The two sides of progression

It’s a topic that’s headlining wherever you look in the mountain bike industry at the moment: women mountain bikers are absolutely killing it and pushing the boundaries like they’ve never been pushed before, across all disciplines. New events are popping up all over the world specifically for women, and women free riders can actually make a living doing the sport they love, with the support of the industry and their male counterparts behind them. Finally, the world is beginning to recognise what the women of mountain biking can do — and boy, is it impressive! Women are finally getting the respect they deserve, after all these years of resistance from the industry.

But what exactly is progression? The dictionary defines it as: the process of developing or moving gradually towards a more advanced state.

This can be a good or a bad thing, right? Good in terms of career advancement and development; bad when it comes to the medical definition, where something is spreading through the body and becoming progressively worse. Progression has a different meaning to everyone — thank goodness. It should be whatever you want it to be, not what you think it should be.

With all the progression happening around us, and the growing awareness around what women mountain bikers are capable of — via our social media feeds and channels — you feel inspired and motivated. But there is also a side to this progression that can end up making people feel worthless about their biking skills and abilities, and their own personal level of progression. Sadly, social media can have the effect of making you feel kind of shitty about the stuff that you aren’t doing — or cannot do — especially when it seems like everyone else and their mothers can, and are. You end up scrolling and scrolling and feeling worse about yourself and your own abilities, to the point of it effecting your mental state, which can lead to depression and self-doubt.

Of course, it’s not all negative, it is very inspiring too. But, sometimes, it can almost be too inspiring. This can lead to situations where someone doesn’t quite have the skills or capabilities just yet, but they don’t care — instead, they just close their eyes and send it for their latest IG reel! Just YOLO-ing like this can often lead to a disastrous outcome and some nasty injuries. This sort of progression can end up discouraging other women from even entering the sport. They don’t want to give mountain biking a try, because they deem it too extreme, too gnarly, too masculine. We have to be careful to not just portray only this side of our sport – as it’s really a very small percentage of women pushing the limits to the max like that. We should be portraying other sides of our sport, too, and encouraging more women to just get out on a bike and give it a go.

If I can wheelie, I’ll get so many followers who think I’m cool. If I land this backflip, people will love and respect me more, my followers will skyrocket and sponsors will value me! My life will change and I’ll be popular! This sort of thinking ultimately leads to additional pressure, self-doubt, fear of failure, and fear of what people might think of you — to the point where you can no longer just enjoy the simple act of riding your bicycle. My point is, that in today’s society where you’re constantly progressing and everything has to be bigger, better, faster, further, it’s ok if you choose not to do that. It’s ok if you just like to head out the door and go for a pedal in nature to get some fresh air, to notice the changes in seasons, to stop and watch how the light catches the water, to listen to the birds, to stop at the top of the climb, lie on your back and feel the wind sweeping over your sweaty body while watching the long grasses dance in the breeze. This is also a form of progression. This is the kind of progression we need in our busy lives, where the focus is always on achievement of some sort. We need this to find balance, to slow down and recharge our sympathetic nervous system, to calm our minds and find some peace amongst all the everyday chaos. Once we can achieve this, progression will follow — if that is your end goal. They go hand in hand and work together. Homeostasis. Yin and Yang. You cannot have one without the other.

A lot of athletes across all disciplines are facing burnout this season. They’re mentally struggling with their careers or having performance anxiety; not performing as they would like to or how people think they should be. There is this fear of not being able to progress and, because of social media, they feel like they are letting people down. The truth is that, for the most part, people don’t really care, it is only you that thinks everyone cares, or notices or will judge you for not winning races anymore. We tend to create these scenarios in our heads, but at the end of the day it is only you that matters and how you feel about your riding or your progression or your social media fans. It has become such an issue, that athletes lose their love for biking, the fire and passion no longer there because they’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing – possibly without seeing the end results they were hoping for.

Once that happens, disappointment hits and spirals out of control into burnout and depression and, not knowing what to do with all of these emotions, they withdraw to figure out the next steps. Usually, this is when you have to go back to the very basics of riding a bike, like a kid. You have to just get back out there and start making circles with your legs. It’s that simple. Leave the devices at home, switch off the Garmin, leave the music, just get outside into nature and feel the wind in your face, listen to the sounds of the forest, feel the sense of freedom only a bike can instill, look around and be thankful that this is what it is all about. It doesn’t have to get more complicated than that. We make things complicated for ourselves. We push, we want constant progression and achievement, but it can also just be this simple act of exploring your backyard on a bicycle, without any pressure to perform or achieve.

