Derby versus Maydena?
How do you compare these awesome Mountain Biking destinations? Is it George Foremans raw power versus Muhammad Ali’s speed and smarts or is it MacEnroe’s serve volley versus Bjorn Borg’s dogged baseline play or maybe its a theme park holiday versus a week at a shack in a small coastal town.
Right now Tassie has some mind blowing Mountain Bike riding. I don’t have enough international riding experience to say “Its the best in the world” or even the “best in Australia” but I have friends who have cancelled their annual trip to New Zealand because in their opinion “Tassie is better”. I also have a buddy from California who now lives in Derby. He has ridden pretty much everywhere but packed up and moved to Derby after a week holiday. And firsthand I’ve seen the stoke on people’s faces from Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth after riding our trails and it tells me we have something pretty special here in Tassie.
In the last fortnight I’ve been lucky enough to ride both Derby and Maydena. Both in great conditions and at both I was blown away. So how do they compare???
Firstly, if you’re a committed mountain biker with good skills you can’t make a bad decision. Both Derby and Maydena have great trail networks with enough variety to ride for weeks without getting bored. If you only have 15 seconds to book your’ trip or you can’t be bothered reading this article just flip a coin, you’re going to have a great time. Now read on …..
A bit of background
I first rode Derby 10 years ago in The Blue Dragon Race. This was before the Dorset Council embarked on building the current trail network. We rode fire trails, tramways and some hand cut single track built by legends Benny and Timmy. Saturday night camping at Weldborough was the best night on the Tassie Mountain Bike calendar as hundreds of mountain bikers jammed into the camp ground around the pub. Getting from your tent to the bar and back took hours as every step involved a “GDay Mate – awesome day. Wanna beer?”. This was my introduction to mountain biking and the social side was nearly as important as the riding. At the time I thought Derby was a bit raw but so full of potential. I determined to return as often as I could.
My first ride at Maydena was about 5 years ago, several years before Simon French built the Maydena Mountain Bike Park. We rode up fire trails to the top where Eagles Eyrie was a white elephant sitting on top of Abbot’s Lookout. The views were amazing. The ride down was steep and rough and not particularly rewarding. We packed up in the car park as some threatening locals in leather vests with shaved heads and rats tails rode around us on trail bikes. They didn’t say hello. The potential of this area was obvious but I was in no hurry to return.
Let the Battle Begin
Round 1: Style of Riding
Derby is All Mountain Riding and Maydena is gravity. To give you an idea of what this means I rode Maydena with a guy who broke his chain on the first run. He didn’t fix it all day and he seemed to have a great time. I spent most of the day with my seat down and like the guy with the broken chain, if my seat had got stuck in the down position all day I would still have had fun. At Derby you have to earn your turns a bit more but for old guys like me who are now being chased by The Belly, thats OK. There are shuttles to do most of the up bits but the climbing trails are pretty good too. For some people I expect that Maydena is a bit funner but I like both styles.
ROUND 1 VERDICT: DRAW
This is stacked in Derby’s favour. Derby Trails were built by the council to foster local business and the community has jumped on board. Derby has been a riding destination for much longer than Maydena and the new trails have been in place for several years. So, of course the facilities at Derby are better. Between Branxholm and Weldborough the Greater Derby area is well serviced with plenty of accommodation, bike shops, pubs, pizza, petrol stations and a good little supermarket. There are 2 shuttle companies in Derby ( Vertigo and MAD MTB ) and other companies which regularly run tours of the Derby trails such as Phil Exton’s Tasmanian Mountain Bike Adventures, and Adam Campbell’s Big Mountain MTB. Maydena Bike Park is run on a different model. The bike park is a privately owned business. This doesn’t make it better or worse than the Derby model but Maydena Bike Park run the cafe, bar and bike shop. There is private accommodation but from what I can see the community doesn’t seem particularly involved and in general facilities are those you expect in a small country town of 200 people.
However, Maydena’s secret weapon is Hobart. Maydena is only a bit over an hour to Hobart and Hobart is awesome! It has every kind of accommodation great restaurants, bars, cafes, bike shops, supermarkets, breweries and heaps of good mountain biking of its own. If you’re happy to drive for an hour at either end of the day you can stay in one of the coolest holiday destination on the planet. And Hobart has some pretty good riding too. If you want some extra riding either side of a Maydena trip South Hobart, Mt Wellington or The Meehan range are within 15 minutes of the centre of town.
ROUND 2 WINNER: Maydena ( if you stay in Hobart )
Round 3: Trails
This is a tough round. I’m a product of a time and a place where we never talk ourselves up or blow our own horn. But I s’pose I ride alright. I’m no Kaine Cannan or Sam Hill but there’s not much I can’t get a bike down. And for riders of similar ability to me Maydena trails are just about perfect. There are trails where you can just cut loose and fly and there are trails where you can challenge yourself. There is variety with narrow and tight old school style and there are big wide fast swooping trails. Just about everything is steep and I didn’t once get that frustrated feeling that the trails were simply designed to fit as much mileage into the available terrain as possible which plagues most bike parks. I only found one trail I didn’t like, Spirit Quest, because it was too slow, but I’m told its still fun when it dries out and speeds up. The trails are well designed, well made and well maintained. For riders like me the trails at Maydena are the best I have ridden and must rate 10/10. But not everyone has been riding for 10 or 20 years, not everyone is lucky enough to ride every day. Some people are only just starting their mountain biking adventure ( you lucky lucky things ) and I expect that for these riders Maydena may be a dark and dangerous place. The access track off the top that everyone must ride, Skyline, starts with a pitch through a rocky chute ( UPDATE: This first section has been modified and there is a ride around directly from the carpark ). Its graded BLUE and while I don’t pay much attention to trail grading, its a solid BLUE. Maydena is a privately owned facility and they can do what ever they like but i won’t be recommending it to any beginner or intermediate riders.
