The CamelBak Highland Fling rolls into Bundanoon this weekend swelling the size of this small town situated in the NSW Southern Highlands. The event has a palpable impact on the local economy and demonstrates the positive relationships that develop between cyclists and the greater community.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

A reported 1700 mountain bikers have entered this weekend's main events in Bundanoon. These are the Full Fling (112km), the Half Fling (59km) and the 100 Mile Fling (165km).

With big prize money, and at 12km longer than a typical 100km marathon, the Full Fling attracts a competitive elite field. These riders will push each other to their limits on steep fire road climbs and the winding, Wingello singletrack and the final, punchier trails at Jumping Rock Station.

The winner will need to be fit enough to hold their own in terms of powerful pedalling, smooth enough to save energy on the singletrack and smart enough to eat and drink well. The victor will be one who can still charge home through the final, energy-sapping kilometres.

But that's the elite riders. They represent about three per cent of the field. This is also an event that encourages a lot of other people to give mountain bike racing a go.

The Fling is also a 'gateway' event that inspires a lot of road riders to jump on knobbly tyres and give marathon mountain bike racing a crack. Their fitness gets them a long way on the steep and open sections of the course, and the achievable singletrack is a great introduction to a different side of the sport.

A lot of people who prefer to ride in a social context enjoy being able to experience the route in their own time. For many, it's more enjoyable to keep a feeling of flow on the trails without faster (and sometimes impatient) riders overtaking them all day long, as is often the case at a multi-lap event.

Run by Wild Horizons, the Fling has long been one of a select number of mountain bike events on the Australian calendar that attract a large, mass-participation field. Most of these riders are simply aiming to complete the distance.

But it's more than the course that makes it such a well-attended weekend.

Located half way between Canberra and Sydney, early start times mean most people head to Bundanoon the day before. They book out nearby accommodation, or pitch a tent in a large field used by the local Pony Club. This is a key organisational feature which sees the weekend contribute over a million dollars to the regional economy.

The Saturday schedule has grown to offer as much to take in and experience as the following day's big ticket events.

The Rolloff World Championships kick off proceedings. It is anyone's to win and adds a fun flavour to the pre-Fling fest. How far can you make it without a single pedal stroke? Will it be further than the carbon wheels and noisy hubs on your left? Or will the tall guy with the beer belly on your right take the overall honours instead?

The Bundanoon Dash is run late on Saturday afternoon and is a chance for riders to test their legs on a six kilometre loop that finishes with a very steep, tarmac climb.

Last year, the 'Battle of the Businesses' saw people from the local workplaces dress up in themed constructions to do the Dash as well. It makes for great spectating. As an out-of-towner it brings you into the community and cycling spirit that fills this part of country Australia.

In fact, almost everything riders do over the weekend, where they eat, sleep, throw their rubbish, park their cars, who they ride past at intersections and at feed zones, contributes to several fundraisers that go right back into the Southern Highlands community.

Via direct donation from the events team, or through money raised on the weekend, around $40,000 was given to local community groups after the 2012 event. This year's community groups include local sports clubs not typically associated with cycling (soccer, rugby, cricket and pony riding), the Rural Fire Service, the P&C groups from local schools, the Bundanoon Men's Shed and the Bundanoon Community Garden.

Cycling specific organisations are also involved. Bikes for Humanity will collect and repair old cycling equipment to send to Africa. The Ben Mikic Foundation will raise funds from skills courses for kids held this weekend.

Support from the Fling strengthens the local community and economy. In turn, many people from the community help to make the weekend run with smooth, logistical ease.

As a multi-time Flinger, it's not the course that brings me back each year. It's seeing so many people get into mountain biking through an event like this one. Competitors arrive with a tough race on their minds, and leave having learned a little bit more about mountain biking as an attitude.

Most of all, I like the way this race sets a strong example of the positive relationships within and surrounding the cycling community. This weekend is more than a fling, it is a longer, and far more serious, affair.