Getting in a mountain bike during a short holiday somewhere foreign is always a tricky proposition, but getting in two rides in 5 days, on state of the art rigs, in two great locations, is usually a treat reserved for bike journalists or millionaires.
A stopover in Sydney on my way to the track world cup in Melbourne held two busy days in the office trying to get some work done, but an early morning slot was found for a quick lap of a park out west of the city. A couple of acres of bushland surrounding a sewerage works does not sound very romantic, but an interesting combination of sandy trails and rocky outcrops provided a solid hour of fast trail riding. My ride was a Pivot Mach 5, size small, with a full XT build including wheels.
The bike felt like a hardtail while rolling down the tarmac park entry, solidly planted and very responsive to a couple of hard kicks on the pedals – no flex, no bob, gas it and go. Once on the trail the suspension starts working and the bike transforms. It fairly skims the ground, the rear end eating bumps incredibly well while remaining very active under pedalling and braking. The Fox RLC 120mm fork felt a bit soft to begin with, but that was an illusion created by the stiff feel at the pedals. Once the rear end started working on the rocks, the fork felt nicely balanced and the bike became a keen young trail dog, begging the rest of the team (me) to go as fast as possible. A sidenote: the Pivot frames are quite big, with a large jump in dimensions between the Small and the Medium. In most bikes I would fit a Medium, but a close examination of the chart shows the small is only 15mm shorter in the top tube but a whopping 62mm shorter in the seat tube. That makes me want a Small, which is what I rode in the short sample ride. I could make a medium fit me, but I could happily move into a small and live there fulltime…strokes for folks etc, but the Small gives more setup options I reckon.
The second ride I managed was a big one, three hours plus in the best park local to Melbourne, on a beautiful Trek 9.8EX from My Mouintain in Lygon St. Sparkling in a two tone combo of a ginger beer colour (also described by a riding buddy as “baby poo brown”) and white, the bike’s graphics and finish lead the mass-produced pack in my opinion. Trek have a very cool moto inspired look that says “fast”, with some great colours. The bike had 120mm Fox forks in white with matching Avid Juicy 5s, Bontrager branded stem and other giblets, and an XT drivetrain.
The venue for the ride was the “Youies”, or You Yang State Park in full. This network of dedicated and well marked mountain bike trails occupies an out crop of granite about 40 minutes drive south west of the city, and is the best quick trip away from Melbourne I have found. It is also the best MTB park I have seen in Australia, made even more fun by a very rare rainstorm that came in 24 hours before we were due to ride, and continuing until just after we finished.
Most of the locals that were showing me around reckoned the rain would not make any difference to the ride, and would even improve it because the You Yangs can get dry and sketchy with a lot of sandy dust strewn sections, but nobody counted on standing puddles metres long and trails that could be renamed as streams. Once we were fully wet though, it was game on for some super grippy cornering in sweet hard packed berms and very scary pinball action across slippery and pretty gnarly rock gardens. The occasional traverse of large granite slabs added a completely foreign aspect to a Rotorua rider’s normal trail experience, along with quite a few wooden structures built to negotiate sections that would have been impossible or very difficult to build with rock.
Throw in some awesome views of the country towards Geelong and the far off towers of Melbourne’s CBD and you have a very interesting place to spend a day. We rode for three hours and we seem to have covered most of the trails, but the best three downhill runs were begging to be ridden again, as much fun as anything in the redwoods and over way too soon. The required climbing to get the elevation for the best trails takes the edge off most people after three ascents via different routes, so a three hour ride is probably as much as most will want to do anyway… perfect match of trail supply and rider demand.
The Trek was light and pedalled well, not as racey feeling as the Pivot but immediately comfy and predictable, which was nice in the rocks and slippery granite of the You Yangs.
Try to go with others and take a first aid kit, one of our friends made a small mistake that laid open her knee with surgical precision. Fortunately it was the kind of gash that allowed her to continue the ride, and even join me and a few others in an extra downhill that was the highlight of the day as far as wide eyed terror goes, but it showed how unforgiving rock is compared to drifts of punga leaves, pine needles, and sweet Rotorua dirt when things go wrong.