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Mountain Bike Blog



VIDEO: Top XC Rides of 2014/2015


For the majority of the 4 years I've spent riding a proper MTB I've been chasing descents, cross country mountain biking and climbing hills were simply a way of getting to the fun stuff. However in 2014 I picked up a second hand 29" Giant Anthem, I wanted a XC MTB I could setup with low rolling resistance tyres that would enable me to stay out on the trails for longer.  I fell in love with the Anthem almost immediately and 12 months later I found myself organising MTB holidays to XC trail centres rather than gravity parks.

This video highlights my Top XC Rides of 2014/2015.  See below for more detail on why these trails were selected and how I went about rating the rides.

8 - Cascade Hut Trail, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW

The forecast was mid 20s with a storm to come in the afternoon but I was going to make it back well before then - famous last words. One day earlier the mercury hit the mid 30s, however at 7am it was a very bitey 5C.  I left the car wearing every layer I had expected to take, so with a bit of pack room available a last minute decision to add a 2nd pair of gloves and a thermal top was an incredibly smart move before setting off from Dead Horse Gap on the Cascade Trail

The climb up to Bob's Ridge was long and tedious, I walked most of the way but the views were amazing. As I came over the top I could see a storm rolling in over the mountains - well ahead of schedule. I had to make a call on whether to push on or turn back. I pushed on.

The descent to the Cascade River was amazing, fast and steep, a little loose and sometimes muddy but it was an stunning long fire trail descent. I arrived at Cascade Hut as the weather really closed in and decided not to waste time and risk getting cold, so I had a quick snack and headed back.

It rained almost the whole way back and the walk from Cascade River up to Bob's Ridge was many times harder than the climb up from the Dead Horse Gap side - barely 10C, in the fog and the rain.  On arriving at the summit I donned my extra layers before descending toward the Dead Horse Gap wet through and so cold I was struggling to use the brakes (despite wearing 2 pairs of gloves).

My first truly adventurous XC ride.

7 - 2Ho's

Sometimes referred to as H2Os, 2Ho's as the trail builders call it is a really fun and technical XC loop in the suburbs of Sydney's Upper North Shore. Still an unofficial trail as of Feb 2016 there are advanced plans to officially recognise the trail by the local council.

2Ho's is a super fun ride that caters for riders of all levels but some of the technical features have a habit of claiming blood. On every occasion I've been to 2Ho's the trip has been cut short by injury or mechanical - nothing serious but enough for us to call it quits.  On this trip it was our first run on the new western section and unfortunately for John (pictured stopped off track on the left) it didn't end well.

6 - Sparrow Hill - Modified Long Loop

I spent a lot of time in the Kowen Forest in 2015 creating a near complete collection of Trail Videos. While the intention was to start in East Kowen Forest an event force me to ride Sparrow Hill first. On subsequent return trips I continued to explore Sparrow Hill filming just about every trail before heading over the road to East Kowen.

The time I spent in the forest helped build fitness and endurance bringing an average day from the 20km mark to more than 30km and ultimately to a personal record of 46km.

The Sparrow Hill Long Loop is around 40km, but I modified the loop to avoid riding trails I'd already filmed and cover the remaining trails.  The modifications I made were mostly in the opening sections around Sparrow and Billy Billy Rds, riding Disco Duck, Rock & Roll and Break Dance before continuing on the rest of the mapped Long Loop route.

This video mostly features footage of those three trails - rarely ridden but some of the best I found in Sparrow Hill.

5 - Wylde MTB Park

If I lived closer to Wylde MTB Park I'd be a whole lot fitter. I love this trail, despite not having a great deal of vert the undulating countryside of the Western Sydney Parklands has been well utilised - this trail can take it out of you.

This particular day was my first day riding Wylde. It was 35C, was my first time riding single track with cleats, it was also my first time back on dirt after breaking my thumb and just 12 days away from heading to Rotorua for my second trip. There was a lot riding on this .. ride. But wow what a ride!

And the most pleasing thing - my broken thumb had come through the ride brilliantly - I was on my way to the Redwoods.

I went back the next day (with a dropper post) and did it all again - but a whole lot faster.

4 - Thredbo Valley Track

Prior to spending weeks in the Kowen Forest I stepped up my XC MTBing skills in the NSW Snowy Mountains, mostly riding the amazing Thredbo Valley Track. I took advantage of a $10 shuttle from Lake Crackenback Resort and rode the TVT on many occasions through the summer.

During Easter 2015 I had a short window of opportunity to ride the TVT with @CaptainRisky. It was a fantastic day to be out with heaps of other riders enjoying the cool morning air and perfect trail conditions.

The TVT is a descending trail however it does have 250 meters of climbing mostly through small pinch climbs. The dually XC bike was the perfect machine and made for some super-fast flowy fun.

