A short introduction to mountain biking in Melrose, S.A.

Mount Remarkable of the Southern Flinders Ranges juts impressively into the surrounding landscape. Nestled in its eastern shadow is Melrose, a town with only 400 residents and the main mountain biking destination in South Australia outside of Adelaide. In 2000 Bicycle S.A. saw potential in Melrose and initiated the development of a trail centre to encourage mountain biking tourism. Two decades later the trails are still thriving.

Melrose is a three-hour drive from Adelaide and just over an hour from our current home base in Yacka. It was my first time riding there and I was pretty excited to be riding singletrack again after a break of a few months. It’s also the first mountain bike ride I’ve done since starting this blog- yay! It’s good to finally have something relevant to write about.

After weeks of sunshine we woke to a rainy and windy morning but by the time we arrived in Melrose it had cleared to a still and sunny day. There are two distinct trail centres; Melrose and Bartagunyah. The Melrose trails are next to the town centre and skirt the lower edge of Mount Remarkable and the Bartagunyah trails start about two kilometres to the south. There’s a few parking options to access the trails but we parked at the Monument carpark which overlooks the town and provide access to the Melrose trails.

As neither of us had been mountain biking in months we decided to take it easy and just check out a trail or two in an afternoon. Knowing that my current fitness level is pretty low I wanted to make the most of the ride by choosing the best trail. The description on trailforks says that “if you only ride one trail in Melrose, make it Dodging Bullets”.

Dodging Bullets is rated as an advanced trail so it was with some trepidation that I decided to ride it. Although I’ve been riding for a few years I’ve somewhat lost my confidence and have been sticking to easy and intermediate trails.

I’m not entirely sure why but for a while it felt like I was getting frustrated or upset on every other ride. As a reaction I’ve been riding completely in my comfort zone for fear of failure or worse, frustration. Even though exercise generally improves my mood I’ve learnt that if I’m already feeling low and I attempt to ride something challenging I’m much more likely to get annoyed or upset if I can’t do it. Many people play sport to let off steam but if I ride when I’m already having a bad day I often just get even more worked up.

So I was hesitant to try an advanced trail in case it was too difficult but decided to give it a go anyway. I have a new bike and it’s more capable than my old one so I wanted to see how it would go on a harder trail. Pleased with myself for deciding to tackle an advanced trail and preparing for some extreme riding, I set out on Dodging Bullets.

Troy on one of the climbs

Ironically it was an easier ride than I was expecting. Not because I’m a great rider but mostly because I’ve attempted (and been unable to ride) other advanced trails that were much more difficult. Although climbing is not a strength of mine I was still able to ride almost all of the uphill sections. There were some tight switchbacks that got the best of me but overall the climbs were closer to what I would expect on an intermediate trail.

The trail comprises of seven ascents and descents. It begins in bushland and before long skirts over a rocky feature with an abrupt drop down an escarpment. This is the highest consequence feature of Dodging Bullets and I walked it. Most of the rest of the trail is in relatively open country and pastoral land. The ruins of an old building are incorporated into the trail which made for an interesting place to experiment on.

Overall the descents weren’t particularly steep and there wasn’t any big drops or features that could catch me off guard. I still rode quite slowly though; I found that the most challenging aspect of the trail was the small loose rocks and dry soil. If the trail was steep and had the same soil type it would be extremely gnarly and difficult to ride. Whereas if the trail was exactly the same but without the rocks and had loam instead of dry dusty dirt it might be rated as intermediate instead of advanced.

I learnt afterwards that summer is the quiet season so it’s probably been at least a few months since the trails have been ridden consistently. It’s also a very low rainfall time of year. I plan to go back so it will be interesting to ride after there’s been more action on the trails to clear away the rocks a bit.

We’re planning to go back to Melrose soon and explore more extensively. Dodging Bullets is a trail with a bit of everything and I’m curious to see what the other trails are like.

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