Track Cycling

Mountain bike trails plan puts Gippsland’s hard-luck hamlet Omeo on path to revival – ABC News

Treated pine bikers do not quite capture the adrenalin-fuelled experience of a mountain bike race.

But for a town waiting with bated breath for the construction of 121 kilometres of mountain bike tracks, the wooden cyclists capture the playfulness, quirkiness, and hope that the small Gippsland town of Omeo is feeling.

Florence de Vries and her husband Martin have been making the sculptures since the track was announced.

“He initially started making them for the bike track. We initially heard there was going to be a bike track here in Omeo and that got the juices going,” Mrs de Vries said.

The ‘Omeo repair crew’ are on call for breakdowns on the new mountain bike trails.(ABC Gippsland: Rio Davis)

A complex set of tracks of all difficulty levels are planned with road access from Omeo.

A pump and skills track is set to start construction this month.

Mrs de Vries said the complex was the talk of the town.

“We’ve been hoping for something to happen in Omeo. I’ve been here 30 years … [and] every time you get a glimmer of hope it’s taken away. Hopefully this glimmer of hope won’t go away,” she said.

Florence de Vries says she’s been “hoping for something to happen in Omeo”.(ABC Gippsland: Rio Davis)

It was only nine months ago that 50 residents of Omeo were evacuated by helicopter as bushfires bore down on the town.

Mrs de Vries had been housing firefighters all summer when Victoria’s first COVID-19 lockdowns were announced.

“I was very lucky. I held it in there long enough.

“I can’t say I’m glad this virus is here, but it gives me a bit of a break to recover.”

Biking experiences planned

Christophe Stevens won the 1,400-kilometre Crocodile Trophy in 2006 — a mountain bike race ending in far north Queensland.

Ending his career on the win, he has since moved just outside Omeo.

“Three years ago I bought this block of land with the plan of starting a cycling company business and now we’re in the midst of opening a shop in town. Hopefully we can get started this summer,” he said.

Mr Stevens grew up in Belgium where he started learning the art of bicycle building and maintenance at the age of 15.

He will use those skills in his new store.

Christophe Stephens uses this wheel clamp from Belgium to assemble his handmade bikes.(ABC Gippsland: Rio Davis)

“The shop will be more like a cycling experience shop, so we’re going to have some high-end Belgian cycling apparel for sale … [and] we’ll be doing some guided tours in the area,” he said.

“The frames that we’ll be offering are handmade, steel frames pretty much like in the old days.

“Back in the day every frame was pretty much built for your measurements.”

Mr Stevens said Omeo’s surrounds are ideal for a mountain biking destination.

“Every time I go out, I’m surprised,” he said.

“We’re building these trails but there’s already so much out here that even locals don’t know about.”

Biggest investment Omeo’s seen

Elected in 2016, East Gippsland Shire councillor Natalie O’Connell has been working on the project behind the scenes for years.

“With the bushfires and then COVID, and the drought, it’s been a fairly tough few years for East Gippsland broadly,” she said.

“Hopefully the restrictions ease soon enough so we can get people back into our town.”

The interest in the bike track is not just local.

Domain.com reported a 99.5 per cent increase in search traffic from July 2019 to July 2020.

“It’s a $4 million project, we’re looking at approximately 120 kilometres of trail, and a pump and skills track that’s soon to be starting construction,” Cr O’Connell said.

“Everyone’s got behind it because it is the most significant investment the town’s seen, ever.”