Cycling the Narrow Neck Trail.

Narrow Neck Trail is a scenic and challenging cycling trail in the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba which offers off-road cyclists a solid workout with some spectacular views.

The trail itself is a shared hiking and cycling fire trail which snakes its way along the Narrow Neck ridge for about 10 kilometres in either direction, and finishes at a lookout point which promises views of the national park, farm land to the west and even to Sydney on a clear day.

Cyclists weave their way in and out of bush land and exposed sections with beautiful views, and share the bush with birds and other native animals, which are slowly returning after the severe 2019/2020 bush fires which ripped through the Blue Mountains.

Evidence of the fires follows riders along the trails and the charred remains of trees contrast starkly with the bright blue sky and the striking green shoots of new growth.

Narrow Neck presents a solid workout. Short sharp climbs are scattered throughout the trail, and flat sections are interspersed with long, slow climbs. The halfway point features a few very steep climbs whose ‘whoa boys’, (water drainage humps), add an extra challenge to an ascent. They’re guaranteed to burn the legs – but they’re great fun on the way down.

Furthermore, Narrow Neck trail lies at about 1000 metres altitude. On some of the tougher climbs you can definitely feel the difference in the lungs.

Winter can be cold in the mountains – very cold. Its not uncommon to start the ride with the temperature hovering around 0, and the exposed sections get very chilly on a windy day. Don’t be surprised if you ride through patches of ice early in the morning.

An advantage of riding the trail in winter is the chance to see the valley covered in mist and to ride through clouds.

The trail head sits about 2 kilometres along the access road, which begins in the suburbs of Katoomba. It’s possible to drive right to the trail head, and the advantage of driving is that it cuts out a steep hill just before the trail head – a hill so steep it has been concreted to avoid erosion. This steep and nasty hill is quite a warm up.

For those who are not afraid of a little climbing, it’s possible to reach the trail from Katoomba town centre and from the train station. It lies a few kilometres from the station and can be easily found. Just head to Cliff Drive then keep an eye out for the sign to Narrow Neck trail and the dirt road.

A cycling trail also exists between Katoomba and Leura, and Katoomba and Blackheath and is a mixture of dirt, bitumen and suburban streets. At Blackheath, riders are rewarded with some genuine single trail.

Cycling to and from the trail also forces riders to climb back out to Katoomba, along the dirt access road. After a hilly 20km ride at 1000m, you’ll feel like a sprinter in a Tour de France mountain stage – just tap out a tempo.

Most cyclists tackle the trail on a mountain bike, but it would be achievable with a gravel bike and some decent bike handling skills.

Most importantly, the trail lies close enough to Katoomba for cyclists to finish their ride with a coffee.

Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe is fulfilling a dream.

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Each stroke of the pedals brings mountain biker Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe closer to realising her dream.

Her ultimate goal is to manage a professional women’s cycling team, and the determined cyclist from Botswana has already taken the first steps to achieving that dream. Baks, as she is known to her friends, became the first Motswana (citizen of Botswana) to represent the African country at a UCI world championship event, when she battled the hills in the u23 category in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2018.

“That was like a dream come true,” explains the pint-sized rider.

“I was so happy and I felt like a hero. That was the best thing that I have ever done for this mother land.”

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The next goal is to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the Mountain Bike Cross Country event, where she hopes to join some of her team mates from The Sufferfest African Dream Team.

“African Dream Team is the only UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) registered team in Africa. It is an MTB team for African riders from Lesotho and Botswana, although I’m the only rider from Botswana.”

Ebudilwe is hoping to draw motivation and advice from her team mates, including Phetetso Monese, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The establishment of The Sufferfest African Dream Team is the major reason that Ebudilwe switched from road cycling, where she won multiple national titles, to mountain biking.

“The scholarship for the African Dream Team was available only for mountain biking, so I decided to try for the scholarship because I didn’t want to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

This opportunity sees Ebudilwe divide her time between southern Africa, where the team trains on the hills and altitude of Lesotho and South Africa, and Switzerland, where she is based during the European racing season.

Switzerland is a long way from the village of Mahalapye in the north of Botswana, where the self-confessed tomboy grew up.