I’ve reached a stage in my life where I can appreciate the unbelievable progression of women’s mountain biking. I admire those pushing the limits of the sport; the new generation of fearless girls and women are so amazing to see and I am their biggest cheerleader. But, I don’t want to do backflips, I can’t wheelie and I have no desire to hit massive jumps. Maybe, a few years ago, this would have bothered me but, for now, I’m happy to get outside and ride my bikes — all my bikes: mountain, road, gravel — because that is what makes me feel alive and happy. My riding is better than it has ever been so, to me, this is progression. I don’t have a crazy number of followers, because I’m not pushing the boundaries, I’m not making cool reels or doing sponsored posts or breaking any records. Instead, I’m outside riding my bike, appreciating the beauty of nature, exploring big mountains, finding solitude amongst the craziness of this world, and appreciating the amazing life and experiences bicycles have given me over the years. Does this mean I have no more value to my sponsors? I would hope not. I would hope that it would inspire other women to get out on their bikes and go on some adventures — explore their backyards, meet some interesting folks along the way, stop for coffee and cake, and find the pure happiness that riding a bike brings. Life is too short to focus only on progression, we have to enjoy the process and progression will follow in a natural way. So, get out there! Stop comparing yourself to what others are doing on social media and find your own progression. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll experience along the way.

Peace out,



Words: Anka Martin
Photography: Sven Martin

CJ suspension

One of the anomalies of our sport is that it’s becoming increasingly common for riders to outlay close to $10,000 on a new bike that boasts the latest, fractional evolution in suspension design. But, when you ask people what the maintenance regime of their actual suspension components has been in the past, it’s not uncommon to get a slightly embarrassed response such as; “I’ve never had my forks or shock serviced” or “hmm, now I think about it, I guess it has been a couple of years”. There are a few reasons for this. Tuning derailleurs to work is beyond plenty of riders’ mechanical confidence levels. And suspension? Surely that is the darkest of the dark arts when it comes to bicycle maintenance.

Well, if it’s a dark art, then that must make Cam Johnson, of CJ Suspension, some kind of wizard, because working magic on forks and shocks is what he is all about.

Working from a humble home workshop in Queenstown, Cam is at the epicenter of mountain biking and has built a solid reputation amongst hard riding locals, and others around the country, as one of the go-to suspension service technicians with the goal of helping riders make massive gains in how their suspension performs.

For Cam it started over 15 years ago when an after-school job with Al Heine, at Blue Shark — the NZ distributor for Fox Suspension — led to him getting the opportunity to be trained in pulling forks and shocks to pieces and putting them back together properly. At this stage he, like many keen young riders, was trying to make it on the race circuit. “I’d work with Al at Blue Shark over our summers, then pack my bags and head over and race the European summers,” says Cam. But, as much as this is a dream for many young aspiring riders, what it really takes to ‘make it’ — to break through the privateer ranks and get a professional contract — was a reality check. “I got to the end of pushing the envelope on the DH circuit; the racing, the crashes — they really took their toll on me and I just decided it was a good time to exit that season. I was pretty burnt out to be honest. I felt I’d given the racing a good go but ultimately, for me, it was in the too hard basket. You push, you push, and you push, and eventually I just felt like ‘this isn’t actually working for me.’” Cam explains. Ultimately, it was another injury sustained on the race circuit that was the final straw. “In 2014, I came out of a shoulder surgery, and I just felt [a sense of ] ‘I’m over this.’ The number of injuries and time it took to recover — I was just at the point in my life where I needed a change.”

This prompted a necessary reflection on what Cam wanted to do next, and with his background in servicing already well proven — and realising this was in fact a part of the industry that he both enjoyed and believed he could maybe even make a living on — the decision was made. “My old man told me I wasn’t able to sit around at home, so I told him I would start my own business, and he looked at me and said, “yeah, all right, do it”. I never really thought it would take off, but it did.”

