CHRIS ARBUCKLE - MOUNTAIN BIKING OTAGO

by Insiders Dunedin

Dunedin is full of great places, people and things to do, but until recently Mountain Biking has been one of Dunedin's best kept secrets. Dunedin was not renowned for such activity and was not really on the radar nationally or internationally for the sport. Although this may have been intentional as in the past, you had to be in the know. It's been a hard kept secret considering the time and effort that has been put into the scene to create what others now recognize as an internationally ranked location to ride. 

We caught up with Chris Arbuckle, a man who knows what Mountain Biking in Dunedin is all about. Chris is an Environmental Consultant who runs his own business 'Aspiring Environmental'. Although this is his professional career, he joked to me that, "in my spare time I work, the rest of the time I do mountain biking stuff." 

He is currently president of Mountain Biking Otago (MBO). Chris has been involved with the club since the late 90's when they rebranded to Mountain Biking Otago, previously the Dunedin Mountain Biking Club. Over the past 20 odd years, Chris has had various roles within the club and even now as club president insists his commitment and passion is no different to that of any of the other committee members. After talking further with Chris, I understood what they have achieved has been nothing but a collective effort by a bunch of dedicated souls. Although the club is not the largest throughout New Zealand, many of it's members have put in an extreme amount of volunteer work to establish the mountain biking scene we see in Dunedin today. 

The past 12 years has seen the club take opportunities that were available to create what is here today. Chris gave examples of people like Hamish Seaton, a past president of the club who has poured countless hours and energy into building tracks and securing funding for stuff like dumpers and diggers…. Not to mention the club establishing events that have continued to help fund the building and maintenance of their tracks around Dunedin and Otago. In particular the Naseby 12hr Challenge, directed by Vice President Craig Bates; this is the club's premier event and has been running successfully for the past 11 years with over 750 riders competing annually. 

Historically mountain biking was seen as the 'dirge' of the “Dunner” tracks and trails. Bikers used to bomb walking tracks like the Pineapple and Mt Cargill tracks, admits Chris. Some considered them nuisances, “and we were”….says Chris, but we were also into solutions and what we then offered Dunedin city was the opportunity to create a new track resource to separate the conflict as we knew the sport of mountain biking was going to grow. This conflict has been resolved and then some through the club building many tracks and now some may argue the roles have reversed. It is just as common to see someone walking or running on the bike tracks. 

However, the clubs success can not only be contributed to building great tracks for the city. They have also been responsible for bringing international, and several national events. To name a few, in 2010, they ran the Oceania's International Mountain Biking event, as well as the National secondary schools last year and the South Island's this year along with the usual quiver of local events. Chris stating, "we matured our product to where we stuck to events that we knew we could run with the people we have." They have a firm grasp on what they are doing, and they have a club of riders who are passionate about their sport / hobby. Something Chris acknowledges is critical for their success, it's easy when you love what you do….  He is also on the Mountain Biking New Zealand executive, and it is obvious the work that is carried out by Mountain Biking Otago trumps many other clubs throughout the country. A trend that could be attributed to the attitude people in the South Island or more specifically those in Dunedin hold. People seem to have a 'get in and do it' mentality. Or to put simply by Chris, "they have a strategic plan – it’s called doing stuff."

Despite this success and club support, the biggest challenge for the club going forward is securing continued funding to maintain the resources they have built with club money. The Dunedin City Council have provided support the past two years for track maintenance. $10,000 was provided to help employee someone over summer to keep tracks in tip top shape. However, this is minute in comparison to the value the club has created for the city in regard to the tracks and their facilities they have built. If you consider what it would cost to build, the six notable tracks / hubs MBO are responsible for over a million dollars (see below for the breakdown) of city facilities. An impressive feat for any New Zealand club, even more so considering the majority of these tracks have been built by volunteers through club funding. 

- Wakari Creek - $250k ($30/m)

- Signal Hill - $450k - ($15/m for DH, $30/m for Big Easy)

- Nicols Creek - $200k ($30/m)

- Bethunes Gully / Forester - ~$100k ($30/m)

- Jubilee Park - ~ $15K ($15/m)

- Three Peaks ~ 200 k ($900K – 2m to finish)...

Although built by the Mountain Biking Otago club, they are multipurpose tracks that are there to be used for biking or walking as many do. More importantly, they are tracks that get used and are getting more popular day by day. MBO have been monitoring track use, and their most popular track network is Wakari Creek, recording over a 1000 users a week in the summer months.  The statement, "if you build it, they will come", is a very fitting line for what MBO have done. 

The success the club has seen from building the tracks has given them momentum to engage in other initiatives. To date, mountain biking has been very popular, mostly in the 30+ age bracket. However, to help the uptake of the sport in Dunedin schools the club is a partner in the South Dunedin Cycling Project and working with ex World Junior DH Champion Scarlett Hagen, local children now are put through a great mountain bike skills session.

It is great to see a group of people like MBO getting involved in initiatives and are doing great things for the city. Without these groups of volunteers, the city would struggle to see its full potential. The mountain biking tracks may be a hidden success, but “Dunners” is becoming a world recognised mountain biking location. The club has plans to complete its 'bike park' on Signal Hill and to finish building the 3 Peaks trail that circumnavigates the Dunedin hills. The goal to create a world class location with proper facilities to hold big international events – like World Cup Races, as well as construct a trail with some of the best views to be found in a New Zealand city. 

Mountain Biking Otago thinks big, but deliver on what they set out to do. While this takes time, it means they do it right. They are a club to watch, and you have to commend them on what they have achieved to date. It is a club that can be proud of their members and the volunteer work that they carry out. More importantly, they are a club who has put Dunedin on the international map in the mountain biking world and have created a resource that many will enjoy in years to come. 

If you are interested in getting involved in the Dunedin mountain biking scene or want to find out more about MBO you should visit: 

www.mountainbikingotago.co.nz
facebook.com/mtbotago

If you are looking for mountain biking tracks around Dunedin to ride check out the web app below created by MBO, Pukeko Technologies  and the Digital Office. 

mtbtracksnearme.co.nz

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