Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

St Helens

Blue Derby has ten years of history and three (or more?) Enduro World events behind it. St Helens is only 50 km away on the east coast of Tasmania and has put in a big effort to create a trail network in the past few years. I couldn't go all the way to Derby and not spend a couple of days at St Helens.
What a contrast to Derby! It was sunny, dry and rocky rather than sodden and grey. The views from the trails almost always include the ocean - love it. If I had to characterise the whole network in Canberra terms, it is like a gigantic Bruce Ridge. Nothing really steep, everything a little meandering, and the character of the soil and trail depends exactly where on the hill you are.
St Helens might be the only place I've been that puts gap jumps on the side of green trails, and blind TTFs with consequences on blue trails - in BC these things would be marked or push the trail to black. You're 100% fine if you stick to the main trail line. But as soon as you start partaking of the optional extras to the side, you can easily get caught out on a first go. Right at the bottom is a jump over a big tree stump that favours a line into the trees - and those trees are very scarred making me think many have taken the preferred line. One blue trail had numerous rollover features, but suddenly they throw in one that has a tree stump in the run off or make it a gap jump rather than a rollover. These are all fine if you know - but blue trails aren't meant to have things that require that knowledge.
Worse than Derby is the tendency for trails to go up and down. Even the jumps trails have some big ups in them. Every descent trail becomes a jump track - we chose to ride the black trail Icarus because the description said it was a technical trail. It started out with some nice technical challenges and then it was jumps. The trail that most people seem to ride is Send Helens and it is the main jumps trail of the network - I didn't bother to try it. On the advice of one of the professional trail maintenance guys, my first descent was Old Salty Dog. It runs down a ridge, which is actually super fun and the views are great, but then it goes into the wet valley below the ridgeline and does a couple of big climbs to finish off. It's just a weird choice for me to put some big climbs at the end.

While St Helens is a proper town (restaurants, grocery stores and services galore) compared to Derby, it isn't (yet?) a big MTB destination so the shuttles only operate if you can get 4 people together for the bus to run, or you show up during a weekend or holiday. None of the above applied to me, so I was pedalling up every time. The elevation gain is similar to Stromlo, but with all the climbing and then descending and then climbing some more, it ends up being double the metres gained and 3 times the duration. Which is fine if an XC ride is what you want.
Like at Buller, the trails are connected loops. You can grow your own adventure this way by continuously connecting to the next loop until you've had enough and then come back on the other side of the loops. Again, I think they built this network on the assumption everyone would shuttle up and not ride up. The proper climbing trail, Garn Up, takes the better part of an hour to access due to the combination of distance and climbing before it. And it is by no means direct.
At the end of a week of riding my legs only felt up to one summit ascent. The second day we stopped at the top of Icarus (under the cellphone tower, which you can see poking through the trees from the trailhead - and interestingly only a few metres shy of the actual summit in elevation terms despite there being loads of pedalling in between the two).

There was nothing at St Helens that called for an Enduro bike, and everything that proclaimed bring a small bike. We got caught by a guy on a ten+ year old MTB (very short, very steep geometry - very fast up) and never saw him again. We plodded up the climbs carrying travel we didn't need to go down.

These trails are really fun. But get "climbing" and "descending" out of your head before you arrive. It's an intermix of both all the time. Stop to take in the views. Some are really special. Appreciate the great trailhead facilities (picnic tables, parking, toilets and showers, coffee shop that wasn't open when we were there) and amazing signage - you never lack for knowledge of where you are, where you're going or where you'll end up.
They also built a trail called Town Link. It runs from the centre of town to the trailhead. It runs along the ocean and through the forest. Once you leave the beach and head into the trees it is a gentle climb all the way to the trailhead. What becomes very clear is that this is a really fun, but quite gentle, descent. The only one of the day without any climbs tossed in. And if you pedal, you can go very fast down the Town Link. Luckily we weren't taking it when it was busy as it is the only bidirectional trail in the network. And it is quite narrow in places. You couldn't go fast at midday on a weekend I suspect. We met a nice local who rides his e-bike out to the trailhead and back every day for some exercise. He wasn't in a rush and I'd hate to come around a blind corner when he's coming the other way.

Oh, and the seafood in this fishing port was amazing. Highly recommend St Helens for a visit/ride.