She has been named the 2015 Female Mountain Bike Cyclist of the Year, can send her bike over vans and logs and has been a world champion of a sport that is the equivalent of parkour on wheels, yet Janine Jungfels is quite possibly Australia’s least known world champion.
Pete Smith

14 Jun 2016 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2016 - 5:00 PM

Australia’s female sporting stars have achieved global dominance across numerous sports over recent decades, and last year another was added to that list as Jungfels became this nation’s first Trials world champions. Jungfels claimed the crown in the sport, which is also known as Observed Trials, last September at the Mountain Bike and Trials World Championship.

Still none-the-wiser what Jungfels’ pursuit actually is? “Think Parkour on a bike,” says the woman in question. “In other words, using various techniques to get up and over obstacles on your bike, but without putting your feet on the ground.”

In short, the sports sees mountain bike riders cover several sections of a varied terrain featuring such obstacles as logs, rocks, rivers and machinery, trying to accumulate as few points as possible, with points registered should competitors put their feet on the ground. “It is a little easier to explain visually,” adds Jungfels with no little understatement.

Mountain Bike Trial riding grew out of the motorcycle equivalent, and can be street-based, or in Jungfels case, competition trials on a prepared course.

Sounds like an obscure sub-culture? Well, to a degree it is. In Australia, the Trials community is small, and there is only modest interest even in Europe, where bike culture is strong. Somewhat appropriate then that Jungfels’ world title win came in Andorra, the tiny principality far removed from the mainstream tourist trail perched high up in the Pyrenees on the Spanish-French border.

Last year’s win was Australia’s first title at a Trials World Championship, and came with a significant victory margin. Jungfels’ much-awaited maiden win capped her annual European tour in ideal fashion. The Brisbane-based rider spends several months at a time in Europe each year.

It is fair to say Jungfels’ trips around Europe are far more akin to a modestly resourced backpacker, than it does a privileged sports star boasting an entourage and a sense of entitlement. “I road- tripped with people, crashing at people’s places and doing it as cheap as I could,” says Jungfels. “There is prize money, but it is not even enough to cover your costs for the weekend.”

Indeed, Jungfels spends much of year working to raise enough money to return for another summer on the European circuit. Competing internationally since 2009, the 26-year-old is currently preparing for her sixth straight annual visit to Europe.

“Ever since 2011 I have been working, training and saving to compete in World Cups and World Championships and been going back ever since,” she said.

When not in Europe, Jungfels mostly spends her time driving around the countryside performing at rural shows in country towns, showing off her bike skills to appreciative, if uninformed, audiences. Jungfels performs at up to 80 events, traversing the highways and byways of Queensland, Victoria and NSW. “I probably clock up to 60, 0000 or 70,000 kilometres in any given year,” Jungfels says, en-route to a recent performance in Bundaberg. 

It is a punishing schedule at times but Jungfels, one senses, wouldn’t have it any other way.

And surely she is envious of others who achieve sporting success and who are rewarded financially, commercially or with media recognition? Not a bit of it. “I received some recognition at home within the cycling community,” replies Jungfels with a trademark laconic response.

“There is no Weet-Bix sponsorship! Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if the sport was a lot bigger than what it is, but that is just the nature of the sport.”

When not travelling around the countryside Jungfels says training remains a focus. “Ideally, you need to do cross-training as a supplement to your bike, so gym work and cardio, and making sure you have your endurance levels up.”

All the hard work is building a platform for this year’s world championship title defence in Italy. Typically, it is again being held off the beaten track in Val di Sole, Trentino, in Italy’s relatively remote north-east.

Jungfels says the sport, which is mostly popular in western European countries such as Spain, France and Germany, is not likely to grow to a significant level in Australia anytime soon.

“Their (Europe’s) denser population makes for a better environment for the sport to grow,” asserts Jungfels. “Less people in Australia are exposed to it.”

And unlike Mountain Bike, don’t expect to see Observed Trials in the Olympics anytime soon. “It doesn’t have the momentum yet to be pushing for an Olympic sport,” Jungfels says.

“It is a hard sport, and you need a lot of patience to get to a decent level. A lot of people don’t have that, and that is one of the downfalls of our sport.

“Some people call it crazy. If you enjoy a challenge, it is a good sport for you.”