It’s not often that an event like Destination Trail comes around — pretty much a mountain biker’s version of paradise — so a group of female Townsville riders grabbed the opportunity by the handlebars last weekend. I was fortunate to be one of the five ladies that Top Brand Cycles sent to Smithfield to test the latest and greatest Specialized mountain bikes on the world class trails. Oh, and take advantage of the buckets of chocolates, gourmet food and wine, live music, luxury camping and five-star company — well, someone has to do it…
Travelling up to Cairns on Friday and rolling into Smithfield around 4pm, the immediate impression was, “Wow — this is so well done”. Everything was thought of — from the community board outlining the activities for the day and the welcome packs strategically placed on our beds in our giant glamping tents (complete with everything from t-shirts to toothbrushes), to the decorative fairy lights, food to cater for every dietary requirement, and accessible portable toilets and showers (no need for stealthy bush trips in the night).
Then there were the bikes – racks upon racks of more than $500,000 worth of the latest mountain-biking technology from the Specialized stable. Slightly unnerving when you think that this precious cargo nearly didn’t make it to Smithfield after it was involved in a rollover on the way up, requiring an emergency rescue to get the gear to Cairns in time for the invitation-only event that was drawing riders from all over the country. Phew.
The first night was all about getting settled and meeting our fellow riders (one who was on crutches – hope not a sign of things to come!?). There was a delicious buffet with a roast and gourmet salads, live music and a dangerously large bucket of chocolate on most tables. Despite lots of laughs and high-spirits at the prospect of the day ahead, we all crept off to bed fairly early, wanting to be as fresh as possible for the brand new bikes (literally – as in some hadn’t even touched the dirt before).
Saturday started at 7.30am with a delicious breakfast at base, then we were custom fit to the first bikes of the day (I should note here that we were taught to do things like fit our own pedals and do our suspension, shock absorbers and tyres — very handy skills to have). But, as the Specialized crew explained to us all in the presentation, it wasn’t about understanding the specs inside out (good, because I wouldn’t have a clue); but more about actually getting the wheels on the dirt and comparing how the different bikes and tyres felt. And the difference was notable.
We rode the 6Fattie versions of Specialized’s Rhyme FSR Carbon (dual suspension), Stumpjumper FSR Expert (dual) and Ruze Pro (hard tail); the 650B versions of the Rhyme and the Rumor, and the S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29er. Letters and numbers aside, they were basically described to us in one word as:
All had adjustable command posts that had up to 12 different positions. I’ve never had a bike with a dropper post before and it took a while to get used to, but was amazing on the downhill sections, as we could get right back on the bike and feel in control. Each of these bikes also had 1×11 single-ring gearing (translation: less gears with teeth further apart to create more range, meaning no need for a second or third chain ring and less maintenance/potential issues), plus they all feature Specialized SWAT technology – cleverly hidden compartments that fit a tube, a tool, and pump without rattling or compromising the structural integrity of the frame.
Gill and I also tested out the new 2FO shoes; which come in clip and flat options. We both had flat, and it was amazing how much more your foot stuck to the pedal (compared to runners), which gave me greater confidence getting over obstacles and descending. The clip options look the same, but are engineered to allow for smooth pedal entry and exit. They’d be a great option for transitioning from flats to clip-ins.
Here’s what the ladies had to say about the bikes and the experience about the weekend on the whole:
Gill O’Malley – MTB newbie
Best bit: Managing to finish off the riding with no accidents or injuries [by way of context, Gill — avid road rider, triathlete and accounts manager at Top Brand Cycles — vowed she would never get on a mountain bike and was a tad nervous, but did amazingly well].
Best bike: I liked riding the Rumor 650B the most because I found it nimble around the corners and manageable… although I didn’t give the 29er a good go as I was too tired after riding all day!
Deb Latouf – 10 years plus MTB experience
Best bit: Like all things cycling, the camaraderie. I worked out a while back that one of the main reasons I ride is because I genuinely enjoy the company of the people I ride with. I guess it’s important to select these people well, and Top Brand did a good job of that! Also, to be able to spend the day not looking at your watch, and just enjoying riding for the sheer pleasure of it, was a real treat. Specialized were incredibly well organised and the attention to detail was great — they seemed to have thought of everything.
Best bike: My favourite bike to ride was the 650B. I had spent the five days before Destination Trail at Atherton riding my Fate (which is a hard-tailed 29er), so it was a nice to be on a dually. I found the 650 really responsive and loved the way it handled the technical tracks at Smithfield.
Rose Newitt – One year MTB experience
Best bit: There were so many enjoyable experiences over the weekend. I loved the riding of course on the fantastic trails at Smithfield, but I was also so impressed with the Specialized representatives’ expertise and the time they took to educate us about the bikes we rode. I now know what a chain stay is, how to put my pedals on, set my suspension and pump up my shockies! My bike mechanic/husband is also very impressed that I can talk bike jargon with him!
Best bike: I liked the 6Fattie Stumpjumper. I was surprised at how well it rode up hills and handled tight corners — it’s a very comfortable bike.
Patti Nahrang – Three years MTB experience
Best bit: Where do I start?? It’s a toss up between being spoilt with good wine, good company, and good food AND riding the rock formation and making it on my second attempt after a wonderful display of lifesaving footwork.
Best bike: After riding the 6Fattie and 650B, I’m still a 29er girl through-and-through, as I love the way they just roll over any obstacle. Just waiting for Mike at Top Brand to gift me a carbon beauty.
Carly Lubicz (me) – Two years MTB experience
Best bit: It ticked all the boxes for me as someone who loves doing active stuff with great people, plus enjoying the bonus of a few wines and nibbles (yes, my detox went out the window there). After losing my mountain biking confidence after having surgery last year courtesy of a MTB stack, this trip helped me to rediscover my love of the dirt and the quality of the bikes we rode made it easy to trust them.
Best bike: I really liked the stability and comfort of the 6Fattie, which would be wonderfully suited to Townsville’s rocky trails, but — as far as handling went — my favourite was the 650B. It felt zippy, but also stable and cornered well.
For more information about Smithfield Mountain Bike Park, including a map, see here.