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True grit: a beginner's guide to mountain biking in HK

Challenge yourself by cycling on Hong Kong's rougher trails, writes Jeanette Wang

 

CYCLING IS A GREAT workout, but you can make it even better by taking it off-road. Not only does mountain biking give you more of a full-body workout, riders say it's also safer than riding on the street.

With all the country parks in Hong Kong, there's no reason not to go. "It's one of these places that you can ride year round, and you're never more than half an hour from a trail even if you live in the city," says Steve Coward, who offers mountain bike lessons and tours through his company, Crosscountry HK.

"There's fantastic terrain and many mountains," he adds. "You can get out and not see anybody for hours sometimes - it's that quiet."

A growing number of Hongkongers are discovering the thrills of mountain biking in the territory. Last year, the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) issued 7,311 mountain bike permits, a 130 per cent increase from 2009. The permits, which are free of charge and valid for two years, are compulsory for anyone who wants to ride on designated mountain bike trails in Hong Kong's country parks.

Lim Hui Min, an International Mountain Bike Association trail specialist, says it's important to grasp basic skills such as slow speed control, steering, balance and braking.

"Mountain biking is 70 per cent fitness and 30 per cent skills," Coward says. "It's a much tougher workout than road cycling, working more of your upper body and a bit of the core as well. If you get tired, you tend to make a lot more mistakes."

Coward usually takes beginners to Tai Lam Country Park. The majority of Hong Kong's trails are too challenging for them, he says. "But at the same time it means you have a steeper learning curve. It certainly helps if you have some instruction and a few lessons."

There are nine designated mountain bike trails in Hong Kong, spanning a total of 113 kilometres, as well as a mountain bike site in Sai Kung West Country Park (Wan Tsai Extension).

The most popular off-road rides are around Tai Lam Country Park, Tai Mo Shan, the Chi Ma Wan peninsula, Sai Kung West Country Park, Lamma Island and the Dragon's Back at Shek O. There are also less challenging routes along water catchments, closed roads and coastal pathways around Plover Cove, South Lantau, Tai Po and Tsuen Wan - though these are mostly gravelled. Because of obstacles such as steps and rocks, most trails involve a mixture of hiking and biking, even for advanced riders.

Here's our pick of five of the best spots.

 

TAI LAM COUNTRY PARK

Appeal: Hong Kong's largest network of trails and roads for mountain biking. There's something for everyone, including the challenging Tai Mo Shan downhill section, the gnarly rock-and-root-infested cross-country Ho Pui trail and the beginner-friendly Tai Lam Chung Reservoir loop.

Getting there: various entrances from Route Twisk, So Kwun Wat Road, Tai Tong Shan Road and Siu Lam Road.

Difficulty: beginner to advanced

 


CHI MA WAN

Appeal: located on the south side of Lantau Island, the coastal trail dips in and out of shaded woods with hidden rocks and large steps.

Getting there: with your back facing the pier, follow Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road to the left for about 600 metres and you'll find the trailhead opposite a concrete factory. Carry your bike up about 40 steps to reach the dirt path.

Difficulty: intermediate to advanced

 

 

SAI KUNG PENINSULA

Appeal: the spectacular views. The Pak Tam Chung trail is demanding, with brutal inclines, killer steps and winding coastal trails, while Sai Kung West Country Park is great for beginners.

Trailhead: for Pak Tam Chung, ride along the road taking the first left towards Wong Shek Pier. After passing a row of houses on the left, look out for a path that turns off the pavement. For Wan Tsai, ride along the road to Hoi Ha.

Difficulty: beginner to advanced

 

DRAGON’S BACK

Appeal: the only designated mountain bike trail on Hong Kong Island, this loop is half contour trail, half ridgeline, with stunning views of the Shek O peninsula. The contour trail is flat and has few obstacles; the ridgeline is challenging with steep slopes and steps.

Getting there: from Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution, climb the steps and ride uphill for a short distance to the trailhead.

Difficulty: intermediate to advanced

 

LAMMA ISLAND

Appeal: this island offers some of the most technically challenging single-track trails in Hong Kong, with steep climbs, technical descents and treacherous rock gardens.

Getting there: take the ferry from Central to Yung Shue Wan Pier.

Difficulty: advanced

 

 


 

NEED TO KNOW

Getting to a trailhead: the best option for a group is to hire a van, which can carry up to five riders and five bikes. Expect to pay about HK$200 for a one-way trip from Central to Tai Lam Country Park. Alternatively, take the MTR with the front wheel of your bike removed and keep to the first or last train cars.

Essential gear: a full-suspension mountain bike makes it easier to ride over technical trails, but a hardtail (with only front suspension) is lighter and more efficient. Wear a helmet, gloves, padded cycling shorts and padded body protection in case you fall.

Trail etiquette: hikers and mountain bikers often share the same trails, and government rules stipulate that hikers have the right of way. Don't go so fast that you can't stop around corners, Crosscountry's Steve Coward says.

Common mistakes: beginners often don't look far enough ahead and use the brakes too heavily, says Coward. He also advises standing on the pedals when going over rough terrain.

Trail difficulty grading system: routes are graded using symbols: white circle (easiest), green circle (easy), blue square (more difficult), black diamond (very difficult) and double black diamond (extremely difficult).

 

USEFUL RESOURCES

Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association (hkmba.org) Everything you need to know , from basic skills to shop listings to telephone numbers for van hires

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (afcd.gov.hk) Provides maps of the designated mountain bike trails in Hong Kong, and also the form for the permit

Action Asia Events (actionasiaevents.com) Main organiser of mountain bike races and other off-road events

Crosscountry HK (crosscountryhk.com) Mountain bike lessons and tours

 

jeannette.wang@scmp.com

 

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