The leg eater


Peter Thurling tackles a monster mountain biking circuit on the outskirts of Hobart.

There is a mysterious creature lurking in the bushland in the Meehan Range on Hobart’s Eastern Shore. It’s not a Tasmanian Tiger but it is wild and it is attracting more and more people in search of adventure, adrenaline and fitness. It is known to locals as the Meehan Monster and has a reputation for eating mountain bikers’ legs.

Hobart is blessed with some great mountain bike trails within a stone’s throw of the city, including the North-South Track, Tip Top Track and Glenorchy Mountain Bike Park. However, the extensive mountain bike trails of the Meehan Range are becoming the choice location for all levels and types of riders due to their proximity to the city, the large amount of purpose built single track, picturesque terrain and multiple trail choices on offer.

The car park and trail head for the Clarence Mountain Bike Park (CMBP) is a 10 minute drive from the Hobart CBD, heading East along the Tasman Highway (A3). The car park is just off the Tasman Highway at the South Arm Highway exit on Flagstaff Gully Road and there is plenty of parking, which is lucky as there are always riders’ cars there, in all weather and at all times of the day.

Map by Wayne Murphy
Map by Wayne Murphy

The Meehan Range is situated right on the edge of suburbia but once out riding the trails you feel miles from anywhere. You can ride for half an hour or head out all day on single track in the Meehan Range.

The CMBP comprises a few loop options of around five to 10km in length. There are plenty of switchback climbs and descents to challenge riders but also some flowing sections of track for beginners, such as the trail section known as ‘Smooth as Butter’. The facility also has a set of dirt jumps, downhill and enduro tracks and a pump track to practise skills. This means that you can go for a short ride or do repeated loops and develop your skills on a wide variety of terrain and in different styles of riding.

The Clarence section of trails can be linked to more trails in the area known as ‘Belbins’ by using ‘Bill’s Back Door,’ a newly built link trail so that riders no longer need to ride along Belbins Road. Belbins Road, just off Cambridge Road, provides another trail head area to park your car.

Photo by Josh McDonald, Four Hills Photography
Photo by Josh McDonald, Four Hills Photography

The Belbins section of the Meehan Range has some great trail choices to explore and is flexible enough that you can ride sections up to your skill level and miss those that may be too challenging without having to turn around and go back the way you came. Sections such as ‘Gully Surf’ and ‘Fun Time’ offer some fantastic flow trail that can be tackled at the speed that suits the rider’s skill. Fun Time is a particularly good, gentle downhill section for beginners since it can be accessed by riding up an easy fire trail track and can be ridden as a loop multiple times.

One of the newest sections of trail out at Belbins is the ‘Monster Climb’ out of Stringy Bark Gully and up to Golden Hill and on to the ridgeline trail that eventually brings you around to the fun of the ‘Birthday Loop’ and the picturesque ‘Cliff Top Track,’ providing beautiful views of Hobart and Mt Wellington, and back around to the CMBP where you descend to finish the Meehan Monster loop. This section was finished in June 2014 and offers riders the challenge of climbing to the top of the ridge on single track switchbacks. This section of trail winds its way through the natural habitat of the Meehan Monster, so be on the lookout. The full Meehan Loop comprising the CMBP, Stringy Bark Gully, Monster Climb, Golden Hill, Birthday Loop, Cliff Top Track and the descent back into the CMBP is 25km and, depending on your skill and fitness levels, will take between two and three hours to complete.

The genesis of the wide network of trails in the Meehan Range was the development of the CMBP. The original park was developed by Clarence City Council and launched in November 2009. Clarence Council got approval to construct tracks on Crown and State Government land in the Meehan Range in an area bordering the Tasman Highway. Initially the CMBP comprised dirt jumps, mountain cross, dual slalom, downhill and a short cross country track. Since then, thanks to a caretaker program and enthusiastic volunteers, additional trails have been constructed, extended and upgraded. Adjoining the CMBP, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service-managed Meehan Range Recreation Area, and land owned by private companies and individuals, provides additional trails of varying difficulty that connect to tracks in the CMBP.

In 2012 the Meehan Range Trail Groomers took over the maintenance of the CMBP trail network closely supported by the Clarence Council. This enabled the bulk of the CMBP budget to be spent on new trail development (Tasmanian trail building company Dirt Art machine cut much of this trail in the CMBP area) and more recently on the Meehan Range Mountain Bike Strategic Plan. The development of the strategic plan has resulted in the forming of the CMBP Committee as a vehicle for the ongoing development and maintenance of the trails in the Meehan Range.

Photo by Josh McDonald, Four Hills Photography
Photo by Josh McDonald, Four Hills Photography

The Strategic Plan, due to be reviewed by the Clarence Council in December 2014, will better enable a robust trail approval process that will assist with future trail approval, land owner engagement, licence agreements and volunteer management. The plan outlines a potential for a further 70km of single track that would see around 110km of single track in the Meehan Range triangle bordered by Belbins Road, Geilston Bay and the Clarence Mountain Bike Park. It also outlines additional infrastructure including trail signage, additional car parking, shelters, toilets, change rooms and water.

Since the trail network is maintained by volunteers it is cost neutral for the local government, and because it is enthusiast-led the trails are purpose-built and enjoyable to ride. It is a partnership model that could be used in other areas of Australia to get sanctioned and approved trails built cheaply and easily. Through its membership with the Clarence Council Bicycle Steering Committee, Bicycle Network continues to support and encourage the Clarence Council in its bike-friendly plans for the municipal area.

The idea for a mountain bike marathon in the Meehan Ranges—the Meehan Monster—has been kicked around for a few years, but only recently has it been possible to ride a predominantly single track loop. Thanks to the efforts of professional trail builders Dirt Art and the Meehan Range Trail Groomers, the goal distance of 25km per lap was achieved. Combining excellent single track with the proximity of the trails to Hobart means this race could become a draw card for mountain bike tourists to Tasmania and locals alike.

The Meehan Monster mountain bike marathon was brought to fruition by the Ride Bellerive bike shop. Ride Bellerive organised and ran the event with assistance from a fantastic group of volunteers. Ride Bellerive staff believe that the race has tremendous growth potential with the additional trails and facilities outlined in the Strategic Plan. The ultimate plan for the event will see riders completing 33km per lap with a maximum race distance of 99km. The date for the next Meehan Monster has been scheduled for Sunday 25 October 2015.

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