The early days were all about trying to keep overheads low whilst building a business. This meant CJ Suspension started in a humble sleepout Cam built, perched on the backyard of a friend he was flatting with. This was fine for a while but, as Cam confirms, it still wasn’t really turning over what he needed to sustain himself. “After a while, I’d built a great collection of tools, but hadn’t really made any money — it just seemed like the market wasn’t big enough. I just wasn’t doing enough volume.” Necessity is the mother of invention they say, and CJ needed to increase revenue, so Cam started to explore the growing market for moving beyond mere servicing — changing oil and grease — to performance enhancing additions that could be made to the most popular suspension systems. “I wanted people to really notice the difference each product made to their ride.” After countless hours of personal research and riding he ended up picking up the agency for brands like Vorsprung, O-Chain, and Rev Grips.

Fork service.

The proof has been in the plushness though, and Cam has now built a steady stream of loyal customers, who after having their forks serviced by him have come to realise the difference that regular servicing can make in terms of the feel of a bike. “We’re seeing a lot of return customers who are really keen to keep their equipment running well, and that’s really satisfying.”

And with the price of bikes marching ever higher, the concept of spending $250 in servicing might not be as unpalatable as it used to be. This is a change Cam has noticed, even over his short time in business. “It used to be that when I asked around, I realised, people didn’t service their gear much. But now I think people are a lot more clued up, and willing to get servicing done, and it’s great to see some bike shops starting to offer that service as well.”

But it’s not just tired, worn-out forks that can use a refresh — even out-of-the-box new forks can be improved. For customers who really know what they are looking for, the Vorsprung options Cam offers can dramatically change the feel of a fork, but as he explains, even new forks may benefit from a once over. “Suspension products aren’t made overnight! The forks on any new bike on a shop floor were potentially produced years ago. They will sit around in a factory before they actually get built onto a new bike, which sits in its own factory, before going on a ship and sitting in a distributor’s warehouse. So, even on a brand-new bike, they have probably been sitting around unused for a year or more before you open the box.” That’s without mentioning the varying levels of quality control on OEM specced equipment. All this is to say, opening your new fork up and making sure oil levels are as the manufacturer intended, and the grease is fresh, won’t hurt at all and may even spare the fork from damage if they get used for a year or more before the unsuspecting owner thinks they are due for a service.

Kurt McDonald.

Going forward, CJ Suspension is slowly growing its capacity by training more staff. Cam currently has Kurt McDonald, Eddie Master’s mechanic, working with him full-time but, similar to Cam’s old racing pattern, Kurt will be off with Eddie for the season. As a result, Cam is looking for another staff member to train, and hopes to have enough work to keep everybody on board for our 22/23 summer. Having the capacity to turn jobs around quickly is something CJ has always prided itself on: “Typically, we can get to a job within two days of it arriving to us, which means we can get it back to you by the weekend. This is something we offer that most bike shops would struggle to do.”

From talking with Cam, it’s clear suspension is something he is passionate about and this passion means that every set of forks and every shock that comes across his desk, can be made to work better than they did before. Furthermore, in an age where we are increasingly aware of the raw materials and natural resources that go into making our bikes, it also makes sense to take care of them in a way that makes them perform well for the longest time possible. So, what are you waiting for? If you’ve never had your suspension professionally serviced, you might not know what you’re missing out on.



Words: Lance Pilbrow
Photography: Ryan Lucas

Product Review: G-Form Protection

“I’m really not sure if you could make a knee pad comfier than these. I actually forgot I had them on while writing this review…”

G-Form has built a solid reputation for comfortable protection over the years. I’ve owned previous versions of their elbow and knee pads, and I’ve used them for enduro racing when I’ve specifically been looking for something that is minimal enough to pedal in it all day, but enough to take the worst out of any impact. The last set of G-Form pads worked just perfectly at this, but they were on the minimal side of protection, so I was interested to see their latest ‘Pro Rugged’ series release as it seems to take things up just a notch. All of the new Pro Rugged range use their Smart Flex product on the impact zones; a soft, slightly putty-ish-feeling pad that gets significantly harder on impact. The technical term is ‘viscoelastic’; it’s a cool bit of tech that means when you are just pedalling along, the padding has a more natural ability to flex and move with your body’s natural movement, but still offers the impact protection that you bought the things for. It’s also designed to actually absorb impact and transfer less of this onto the rider.

On both the knee and elbow pads, the SmartFlex zones are covered in Armor-Tex, a tear-resistant fibreglass reinforced material. It’s got a rugged feel to it, and importantly, makes the pads look a little more matte, a little more subtle and, to be honest, a little less alien-like than previous versions which had a bit more sheen to them.

