Mountain bike tourism booming in Cairns, far north, with events generating $20m this year


Far North Queensland is famous for its reef and rainforest, but it is fast becoming a top destination for visitors testing their skills on two wheels.

Major bike sporting events are injecting millions into the local economy and putting a spotlight on the far north as a bike tourism mecca.

So far in 2022, the far north has played host to a record 11 cycling events.

Some of the events include the “Reef to Reef” four-day mountain bike event, which happened in August, followed by the Gran Fondo bike festival in September, and most recently the BMX state titles in Cairns.

This week, the “Crankworkx” World Tour also makes its mountain bike festival debut in Cairns.

According to a spokesperson from Tropical Tourism North Queensland, the events have generated more than $20 million for the local economy.

The Gran Fondo festival allowed bike riders to ride between Port Douglas and Palm Cove on a car-free highway.(Supplied: Port Douglas Gran Fondo)

beautiful roads

After driving between Palm Cove and Port Douglas, Bade Stapleton came up with the idea of ​​the Gran Fondo bike festival, where cyclists ride from Palm Cove to Port Douglas between the rainforest and the reef.

“I’m originally from down south and when I drove the spectacular Great Barrier Reef Drive, I saw a great opportunity to run a bike ride that gave cyclists the opportunity to enjoy that spectacular road without cars,” Mr Stapleton said.

“People didn’t realize just how spectacular it is up here, not just the region but also the weather, particularly when it’s cold down south.”

The inaugural Gran Fondo event in September attracted more than 1,000 riders from every state and territory and next year plans are afoot to lure international participants.

“This year, we didn’t even bother marketing to the international market because we weren’t sure what was happening with the borders,” he said.

“Cycling is an amazing sport that people will travel for, they have money, and they want to explore the rainforest and the reef.”

Tracey Hannah on her bike relaxing at her home in Cairns
Eleven-time national downhill mountain bike champion Tracey Hannah at home in Cairns.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

Home to a world champion

Mountain bike athlete Tracey Hannah has called Cairns home for almost 30 years and during that time she has won 11 national championships, a junior world championship, and in 2019 she was the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Cup champion.

Hannah puts her sporting prowess down to the Cairns environment.

“Training in humidity is like training at altitude, it does the same thing to your oxygen and your blood,” she said.

“I can 100 per cent say that I would not have achieved the things that I have achieved had I not grown up in Cairns.”

Hannah said bike riding in the far north was given a boost during COVID.

“You couldn’t travel, you couldn’t go anywhere, and bike sales were the highest they have ever been during COVID,” she said.

“Bringing Crankworkx or the BMX state titles to Cairns means that the sport now has a lot more fans and support.

“It’s what we have been saying for a long time — come to the far north and bring your mountain bike.”

Two mountain bike riders riding along the beach with the rainforest in the background
The recent Reef to Reef allowed riders to race from the Coral Sea across the Tablelands, farmlands, bike parks, and rainforest and then finish back on the coast four days later.(Supplied: Reef to Reef)

Bike sports spreading

The Cassowary Coast Regional Council (CCRC) has seen the value of the growing market, and in July it approved funding for a business case to investigate 94 kilometers of proposed mountain bike trails at Cardwell, south of Cairns.

The business case follows a feasibility study by World-Trail, the company that built the Smithfield Mountain Bike Park — the oldest mountain bike track in Australia.

The Smithfield track was the brainchild of world-renowned mountain bike trail designer and Cairns local Glen Jacobs, who has created hundreds of tracks around the world.

“In 1992, we held the Queensland State Championship here in Cairns and the riders said that they had never ridden trails like this before, as they were used to riding on dirt roads,” Mr Jacobs said.

“Then in 1994, we held the first world cup round in the Southern Hemisphere and then we held the world championships here in 1996.

“We don’t have surf and we don’t have snow, so the next best thing is mountains and waterfalls.”

A dirt track cutting through the green rainforest
The Smithfield mountain bike track outside Cairns is considered the oldest in Australia.(Supplied: World Trails)

Mr Jacobs said the rise in popularity of bike tourism had a lot to do with social media.

“If you see photos of golden beaches with coconut trees and you can mountain bike there, it’s very attractive,” he said.

“When they come here there are other things to do apart from just riding a bike.”

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