Canberra women soar to new heights on their mountain bikes

Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, soars as Zoe Cuthbert, 19, looks on at Majura Pines, which the women have helped bring up to scratch. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, soars as Zoe Cuthbert, 19, looks on at Majura Pines, which the women have helped bring up to scratch. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Canberra mountain bike athlete Harriet Burbidge-Smith should be competing in Austria and cross-country champ Zoe Cuthbert should be doing the same in the United States but COVID-19 has them ankle-deep in mud at the Majura Pines jumps. And they kind of like it. Love it, actually.

The pair, who work part-time for Canberra trail builders Iconic Trails, have also been volunteering their time to build jumps and loops at the Majura Pines, a favourite bike hang-out for generations of Canberrans. Harriet started working there alone late last year, literally using a shovel to make the jumps by hand, digging until late into the summer evenings.

Some weeks she spends 40 hours at the site, which she's renamed Majurassic Park (stickers are available), as more and more people have joined her to carve out and pack in challenging and exciting jumps, and as excavators and other machinery have joined the effort, with the support of the ACT government.

"It's lots of hard work but it's fun, though, especially getting on the machines," Harriet "Haz", 24, said.

 Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, flies high with Zoe Cuthbert, 19, at Majura Pines. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, flies high with Zoe Cuthbert, 19, at Majura Pines. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"I'm up all night thinking of ideas. You can build a trail however you want, if you want to challenge yourself or try something a bit different. You can be really creative with it, not many people realise that. You can express what you want to do on your bike."

Zoe, 19, also a part-time graphic designer, enjoys the camaraderie at Majura. "Just good people to hang out with and spend time with," she said.

Harriet has been racing bikes since she was four, first on a BMX and then mountain bikes. She was sitting top 10 in the world last year in Crankworx, the global tour of mountain bike festivals, when she crashed and couldn't make the final events. BMX Australia describes her as a passionate and courageous rider.

Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, and Zoe Cuthbert,19, volunteer their time to make the trails. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Harriet Burbidge-Smith, 24, and Zoe Cuthbert,19, volunteer their time to make the trails. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"I started at the BMX track at Melba at four with Canberra BMX, which is amazing now, there's so much more kids now than when I started," Harriet said.

"I think just from a very young age, maybe two or three, my parents couldn't keep me off a bike so they kept searching for things in Canberra where I could ride and they found the BMX track and took me there. It was like, yeah, couldn't stop me."

Australia's top female junior talent in mountain bike cross country, Zoe proudly displays "Ride Like a Girl" on her Instagram bio. She finished fifth in the world in the junior ranks last year. She competed in her first race at seven, at Majura Pines. "I think I lost my chain and came last but I absolutely loved it and made mum immediately enrol me into the next race," she said.

Iconic Trails owner and rider Garreth Paton says both Zoe and Harriet's work ethic is second to none. And their riding makes them excellent role models, especially for girls who might be tempted to give up sport as they get older. "They're hard workers and amazing riders and my girls just look up to them and are amazed by them," he said.

This story Canberra role models soar to new heights on their bikes first appeared on The Canberra Times.