Proverbially speaking, riding a bike should be a doddle. For me it’s more of a wobble. As I take a few teetering laps around the paddock to get the hang of my bike, Gus, my seven-year old, looks on with the hint of a raised eyebrow. He has been practising by riding circuits of the house for days. My preparation involved vacuuming the dusty cobwebs out of my helmet.
We’ve arrived at Ranui Farm Park, a 2,000-acre working farm owned by generations of the Ennor family. The mountain biking trails have been developed in recent years by Trevor Ennor, who joins Gus and I along with his wife, Lisa, and their three sporty teenagers for a guided ride.
We begin on the three-kilometre Bellbird beginners track, swooping down the wide easy path through the paddocks and into a large grove of eucalyptus trees. So far so good! But in between the trees, the track narrows and folds on itself like sheets of fresh pasta coming out of a machine. I begin to doubt my limited abilities on the tight bends; lurching and tumbling off my bike corner after corner. I’m too distracted by the fear of scraping my knuckles against the tree trunks. “You’d have to be a very bad rider to do that!” laughs Trevor as he rides behind me.
As the trail opens up again and our group separates into another wide, brown paddock, I smell the toasty scent of dry grass in the hot sunshine. The tinnitus of cicadas and rasp of my own breath punctuate the still afternoon. Silhouetted in the distance, Gus looks like Kermit the Frog, pedalling with his disproportionately long, skinny legs.
When we stop, Lisa gives me some pointers: “If you look where you want to go you will naturally steer that way. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes it pays to go a little faster to get around the bends.” She’s right.
As we dip through a looping track around one of the farm’s sparkling ponds, a burst of startled sparrows flies ahead of me on the track. Changing gears as I pedal fast behind them, I grin to myself and feel like I’m in a video game. I press my chest to the handlebars and duck as I swoop under low branches. Up ahead, Gus whoops with delight as he catches some air over the purpose-built hillocks.
We pause to catch our breath in the shady relief of a macrocarpa glade, gulping from water bottles and mopping brows. We’re at the beginning of the next track – and this one is no beginner ride. The teenagers shoot off down the valley, standing up on their pedals, their T-shirts rippling in their wake. Gus wistfully watches them go, but the prospect of riding back up the hill again proves too much for both of us, so we choose the dappled, grassy route back to the farmhouse.
Reported by Jo Percival for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue