STORY: Heli's & eBikes?
I can see how this headline might raise a few eyebrows, but please, bear with me.
In November of 2019 I met up with two old friends from the Southern Hemisphere in Queenstown, New Zealand, where Henry van Ash lives. He is one of the people that invented/commercialized Bungy Jumping and made it a global thing and one of New Zealand biggest tourist attractions. He has also been a long time and passionate mountain biker with one of the most impressive bike collections he’s built up over the years. Recently he started a heli-bike company that transports adventurous mountain bikers to the remote back country.
Mountain Bike Hall of Famer, Glen Jacobs, was the other bloke who joined myself and my wife Carmen on this visit. Glen is from Australia and one of the most influential people in the world of mountain biking. His trail design company, ‘World Trail’ has over 60 employees and has built and developed some of the best bike destinations in the world, including Blue Derby amongst countless others. All three of us were equipped with pedal assist eBikes, not so much because we are lazy or old, but because of the fun factor, because of the different ways of riding and experiencing adventure, and new possibilities like riding longer, further, steeper terrain that’s hard to do or simply impossible on pedal bikes.
So why using a helicopter, you may ask? Well, because we had the opportunity and invitation, and to explore the remote backcountry that would be hard to access on regular bikes or eBikes unless dropped off. Outings like this, would normally require multi-days, which would mean we had to bring tents, sleeping bags, food, etc. We have all done traditional multi-day adventures before and they are always lots of fun, but the helicopter allowed us to be dropped off at pretty much any point and then pedal back home, especially in the alpine environment with overgrown and rocky terrain. The harsh alpine grass, rock fields and snow field would hardly be ridable or fun on a regular bike, but on an eBike it is possible to keep momentum in the rough terrain.
A workout was guaranteed, despite the category 1 electric pedal assist bikes; one was wise to conserve battery power along the way, especially when riding a route that hasn’t been ridden before or with the danger of getting lost and having to backtrack which could deplete valuable power from the battery and could leave you in a sticky situation if your battery runs out before the trail does. Full suspension bikes are a must in such technical terrain and the big tyres allow for better traction, not only because they have a bigger footprint/contact area on the ground, but also because they can be run with lower air pressure. One of the most underrated facts about eBike set up is the perfect tyre pressure, which depends on many factors, 1 or 2 psi can make all the difference. I can only encourage riders to experiment with their tyre pressures to find their own sweet spot, which will vary from terrain to terrain and riding style. Highspeed bike park berms and jumps require more pressure than slow and bumpy back country outings.
Queenstown is the adventure sports capital of New Zealand. The town, with its population of 42,000, sits on the shores of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu. Set amongst the dramatic Southern Alps, it’s surrounded by pure nature and wild mountains. Many tourists come here every year, to enjoy the thrills of extreme and adventure activities. They also have a renowned bike park and nearby mountain resorts with world class bike trails. We went on three different outings with the helicopter while we were there. One can preview the route and pick lines as we fly over it. We would scout the terrain from the air, to find the best trails or valley’s that wouldn’t lead to a dead end or unpassable river. I have to say sometimes it’s nice to have ‘friends with benefits, and it felt pretty amazing to have a helicopter at your private service without time restrains - “can we first fly over there and look at the other options” or “can you pick us up half way down the ridge and meet us with lunch” or “how about a quick detour to fly over the famous Milford Sound Fiord”. Trust me these are not regular occurrences or options on any of my normal trips or rides. Travelling this way opened the doors for possibilities that I had not experienced before. My favourite day was when we were accompanied by Henry’s dog, Alfi, who joined us and loved running alongside us, always minding and respecting the bikes. He was a very tired dog at the end of that day.
Riding along endless ridges with breathtaking views with hardly any signs of civilization in sight. We came across some old mining sites and ghost towns, from the days of the gold and copper rush. Some of the old mining trails make great biking trails some 140 years later. On another day we were dropped off on top of an alpine mountain with no trails in sight, we had to navigate and pick our lines through rough rock sections and spree fields, patches of snow and endless ridges that would eventually join some old dirt roads or trails.
On day 3 Henry called the operators at Coronet Ski Resorts, since the bike park and gondola hadn’t opened for the summer season yet, we got permission to fly to the top and put first tracks on the freshly groomed flow trails. These trails are eye-candy and snake down the mountain side with one roller, jump or berm after the other.
Definitely an extravagant experience to get to participate in such a special trip and a great way to catch up with some good old mates.
Words: Hans Rey
Images: Carmen Rey