Mountain biking numbers have doubled across Australia in the past six years, and while some regional economies are cashing in on the tourism opportunities presented by the boom, a lack of trails in one South Australian town is prompting local riders to take matters into their own hands.

Data from the Australian Sports Commission indicated 470,000 people are now participating in the sport of mountain bike riding, double the number of 2018.

Fifteen-year-old Port Lincoln resident Beau Hood is one of them.

Beau is part of a group of 50 adrenaline-seeking Port Lincoln teenagers who regularly ride mountain bikes around town and on one particular local trail.

“It’s the only thing I do for recreation,” said Beau.

Moves afoot to remove Fort Hell track

For more than 25 years, Port Lincoln’s mountain bikers have utilised a space behind a graveyard at the top of the town that the biking community calls Fort Hell.

It is a mixture of privately owned and crown land, with a downhill course that features a number of jumps and tracks.

But now there are concerns Fort Hell could soon be lost to mountain biking, with workers recently seen removing parts of the track.

Beau said the impending closure of Fort Hell would not stop mountain bikers riding in Port Lincoln.

“We’re thinking about moving to the hill behind the dump because it’s the highest elevation without housing on it,” he said.

Beau Hood has dreams of becoming a professional mountain bike athlete.(Supplied: Beau Hood)

AusCycling manager for government strategy, Nick Hannan, said it was great to see so many people helping to build mountain bike courses, but “they need to be built in the right location and with the permission of landowners”.

“We encourage councils to work with their community,” he said.

The Port Lincoln Council was asked to comment on the situation at Fort Hell, and whether it was considering building a track in the area considering the growth of the sport, but it did not respond.

Other regional councils cashing in

In SA, councils are looking to take advantage of the growing popularity in the sport.

Cleve mayor Phil Cameron said the council had employed a professional trail builder who had identified an area in the district with high potential for events.

“We have the landscape and the resources for it. The experts think it will go well,” he said.

“We are looking at extreme sports, we want to attract tourists from interstate and overseas with the space. We are looking at something which would fit in with an extreme sports company who could hold extreme events there.”

Kimba Council has also discussed initial planning for a longer-form, self-guided mountain bike trail, the Outback to Ocean Trail, which could run from the district to Streaky Bay.

Mr Cameron said the council’s idea in Cleve was based on the success of the tiny rural town Melrose, south of Port Augusta, which has more than 100 kilometres of mountain bike trails and its annual Fat Tyre Festival.

“The example at Melrose shows how successful mountain bike riding has been in attracting tourists,” he said.

Bike Melrose president Don Norton, who operates a tour business in the town and is a former deputy mayor in the region, moved to Melrose nine years ago with his family so he could ride in the area.

Bike Melrose president Don Norton at one of the town trails. (Supplied: Don Norton)

Mr Norton said the sport provides a “massive” economic stimulus to the town.

“On a lot of normal weekends the influx of people into the pubs is chock-a-block,” he said.

“It’s not just the hotels or accommodation owners, they have to get tradesmen to work on their properties. There is a flow-on effect.”

Significant investment into mountain bike trails in Tasmania’s Derby transformed the former struggling logging town into a booming tourism location.

It was the mountain bike community in Melrose that enticed Port Lincoln local David Probert to move to the town and work at a mountain bike shop.

The 32-year-old, who learned to ride at Fort Hell as a kid, said it was “disappointing” Port Lincoln City Council had not committed to building a dedicated mountain bike track in the town.

“Considering they are pushing for tourism it’s a wasted opportunity,” he said.

“There are lots of places they could have it.”

Mental health benefit 

Potentially more important that the economic opportunities the sport can bring is its impact on mental health.

Beau said mountain biking contributed to his happiness and that it “just clears up my whole mind”.

Bike Melrose president Don Norton says trails around the town, like this one, attracts many tourists each weekend.(Supplied: Don Norton)

Bike SA chief executive Brett Gillett said this aspect was even more important in small towns where there is less infrastructure. 

“Young people [are] now spending so much time indoors and online instead of in healthy, active pursuits,” he said.

“Cycling has been shown to have a tremendous positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing.

“Bike SA maintains the position that it is more important than ever that infrastructure to support and encourage positive physical activity for everyone becomes a priority for governments at all levels.”