Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

From the depths of the Ecuadorian jungle to Nepal, Australia and Canada, a massive upsurge in global mountain bike tourism is helping turn around the fortunes of small, struggling towns.

“It’s bloody magical,” says mountain biker David Bannear as we survey the view from the top of the Girra trail at Mount Alexander. We’re at the newly-built La Larr Ba Gauwa mountain bike park, 90-minutes from Melbourne, Australia. Below us, framed by trees, a panorama of Central Victoria, all golden-brown hills and ancient volcanoes. “We looked at other mountain bike parks around the world that were successful and all of them showed off a unique landscape,” explains Bannear, vice-president of the local Rocky Riders Club.

In this spot sacred to the traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung, the $1.9 million, 21-mile trail network was built to breathe new life into Harcourt. A pretty town of 900, Harcourt has long been famous for apples and cider, although there are fewer than half a dozen growers now, following an influx of imported fruit. Around 10,000 cars a day used to pass through here on one of the state’s main highways, but they disappeared when a new freeway bypassed the town in 2009.