What about Derby?
Derby has trails for everyone and they are all pretty good. The genius of Derby is that, for the most part, the same trail can be ridden by riders of different abilities and they can all enjoy different aspects. There are plenty of runs for experience riders and there are plenty of trails for beginners and novices. Derby has plenty of terrain and bags of vertical and these are well used to create amazing trails. I probably prefer the trails at Maydena, slightly, but Derby has a better range of green blue and black and has something for everyone.
Round 3 Verdict: Derby ( beginners & intermediate riders) Maydena ( advanced Riders )
Round 4: Atmosphere
Atmosphere, its a wishy washy concept isn’t it? It seems to depend on so many things that just either click or they don’t, doesn’t it? No way. Like everything else it requires planning, skill and hard work. I can distil this in one quick example: The bus trip.
At Maydena, we queued for the bus, quickly loaded up, jumped on and drove to the top. Just like you’d expect, efficient and friendly. Some trips were chatty, some trips were quiet. Thank you very much, no complaints at all.
At Derby the smiling driver and the guide insisted on loading our bikes, “Nah mate, we can do that for you, just jump on and get yourself ready”. Once on the bus a phone was hooked up to the bus stereo and the guide started taking requests and then lead the singing. A bag of Whizz Fizzes was thrown into the back of the bus and everyone was smiling, happy and excited, knowing our hosts wanted us to be loud and have fun. We got to the top and the driver and the guide raced off the bus to unload everyone’s bike. Every bike was handed to its owner with a fist pump and a genuine “All good buddy?”. How do I know it was genuine? One guest said “Im a bit cold” and without hesitation the guide took off his own jacket and handed it over with a “Won’t need this on the bus trip down, find me at the bottom”. Footloose was blaring out the bus windows and the group was singing in time, “Everybody cut, everybody cut…FOOTLOOSE”. Riders set off with huge smiles and whoops and cries of excitement. Talk about atmosphere and all for the cost of a bag of Whizz Fizz. That’s as good as I’ve seen it anywhere! You can be skeptical and say “I doubt that happens every time, maybe you just got lucky” and maybe you’re right but that bus trip was one of the highlights of my Mountain Biking career.
Other riders??? What the? How can you rank a mountain bike destination on what the riders are like? Well, If you’ve been skiing for a while you may remember your first trip or first season. When you made your first skidded snow plow turn you flushed with pride and told everyone at the bar that night how it was the best parallel turn ever made. When you got off your first lift without falling over, you stood taller in the lift line. When you made you’re first blue run you ordered schnaaps for everyone at the bar and celebrated because you were now officially a skier – aaah, happy memories. Derby has plenty of easy tracks and as a consequence Derby attracts a lot of beginners and the town buzzes to the tune of their over the top excitement. The majority of the trails at Maydena are aimed toward advanced and expert riders, which is great ,but the atmosphere is a bit more subdued, the quiet satisfaction of a job well done. In Maydena’s favour is that all the trails finish right in the middle of the base station so there is usually a buddy to give you a shout of encouragement.
Round 4 Verdict:Derby
As I said earlier there is no bad option here, both of these places are great but if Im going to write a review I’d better make a conclusion.
I don’t ride bikes like a game of Suduko, its not some cerebral challenge to be enjoyed alone. And I don’t ride like a master craftsman who completes a great run and savours the moment in quiet satisfaction. For me mountain biking is every bit as much social as it is about the bike. I get as much buzz out of my riding as I do from the excitement of those around me. Both venues are brilliant, both awesome and both worth every second. I slightly prefer the trails at Maydena, and I like the benefits of staying in Hobart and day tripping, but for me Derby just wins in the final round on Atmosphere.
Go to Maydena because it really is great but, maybe go for your birthday. Take 12 mates and create your own atmosphere. Whoop and holler and high five. Ride big fat extravagant lines for the sake of it and fist pump the trees just because they’re there ( the soft green bits not the hard brown bits ). Eat your packed lunch and drink home brew on the tail gate of your ute, telling tall tales of how you nailed your first gap on a jump that was sooo big the cosmonauts on the space station were punching the windows, taking photos and shouting “Guten Biken, Da da da” and how you face planted and ate enough Maydena loam to grow potatos to feed the entire Irish diaspora. Fill your own shuttle bus with all your mates and play The Ramones or Beastie Boys or Kenny Logins or ABBA or Max Bygraves or whatever music gets you pumped and play it as loud as you want. Slap your mates on the back and scream like drunken monkeys – cause your riding some of the funnest trails on the planet.
But go to Derby anytime you can. Quit your job, sell your house, take your spouse or leave ’em behind..Just go!
Hobart Mountain Bike Tours