Getting on your mountain bike to find the next Hong Kong cycling star
Surge in new cycling tracks across the city is a boon to growing number of enthusiasts, but they hope trails can be set for all skill levels
They may not have won an Olympic medal, but the recent buzz surrounding home-grown cycling star Sarah Lee Wai-sze and mountain biker Chan Chun-hing has reinforced the growing interest in cycling sports in Hong Kong.
Their achievements have captured the attention of locals and put a focus on developing youth athletics in a city obsessed with exams and financial gain.
Nick Dover, director of trail development at the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association, said interest in the sport was peaking.
“Mountain biking seems to be on everybody’s radar. Inquiries about trails and races have been the most I can remember,” he said. “We even had a few emails from overseas racers asking about events, pro riders and amateurs.”
Steve Coward, owner of Crosscountry HK, which offers mountain bike lessons and tours, also said interest in mountain biking had skyrocketed.
“It’s really popular. I’ve seen a big increase in mountain bikers year-on-year,” he said.
The sport’s increasing popularity has coincided with a rise in the number of cycling events. The Hong Kong Cyclothon started last year as a way to bring a major international sports event to the city.
The government is looking for other ways to keep interest going in cycle-related sports.
Writing on his official blog last Sunday, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po vowed to implement projects to improve Hong Kong’s cycling and mountain biking scene “as soon as possible” in the hope it will help promote the sport and nurture future star cyclists.
Earlier this month, the Civil Engineering and Development Departmentannounced the awarding of a HK$7.1 million consultancy contract to Jacobs China for “detailed design and construction supervision” of an expansion of the mountain bike trail networks on south Lantau.
The expansion in Mui Wo and Chi Ma Wan will add 6.3km of mountain bike trails to an existing route. The development will also connect two trails in Chi Ma Wan and see improvements to existing routes, as well as the addition of technical features such as berms and rollers.
A 4.5 hectare training ground near Lai Chi Yuen Tsuen on Lantau will also be constructed, according to the department.
The expansion plans have been welcomed by mountain bike enthusiasts, but they warn they must take into account riders of all skill levels.
“The [existing trails] are really great, because we’ve got fantastic country parks in Hong Kong, the scenery is amazing, but the trails are very technical,” said Dover, whose association has been in close contact with the department on the new trails.
“Some of them are very difficult to access. Sometimes you have to hike your bike up. Even on some of the most popular trails, like Tai Lam [Chung] Reservoir ... it’s considered a beginners’ trail, but there are stairs, some areas where there are cliffs and drop-offs into the reservoir. It’s very dangerous.”
Sustainability should be a top priority in developing new trails, according to Dover.
“The trails should last for a while, given the climate conditions in Hong Kong and the amount of users that will be riding on them,” he said.
“Soil erosion is the issue. When the trails are wet, [mountain bikes] dig into the trails and sometimes they can scar the trail quite badly. So the trails have to be built and laid out in a way so the water can disperse and run off the trail quickly and safely.”
A spokesman for the department said sustainable development of mountain bike activities was a key design principle in setting up such trails.
“The gradient and cross fall of the mountain bike trails will be designed such that surface water will be drained away to avoid [trail] erosion [over] time,” he said, adding that natural materials such as stones and soil would be used to form the trails.
Following the elimination of mountain biking permits by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and as word spreads about Hong Kong’s trails, mountain bike tourism is also on the rise. “About 60 per cent of my clients are from overseas. Some book a trip [to Hong Kong] just to mountain bike,” Coward said.
Kenneth Lam, owner of mountain bike equipment shop Gravity Reaction Cycles is seeing a steady increase in popularity for the sport, but he is cautiously optimistic about an increase in sales once the new trails are completed.
“I’m not really confident in [an increase in] sales ... I’m looking forward to see after the trail is finished. I hope it will help,” he said.
Lam echoed calls by other mountain bike enthusiasts in hoping the trails would be designed taking into account the skill sets of all riders.
Another of the government’s plans to promote cycling involves the connection of two sections of cycling track totalling 82km. They will cover 22km from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun and 60km from Tuen Mun to Ma On Shan.
The Tuen Mun to Ma On Shan track is expected to be completed in 2020, while the other is set to be completed in phases, with the Tuen Mun to Yuen Long section to be completed by the end of this year.
While the plan is considered by many as a “green” way to enjoy recreation, it will ironically lead to the felling of thousands of trees. Green groups are concerned that under the plan, more than 3,000 trees will have to be axed to make way for the trail.