Trail Stories: Trail Fund helps Gravity Canterbury cater for entire community

Trail Stories: Trail Fund helps Gravity Canterbury cater for entire community

Established in 2003 when free ride and downhill were still king, Gravity Canterbury has done an incredible job of fostering and supporting an impressive network of riders in Christchurch.

And while the club admits its heart still lies in downhill, that doesn’t mean that it won’t accommodate other growing networks of riders.

“It’s a fairly strong club with about 350 members, and we’ve had a consistent number of members since we started,” says club member and trail builder Nick Sutcliffe. “There’s no doubt that downhill racing always has been, and still is, our main focus, but we’ve recently branched out.”

Over the past few years, branching out has meant embracing the growing Enduro scene by creating its own sub-committee and hosting a number of events, including the popular Craigieburn Enduro.

More recently, it has also meant investing in better infrastructure for intermediate riders – the club is currently revitalizing two intermediate trails in Victoria Park, a mainstay of Christchurch mountain biking for generations of riders.

“The park, which is supported by the local ranger service and dedicated and enthusiastic local riders, has a solid network of descending trails, predominantly catering for advanced to expert riders,” says Nick.

“While these expert trails are loved and maintained by a cross section of riders, the park is noticeably lacking in intermediate trails.

“For beginners, there’s a flat forest called McLeans Island, but there’s no real stepping stone between there and the park.”

Nick says the all-too-brief existence of the Christchurch Adventure Park – which has been closed since the Port Hills wildfires in February 2017 – make it clear that there was considerable demand for intermediate-level trails.

Additionally, the number of injuries sustained on the park’s black/advanced jump line demonstrated the demand and need for an intermediate jump line option.

“When the Adventure Park went up in flames, it was quite a blow to the community – over the past few years it almost feels like Christchurch isn’t allowed to have nice things,” says Nick. “But there’s no point in dwelling on it, so instead we saw it as an opportunity to reinvest in Victoria Park and, in doing so, provide something for riders at that level.”

With this in mind, the club intends to upgrade Shazzas Track, a once-intermediate flow track that has needs to be brought back to intermediate level, and Cool Runnings, a jump track requiring a new start and a redesign to make it more suitable for intermediate riders.

Nick says the biggest challenge when building intermediate trails is making sure it’s still fun for everyone.

“You need to build a track where less skilled riders can get away with casing a jump, while ensuring the skilled riders can still have fun,” says Nick. “It also needs to have good sight lines, a good approach and be designed to try and reduce braking bumps.”

He says it’s often hard to remember the importance of those features when you’re experienced, but it’s essential to put yourself back into that space to create the right level of difficulty.

The club believes these trail improvements are worth the investment.

“Developing these trails will broaden the park’s appeal across a greater spectrum of rider abilities and will help fill the void left by the Christchurch Adventure Parks unfortunate and early demise,” says Nicholas. “It’s a great opportunity to appeal to and cater for a new membership base and portion of riders.”

To fund these developments, Gravity Canterbury received funding from Trail Fund NZ and the local council.

“We want to say a massive thanks to Trail Fund and our local council for the support, especially ranger Nick Singleton, who’s helped us through the process for years.