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February 2014

A BIKE LIFE AND T SHIRTS AND HOW THEY INTERSECT

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A couple of weeks ago we had a visit from a high-profile couple who have made a life together in mountain biking. Search Anka or Sven Martin on your interweb thing and you get millions of results - a good chunk of them will be this pair of dirt surfers who have set up shop in New Zealand for the few months of the year when they are at home.

Carving a space for yourself in the top level of mountain bike riding is a real achievement, in one of the world’s fastest growing recreational activities there are thousands of talented people trying to do just that. Doing it as a photographer is possibly even harder, not many people can put the pieces together to make a life behind the lens work - we are lucky enough to know a few and the work rate required is pretty scary.

The odds against a married couple getting there, one as a rider and the other as a photographer, must be fairly long. These two are doing it, and make an inspiring pair.

It was good to discover they already had a pair of Nzo shorts each, but a session discussing the real world requirements of Enduro racing lead to a small pile of Nzo Ts heading Anka’s way soon after. These people lead frantic lives: within a week of our meeting they had competed at the Dodzy Memorial Enduro and then headed to Chile for the Andes Pacifico. At both of these events, and for several subsequent photography trips, Anka has been wearing her Scuffers along with an Nzo custom printed t shirt.

We have always thought of our Ts as a fun thing to make and a good thing to wear around the joint. The venerable T shirt is a product which can provide a go-to get-up for several years before having the print cut out and grafted into a quilt. The remainder can be used to transfer dirt and grease from a bike into a bin.

The idea of wearing a T for riding has never been high on our radar, but a look around the startline of the recent 2W Enduro showed that quite a few pretty serious looking entrants were looking street: ts were in evidence, even at the pointy end of the field.

Mountain biking can be a thing we do for fun rather than to see how much discomfort can be crammed into a ride up a hill. For bouncing down a trail just for laughs, a t shirt and shorts is an outfit to consider.

Anka takes hers to the winner’s circle.

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SIDEWAYS AGAIN

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When we were kids, there was a thing we liked to do on our way home from school.

There was a park we could shortcut through that always extended the trip home by half an hour. In that park was a playing field with a bank at one side, that dropped towards a footpath. The bank had just the right angle of descent to allow the rider of a bike with a back-pedal brake to execute a sustained slide in the manner of our idol, Ivan Mauger. The bank terminated in a low rock wall that was non-negotiable, and the desired performance was to slide to a halt in contact with the wall, the friction of the grass having overcome the the speed achieved on the paddock and the additional gravity assistance of the bank, at the correct moment.

Usually we came up short, once in a while the run would be perfect, and about as often contact was made with the wall at sufficient speed to catapult the rider on to the footpath. This was exceptionally funny, unless you were the victim, and would usually mean the session was over for the day.

Fast forward to this century, and when it comes to playing on bikes, little has really changed. A bicycle speedway event as part of the Rotorua Bike Festival attracted children of all ages, from pre-school to retirement. While there was no bank to slide down, there were two tight left hand turns joined by straights of sufficient length to get up enough pace to make the turns problematic. Oh, and getting up to that pace became an issue pretty quickly too: the races were four laps long, in the age-old tradition of speedway races everywhere. Sprinting for a couple of seconds before heeling over into a corner doesn’t sound that hard in theory, but doing it eight times per race is something best left to 12 year olds.

Or World Cup downhillers, who stacked the open final.

A side note on our long-ago speedway efforts: we once tested out a bowling green near our favourite park for slideability, and nearly got kicked out of intermediate school for our trouble.

The Bike Festival Speedway event was held on a bowling green, right in front of the iconic Rotorua Museum and Blue Baths. A bowling green! And we were allowed to do skids!

 

THE TIMBER TRAIL WITH A NUMBER ON THE BARS

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As proprietors of a small mountain bike outfitter in the sunny South Pacific, we get our share of sponsorship requests. We weed out the stuff that is of no earthly use in promoting our stuff, or is of no interest to us personally. We like events that will appeal to people like us.

Last weekend we were a sponsor of the inaugural Nzo TrailBlazer, an event that followed the Timber Trail from Pureora to Ongarue. This event aligned with our requirements for a weekend diversion so perfectly that we are kind of surprised we didn’t think of it ourselves.

The location is amazing (we have ranted about it before): rugged country with a mix of huge original forest and cut over areas that offer great views, historic constructions along the way, some of which form the basis of the trail, and modern constructions that beggar belief when they appear out of the jungle. There are a range of campsites and accommodation at various spots along the route. The trail itself is not particularly difficult, but if the full monty is undertaken it is long. 85 kilometres, clearly marked on posts... 85 of them. Some of them seem much more than a kilometre apart. Some of them blur past almost like lamp-posts. It is mostly mellow singletrack, with some sections of 4WD track, and it makes a big day out for anybody. The organisers gave us plenty of distance options, brilliantly choreographed to get us all to the finish at the beautiful little Ongarue school at more or less the same time.

I lined up on the start next to a legend of New Zealand cycling, Jack Swart. The last time I did that was nearly 40 years ago. After we had finished laughing at each other, we pinned our ears back and set off through the trail. With my dubious fitness I figured that if I had any possibility of being semi-competitive it would be in the twisty flat stuff at the start. Anybody who knows me is familiar with my habit of taking off like a robber's dog as soon as anybody says go. It's in my DNA, I can't help myself. This time there was a sort of tactical plan in play. Go until they catch me, probably after the flat twisty bit, then have a little sit down, eat a Square Meal, set off again at a sensible pace. As it turns out the kilometres clicked by and I only got passed by one rider, and he was a whippet that was doing the 45k half-distance version of the event. Because nobody else caught me I had to burrow along at my best pace all frickin day, which meant that afterwards I sat with Jack for a long time without moving, while we slowly sorted ourselves out via another sponsor's excellent contribution of Waikato Draught. In case it sounds like I won something, never fear: there were two start groups, and all the fast people were in the other one which left an hour later. Even I can hold off some fast people with that much head start on a fairly flat course.

The school gang put on a barbie, free drinks were on hand, the marae next door put down a hangi. The sun shone, the local kids (and some of the riders) splashed in the school pool, and people sat around deconstructing their rides for just long enough before prize giving and the trip out of the heartland back home.

The whole thing went seamlessly, organised by another of the greats of New Zealand cycling, Stephen Cox. Ably assisted by his family, this might have been his first go at an event for mountain bikers. He nailed it. We are crossing our fingers he runs it again next year, so should you. And next time, get down there.