Words: Lester Perry
Photography: Cameron Mackenzie

Taking a line down the centre of the upper south, I’m gliding over the Nelson lakes, checking out the snowcapped mountains around Lake Rotoiti, spotting trails in the surrounds and beginning to wonder what conditions in Christchurch will be like. Continuing south in clear skies, I’m live-routing trails through the hills, debating to myself if humans have even set foot on those peaks, let alone a knobbly tyre. Oh look, a high alpine lake.

Soon the pilot announces we’re about to start our descent into Christchurch, and within minutes we go from a ‘barely a cloud in the sky’ scenario to a “heck, we’re fully socked in the cloud! How the heck do the pilots see where they’re going?!” situation, with all faith put in the altimeter.

What were mental images of fanging down dusty trails, basking under crisp blue skies are now nervous butterflies in the pit of my stomach – was this a mistake? The unknown almost consumes me as I nibble the last of my bite-sized cookie and sip the dregs of my inflight coffee. Conditions now appear to be somewhat unpredictable.

“I’ve got 48 hours off from the world, man. I’m gonna blow steam out my head like a screaming kettle, I’m gonna talk cod sh*t to strangers all night, I’m gonna lose the plot on the dancefloor. The free radicals inside me are freakin’, man!” Jip, Human Traffic, 1999.

My trip south won’t be as hedonistic as the lads from Human Traffic would have had, but Jip’s comment portrays the vibe perfectly, as I await my arrival into Christchurch. I’m headed south for a bit of a pre-season ride camp – although maybe it’s post-season, seeing as it’s closer to the end of summer than the start. An opportunity to try some new things, test some new gear (see our Pirelli tyre review in this issue), take a quick break from the daily grind and hang out with mates on bikes – that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I’m here for a good time, not a long time. It’s not Whistler, but time away from the daily grind is what I need.

When it comes to getting the right weather, trip planning in winter is always a roll of the dice. At the end of the day you just have to commit and deal with the fallout, should you have to. In this case, we’re dealing with low cloud, drizzle and temperatures lower than ideal for this central North Islander – although surely nothing a Christchurch local doesn’t deal with on the regular. And anyway, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear – right?

I’ve been riding and racing mountain bikes for almost 30 years – yes, I’m that old – and the bikes have changed and evolved as much as my life has in that time. I’ve never been one for testing or trying anything too different from the norm; my bikes sit pretty much stock as they come out of the box. After a couple of seasons of feeling a bit stale on the bike, it was time to mix things up and try some new stuff. After all, if you keep doing the same thing you get the same result. Even if you’re not racing, we all want to be the best we can be on our bikes. Even the act of trying new things, finding out they’re not for you, and reverting back to the status quo can help elevate your game; a renewed sense of freshness, or the confirmation that what you’ve been doing is in fact the right thing to do.

After a quick bike build and mounting up the fresh Pirelli Scorpion aboard my, as yet unridden, mullet setup (27.5 rear, 29” front), it was off to Christchurch Park for some laps and to get acquainted with the trails. Low cloud clung to the houses heading up Dyers Pass road, and my stomach sank right into my Merino socks; conditions were not ideal. Buck up buttercup, there’s work to be done and the opportunity to get away to the Mainland and ride doesn’t come frequently.

I’d met up with local trail hustler, Nathan Petrie, to show me around and get a local’s lay of the land. I had limited hours on the ground so there wasn’t time for the admin needed to figure out where I was heading, or waste time on trails that weren’t what I was chasing.

We did a lap down ‘The GC’ DH track to throw the tyres down precisely what they’re designed for – it’s a good mix of rocks, steeps, plus some speed and even bike-park style sections. Right from the get go we were on slippery hardpack – not conditions for inferior tyres! The fresh Pirelli’s hooked up well and gave us the confidence to push on down the trail. A couple more laps, then the sun dipped, the shadows grew long and we called it a day.

A catch up with Christchurch-based family over dinner, solving the problems of the world, followed by a night well slept at the Novotel, and I was set for day two on the trails. This would be another opportunity to put the Pirelli’s to use on slightly different terrain than the previous day. A Supreme breakfast, a long black, and an oat flat white – yes, a trip like this tends to revolve around food – we were hyped for the day.

I’ve not done a tonne of riding around Victoria Park, but every time I visit I’m astounded by just how many trails are crammed onto that hill – there always seems to be something new. Maybe it’s the out-of-towner in me seeing everything anew?

We took a couple of laps down who knows what trails – I was merely following the wheel in front, trying to keep it upright as we slithered through multiple rock-strewn chutes, caught by the trustworthy berms at the bottom. Although the conditions weren’t ideal, sharing the experience with mates made it all worthwhile regardless, and the trails, although wet, were plenty manageable and safe provided we kept a lid on our speed. The change from my usual mid-North Island conditions was rewarding and reminded me why trips like this help keep things fresh and exciting.

A few tweaks to my setup, a few extra PSI here, a few less there – things were looking up, until we realised we’d not had lunch and the day was drawing on. A detour over to the Sign of the Kiwi Cafe had us nervously tiptoeing inside, attempting not to leave a wet, muddy trail on the floor behind us. Our hosts weren’t concerned, beckoning us to take a seat by the heater, but we knew our place so headed outside to the deck. After devouring coffee, cake and a piping hot sausage roll the diameter of my arm, we headed over to the crowd favourite, Gnarly Nun.

A few post lunch laps through the upper rock slabs gave me the opportunity to get a feel for my new setup on unpredictable but solid terrain. Luckily, after the tweaks made to my setup – and the Pirelli’s rubber compound – everything felt surefooted and Nathan and I confidently rode a few laps through the sections – unscathed regardless of the dismal conditions.

An out-of-towner visiting gives the perfect excuse to show off your favourite spots to eat, and each time I’ve visited Christchurch on a riding trip I’ve been treated to some of the best IYKYK spots. This time around, Cassells Brewery was the dinner spot. Our small crew dined like kings. I took on the chicken burger (highly recommend), while sampling a freshly brewed Tropicana Hazy IPA… old habits die hard. I must have missed a trick though – the rest of the team went with a perfect winter option in the Double Cream Milk Stout, which seemed like a meal in itself!

Before the sun was up, my trip was over. An airport coffee and buttery croissant ease the pain of heading back to normality; knowing I’d had a good 48 hours living the dream. Just a few hours later I was sat back at the desk of my day job, reliving the lines ridden over the previous couple of days, and excited to put some of my new found freshness to work on local trails.

Christchurch was a good time. I didn’t talk “cod shit to strangers” nor “lose the plot on the dance floor”, but the Free Radicals in me were “freakin” for sure.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #111

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