Mountain bike vollies on track

Digging deep: Vollies on the new track

What does it take to build a top-notch mountain bike trail? Tools, time and a truckload of toil. Louise Scott tags along to Queenstown Mountain Bike Club dig night – to see vollies in action

A simple finger calculation shows a new bike trail on Ben Lomond has taken about 2000 man-hours to get past the halfway point.

Queenstown Mountain Bike Club secretary Nick Coleman is doing the sums.

He counts roughly 20 bike-mad volunteers getting stuck in for about two hours each week, every week, since last November. The track, on Ben Lomond Reserve, got the tick of approval from Queenstown’s council and the Department of Conservation last year.

Since then club members have been digging, cutting and putting in the hard yards, kitted out with spades, shovels, pickaxes and grit.

Trail-blazers: from left, QTMBC’s Kepler Rek, Nick Coleman, Tom Lamb and Leigh Halkett

Coleman is one of 15-odd vollies perched on the side of a steep hill when Mountain Scene clambers up.

Three are coaxing a chunk of root from the ground. About six are swinging pickaxes while having a good natter. And one is further up the hill with a chainsaw.

The intermediate trail is being built around the edge of Queenstown Bike Park, managed by Skyline.

“It is a bit easier and twistier and turnier than a downhill [track]. It is still going to be a fun trail for advanced riders, but will be accessible for everybody with a wide track.”

Things are much easier in spring, he adds.

Heavy lifting: Nick Coleman with Cobus Esterhuyse and Trent Watson

Vollies don’t have to wear as many layers – or require head torches to work. But what is consistent is a cold one after a digging session.

The single, hand-built track is predominantly forest with a small bit of tussock.

Coleman talks technique: “We try not to damage too many roots – for stability. Basically we are benching a trail so we’ll clear all of the organic matter off the top and below it.

“Then we dig into the hill, cutting it at an angle – getting rid of debris.

“With this particular section, we are connecting to the One Mile track, so the idea is to try and kill off speed before you get to it. With the lay of the land it is very steep – so we’re making it windy to slow speed.”

Skyline will adopt maintenance of the trail once complete. That job will fall to Kepler Rek. He’s also making a few changes to Hammy’s Track. It will shift slightly – where the trails meet.

“Pretty much just widen the crossing area and make what is a straight line into some corners which will slow the flow of riders down.

“So when they come to the crossing they are going slower, walkers will see bikers, making it a much safer merge.”

Fellow biker Tom Lamb, who is originally from Scotland, says there isn’t a set job description.

“Everyone does a little bit of everything.”

Club members also chip in with course design ideas.

The club has a few under its belt. Since 2003 it has been instrumental in the development of mountain bike areas including Rude Rock, Wynyard Bike Park, Gold Digger and Huck Yeah.

It also opened Jack B Nimble this year at Seven Mile, featuring berms, rollers and table-top jumps through 250 metres of pine forest.

President Adam Carlson doffs his cap to vollies: “We simply couldn’t do it without them as the cornerstone of building community trails.”

But volunteer Leigh Halkett reckons the hard work is worth it. “I enjoy the physical challenge of it because it is hard work. You dig for five minutes, then rest and chat, then dig another five minutes and have another chat.

“No one is expecting outrageous stuff from you – it is very social. There is a sense of camaraderie among those that come often.”

QTMBC is hosting a sponsored dig tonight. Carlson invites folk to pop along – regardless of experience.

Check out its Facebook page.