ‘Let’s do that again!’ was the initial reaction but we had other trails to explore on the opposite side of the valley. The climb was a lot bigger, but so was the descent.
First we rode across Devilwolf; a link track that takes you across the valley floor via a massive open rock area. World Trail cleverly marked the path by cleaning the lichen off the rock—certainly a novel riding experience.
We hung right onto Krushka’s; an 8km long section of trail with some serious climbing that forms an important piece of the network. The switchbacks were as tight as ever but after riding Axehead earlier on, we were old hats and attacked the turns like we actually enjoyed the climbing. But before we got too complacent, we were thrown a curveball by a series of rock corners and off-camber rock traverses. It was dry, we held our breath and kept it smooth and thankfully the tyres stuck and we made it through.
Eventually we reached a massive tree called ‘Big Mama’—it’s almost at the top of the climb. Unlike the predictable nature of Flickity Sticks, Krushka’s has a dark side; there are some big jumps off to the side and the consequences of failure would be serious. Eyes narrowed, elbows came out and the speed increased. The regular grade reversals became floating jumps and berms were smacked rather than railed.
It was all getting rather rowdy when a line of reversals (jumps) suddenly changed direction almost launching me down the steep side slope. Time to back off, wait for Bangers, and maybe think about using the dropper post a bit more. The berms on Krushka’s are big and perfect radiused while the A-lines are all off to the side. These harder lines demand inspection before attempting—they aren’t the sort of thing you’d want to hit blind and extracting an injured rider wouldn’t be easy from this far up the valley.
This descent leads straight into Rattler and then onto Howler. To be honest, I have no idea where one started and other finished—they all flow into each other, although there are side trails that feed into the descent offering options if you’re not up for the full climb.
Forearms ached by the bottom and smile muscles did too—it was epic! From there we hung right into Sawtooth. As a green trail, we were expecting a geriatric roll to the car park but we were wrong—there was still some hard earned elevation to be lost. This open and flowing trail sidles alongside some precipitous drops before joining onto a fire trail.
Berms and Ferns was next; a last ditch effort to sneak in some grin inducing berms. It also takes you past a historic monument and offers good views over town. Dropping down off the road, things got really fast as we blasted back on the final stretch. A warning sign went by unnoticed as a blind off-camber corner fed into a high speed bomb-hole. All of a sudden my mind was replaying Sam Hill’s 2013 crash at Pietermaritzbug in South Africa as my fingers reached for the brake lever. Thankfully I pulled through but floating into the G-out at high speed felt so good…
Back at the trailhead we rolled back to the car with the kind of buzz you can only get from amazing singletrack (or too many espressos). The wash down station was a cracker, featuring the kind of water pressure that peels paint off. After stashing the bikes we headed off to get something to eat.
In our hurry to hit the trail, we’d overlooked the town. The main street is tiny and at the time there were few signs of life. What life there was centred around the Painted Art Café, just across the road from the trailhead. We tried the Derby Burger, which had everything you could imagine for under $10.
We were excitedly gushing over our morning’s exploits when Glen Jacobs, the master trail builder himself, walked by. He sat down for a chat and he’s clearly just as excited about the trails. There’s still a lot to come for Derby and they are currently shooting for completion by late 2016.
Glen is aware most people on the trails will be visitors rather than locals. “Just this morning we got the build teams together and spent two hours on the topic of predictability.” He has a way of constructing that caters for all. The green trails are accessible for newcomers but they still flow nicely and incorporate interesting features—experienced riders will just hit the turns harder and faster. It’s worth noting that Derby’s trails are all one way—this is a real point of difference from the other trails in the region.
Even at this early stage of development it’s best to spend a couple of days in Derby to get the most out of what’s on offer. “You’ve got to check out the information centre, the back story of this town is amazing.” Glen’s enthusiasm has always been infectious.
So we headed over to the information centre, a building that now sports the bare bones of a bike shop out the back, stocking tubes, lubes, disc pads grips and the like. Jessica and Norm Douglas are running the store; Jess is an ex-world champ at solo 24 hour racing while Norm used to be a member of the MTBA board. They’ve moved there from Forrest in Victoria another small town that grew thanks to the surrounding network of MTB trails—maybe they’re onto something!
Sure enough the history of the town was very interesting. Derby was a boom mining town extracting tin from the surrounding hills. In a tale of hubris, they dammed the river for the growing mining operations, only to have it to burst wiping out most of the town and killing 14. It was an interesting story and half-hour well spent, but if you’re travelling partner isn’t a mountain biker, they’d better bring a good book, because there isn’t much else to do in the town.
Once the Blue Tier area is linked to Derby, it will form a 25km descent and a shuttle service will be offered to take you to the top. With this sort of drawcard added to the expanding network at Derby, there’s no doubt that this will be a destination you’ll want to get on a plane for.
Initially I questioned the premise of throwing lots of money at a depressed area to make it a destination, but now having visited Derby, I’ve got to say that the concept has merit. For starters, the town itself appears to be right behind it and the trails form a major feature of the main street. Even though we visited midweek, there were riders from Hobart and elsewhere in town. The trails themselves are great, and the terrain quite unique—it’s really worth a visit.
Imagine if Derby really took off. Surely other regions would see the benefits and invest in world-class trail destinations too. In this regard, it’s in our best interests to visit Derby, stay in town, buy a meal and ride their fantastic trails—ensuring this place is a success could really move mountain biking forward in Australia.
You’ll find loads of info, news and trail maps on the Ride Blue Derby website: www.ridebluederby.com.au
Virgin, Jetstar and Qantas all have regular flights to Launceston and Derby is around 1:30 drive from the Airport.
AutoRent Hertz at Launceston Airport offers rental vehicles with bike racks. They also have a designated space where bikes can be unpacked and reassembled and a place to store your bike box.
Alternately you can take the ferry from Melbourne to Devonport and then it’s a 2:30 drive to Derby.
When to Visit
Winter will be cool but there’s no reason why you can’t ride year round (although the trails may be closed after a prolonged bout of wet weather). The annual average temperature is 18-degrees, which makes for pleasant riding.
Bike Shop & Rental
The Corner Store at the Tin Centre is on the main street and in the same building as the information centre. They offer bike hire and can handle basic mechanical repairs, stocking tubes, tyres, cables brake pads and so on. Best to bring any specific spares (derailleur hanger for example) as the nearest fully equipped workshop is in Launceston. (03) 6354 1062
Food & Drinks
Painted Art Café – Coffee, good food and art all under the one roof.
Derby General Store – Recently refurbished and reopened. Dine in or takeaway food plus an array of basic grocery items. (03) 63 542 338
Berries Café – Homemade soup, hearty casseroles, savouries and quiches. Eat in or takeaway. 0409 018 602
The Corner Store at the Tin Centre – Coffee, food, bike hire and the Derby museum.
Derby has some basic cottage and B&B options available. Check the Ride Blue Derby site for details www.ridebluederby.com.au