Extreme Trail Building in Hong Kong
When most of us think of Hong Kong, we assume that with 7+ million residents and so many huge skyscrapers that there would be very little open space and very few trails. Well, that is half right, there are heaps of people and tall buildings but the topography is so rugged that all of the major development and most of the people reside along the coast.
Imagine hundreds of trails, ancient trails as they are called, created by villagers over hundreds of years tending their crops and livestock. These ancient trails typically run up and down ridgelines in a fall line manner, however there are also some bench cut trails on steep sideslopes that are a true testament that you can build trails anywhere if you have time, money, and “were before the time” of environmental regulations.
We have been working on the flanks of Tai Mo Shan (TMS) where Hong Kong Mountain Bicycling Association (HKMBA) proposed an amazing lift-accessed trail system back in the days. Tai Lam Country Park is truly blessed with plenty of elevation and 5,370 hectares of land; managed by Hong Kong Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD). With all this land you might think our possibilities were endless. However, after extensive wandering I came to the realization that nothing “trail related” is ever easy in Hong Kong. The topography is simply too steep for sustainable and economical construction. Don’t get me wrong, trail construction is possible, in fact there are numerous examples with existing historical trails.
However, these trails are plagued with soil erosion and evidence of landslides. The slope stability issues were likely caused by the clearing of trees during the Second World War and an annual rainfall of over 100 inches. Mix in a handful of hidden cliffs and poisonous snakes, then pock the area with hundreds of Japanese war tunnels and fox holes. Of course, don’t forget the scores of gravesites and make sure you stay at least 30 meters away and are preferably up hill of the grave so not to mess with the fung shui of the deceased.
Even if you can build trails on the steep hillsides, consider the injuries that might result from riders falling off the edge of a bench cut trail on a 125% sideslope. See the photo of Jill and where she ended up after one slight dab. Envision yourself falling or rolling down the hill, crashing through thick jungle vegetation, Black Cobras and big spiders, and more rocks than you can shake a broken femur at.
The situation in Hong Kong is not unlike the situations we have observed in our own backyards. You do the math. Take thousands of 25-35 kg, downhill mountain bikes with riders of all levels, fully clad in armor, blasting at high speed down steep hills (20-40% grades), packed with hikers and villagers from toddlers to 90 year olds and you have a classic recipe for user conflict.
Consider also that Hong Kongers like to hike in “intimate” groups of 20-30, often playing amplified music of Chinese Opera or the hikers are totally unaware of others with their headphones clogging their awareness of their own lack of safety. One day we even observed a hiker, watching a DVD while he walked, hmmm, I wander what he was watching.
Most of the time the bikers politely slow down and the hikers scatter randomly, ushering the most common greeting of “josan, josan”. This is most often a pleasant meeting, and most hikers actually cheer on the bikers with a "look of shock and awe”. Not surprisingly, the problems of conflict are likely coming from 1%; we have seen it play out the same way in the states hundreds if not thousands of times.
So that’s why we are committed to Hong Kong indefinitely, to enhance trail experiences by minimizing user conflict through proper trail management. Be aware that our involvement would never have come to fruit if it was not for HKMBA. Their persistent perseverance has been the catalyst and pedals in keeping Hong Kong moving forward.
Now that our team of HKMBA/AFCD/IMBA has evolved it is a true ally situation and we have made numerous steps forward. Our destiny seems to be set in concrete, so to speak, and most everyone feels the refreshing enthusiasm and positive energy. The future of mountain biking is extremely bright in Hong Kong thanks to HKMBA and AFCD joining hands, picking up tools, and simply doing the right thing!