“I grew up with my brother and cousins as the only girl, playing with the boys and everything they did. I did my primary and secondary school in Mahalapye, where I played soccer and I was the team captain.”

“I moved to the great city of Gaborone for senior school, and I got involved in cycling when I was doing my final year. I wanted to try a new sport, then I thought cycling is not so popular, so let me go for it.”

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A background in road cycling explains where Ebudilwe’s strengths lie as a mountain biker.

“Since I started cycling with a road bike, I’m better on flatter trails, where I can just put the hammer down and go without any obstacles to do. I think I am better at endurance, definitely not climbing, because I’m from a very flat country and low altitude.”

That said, she is certainly enjoying her adopted sport.

“MTB is fun, it gives me freedom. I go anywhere I want. It’s also challenging mentally on some of the obstacles.”

Ebudilwe’s ascension to the world championships began on African soil, where she competed in the African Youth Games, the African Road Championships and the African MTB Championships. It is also where she joined fellow Dream Team rider Likeleli Masitise for a very credible 3rd place in the Elite Women’s category of ‘Lesotho Sky’, a six-stage cross country race through the high-altitude trails of the land-locked African nation.

While Ebudilwe is the first Motswana to challenge herself against the sport’s best at the world championships, she doesn’t expect to be the last.

“My federation is trying to make the MTB sport grow. They took 7 guys to the African Championships in Namibia this year, so they’re really trying.”

She also credits the federation, as well as her support network, with her rise to the elite level of the sport.

“There are lots of people who contribute a lot to my cycling career. My local club Tsela riders, my team African Dream Team, my federation, my parents and friends, they support me left, right and centre.”

The 22-year-old revealed that she was chubby when she was 17/18, and that her dedication to training helped her to lose weight and develop the endurance of an elite cyclist.

“I train hard, I build my power in wattbikes and I try to push myself, even if it’s painful. I want to go to the Olympics next year.”

The time spent sweating in the lab is also taking Ebudilwe closer to her ultimate dream.

“I want to get a degree in sports management. Having a lady’s team is one of my dreams, and I also want to have my own beautiful family one day and own a laboratory for sports tests.”

Baks describes herself as a quiet person,

“…but that depends on where I am and who I am with. At school I was the funniest.”

It’s no surprise then, when she reveals;

“Above all, I want to live a happy life.”

Images: supplied

 

 

The Australian government will help pay for your next bicycle.

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The Australian government will contribute to the cost of a ‘Therapy Bike’ for Australian citizens in a push to improve the health of the nation.

The government announced the ‘Therapy Bike’ scheme during its campaign for the federal election, to be held on May 18, and boasted of the anticipated benefits of the new policy.

“The Therapy Bike policy is a major breakthrough for Australia,” boasted a government spokesperson.

“This exciting new initiative will allow every Australian to receive funding to help them purchase a bicycle, because bicycles have been proven to improve people’s physical, mental and emotional health.”

The scheme allows Australian citizens, of any age, to apply for a percentage of the total cost of a bicycle. Applications can be submitted for road bikes, mountain bikes, children’s or adult bikes – in fact any form of bicycle- and citizens will receive the funds once their application has been approved.

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The beaming spokesperson then outlined the motivation for the scheme in greater detail.

“There are so many reasons that we are proud to announce the Therapy Bike policy.”

“Regular use of a bicycle is known to increase outdoor exercise, improve one’s physical health, decrease peoples’ reliance on medication, reduce anxiety and stress, decrease levels of cholesterol and high blood pressure, increase enthusiasm and emotional well being, delay the ageing process and reduce the risk factors of heart disease, which is still Australia’s #1 killer.”

“Of course, this is on top if the other benefits of cycling, such as improved air quality and less pollution, less congestion and traffic, less road building and destruction of the natural environment and quieter, more peaceful urban spaces.”

The majority of Australians welcomed the scheme on social media, but some reminded the government that the initiative will only succeed if a network of bicycle paths is built throughout the country, to allow people to ride safely, especially those who ride to work.

Other respondents also suggested making public transport more user friendly for cyclists, by adopting bike-friendly practices already in use in places such as the Netherlands, Canada and Taiwan.

Australians, meanwhile, were encouraged to start searching for a new bike and wait for the applications to be available following the federal election.