Josef Winkler has a reputation as Wagga’s most “enthusiastic rider”. The 23-year-old mountain biking devotee says it’s all about having the right attitude.
“If something goes wrong, I just keep doing what I’m doing. Just have a smile,” he says with a grin.
Josef is an outgoing advocate for the sport and, like many in the Riverina, travels across the state to compete and test himself on new trails.
“It’s the thrill. Some of the stuff we do is crazy!” he says, before adding, “and it’s also an escape.”
Josef took up riding as a teenager to help him deal with a troubled home life.
“My dad left when I was 10 and what else do you do? Do you get into drugs? Do you get into smoking? Do you get into drinking? I was like, I’ll just go ride a bike,” he says.
“It was an escape then, and now it’s just the thrill and adventure.
“You can go out and ride whenever you want. You don’t need someone else to train. Sometimes I’ll ride with a friend, but usually I’m out by myself just having a good time exploring places,” he says.
Chris Whybro has owned Wagga’s Kidson’s cycles since 2010. He says the sport has grown in the region in the past decade and boomed through the pandemic.
“It’s not just in one area of cycling, it’s pretty much everything and everyone from mums and dads and grandparents to gray nomads, kids and teenagers,” he says.
“It’s good for mental health and fitness, it’s in nature, you’re out of the traffic, it’s just a good fun sport and really popular for the whole family to do.”
He says off-road cycling in particular has taken off.
“Mountain biking in Wagga is the number one, to be honest, of all cycling disciplines,” he says. “It’s definitely extremely popular.”
Wagga mountain bike club secretary Nathan Gregor has been riding for seven years and says he and his family regularly tackle the trails at Wagga’s Pomingalarna Mountain Bike Park.
“There are mountain bikers everywhere. My young bloke goes off by himself now. He’s confident out here,” he says.
“Needless to say he’s had a few stacks, just like I have.”
Josef Winkler agrees that the spills are part of the thrill but explains that technology has helped improve safety.
“My GPS unit is linked to my partner’s and my mum’s phones, so when I have a crash they get a notification sent to them straight away with my exact location,” he says.
Fortunately, he has only needed to use the technology on one occasion while out creating video content for his Instagram.
“I was riding up on Rocky Hill and I’d hit this jump numerous times,” he explains.
“I’m like, I’ll chuck on the GoPro and just head back down the track. I hit that jump for the last time that day and came off and I thought I broke my tailbone.
“The simplest things can cause the biggest accidents.”
The announcement that Wagga’s Multisport Cycling Complex will host two major mountain bike events this year has been welcomed by the community.
In August around 400 riders will compete in the 2022 AusCycling Marathon National Championship (XCM) followed by 130 competitors arriving in October for the 2022 Mountain Bike National Gold Level Cross Country Olympic (XCO).
“It’s crazy!” says Josef. “I never thought that Wagga would have a national level race.”
Chris Whybro hopes it puts Wagga on the map for mountain biking and leads to more growth.
“We can hopefully extend our trails and get some government grants to do more trials. Council has been unbelievably supportive of cycling and they’re doing a tremendous job in promoting it.”
Josef says the future is bright, with more younger riders getting involved. He enjoys the sense of community and broad connections across the region.
“We’re all very well interconnected and they’re all really nice guys. They looked after me when I was a young guy.”