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Trail Springs Eternal

For the first time in a decade, HKMBA volunteers joined forces with AFCD and others to build new trails in Tai Lam Coutry Park this past weekend.

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by Brandon Kirk

If ever anyone needed a visual example in arguing that nothing is impossible, they would need to look no further than beyond the flagstone steps leading from Route Twisk to the "official" Mountain Bike trail at Tai Mo Shan. What seemed like a lost cause mere weeks ago is back on track - we are finally seeing the beginnings of a proper trail system, purpose-built for mountain biking, in Tai Lam Country Park.

“We know that the AFCD have been studying the impact of mountain biking for a number of years but this is the first tangible sign  that they are getting to the root of the problem --- a lack of suitable mountain biking trails” says Tom McGuinness, Acting Chairman of HKMBA. “rubbing shoulders with volunteers while building new trails like this can only improve understanding, and I hope to see much more of it.”

Here, just past the infamous "No Mountain Biking" sign at the awkwardly-placed trailhead, riders have stood with open jaws at fresh singletrack that has been beaten out of the raw bush – a path that effectively leads our young and less-experienced riders into a future of sustainable trails. “I was rightly moved by seeing the trailwork on Saturday, and I called Rick [Barton-Smith] over the weekend to update him and to acknowledge what he started and what Bob Smith and his team pushed on through afterwards,” said Mark Keith, a regular Tai Mo Shan rider and longtime HKMBA gadfly-philosopher-in-residence. He credited the new project to “gentle pressure relentlessly applied.”

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Another wise man once said that if you bang your head against a stone wall long enough, it will fall off. He died in obscurity, but centuries later another great thinker wrote that while a great Oak may be uprooted by its own pride, a reed doesn't break in the wind. Jokes about breaking wind aside, Hong Kong mountain bikers, particularly the HKMBA, have indeed been a resilient bunch. “HKMBA has long recognized the need to improve the park trail system to allow equal access for all users,” says Bob Smith, former HKMBA Chairman now residing in the US after a year in Afghanistan. “I do not see the opening of a single trail as a watershed event, but the fact that we are working side by side with the AFCD, HKCA and the community [is an] achievement.”

Although it hasn't been the easiest line to follow - pun intended - riders have come to realize that patience and a bit of understanding can go a long way in the fight for quality, sustainable trails. In January, IMBA had called stakeholder meetings for mountain biking groups as well as hiking groups and villagers, where all parties were encouraged to express their concerns and expectations. This was the first time in years that HKMBA members were asked for input – and the results, although delayed, have been surprisingly positive.

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A training session was held by IMBA and AFCD at the Hong Kong Scout Centre on May 4, where almost 40 volunteers for the May 7th, 8th, and 10th sessions were readied up to get their hands dirty. From grade management and armoring to designing for better flow, attendees got the skinny on how to make the best trails possible, in such a way that they will last for the next generation. “I learned a lot,” said veteran Lamma trailbuilder Neil Art. “It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.”

Credit should also be given to IMBA consultants Tony Boone and Jill Van Winkle, came to Hong Kong in January to advise the AFCD on how to go about providing mountain bike trails. Tony returned in May with HM from DirTraction in Singapore, who came to lend us his expertise from trailbuilding in the tropics. “Tony Boone did a great job engaging both biker and government officials, i hope that this new found knowledge can be adopted and continued for the good of all,” said Shaun Horrocks, an HKMBA director. For certain, we would not be getting very far without the efforts of the IMBA crew.

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AFCD staff must also be greatly commended for putting some major resources into this initiative. “I never thought I would be singing AFCD's praises, but the new mountain bike task force and its attitude towards bikers is truly a turn around from previous years,” said Horrocks. Having sent their staff to Whistler and Australia, and after consulting international experts from IMBA, it appears that AFCD can now say with certainty to their fellow civil servants that mountain bike trails are the way forward, and that they're doing the right thing for the environment and the public - for our health, safety, and sanity.

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I asked my 3-year-old son Ian, who came to test-ride the track and dig for worms, what he thought of the new beginner loop that he helped make - "So fun!" he said. "Do again!"

I think he speaks for all of us.

As the holiday season hits full swing many folks will be indulging in Hong Kong’s 2nd favorite sport which is shopping – we all know that MTB is #1. But before you plunk down your hard earned money on a top-end bike perhaps it’s worthwhile to reconsider bikes towards the bottom of the range? Steve Coward did. Steve owns and operates CrossCountryHK, a local MTB skills training and guiding company. Here are his insights on budget bikes.