There must be downsides to life in a provincial town. Views of countryside and forests in all directions are all very well, but some of the opportunities available to big city kids are simply not there for their country cousins.
That cuts both ways, though, especially if the forest you can see at the edge of town is full of trails. Having a huge and growing trail network on your doorstep goes a long way towards making up for any lack of big-city amenities if your life goal is to be a great mountain biker.
Maybe your life goal gets that way because the trails are there? That’s a chicken and egg kind of discussion which really can’t be solved, but the procession of talented mountain bikers hailing from small town New Zealand is seemingly endless.
Cam Beck took his first ride in the Whakarewarewa Forest when he was eight years old, and he was hooked right then and there. Tagging along with his parents, he quickly caught the bug to test himself in events. Entering cross-country races from the age of ten didn’t result in instant success, but it didn’t put him off racing, either - it just set the hook a little deeper.
For the next few years, he honed his skills, and by his early teens he was well up in the field at any race he signed up for. As enduro events gained momentum, he gradually moved over to the gravity side of life. Each event was a learning opportunity, and small successes led to bigger ones. With every passing season, Cam became more determined to give the sport a real go.
Getting tight with a local bike shop is a key factor for anybody intent on competition. In terms of equipment, bike racing must be among the most complicated athletic endeavours there are - especially at the pointy end of mountain bike racing. So many elements need to be working at their best - besides the obvious one, which is the person on top of the machine. A relationship with a shop that has your back takes a while to establish, but once made it is a symbiotic thing of beauty. The shop gets a customer who will keep coming back, and the rider gets a team behind him to make sure everything runs sweet on race day. Nzo / Ride Central is a locally owned independent store with a comfy lounge-room aesthetic that Cam has called home base since he got started.
Cam’s home is a quarter of an hour southwest of Rotorua, in the heart of an area offering some of the best road riding anywhere, deep in the Waikite Valley. If the forest wasn’t so well-endowed with trails, Rotorua would attract people to ride the roads out there. Plenty of locals do just that; quiet tar seal leads riders through farmland and patches of forest - Cam makes use of the valley roads on a weekly basis. Gym work three days a week, and at least five rides in the forest, rounds out the workload under the watchful eye of coach Mark “Cabin” Leishman.
Mike and Sandra at Hyperformance Hardware gave him good deals on the bikes he rides; an Ibis Ripmo for enduro, and a Santa Cruz V10 for downhill races.
Cam has been able to get some great results under his belt, the best being a win in the Under 17 category of the 2020 edition of the Giant TOA Enduro at Crankworx Rotorua. That result would have put him second in the U21 bracket. He scored a second place in the Downhill in his age group at the same event, with a time that would have put him 13th overall.
Consistently finishing in the top three or four in National level races is a great start, but if you want to find out how good you are at any type of bike racing, you have to go overseas. That is as true for mountain biking as it is for any other facet of the sport.
Dozens of young New Zealanders have cut their teeth at the local, had some success at the races, and followed through with a go at a racing career by taking the trip to Europe. Most of them have what looks like a pretty good time, some of them stick at it for quite a few seasons, and a select half dozen or so “make it”.
This year, Cam had locked in the programme for his first foray offshore.
He is way ahead on his schoolwork, and the outline for this year was to take some time out to travel to Taiwan and Australia. An Asia-Pacific EWS round in Taiwan and an EWS qualifier at Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps would have been a great experience and hopefully provided handy points for future race entries. Some EWS rounds and a downhill World Cup round were the target in 2021, but things did not go to plan.
This year has not turned out like any of us expected it to, and Cam is no exception. The Coronavirus pandemic has made an international race programme difficult, if not impossible. Events have been canned, the risk of travel is much higher than usual and leaving New Zealand for a short racing trip to several countries is out of the question.
For Cam and other young kiwis on the brink of a serious go at a bike racing career, or the people already in the ranks of the professionals, it is a real challenge and a situation with many more unknowns than usual.
Planning a campaign is never easy. The broad outline for Cam still includes a red hot go at international racing after high school is behind him. Results will help him decide whether to put racing on the back burner until after uni or push further study back in favour of more racing.
Whatever the global situation dishes up, we are sure Cam Beck has a bright future in bike racing, when the time is right.
Words: Gary Sullivan
Images: Cameron Mackenzie