The G-Form Pro Rugged knee pad is similar to what I owned earlier, it’s a Lycra-style sleeve with SmartFlex around the knee. On this version, it is all a little thicker than previous G-Form pads I’ve owned but the idea is the same. The Lycra sleeve material is also different to my previous pair, this feels like it’s both thicker and softer too. They have also added a compression quality to the sleeve material which helps with the goal of keeping them in place. Putting them on, I was once again impressed with how comfortable these pads are to wear. They really do fit like a glove (their gloves fit great too, as you’ll read later) and they don’t have any noticeable itchy spots from Velcro or material bunching. I’m really not sure if you could make a knee pad comfier than these. I actually forgot I had them on while I was wearing them, writing the review! There is an upper Velcro thigh strap to tighten if you need it, but the silicone strip around the top and the bottom, combined with the natural stretch and compression of the sleeve, mean that they stayed in place perfectly, so I never really needed any tension on the Velcro.

The pads are left and right specific, with the SmartFlex zone angling outwards as it moves down your shin, which puts it in a better position to protect against scrapes that would probably come from the outside of your leg. In terms of protection, they really are all about the knee; they don’t offer anything in terms of impact protection outside this zone. These are going to really appeal to enduro riders and those looking for something they can ride all day in, comfortably.

The elbow pads are, well, like the knee pads but smaller! The Pro Rugged elbow pads pack all the same ideas into a slimmer, elbow-friendly package. Same SmartFlex padding covering your elbow but extending a little further down to cover your forearm as well.

We also had the Sorata gloves on review at the same time. These apply the same SmartFlex material found in the knee and elbow pads, but minimally, to the outer edge – just that spot where you are most likely to smash into a tree on that corner you misjudged. We had the Tie-dye colour way, but they are also available in black, blue and green/ grey. Apart from where the obvious armouring is, they are a lightweight, slim fitting glove that feels great. Though you can definitely feel the armouring on the outside of your hand when you are wearing them, they strike a nice balance between offering just a bit of protection in the most likely impact zone, without going so far as to feel like you are wearing a cricket glove. There is no Velcro closure which is a personal preference thing, but I found they had plenty of stretch around the cuff, they went on and off easily, and the cuff band felt great – a little wider than other gloves I’ve had in the past.

Out on the trail with the whole kit on I was really impressed with how comfortable everything felt. Other knee pads I’ve owned either seem to slip down or need to be tightened up so much it feels like I’m losing blood supply. These felt great. What is more, even after longer rides I didn’t feel like I had discovered the chafe and rub that some pads give. A big part of this, I think, is down to whatever they have done to improve the sleeve material and make it feel less Lycra-y, and a bit more like a nice pair of my wife’s yoga pants. Trust me, it’s comfy stuff, and it stops the areas underneath the armour zones rubbing against your skin. I’d happily wear these for an all-day enduro where I knew I would have to be putting in some serious pedalling throughout the day. The same went for the elbow pads and the gloves – no news is good news! When you don’t have much to complain about, there is sometimes not too much else to say. It does what it says on the tin! They weren’t too hot, the fit was spot on, and they stayed nice and comfortable all day long. Is there much more we’re looking for in our gear? Highly recommended.




First Impressions: RockShox Pike

“We have been lucky enough to get our hands on the brand spanking 140mm Pike Ultimate and will be putting it through its paces throughout the year.”

Earlier this year, RockShox rolled out a major update of their range with an all-new Zeb, Lyrik and Pike, not to mention a bevy of new rear shocks. We have been lucky enough to get our hands on the brand spanking 140mm Pike Ultimate and will be putting it through its paces throughout the year. First though, the Pike was already a fantastic fork, so what have the SRAM engineers been tinkering with to make it even better?

For starters, one look at it and you can tell this is more than just tinkering, this is an all-new fork. The chassis and arch, in particular, look markedly different to earlier models, but the changes are worked throughout; starting from a blank canvas has meant that engineers have been able to make a unified approach to integrating all the best new ideas they had at one time. On the outside, you’ll see a new crown, upper tubes and lower legs and pressure relief valves on the rear, but the insides are all new too.

Previous Pikes spanned a wide travel range, but this has now been narrowed down to focus specifically on the 120-140mm travel range —smack bang in the middle of what SRAM see as the trail bike market. If you want more travel, you’ll have to go for the Lyrik; less travel, you’ll be on the Sid. This tighter range of travel means that SRAM engineers have been able to narrow the parameters of what they are working with and therefore optimise around that. The result, lower weight in some areas, and better torsional rigidity, meaning they are less likely to twist under braking load and navigating off camber terrain. Forks that don’t twist are free to move through their travel, so that rigidity creates a consistent, supple fork, even under the toughest conditions.

