Meet the King of the Mountain (Bikers)

1 August, 2017

Adventure trailblazer Tropical North Queensland next month steps up as the mountain bike capital of the world, welcoming the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships (5-10 September).

What's also worth celebrating is the fact that the destination itself – where Mother Nature's wonders never cease – played a key role in putting one of the world's fastest-growing recreational sports on the map, globally.

Sure, the birthplace of mountain biking (MTB) is generally regarded as Marin County, Northern California, but the birthplace of the 'Maker of MTB Heaven' is, without question, Tropical North Queensland.

Meet the King of the Mountain (Bikers), Glen Jacobs.

Currently overseeing final upgrades to the world championship course (notably, a 25 metre jump on the white-knuckle Downhill section) at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park, just 20 minutes from Cairns Airport, this seventh-generation local is like Yoda in MTB circles.

Through his company, World Trail, based at Smithfield, Glen has created every world cup, world championship and Olympic course in Australia and hundreds of recreational tracks and trails in more than 20 countries.

His resume even includes a stint as the first official track designer for the International Cycling Union (UCI) as well as being the only Australian inducted into the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Importantly, Glen's love affair with mountain biking and sustainable trail building grew out of his connection to nature in the only corner of the planet where two World Heritage-listed icons meet –the Wet Tropics Rainforest (including the Daintree) and Great Barrier Reef.

In the 70s, long before the International Cycling Union (UCI) recognised mountain biking (in 1990), he began exploring Tropical North Queensland's lush jungles and jagged ridges with school mates on the back of old modified postal bikes, mapping out what would later become purpose-built, sustainable 'flow' trails.

Then, as now, it was always about the adventure. Where the trails would lead – to creeks, waterfalls, through rainforest and sugar cane fields.

Glen was also deeply influenced by stories from his grandparents and parents who grew up on a property in Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tablelands. Of note, his grandfather had a close connection to Aboriginals who lived on the land and walked with them on an old trail that went over the Palmerston Range and down to Innisfail.

“The Aboriginals always found the best route – the easiest or flattest ridge line that you need when dropping over cliffs,” says Glen.

“So, that always hit a chord with me, from stories of my parents and grandparents on the farm with these trails that used to go on an adventure somewhere.

“I remember as a child – I must have only been in Grade 1 – drawing a little pyramid kind of hill with a trail going all the way from the bottom to the top, with a bicycle on it. Then, when I was in Grade 5 or 6, we had land out of the back of our house in Cairns, and I'd go and rake trails all the way through the bush.

“It was always about where the trail would lead you and the adventures you go on.”

By the early 90s, Glen, as the then president of Cairns Mountain Bike Club, started forging serious trails for local riders – well over 50 downhill courses, in fact, within 30km of Cairns and hundreds of kilometres of wilderness trails.

Today, the region boasts a network of more than 700km of documented MTB trails, catering to all levels (from first-timers to pro-riders) and traversing some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Check out Ride Cairns to browse all options, from Cairns to Kuranda, the Atherton Tablelands, Cassowary Coast, Port Douglas and Daintree.

Glen and his mates also turned heads when they slung their bikes beneath a helicopter to take on the world's highest natural pyramid south of Cairns – believed to be the first ever Downhill Heli-bike drop.

Word soon spread. In Europe, the International Cycling Union was so impressed with Glen's work that it not only opted to base early world cup and world championship events at Smithfield (1994 and 1996 respectively) – a park Glen designed, now regarded as the highest profile rainforest trail system in the world – but to employ him as the UCI's first official track designer.

The one-time sign writer, who moved to Europe in 1997 for a five-year stint, designing dozens of world cup, Olympic and world championship courses around the world, still pinches himself.

“Actually, I can tell you the day it happened [when I pinched myself],” he says. “I was outside Rome sitting in this little café and having a cup of coffee and something to eat, and I just burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

“You know, it must have all just dawned on me. Here I am sitting in this foreign country building trails, doing what I used to do as a child. Before then, I'd never really thought it could be a job because I didn't think like that at the time – I'd just gone off on my merry way for 20 or 30 years doing what I did.

“And so I realised that day 'Holy Hell! I'm doing this and somebody's paying me and flying me around the world and I'm building world-class trails and Olympic trails and this is what I always really liked – that somehow, it was always a dream of mine!”

Today, Glen's biggest dream is the creation of the jewel in the world's MTB crown. A shared-use walking/mountain bike trail, stretching 76km from Palm Cove to Port Douglas, snaking through pristine rainforest (complete with waterfalls, hidden swimming holes and beach access) and running parallel to the famed Captain Cook Highway (itself considered one of the world's most spectacular coastal roads).

Cairns Regional Council and Douglas Shire Council are working together on the iconic project which is hoped to become a global attraction for adventure tourists. In May, a concept plan prepared by Glen's company, World Trail, resulted in Cairns Regional Council approving $50,000 for next-phase feasibility development. A working group has also been established including traditional owners, stakeholders and officers from council, state and federal government level.

Estimated to cost $19.9 million (construction), the project – currently named the 'Wangetti Trail', could generate a conservative $18.3 million per year to the local economy, based on annual visitation of around 20-30,000 mountain bikers and 10,000 walkers.

The concept plan also foreshadows a full range of on-trail accommodation options from luxe retreats to treehouses, glamping and five campsites (max capacity of 40 campers per site). It recommends a fee only be charged for overnight use of the trail (proposed $40 per person per night to access campsites), with no charge for day visitors.

For eco-adventure seekers the proposed trail promises the ultimate escape: a two day/one night mountain bike adventure or six day/five night hike.

Of note, the concept plan also tips its hat to the fact Tropical North Queensland has earned its stripes as a global mountain bike Nirvana for world-class competitions, with parts of the new trail able to be incorporated into existing events as well as generating 'unique new events, for example trail running or adventure racing'.

In the interim, don't miss the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park (5-10 September) – just one of more than 100 of Australia's best live events in the best destinations, as showcased on the It's Live! in Queensland calendar:

At Smithfield (a park open all year for recreational riding) be sure to check out Jacobs Ladder, a feature named in Glen's honour. Or, better still, ride it with him. You only have to ask! As he explains, a true mountain biker will 'never say no'! It's an unwritten MTB code.

On your bike! Visit Ride Cairns to map your own adventure and mark your calendar for other mountain bike events in Queensland.

Psst! Mountain biking is the new skiing! In the next edition of Queensland Stories, we reveal après-ski has nothing on après-MTB in the tropics…


Name: Shelley Thomas

Word Count: 1331

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