My last “real” mountain bike ride was at the You Yangs Dirty Duathlon about 3 years ago, and before that I was barely an adult. So, what better way to test out the new stead than by throwing myself down some superbly-crafted tracks in the lowlands of Victoria’s high country?

I’d bought a “secondhand but in good knick” Specialized Carve Expert 2 weeks ago, equipped with front suspension and disc brakes – neither of which really existed when I began mountain-biking at the age of 15.

I’d warmed myself up on Forrest MTB’s beginner trails (with the 8-year old son on his Kona cyclocross). Now was the time to try something a little more challenging. Granted, I’ve never really used suspension forks nor disc breaks nor 29-inch wheels, but how hard could it be?

Bairnsdale is a fair hike from Melbourne, but given I was visiting some young people at a camp nearby, I thought it would be criminal to not use the opportunity. Off I drove, 35 minutes north of Bairnsdale to Mt Taylor MTB Park. The Southern Cross loop at Mt Taylor is labelled “Intermediate” or “More Difficult” than beginner. I thought, “I’m not a beginner – how hard can it be?” Yeah.

The trail starts off with a series of uphill switchbacks that tested my quads, though the SPDs and excellent XT gear changing really helped. So did the wonderfully-built berms on the corners that allowed me to get some momentum going. This long climb gets you up near the top of the hill, and next is a fantastic series of downhill switchbacks. These need a fair amount of concentration, but if you’re a half decent rider you can really let the bike fly, with just a few feather touches on the brake levers. The first of these downhills began with a hill so steep it looked like a drop-off to my “post-beginner” eyes. I promptly got off and walked the bike down; which, frankly, was harder than just taking my chances.

From here it’s more of the same, though I don’t mean that in a bad way: each fun downhill is followed by an uphill switchback grind. There are about 3-4 of this cycle, and then a short technical section before a long single track downhill to the carpark – so much fun!

So, my lessons as a post-40, pretty-much-a-beginner, MTB rider:

  • There’s no shame in getting off the bike when terrified. I don’t bounce like I used to.
  • Bringing lots of water is a must. I’d got a Camelbak only recently and this ride alone justified the cost. I’d forgotten how much MTB riding dehydrates you, unlike cruising Bendigo on the single-speed.
  • Disc brakes are marvellous, but if you’re not used to them (like me), don’t practice while tearing down hill with a sharp berm approaching.
  • Local MTB clubs rock; support them with money or volunteering time. I just did. Gippsland MTB have done a great job at Mt Taylor.