The new Charger 3 damper has been designed from the ground up and features a new spring backed, IFP cartridge damper. Fully sealed and self-contained, this new damper is designed to offer riders a much more consistent feel throughout the stroke, and an increased ability for riders to easily tune the ride to suit their riding style and preferences. The result? Totally independent High-Speed Compression (HSC) and Low Speed Compression (LSC) adjustments, and no “cross-talk” between the two.

On top, you’ll find new adjusters with a new twin dial layout, also with handy visual indicators so you can see at a glance where you are on the adjustment scale. They feature noticeably clearer indents between each setting too. Inside the forks, the bushing design is brand new too — these feature longer bushings now, which actually reduce the overall friction in the system.

On the other side is the new Debonair+ air spring, again, tailored to the specific needs of a fork in the 120-140mm range. The shaft is now an all-aluminum piston instead of plastic, there are improved glide rings, and a tweaking of the volume in the positive and negative air chambers. So, what’s the end result of all of this? RockShox believe the new Pike can initiate travel easier and that it will feel plusher off-the-top, while still having great mid-stroke support. It also means a higher ride height; it won’t dive through its travel under braking which means that you’ll be able to utilise every millimeter of travel when things start to get rowdy.

In terms of weight, ours weighed in at 1.90 kg with a 190mm steerer. That’s comparable with the previous generation, but the fact that they have managed to get 13.5% more torsional stiffness inside the same overall weight is pretty cool.

The final new idea that engineers worked in was the addition of what they call Buttercups. What are Buttercups, you say? Well, first, let’s talk about what they are trying to address. Ever felt like your hands have been battered after buzzing through a section of ripples on a fire road? Those are high-frequency, low amplitude vibrations. RockShox call it ‘trail chatter’ — those fast, small vibrations that ‘vibrate your eyeballs’ so to speak. As fancy as they are, fork dampers aren’t really designed with this specific example in mind; dampers are designed to absorb impacts, vibration-like trail chatter can often make its way past the damper without really activating it, up the fork, and into your hands.” Ok, so that’s what they are working to resolve — but what exactly are they? Buttercups live on both the damper and air spring shafts of Ultimate-level forks. Inside their gold packaging, Buttercups utilize rubber pucks and a metal plate to absorb frequencies that would otherwise travel up to the rider. These little Buttercups add about 4mm of vertical compliance to your suspension and RockShox believe they achieve an average of 20% reduction in vibrations from reaching your hands. Impressive!

Having owned the previous Pike, and a Fox Factory 34 (albeit the previous generation), I was eager to see just how the new Pike had improved over its previous version, and also over its nearest competition that had recently been upgraded.

Setting it up on my Banshee Phantom down-country bike, I was immediately impressed with the new look. The whole chassis has a modern, muscular look about it… and the silver was a great match too, which didn’t hurt. Straight away, I could tell that these were going to be a vast improvement over my previous Pikes in terms of small bump absorption — these things were smooth and would initiate into their travel with almost no force. The amount of stiction that is needed to be overcome to get the stanchions moving was almost non-existent. The first trail I rode, I could tell that these were indeed a whole new kettle of fish compared to the previous version.

The biggest realisation was how the first 30-40mm of travel seems to be noticeably more active. Whereas I was previously reasonably happy with my old Pikes (yes, regularly serviced) these new ones made the old ones feel, well… let’s just say, they’re not around anymore. Fast forward a few rides and the next thing I started to notice was how much more regularly I was using all the travel. I’d look down at the travel indicator O-ring and see that I had used all the travel, however, while riding I never noticed feeling like I’d bottomed out. They seem to have also improved the feel of the curve as you move towards the end of the travel to make it feel like you never really hit bottom.

This is just a ‘first impressions’ review but we are looking forward to putting some serious miles on these throughout summer and seeing how they hold up over the long haul, as we test them through a variety of conditions and have time to fully experiment with the various tuning options on offer.




Product Review: Rapha Trail Shorts

“Every piece of clothing comes with a field repair kit containing fabric matching iron-on patches to keep you looking good after a crash.”

