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City mecca for mountain bikers

Trail building technique has changed as much as the bikes people ride.

makara peak park Photo credit: Jay French

By Meagan Robertson

There aren’t many cities in the world that are known for their coffee, culture and killer mountain bike tracks, but Wellington’s trifecta of treasures manages to merge these three and more.

Arguably one of the world’s most liveable and beautiful cities, Wellington’s well-maintained greenbelt shelters a wide variety of single track options, most of them hand built by mountain bike enthusiasts over the past decade.

As a result there are dozens of sweet biking spots within pedalling distance of the city, an equal number of mountain bike clubs and weekly trail digs and a variety of events throughout the year. Local bike enthusiasts have their sights set on becoming the urban mountain biking capital of the world!

The Wellington mountain biking community’s presence has also driven a number of changes which have positively impacted on trails around New Zealand. One particular initiative is the establishment of the country’s first national trail funding organisation Trail Fund NZ.

Run solely by volunteers, Trail Fund NZ is a national not-for-profit organisation which supports the development and maintenance of publicly accessible trails across the country.

Founded in 2012, Trail Fund NZ has distributed almost $30,000 to volunteer-led projects. This funding has been made possible through Trail Fund’s 1% for Trails sponsors (including Black Seal Imports, 3Sixty Sports, Cactus Equipment and Wheelworks), as well as donations and merchandise. Licence to Ride contributes $1 from the sale of each Manual to Trail Fund NZ, some of which went towards supporting the Silversky project.

The ongoing expansion of trails means there are rides to suit most people. From a quick and energetic 45 minute ride over lunch to an all day trek, Wellington has a plethora of trails to choose from.

Mount Victoria — located right in the heart of downtown, next to the nightlife hub of Courtenay Place, Mount Victoria offers a wide variety of technical single track that can challenge even the most advanced riders, particularly after a day or two of rain. Home to the popular Super D race, the greenbelt haven is also used as a stimulating commute for a number of riders who come from the nearby suburbs.

Miramar — Since late 2008, the Miramar Track Project has been building mountain bike trails in Maupuia Reserve, close to the tip of the Miramar Peninsula. Since adding the new kids’ loop, the trails offer something for everyone: Jail Brake is fast, with great berms, tabletops and drops; Solitary tests technical skills with tight turns and tricky roots; and the kids’ loop — Juvie, Bootleg and Dual Slalom — caters for beginners.

Polhill — Accessible from Brooklyn, Highbury and Aro Streets, Polhill is one of the busiest greenbelts in the city. Walkers, runners and mountain bikers share these intermediate tracks running through dense bush and, due to it being adjacent to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, trail users are often treated to calls from bellbirds, tui, saddlebacks and even moreporks (on an evening ride). From the Brooklyn wind turbine, there are more options including south along Carparts and Barking Emu to finish at Red Rocks on the south coast, or bike around the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary fence to Makara.

Makara Peak — This is one of the most popular mountain biking parks in Wellington. In 1998 the Wellington City Council set aside 200 hectares of retired farmland. The Makara Peak Supporters group was formed. Their mission: to create a world class mountain bike park in a regenerating forest, with dual use tracks for all abilities. To date 40km of track has been built, and over 32,000 native seedlings planted. The tracks range from beginners’ cross country such as Koru and Lazy Fern to teeth-clenching downhills such as Trickle Falls and Ridgeline.

There are also other trails worth riding in Wellington, such as Skyline, Mystic Portal, Wrights Hill, Belmont and Wainuiomata, among others. To some extent Wellington riders now sometimes struggle to decide where to ride. However, this wasn’t always the case.

Jonny Waghorn and John Baddiley, who have been riding in Wellington since 1988 and 1993 respectively, agree that mountain biking has changed dramatically over the past 20 years.

“The only options were walking [tracks] and 4WD tracks,” says Jonny. “Now it seems a bit ridiculous but back then that’s all there was to ride, so we did.”

Jonny’s been part of the Makara Peak Supporters group since its inception, and has seen the access to ’proper’ mountain bike tracks improve first hand. “I never thought it would get this popular. It’s completely exploded, over the past ten years especially.”

John, who built some of Wellington’s original trails including Deliverance, says the trail building technique has changed as much as the bikes people ride.

“We used to just charge through the bush, determining our lines as we went and getting our mates to follow us with chainsaws,” says John. “Now that the sport has such a following, track placement needs to be a bit better thought out.

“All in all, as Wellingtonians we’re so lucky to have such a wide variety of options, and a group of passionate people who make it happen.”