With its seemingly endless rolling hills and bushland packed full of potential, opportunity abounds for mountain biking to prosper on the New South Wales Central Coast.
But for now, the sport is navigating rocky ground.
In between lobbying for political support, riders are dodging booby traps placed on local trails.
Still, the community is forging ahead, with the opening of a new trail at Ourimbah Mountain Bike Park.
The grand opening of the undulating trail brought together the Central Coast Mountain Bike Club (CCMTB), the Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, and Central Coast councillor Jillian Hogan.
Riders say the trail should act as a template for the sport into the future — built and managed by the community.
Club secretary Leif Arnebark said COVID-19 had seen shops selling out of bikes, and neighbouring regions were already reaping the economic benefits of the surge in popularity.
“Mountain biking is in a huge growth phase, there’s an enormous take up within the general population of mountain biking,” Mr Arnebark said.
Sabotaging local trails
Despite growing popularity, not everyone is on board with mountain biking.
Police are investigating several apparent acts of sabotage on local trails.
In early August, a bed of nails was found on a track in the Bouddi National Park which punctured several riders’ tyres.
Further north in Wyee, a seven-year-old boy suffered a friction burn to his throat after riding his bike into a piece of string tied between two trees.
“It was just a small child going out for a Sunday morning ride,” the boy’s mother Katrina Robins said.
“He shouldn’t have to be worried about looking for strings across the track.”
Police are investigating both incidents and CCMTB wants more signage and formalisation of trails to deter similar acts.
“We also need councils to jump on board and provide formal access to bushland, so we can create sustainable trail networks,” Mr Arnebark said.
“So we don’t get these ridiculous and horrible incidents happening with trail sabotage and people getting hurt.”
Sport at political crossroads
How to accommodate mountain biking in the region is an issue that has divided Central Coast Council.
Some councillors are concerned about the environmental impacts associated with the sport, among them is Deputy Mayor Jane Smith.
“There’s a lot of illegal and unauthorised tracks, I think they’re undesirable, they have a negative impact,” she said.
But Leif Arnebark said the bush was an intrinsic part of the sport.
“You can’t remove mountain biking from environmental lands,” he said.
Removing mountain biking from the bush is like removing surfing from the beach, it just doesn’t work.”
The new “flow” trail at Ourimbah was built using a combination of state and federal grants, and community-sourced funding.
Councillor Hogan said it showed mountain biking and environmental sustainability could co-exist.
“When you give community back the responsibility and the ownership for looking after the land and the environment, you’ll get much better results, and we’ve seen it,” she said.
The trail forward
A core frustration for the mountain bike community is a perception that some politicians don’t truly understand the sport.
A proposed working group to look into establishing a “dedicated mountain biking facility” outside local environmental lands was defeated at a recent council meeting.
Mr Arnebark said decision makers needed to allow the existing community to build and manage trails.
“What we’d love to see is something that connects all our various communities and suburbs together, utilising our green space and creating a network of very low impact, sustainable trails,” he said.
The release of an upcoming mountain bike feasibility study by Central Coast Council will be key in charting a path forward.