From The Mag: Gospel Of Awesome

Back in issue 53 of Spoke, Caleb made his second trip to South Australia for the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival and to give us the rundown on the region's expansive trail network. Find out what he thought below in the feature Gospel Of Awesome...

Words and photos - Caleb Smith

Last year when I visited South Australia to sample some of Adelaide’s trails and attend the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. So when the folks at Over the Edge bike shop and the South Australia Mountain Biking Association invited Spoke back for another taste, I felt it was only fair that we share the love. Knowing what I’d miss out on by not returning pretty much made it an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I enlisted washed-up DH racer cum coffee machine guru/solo mountain bike slayer Hayden Barnie as well as Spoke filmer and trail shredder Ross Mackay for the week-long trip. I thought a week would be enough; I was pretty sure after my last trip that there wasn’t much left in Adelaide I hadn’t sampled.

In last year’s story I mentioned how similar Adelaide’s central city riding and geography is to Christchurch. Whereas in Christchurch you have the Canterbury Foothills, in Adelaide you have the sea, and on the other side, across a similar grid city, you have the Adelaide Hills. Much like the Port Hills, they mark the edge of the city an feature a bunch of riding.

After three days riding in the Adelaide Hills (on top of two days last year) it was apparent that the majority of Adelaide’s singletrack dwarfs what’s on tap in Christchurch (or any New Zealand city for that matter) and really sets it apart as a must visit for mountain bikers. Even Barnie, having lived in Melbourne for the last three years, couldn’t believe just how many trails there were so close to the CBD compared to his adopted hometown.

Minutes from the city centre is the purpose-built singletrack of Eagle Park, easily accessible from the city by bike or car. A few kilometresalong the hills there are more purpose-built trails at Craigburn, and in between you’ll find some of Adelaide’s oldest trails tucked away in the many hillside suburbs—some legal, some not so legal and some in between. Further south there’s more riding out at 80 Acres, and SAMBA is working with local riders and National Parks to open up even more riding areas close to the CBD. There are even whispers of another purpose-built mountain bike park popping up in the hills.

Our guide, host and possibly South Australia riding’s biggest fan Angus Sobels took us straight off the plane for a quick leg stretch at Craigburn. Built on an old low-lying working farm, this place is gold to ride. It’s obvious it’s built by mountain bikers as everything flows and connects just right; pump bumps are in the right places, doubles and tables are the perfect length and the climbs are challenging but packed with manageable switchbacks. It’s actually a pretty good lesson in trail building and use of space, something that could be replicated here, making a break from pine forest mountain bike parks.

Although Adelaide has a tonne of riding accessible from the edge of the city, one of the more popular riding spots, Fox Creek, is a little further out and not readily accessed by bike. Roughly 45 minutes from the CBD by car, this expansive and low-key mountain bike park hides an exhaustive mix of commercial pine forest and spacious Australian native singletrack. But it’s the super fast red hero dirt that steals the show; everything just seems faster, tyres grip better, and every trail feels like you’re on the Forest Moon of Endor.

In addition to cross-country trails, Fox Creek is also host to four downhill tracks, all with awesomely descriptive names. You have Steep (it’s quite steep), Fast (that one’s fast), Bowl and finally Patto’s Curse, which is a bit of a nod to local trail builder and ex-DH racer Garry Patterson, who seems to have had a hand in most of fig 1: Hayden Barnie and Chris Dimbal, Helrose, Melrose. Adelaide’s riding through his company TrailScapes. Riding these tracks was probably some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike in a long while. Barring one twenty-foot double, most competent trail riders could smash these tracks out on a six-inch travel bike. There’s no denying it would be better on a DH bike but the grins on our faces at the bottom of each track could have convinced you otherwise.

Before our departure for the trip’s main event, the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival, we quickly sampled the Eagle Park trails and coincidentally scored the first bit of sunshine of our trip. Adelaide had received a quarter of its annual winter rainfall the previous week, and although it made for great traction, the cold weather meant hoodies and merinos were getting a solid workout in early June.

