The Mountain Bike Life

Tony “Darb” Ryan was once an out-of-shape smoker with knee problems.

Five years ago, when he bought an el-cheapo K-Mart bike to get fit, he had no idea how much it would turn his life upside down.

Goodes Road
Goodes Road, D’Aguilar National Park


I recently had a few beers with Darb at home, and we talked about mountain biking and what it means to him.

Darb loves recording videos of his adventures on the bike, and I’ve included snippets from some of them at the end of this article.

Why don’t you sit in on our conversation?

(Translation note:   When Aussies talk about “The Bush” they’re not talking about a shrub.  They’re referring to being out in the forest, in the wilderness, enjoying being outdoors).

Neil: How did you get interested in mountain biking?

Darb: Basically I wanted to get fit.  I’ve played a lot of football in my time and damaged my knees.  I didn’t enjoy running very much.  I had recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and (like many people in their mid 40’s) I was also a bit overweight. Also, I’d just given up smoking.

All of these things provided a good incentive for me to get fit.

I thought I’d I just get a bike and start riding.  I bought a K-Mart “el-cheapo” bike and rode around on the local bike paths.

I eventually got a bit sick of that.

My cousin was into Mountain Biking so I thought I’d try and get out in the bush.  I joined the North Brisbane Dirt Dogs Mountain Bike Club and had a few social rides with them and have loved Mountain Biking ever since.

Beerburrum East State Forest
Beerburrum East State Foirest

As a kid we used to go out playing in the bush.  I love camping, and riding my Mountain Bike reminded me of when I was a kid.

I’d going out riding in the bush, listening to the birds, watching the wildlife.   I just got hooked and kept going.

Neil: What keeps you riding now?

Darb: I think it’s a lot of things: the fitness, the comradeship you share with different people,  different characters you ride with.

Plus we often explore different places – I really love that.  It gets frustrating at times when a ride doesn’t go as planned, but that’s all part of the fun.

Some places you could never drive to or walk to because it would take too long – I love being able to ride to those places and see them.  It’s great!

A lot of the time I like to push myself to keep my fitness up.  I also do a bit of training at home.

Sometimes work interferes with my rides, which is a bit of a pain 🙂

Enjoying the view
Spicers Gap

Neil: What sort of places do you like riding?

Darb: The best places are the ones that have the most scenery.

It’s hard to ride up some hills, but I like to see what’s at the top.  Going back down is good fun too.

Some of the scenery at the top is just amazing that’s what I like.  Then you get down into the valleys as well and see the creeks and the rain forests…

Just all of it – it’s so amazing.

There is so much to see here – and stuff is so close and easy to get to.

The other good thing in this part of the world is that you can ride it all year round.  Where I come from in Tasmania you can only ride six months of the year because of the weather.

Are you sure this is the right way?
Harland Road

Neil: Can you tell us about one or two memorable rides?

Darb: Memorable rides???  Coming down Harland Road with you.  We didn’t ride much because it was too rough.  That was a “bush bashing” ride that was pretty memorable

Spicers Gap was memorable because there was so much to see, especially on the top of the mountain, as well as a bit of cultural history.

Our ride to Walloon was good fun because it involved a lot of different people. I enjoyed riding out, then coming back on the train.

I enjoy them all.

Neil: What sort of bike do you ride?

Darb: I ride a hard tail Giant XTC 29er.

I’ve only ever ridden a hard tail.

I’ve only had the 2 bikes, and really like the 29 inch wheels on the XTC.

It does get a bit hard on my backside sometimes, and when I sit on a couple of the full suspension bikes they feel really good, but I think that from a maintenance perspective there’s a lot less than can go wrong with the hard tail.

I like to do as much of my own maintenance on my bike as I can.

Broken Cleat
“Bike Repairs”

Neil: Does it cost you much money?

Darb: I don’t think it costs me a lot.  The way I look after my bike reduces the amount of problems that I get.  I regularly degrease the chain, oil it, maintain the forks and that sort of thing.

To save money I buy components cheaper online and replace them myself.

While I do like to support the local bike shop, I don’t go there all the time.

Mountain biking isn’t cheap – but there are a lot more expensive sports you can get into as far as costs go.

Neil: Where do you hope to go with Mountain Biking over the next couple of years?

Darb: I’d just like continue what I’m doing and gradually improve my skill set.

I’m still learning a lot about the technical aspects of Mountain Biking – how to corner properly, how to position myself on the bike and other little things like that.

Moving from clip-ins to flat pedals is a another new experience which makes my riding technique completely different.

Neil: Why?

Darb: I had problems with my feet.  They’d get sore and numb because of my foot placement.  My feet always had the same point of contact with the pedals.  Plus, I had problems un-clipping on occasion – as we all have!

Since I’ve switched to flat pedals I’ve had  no more problems with my feet, and I’ve found it saved me a couple of times from crashing because I can get my foot down quicker.

The other thing is that I find I can climb hills better.  I know a lot of people say the opposite – but I find that because I can reposition my foot on the pedal, I can engage different muscles and climb the hill better.

Neil: Tell us about the races you compete in.

Darb: I’ve raced in “The Epic”,  a 50 km annual race at Old Hidden Vale south west of Brisbane.

I’ve done that race 3 times, but I’m not sure I’ll do it this year because I haven’t done the preparation.and the race is on in a couple of weeks time.

For me it’s not so much a race against anybody else – it’s more a race against myself.

There’s also an 87 km loop, but I didn’t want to do that – I think that’s a bit too tough! The 50 km course takes me a bit over 3 hours which is a hard effort.

It’s full on!  My average speed is about 17 km/h which is a reasonably hard pace for me to keep up.

“In 2 Adventure” Presentation.  (Photo: Gaz Hopewell)

I’m also in a social team of three that competes in an off road triathlon.  I do the Mountain Bike leg in that race.  It’s just a bit of fun  – four races during the summer.  You get to meet different people and have a bit of fun, although we won the series last year.

I’m not really into racing; I do a couple of them, but it’s more to give me a incentive to train a bit harder.  I wouldn’t want to race more often.

I just want to go out and ride in the bush!


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