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July 2013

Cross dressing

Head300713On Sunday we took part in an unusual event. Imagined by its creators as a mountain bike race, it was 100% on road. But as most of that road was unsealed, and some of it was fairly bony with solid rock protruding through the gravel, it was not a road ride as we know it. Starting and finishing in the surf town of Raglan, the course took us around the edges of the forest that covers Mt Karioi, a volcanic lump that looms behind Raglan’s famous lefthand break. Based on advice from friends I prepared the road bike with fresh tyres and a tune-up.

My road bike is not the kind people race on. It is hand made in Otahuhu, and it features geometry more suited to touring than racing. It is designed to allow fat tyres to fit, and has a range of gear ratios that allow me to climb any hill without humiliation, admittedly at a postman’s pace. Its creator is David Benson. We have been racing bikes together for more than a few decades, if you can call what we do ‘racing’. Mt Karioi was the latest episode in our long series of bouts.

The Benson (bike) is perfect for backroads and likes a bit of gravel for variety, but I do worry about wrecking it when I find myself taking a short cut across the forest and end up on Split Enz. So when Gayle offered me the loan of a cyclo-cross bike for the lap around Mt Karioi, I took it. Cyclo-cross is the new singlespeed, apparently, but there is something about spending an hour in oxygen debt while performing undignified gymnastics in front of baying spectators that leaves me unlikely to sign up. If I wanted to experience a cross bike, this was the day.

At the place we occupy in a race these days, there is a wide variety of competition. In this event it was really wide: fit-looking fellows on singlespeed mountainbikes, women on top-shelf cross country race bikes, pink-faced men on cyclo-cross bikes (that would be me). The contrasts in experience, mount and fitness were brought into focus by the race itself: unlike a mountain bike race, where riders are very quickly sorted into a long procession, or a road race, where the glue of aerodynamics creates bunches, this race was a constant series of passing manouvres. The unsealed roads were closed for the day, and the multiple lines made passing easy. There was no drafting, or not much: clear forward vision was required. The singlespeeder on the 29er might be left behind on the steep climb, but he might come back again on the corrugated twisty downhill. The woman on the carbon xc bike might not like the fast curves on loose gravel, but here she is again on this grind to that ridge, and there she goes. I wonder if we will catch her before the finish?

I spent the entire 45kms being dropped by DB, and slowly catching him again. It was the longest 45kms I have ridden I think, the only bits that were not uphill were attention-grabbing, teeth-rattling downhills. It was also one of the more scenic. The whole event was really well organised by the local community, there was even a bar at prizegiving.

The cyclo cross bike was more fun than you would think, and my road bike is dressed for an outing which can come another day.


little did she know

Head180713At Nzo we are more or less always working. I can’t go on a bike ride without it turning into a long term product test, a market share survey, or a focus group.

On the other hand, we are almost never ‘working’. Say we won lotto. Or you each decided to spontaneously email 5 of your friends and tell them they can’t live without the world-renowned luxury of Dobies. And they believed you. I would probably still get up in the morning and do this. And later on, this. I just might not bother with printing them on t shirts.

A side effect of this blurry boundary between work and the other stuff is that it can look like we don’t do much of anything, so we get invited on midweek excursions. Lately I have joined an exploration squad headed by Simon the DoC ranger, to find more places around here that would make good mountain biking venues.

This week’s effort was hugely entertaining, but unlikely to attract many bike riders. We took about 4 hours to cover 10 kms, but that included a side trip on foot up a steep sided gorge just to make sure that a mountain bike trail in there would be too difficult to build and maintain. It was a ride of extreme technicality. By which I mean really good, really really good, and completely unrideable unless you are a ninja.

Three hours in, at about the 5km mark, we had forded a stream after dropping down a ridiculously steep ridgeline for a long time. In the jungle beyond, we met a group of school kids, hiking to the hut we had passed some hours before. They were all dressed in green, and all stood in a row to one side of the trail, bent forward under their packs, like hobbits. They were cheerful, curious about us, and looking a little shell-shocked. One of them said “have fun!” as we parted company. As an adult, being told to have fun by a school kid is worth bottling.

Anyway, some way further along we met the rest of the party. These were a smaller group, in all sorts of trouble. The girl in the lead looked at us despairingly, as if she appeared pathetic enough our bikes would turn into helicopters and rescue her. Their dreadlocked custodian was tailing the posse, looking way too relaxed for somebody resonsible for 15 teenagers in the wilderness. As we completed our passing manouvre in the tight confines of the trail, the girl in trouble yelled “good luck on the hill!”. She was talking about the ridge they just climbed over, which was a definite walker for us, but only about 20m high. Little did she know that they were in for a 200m climb to a long ridge walk, followed by a decent trot down a root-infested to a hut with no mattresses. We wondered how the rest of the day was going to go for the rasta in charge.


What i saw in the park in the dark

On Tuesday night I saw three beautiful things in the forest. Well, more like three hundred, and at one point perhaps three million, but back to the main three: in the carpark, while layering up, I heard what sounded like a flock of tropical birds. It turned out to be a group of women gathering for a night ride. It is good to see adults cheerfully animated about anything when most of the population is masticating the evening news, so it was a beautiful thing to see four women fizzing about taki ng themselves into the forest on a cold night to ride their bikes.

One of the husbands was also on the loose, so he and I teamed up for our own little adventure. Kev’s been riding mountain bikes for as long as anybody, he went racing in the States in the first wave of kiwis back in the 90s. Derailed for a while by work, life, and those pesky motocross bikes, his mountainbike career is now back in full swing. His good wife has entered him in this weekend’s N-Duro (without consultation) so he is even back to racing. We stopped in a pitch black clearing to fix a flat, and Kev produced a minor monologue on the provenance and excellence of his 29er singlespeed: who he had horse-traded with to get it how it now stands, how great the handling is, what an all-around good thing it had turned out to be. And, even better, what he was going to do to it to make it even more awesome - can’t tell, it’s a secret! For somebody with as many years into an activity as Kev has, to be this excited about a hardtail with no gears is a beautiful thing to see.

We parted ways after a satisfying lap of the woods, and I dawdled up to the top of Tokorangi, which overlooks town. Rotovegas sparkled below, stars covered the sky, and the distant mill hissed and clanked, producing clouds of steam, lit from underneath, that billowed out of the forest.

A good time to turn off the lights and stand there feeling lucky.

Another rider was approaching, his light bobbing and weaving as he crawled up to the high point. Turned out to be Blair, another person that has been rolling around the woods for longer than most. He reckoned he was out for a quick ride before dinner, and was headed where I was, down Corridor.

Blair went first, because he’s faster, and staying behind revealed the third thing of beauty: a good rider travelling fast in his own pool of light, which disconnected from the earth as he hit each jump, becoming soft and vague, and leaving him hanging in the air for a long time before rushing back up to his wheels as they touched down, and gluing him into the next berm before dropping away again.


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