With the promise of more sunshine and temperatures comprising two digits, we finally got our Maui Campervan on the road. Melrose is three-and-a-half hours north of the city and, as I tried to describe to Barnie and Ross on the way up, it’s a pretty peculiar situation. A tiny town with a population of around 200. Two pubs. One petrol station, a campground and a bike shop. And world class singletrack. You don’t realise until you see it just how surreal the place is.

Arriving on Friday night (the festival runs Saturday through to the end of Queens Birthday Monday) a few festival goers had shown up early to get the best campground spots. One by one, trailers overflowing with massive tents, BBQs, lounge chairs and of course bikes rolled in to town.

The hub for the festival is Over the Edge bike shop, run by Richard and Kerri Bruce. It’s a bike
shop in the loosest sense of the term; the smell of coffee beans permeates the room as Richard
coaxes a steady stream of long blacks and flat whites from the newly acquired two-head coffee machine. Puncture repair kits share valuable counter space with delicious looking cakes, and the shop’s centrepiece is a retro lounge suite nestled around a freestanding fireplace. You can also buy bikes and the usual bike stuff, but it all takes a back seat to establishing one of the coolest little bike shops on the planet, and the vibe of the festival echoes perfectly that of the shop. The festival is now so big that local club Southern Flinders Rough Riders handles the
logistics and planning, but Kerri and Richard’s shop still plays a pivotal role.

I’d been looking forward to getting back to the trails in Melrose. It had been exactly a year since my last trip and while three days is enough to ride them all, you don’t really get to know them, and that’s what I wanted to do this time. Although guest rider Darren Berrecloth threw a bit of a spanner in the works while we were heading up to check out the brand new Super D track Euro Vision on the Bartagunyah property. (Which, by the way, could be described as one of the most fun tracks I’ve ever ridden; flow, doable trail-sized doubles, rocks, lots of things to pump off as well as a few step-downs make this track pretty much unbeatable, and it’s definitely a feather in the Melrose epic singletrack cap. Anyway, I digress.) Darren scoped a potential spot for a man-sized quarter pipe and it just so happened that Angus had a four-tonne digger on site which had been used to build Euro Vision. The two of them set to work turning the abandoned quarry into a massive slopestyle feature, and by sunrise the following morning it was dialled, not without a fair amount of heckling mind you.

The sunrise was beyond epic – I’m talking blood red Uluru-type sunrise – but it lasted all five minutes before a massive low-hanging cloud changed red bird into grey bird. All was not lost as Darren sessioned the quarter, even stomping a couple of massive tables on his cross-country 29er! A packed agenda meant that this was our only window; Darren was heading
off to teach some seriously eager and talented kids how to ride a pump track properly, as well
as unintentionally encourage 6-year-olds to drink Red Bull. Barnie and I were heading off to get a fresh take on the abandoned farm cottage on the Dodging Bullets track I shot last year. With a little digging help from Patto, Barnie decided it was easier to just send it right over the cottage than use the trail. After a couple of near-fatal attempts from some locals, we decided it was better that the kicker was laid to rest.

Due to the Queen having different birthdays on either side of the Tasman (is that so she can get double the presents?) and a bit of a flight mix-up, a preemptive departure was called for. Barnie, Ross and I hopped back in the camper and made a beeline for the airport, with Barnie breaking his bike down and bagging it en route, making it with minutes to spare.

Even after getting back to Melrose and experiencing the whole thing for a second time, it’s still pretty much impossible for me to describe just what a cool experience it is. After a year of attending New Zealand festivals, the ludicrously low-key approach the Melrose folk take is so refreshing it’s just not funny. The easy-going approach makes the event so much fun, whether you’re there to get your Strava on or ride with the kids. In fact, it’s hands down the best mountain bike event I’ve ever been to. Combine that with the insane amount of quality trails Adelaide has —in existence and in future— and you really need to start planning a trip now.