3 - Wingello - Red Loop

I'd not done much big group riding prior to heading to Wingello in the winter of 2015 on a bitterly cold sub 10C morning. It would have been one of my XC rides of the year albeit for the even better return trip with a similar crew in Dec 2015.

The Wingello Red Loop has become my favourite XC ride in Australia. A location usually associated with steep fire trails the Red Loop breaks the mould with a huge array of OUTSTANDING flowy single track that runs up, down and around. Some of the best single track I've ridden anywhere.

Riding with an eclectic mix of single speeders, roadies, MTB marathon riders and weekend warriors it was a real experience to see each different skillsets rise to the occasion at different points in the ride.

For me it was one of those amazing moments when I realised how far I'd come. Not only did I hold my own on many sections that were tearing me apart on the previous ride, I rode every metre of trail and only had to foot-down mid trail on 2 occasions. I came off the trail so totally buzzed with how I'd ridden and the improvement had turned a few heads.  On the froth scale this ride was right up there, which makes the next 2 rides in the super awesome category.

2 - The Rotorua Redwoods - Lower XC Loop

On my 2nd trip to the Redwoods I decided to take two bikes so I could enjoy some of the lower mountain XC trails when my arms and legs had had enough descending. It was a great idea with the XC bike taking me to parts of the forest I'd never been. I set out on this particular loop one morning and was totally blown away with how much fun could be had riding a XC bike.

Old Chevy is an amazing labyrinth of trails that weave their way through a relatively small patch of forest near the 8 Mile Gate.  But Old Chevy is a zapper! It has a number of significantly steep climbs, fun flowy but tight descents and a whole lot of undulating. On a XC bike it's a great ride - I don't share the same opinion when riding the Reign.

Old Chevy led onto Yellow Brick Road for a short but beautiful ride up to Sandy Skid Rd. In 2016 they built a return leg bringing riders back to the 8 Mile Gate but at the time of riding the only legal option from the end of YBR was to take Sandy Skid Rd.

On this ride I chose to continue up SSR to Pondy New a trail with a number of different personalities. The first stage is a switchback climb before a flowing descent to the forestry road. On the other side of the road is one of the most amazing XC descents you will ever find - not dissimilar to Split Enz but a bit tighter and with a few more ruts and roots. It then enters another long section of undulation before terminating at Roller Coaster.

The lower section of Roller Coaster (where Pondy New ends) is a really fun traverse back to Reservoir Rd that has its fair share of pinch climbs, a few technical sections and some tricky descents. (On my most recent trip I rode Moonshine which would be an even better way to end the single track section rather than the very final section of Roller Coaster which has the worst of the pinch climbs for not so great descents).

The final section of this ride, not featured in the video, is the short but beautiful ride along Reservoir Rd back to 8 Mile Gate.

1 - East Kowen Forest - Escalator and the Effing Track

I left this to the last day of my 5 day trip to the Kowen Forest. The goal was to cover all of the mapped single tracks in the far western section of East Kowen however I found most of the trails in this area have disappeared, either abandoned and overgrown or destroyed by logging but there were two gems that took my breath away. Literally.

Getting to Escalator is an adventure in itself. A tough climb up Braaap and Ding Ding Ding led to a seriously long and steep walk up some soft and clayey fire trails to the base of Escalator but it didn't get any easier at that point.

Escalator is one of the most aptly named trails .. in the history of trails.  Escalator takes you up the mountain rapidly with a series switchbacks linked by short traversing sections. The trail is rocky with hundreds if not thousands of sharp tyre shredding rocks that lie waiting for the slightest slip or lazy twitch. The rocks aren't the only unusually wicked feature, the mountainside is covered in twisted and tortured gum trees that look like rejects from a Dr Suess book, I felt like I was ascending into a previously unreleased scene from Apocalypse Now.

By the time I got to the top of Escalator my brain was barely functioning and maybe that contributed to the amazing euphoria I had riding the next stage - The Effing Track.

I'd assumed the Effing Track got its name because it was effing hard, but I think it might have been because it's effing beautiful. There wasn't a noise above my heartbeat, despite being a bright sunny day the forest was dark, the bare trees and the heavy pine needle cover had created an eerie somewhat surreal mood, I'd escaped the jungle of Apocalypse Now and entered a Tim Burton movie.

Had the pink trail markers painted on the trees been red it would have been shit scary.

The pink paint was a god send, in some areas the pine needles were so thick I would have lost the trail had it not been for the trail markers.

Maybe it was due to my state of exhaustion, maybe I was overcome with the beauty of the trail or maybe I was in denial that it was over but I exited the top of the forest with little to no reaction at all. It's something I'm still struggling to understand because it was without a doubt the best XC moment of 2014/15.


