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March 2016

Don't mess with the trails, please



Bouncing around a familiar corner in the local trails the other day I came across a young woman who was rearranging deadfall.

The ancient trail was laid out several decades ago, and follows the edge of steep bank through densely spaced redwoods. It offers a view of a big spring, a fair way below, and I once spotted a trout in there. It is a cool place to stop, and it’s a nice bit of trail if you don’t.

There is one spot where the trail takes a lazy curve to the left and drops over a little blind step created by a couple of roots, and lately people have been beelining straight ahead to avoid the tricky bit (and miss the view of the spring). Once a short cut is established, it is hard to shut it down.

We may kick a few things into new routes we spot to try to obscure them, but people are persistent.

The woman I met was very persistent. Somebody had completely blocked the original line, industriously laying branches in the trail and across it to send riders via the new straight line.

My new friend reckoned she was clearing the easy line because otherwise she might miss it. She feigned ignorance about how the trail blockages had got there. I moved them out of way and offered a few choice words about the character of whomever had placed them, and she didn’t say much. She even sort of helped undo the modifications I am pretty sure she had just finished making when I happened along. There were no witnesses and I could be completely wrong about what was going on, so I didn’t remonstrate with her directly. I did point her at a womens’ riding group and a skills clinic.

Going on my merry way I expended the next pile of calories while thinking about how mainstream our sport has become, but also how being a newcomer is not so different to when it all started.

She was out there in that enviable stage of figuring out the basics of what she can do on a mountain bike. She was also route-finding in her local patch, getting started on the mental map she will use for what I hope is a long career as a mountain biker. She will get better at riding, and also more familiar with her choice of trails.

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may not realise yet that trails don’t create themselves. She may even have thought she was doing a public service, wondering why all the dumbclucks before her took a problematic line when there could be a perfectly good straight one.

Lets hope her development as a rider outpaces her ability to find new trails to simplify.


Later in the same ride, and much more annoying, I spotted a brand new sign on a brand new trail. The trail is Tumeke ("too much"), and is designated Grade 4. Some bright spark had scratched a 5 next to the 4, which had an X scratched across it. Presumably this is a person who is up for a Grade 4, but not a 5. The thing is, the trails don't build themselves, and the signs don't erect themselves.

In this town, and most other places, trails come about as the result of a lot of work by volunteers working in their own time, on their own dime. People plan, negotiate permissions, contract workers, work, maintain, trim, drain, etc etc so that a trail system is the result. Signage, if it's there, is an expensive and surprisingly complicated element of the whole picture. 

We can't imagine the thought process of somebody smart enough to choose mountain biking as an activity, but dumb enough to think damaging a sign is the correct response to their own limitations as a rider. We are not bagging riders who can't ride the most extreme trails, we are in that category ourselves. But FFS, if anybody you know starts modifying trails or defacing signs, sort them out will ya?


If you don't hear from me by 7pm...



On Tuesday I received a text which read “Hi. I’m off to ride the Motu trail. They suggest letting someone know cause you know no cell reception etc. so if you don’t hear from me by about 7 tonight it might pay to start looking in the ditches. I hope you don’t mind this responsibility…”

There are several things about this text worth noting.

The first is the time, which showed excellent manners on the part of the sender.

8.21am, on the day of the adventure. Late enough to be unlikely to wake us, and also late enough to stop me  even thinking about immediately packing the van for a quick getaway.

If the text had come the previous evening there would have been a long debate about whether the piles of things waiting to be done in the office could simply be moved to the next day. Of course they could. Things you can’t do on a bike, can probably wait til tomorrow. But that whole dilemma was neatly avoided, we were already too late.

The second thing is the casual term “Motu Trail”. That could mean a variety of things, but coming as it did from this sender, it had to be the big one: 100kms in a loop, along the dunes and up the primitive Motu Road that heads directly into the wilderness from Opotiki, and back down the Pakihi Track, an old stock route that used to be a mission on its own. Even partially civilised by being made into a cycleway, a simple mistake could be a disaster. Some of the “ditches” referred to in the text are 100m deep.

Then there is the cutoff time. At 7pm anything we could do would be practically worthless, especially if our friend had overcooked a corner and plunged into a chasm. By the time we raised the alarm and a posse set out to find her, it would be dark. And we are not talking leafy suburbs streetlight dark. We are talking inky blackness with a good chance of rain.

So whether we minded the responsibility was sort of irrelevant. As this friend sometimes takes the wrong bikeon an adventure, we just advised her to take the mountain bike, and to have a good day.

At three thirteen pm we got a text with a photo of an ice cream, and the message “Whoop made it”.

That was a relief.

We had rearranged the piles of stuff to do without making them any smaller, and we didn’t feel like joining a search party.


The view from the tent



Big piles of dirt get bigger. Famous people appear in random places. Flash-looking vans with branding all over them arrive in town. It’s Crankworx Rotorua time.

Participants limbered up and got their game faces on.

Enduro. Whip off. Speed & Style. Pump Track. Slopestyle. Downhill. The Expo.

Enduro riders taped food to their frames, and reckoned the courses were too easy. Speed & Style competitors were conflicted. Speed or Style? Pump Track riders were pumped. Slopestylers added air to their rockhard tyres. Downhillers dropped a few psi out of theirs.

Expo entrants loaded up on duct tape, zip ties and printed materials, and practiced erecting a poptent with one hand.

Nzo included two other Rotorua creators in our tent. Zerode brought the Taniwha trail bike, and Dancing Moose brought a complete line of bikepacking bags.

This year's Crankworx was dry and dusty. Downhillers ditched the mud tyres, expo people ditched the gumboots.

Zerode was showing a way forward that doesn’t include derailleurs. The Moose was showing a way to go mountain biking that doesn’t necessarily include coming back on the same day. Or year. Nzo demonstrated the dust-shedding capability of our new fabric, by brushing the examples on display every hour or so.

The Pump Track lasts an intense 15 seconds, Slopestyle half a minute. The Downhill can be won in under three. Enduro goes all day. The Expo runs for a mind-bending 5 days, and that doesn’t count packing in and out.

A few of the expo hours were spent eating, drinking, or brushing the mannequins. The balance was spent talking to people.

With variations, we said yes, these are made right here in New Zealand! No, these don’t have any padding, but they work well with these. Yes! Glad you asked! Scuffers are designed for women, look: they have a stretch panel that extends around the hip area. These are called Dobies. They look very simple, and they are. That is what makes them so comfy. 

Meanwhile, the Moose reckoned there was 58 litres of storage in the assembled baggage, and Zerode said, yeah, about the same weight as the bike you’re riding, for the fifty-fourth time.

During the main events the expo was like a ghost town, the roar of the crowd up the hill echoing through the empty tents. Like a tumbleweed, the occasional child drifted through, on an endless quest for free stickers.

A final roar, some frenzied talk on the loud speakers, and a torrent of people were back in the expo zone. Same questions, similar answers, for five straight days.

And you know what? We can’t wait for next year!


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