WF’s Constantina Demos gears up for thrills and spills on Tasmania’s Blue Derby trails

I have a confession to make: the last bike I owned was a Christmas present. It had sparkly tassels hanging from the fuchsia handlebars. I was the proudest bike owner, but it didn’t last long. After a few father-daughter rides, with the last one resulting with me in the emergency room getting stitches, the bike was left to collect dust in the garage.

It’s been 16 long years since I last jumped on a bike, so to say I was the least qualified person on the WF team to go on a mountain biking trip in Tasmania is bang on. But I’m always up for an adventure.

“We say to people who want to come riding with us that to enjoy the experience they should have a moderate level of fitness [tick], be able to ride a bike [umm, tick?], but most of all have a sense of adventure [big tick],” says Tara Howell who, along with her husband Steve, owns Blue Derby Pods Ride. Both avid mountain bikers and Launceston locals, Tara and Steve have created a three-day mountain biking experience paired with luxury accommodation nestled in the heart of the Blue Derby mountain bike trail network, offering a true ride-in, ride-out experience.

Derby is a tiny country town with a population of around 200 that’s been getting lots of attention since the Blue Derby trails were installed in 2015. The now world-famous trails cost a whopping $3.1 million to build and they run for over 100 kilometres, catering to all levels of mountain bikers from beginners (green trails), to intermediates (blue trails) and experts (black trails). In their first year, the trails welcomed 25,000 riders and in 2017, 50,000. Derby has fast become the mountain biking capital of the country.

Back to basics

We’re an intimate group of three (Blue Derby Pods Ride hosts no more than eight riders at a time) and before we’re allowed to push off, one of our guides, co-owner Steve, gives us a rundown. I realise a quick read of Mountain Bike Riding for Dummies wouldn’t have gone amiss, but Steve assures me I’ll soon get the hang of it.

Our group splits into two and while the more experienced riders head off to tackle some blue trails, I get ready to take on my first challenge: the car park.

It’s here I get the feel of the bike and practise the two main positions: the ready position, used on easy terrain, and the attack position, used to respond to any challenges on the trail. Once I’m familiar with the positions, I’m ready for a green trail. Chain Gang is a small 500m loop of undulating hills that an infant could surely manage. But I struggle. The brakes are sensitive and I hesitate with every turn and hill, locking my back tyre. It takes a few laps before I feel confident enough to upgrade to the Rusty Crusty and Axe Head trails. Together they cover almost 3km, which doesn’t sound too daunting, but throw in some switchbacks (FYI, a switchback is a turn on a hill that is too steep to be climbed without zig-zagging, also known as your legs’ worst nightmare) and you’ve got a challenge. When I make it up my first switchback I let out a sigh of relief, before realising it’s followed by another, and another, until the top of the hill. By the end of the set my legs are pleading me to stop.

Lunchtime is a welcome relief for my thighs and, surprisingly, shoulders. I seemed to be strangling the handlebars, causing lots of tension. Thankfully, a picnic featuring the finest Tassie produce is the perfect fix. The Blue Pods Ride menu has been designed by local chef Daniel Alps, with even the beverages locally sourced. Craft beer comes from Little Rivers Brewing Co and the wine from Devil’s Corner and Tamar Ridge.

What goes up…

By the time we’re on the trails again I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learnt. Steve is showing me how to get over a branch on the ground: get in attack position, look to where you want to be and make sure your wheel hits the branch at a perpendicular angle. I push off, hit the branch, and then look ahead to see another branch coming my way, panic, brake, and end up flying over the handlebars.

I soon realise this fall won’t be my last. In fact, I lose count of my spills over the three days, and while the first one was a shock, by the last day I’m bouncing back. The biggest victims were my exercise tights – not one pair survived without a hole.

We finish the day rolling down Flickity Sticks, a trail designed for daredevils. There are countless berms – a tight descending corner that has a banked outer edge – and locals are whizzing around them, yelling a joyful “yiew!” as they go. It’s only at the end of the trail that I work up the courage to make my way around one.

The second day of the three is easily the most challenging. Again I ride, again I fall. Feeling defeated, I retreat to the accommodation. The hub – a communal dining and lounge space – is a haven of comfort. There’s foam rollers, a reading nook and a deck with bean bags boasting views of Cascade Valley. The private sleeping pods look over the forest and feature a plush queen size bed to rest your weary body. With no phone reception, the pods allow you to really switch off. “The experience itself is about guests having a moment of great realisation,” explains Tara. “That might come on the bike or in your pod. It’s all about taking in the world and the precious surrounds we have.”

The finish line

Starting the last day well rested, I’m ready for one final challenge. On the itinerary is a 20.6km blue trail called Blue Tier, boasting views to the north coast, crystal clear streams and myrtle beech forests.

Our guides promise it’s a 70/30 split of descent and ascent. My legs are rejoicing and I’m finally getting it. I fly around berms, ride up switchbacks, pedal through streams and over branches (without falling!). I even find myself quietly shouting “yiew!” to myself as I come around a berm, feeling like an almost-mountain-biker at last.

Do it yourself

The three-day Blue Derby Pods Ride package includes transfers, accommodation, all meals and beverages, gear and shuttles and starts from $1,750. Book at bluederbypodsride.com.au.