The Criteria

Rating XC trails is almost impossible so rather than try and come up with a flawed criteria I've rated the trail based on how I felt after riding them. What makes a great ride can be a mix of any number of things, so in some respects even this rating method is flawed, however that being said on any given day these trails would make up my most favourite XC rides of 2014/15,

Other notable trails of 2014/15 that were unlucky not to make the cut

The Redwoods - XC Loop featuring Tahi, Creek, Lion Trail, Turkish Delight, Arepa, Challenge, Dipper, Rosebank
Jindabyne - Mill Creek Trail
Stromlo - Climb up and then Loop 3 all the way out to the west and back.
East Kowen - Any number of Random loops
Majura Pines
Bruce Ridge
Kiwarrak State Forest - most of it

The Journey

As previously mentioned I spent most of 2012-2014 looking for fantastic descents and it took me to some amazing places - see the video. My 26" Reign is setup with DH tyres for bombing down the rocky trails of my favourite descents, however I setup the 29" Anthem up with 2.1 Crossmarks to maximise the roll. It immediately translated to longer rides, more climbing and an increase in fitness which led to a significant drop in my PRs.

I swore I wouldn't do it, but during the rehab period of a broken thumb (the day after my 1st ride of Wylde - featured here) I decided to put a dropper post on the Anthem - within a week I'd installed one permanently. It's enabled me to take the Anthem pretty much anywhere.

While the Anthem is in a totally different ball park pedaling and climbing than the Reign I was surprised to find that despite being setup with skinny low tread tyres I could ride the Anthem as fast as the Reign on my local descents (see the videos) and trails like Western Wedgetail, Skyline and Luge in Stromlo. As a result the Reign has really taken a back seat - so much so that in 2015 I went to the NSW Snowy Mountains and the Reign never came out of the shed!

As well as taking me to some amazing places and significantly improving my fitness and endurance the Anthem has helped me become a better technical rider because I can't relying on meaty tires and 6" travel suspension. When I got back on the big bike to ride the steep, rooty, slippery trails of Rotorua I found my bike control was at a whole new level.

It's been a great decision to by the Anthem.

The Music

Heartless - The Clouds
Kudos to anyone who knew this.  A great time in Aussie Indy music.  Although I just realised that line "Heartless" never made the edit - which kinda defeated the purpose of choosing the song :)

My Lips are Sealed - Go Gos
If it wasn't obvious, this unauthorised trail was kept pretty close to the local MTB community's chest, in fact there were even signs on the trail saying don't put it on the internet - my lips are sealed.

Bird on the Buffalo - Angus Stone
This just happened to be one of those times where the song was ranked high on my playlist and I spent 5 days in the Kowen Forest with this song in my head over and over and over and over and over .. sort of !!  Bird on the Buffalo is the same tune as Dreams - Fleetwood Mac and I would switch between the two as I rode.  When I got home I mixed the two songs but for some reason the Fleedtwood Mac bit hasn't come through in the export .. DAMN!  JFTR - just as Angus says "Buffalo" in  "Bird on the buffalo"  start "Thunder only happens when it's raining"  .. you will never forgive me now.

No Excuses - Alice in Chains
It just has that hot dusty feel about it, and while Wylde isn't exactly a desert it was 35C on this day.  But the title "No Excuses" was a tenuous link between my gut wrenching desire to make it to Rotorua in 12 days time and my concern about riding Rotorua in 12 days time despite this being my first time on single track since breaking my thumb.  JFTR .. I went OTB on Day 1 straight onto my broken thumb hand and it was all good.

Feasting on my Friends - the Sway
I found this song from a very very very small sample on a mountain bike video that I can no longer find from either Tahnee Seagrave, Emily Batty but most likely Hannah Barnes.  A great song but the vocals don't stand up to the rest of the song (so I edited them out).  No link to the ride other than being a great flowy, highlands kinda sound, which suited the TVT.

Reptile - The Church
It's unmistakably reptilian, it's largely unrecognized for it's awesomeness, it has moments of fierce confrontation but has some of the most beautiful flow, ultimately it makes makes you feel alive.  Am I talking about the song or the trail?

Reflections - Tahuna Breaks
4 words - Mad if You Don't

Rise from the Shadows - Alberta Cross
It just makes you want to scream at the heavens.  I couldn't imagine a better song to describe the jubilation, exhaustion and utter orgasmic experience of achieving a climb like this after 5 days of riding the Kowen Forest.


Trail Centres and Trails featured in this blog



This website is brought to you by MTB weekend warrior Aaron Markie.
There are plenty of great websites out there with a wealth of information about Mountain Bike Trails,
however in my experience its hard to get a good mix of info, maps, photos and videos of trails I've never ridden.
The idea of this website is to tie those 4 elements together and give you a more detailed look at the MTB Trails I ride.
If you have anything to add then let me know.