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

 

 

Have you tried Fred’s Man Boobs?

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I have; both of them.

What were they like?

They both had their own feel, their own personality as such, and the sensation was very distinct, but I must say I enjoyed the experience.

One was distinctly harder than the other, it’s curves tighter and sharper, it’s surface coarse and less soft to the touch.  A number of its more salient protrusions sent my hands and head cascading giddily.  The propensity of its tiny bumps would normally deter me, but are something one must tolerate in the pursuit of pleasure.

The other, despite its proximity, was far smoother and provoked an entirely different response. Its soft, flowing contours guided my hands and the rest of my body around its entirety and at times caused a feeling of weightlessness – as if I were floating on air.

That said, both set my heart racing, sped up my pulse and left me with a dry mouth. They both left me weak at the knees and slightly out of breath.

Fred and Man Boobs are both mountain bike trails in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. The trails lie fairly close to each other and can be ridden consecutively after climbing on this famous trail network.

Man Boobs is a fun, flowy trail with a decent gradient, berms and small jumps which encourage the rider to let go of the breaks and enjoy the chance to get some air.

Fred, on the other hand, is a more technical trail with small rocks and tree roots and is also known for a few short climbs which lead to some reasonably steep and short rock rolls which set the heart racing.

I almost fell on Man Boobs. Not from an errant rock or obtrusive tree root, but from surprise. As I rounded a corner and looked ahead to negotiate the trail, I glimpsed its eponymous artwork. Halfway up a tree, a manikin with a garish wig and lacy bra strapped around the chest caused such a distraction that it nearly threw me off my bike. Luckily I stayed on and managed to negotiate and enjoy the rest of the trail and make it to Fred, where the trail became flatter but also more tight and technical.

The two trails were as distinctive as their names and it made me wonder, how do mountain bike trails get their names?

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Essentially, mountain bike trails are named by their builder. You build it, you name it.

The names of mountain bike trails, therefore, tell us something about mountain bikers.

Trails attract names like Toads of the Short Forest, Handsaw and Gretel, Butthead, A Reptile Dysfunction, Sleeps 3, which provide some insight into the mindset of the average mountain biker.

Many trial names carry a back story, but the average rider knows nothing of that story as they set off on trails like Misty Mushroom, Curse of the Were-rabbit, The Ducks Guts and Wine Shanty, while riders descending Dirty Little Secrets must surely have their curiosity piqued.

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Some trail names are informative, and carry words like loop, creek, hill or link. Some examples, like those in Adelaide, South Australia, include Uprising, a climbing trail connecting riders to a downhill trail, or Blue Luge, an intermediate trail whose lower half boasts long sweeping turns which hug the banks of the small creek and are enormous fun to ride. One of the world’s most famous trails is Top of the World in Whistler, Canada. No prizes for guessing that this massive trail starts on the top of a mountain and descends to the Whistler resort area.

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Mountain bikers have a peculiar sense of humour.

The trails of south Nowra, in NSW, Australia, are managed by the local organisation called South Coast United Mountainbikers – proud to be known as SCUM. Another trail in the Nowra region is called How Roo’d, and if you’re lucky, you might spot a kangaroo on these trails. Meanwhile, close to Man Boobs and Fred, riders can start on Tinder and finish with Your Mum – how rude indeed.

Mountain bikers are mad.

Many trails suggest impending doom. Names like Certain Death, Widow Maker, Verge of Ruin, Rock and Roll Suicide, Treachery and Tombstone, reflect the inherent danger of this extreme sport.

Ultimately, mountain bike trail names reveal their fun-loving irreverence of the average mountain biker, and while I don’t know why a couple of Squamish locals called a trail Fred, I do know that a fellow local has a serious obsession with man boobs.

Images: Simon Blake