It’s no secret that this brand comes from the ‘roadie’ scene. But this means they know a thing or two about use of good fabrics and have been making ‘roadies’ look good for years. Rapha has now employed their knowledge around textiles to mountain bike apparel. Their focuses are on sustainability and longevity — and I can vouch for their products lasting many seasons. Rapha’s colourways are normally subtle, so you needn’t worry about being out of vogue whilst on the trail.

The Trail Short is a built from four-way stretch material that is Bluesign certified, meaning it is built from sustainable sources with minimised environmental impact. An integrated, contoured waistband allows for precise fit adjustment and there are four pockets, two of which have zippers with an integrated phone sleeve to keep items from sliding around. The cut is fairly form fitting but has been designed to work with or without knee pads.

The Trail Short have a relaxed and comfortable fit that slides over small to medium knee pads with no issues. Larger, downhill style knee pads may cause the shorts to bunch up and sit on top of the pad, though. I found they fitted my medium knee pads well and were also good without, too. The short is a little more form cut, which means there’s no bunching and they don’t get in the way when you’re pedalling. They certainly don’t have the bagginess of other shorts on the market.

The adjustable waist is neat and easy to use, locking in a personalised fit with no slipping of the belt. The size medium was a perfect fit in both the waist and length for me. Having had these shorts for a while, I found the breathability to be moderate even in the warmer months. They breathe well and don’t overheat, but a few vents would just allow a bit more airflow, especially if you’re wearing a bib-short underneath. The zippered pockets keep trail essentials secure, and the phone sleeve is a very well thought out solution to keep your phone from bouncing around. I really like this feature, and the position means the phone feels like it’s out of the way but always accessible for that quick pic or vid.

Rapha has priced these shorts consistently with the market and offers several services, such as free repairs and free returns if you’re not happy with them. Every piece of clothing comes with a field repair kit containing fabric matching iron-on patches to keep you looking good after a crash. Heck, if you shed some kilos they will offer 50% off your jersey in a smaller size. I’m a big fan of buying a quality piece once, rather than buying cheap stuff every year — and Rapha promises exactly that: quality and longevity, with repairs if you do happen to find a way to destroy it.



RRP: $195 AUD

nar dapibus leo.

Beer Guide Issue 108

‘No alcohol’ is the boom category at the moment, and New Zealand craft breweries make some of the best non-alcoholic beverages in the world.

You’re reading a mountain biking magazine. You love being fit and getting the most out of your body and being in the outdoors.

That makes you a target audience for “lifestyle” beers — which means low and no alcohol, low carb and gluten-free options.

These are sometimes called “better for you” options. And the good news is that “better for you” also means better tasting these days.

Let’s go through some recommendations in all these categories.


‘No alcohol’ is the boom category at the moment. I can put my hand on my heart and tell you that New Zealand craft breweries make some of the best non-alcoholic beverages in the world. Believe me, I’ve tried everything on offer.

It’s fair to say imported beers never taste as good as they would if you bought them in the country of origin. “Beer should be drunk in the shadow of the brewery”, is a phrase that still holds true because travel of any kind takes the edge off even the best beer. That’s even more so for non-alcoholic beverages because alcohol is a preservative and therefore, a zero-alcohol beer is not going to travel anywhere near as well as something with alcohol in it, so I’d avoid imported beers in this category.

It’s worth nothing that the legal definition on non-alcoholic in New Zealand is less than 1.15 per cent ABV, which seems high by world standards. While that’s the legal benchmark, most breweries work to the accepted guideline of less than 0.5 per cent ABV.

Bach All Day Hazy IPA

Bach created the breakthrough non-alc craft beer with their All Day IPA and this hazy version is a step up from that. Stick with the original if you like clear beer, but this hazy has heaps more flavour.

Garage Project Tiny
Almost a cult beer now because it’s from Garage Project. Lightly lemony hoppy.

Brothers Beer Fill Yer Boots
Another hazy (and as a rule hazies work really well in this category because of the fatter mouthfeel). This has a nice tang of grassy bitterness.

Good George Virtual Reality
A superb offering from Good George. Up there with Garage Project and Bach.

Sawmill Bare Beer
The one non-alc pale ale in this line-up and the only one in a bottle. This has a bite more bitterness than the hazies.


While non-alcoholic beers are trending, there’s nothing growing as fast as low-carb beers.

There are many reasons to choose a low carb beer — it could be that you’re on a ketogenic diet, or just trying to reduce the carbohydrate you consume. Or it could be for more important reasons, such as having Type 1 diabetes.

Beers labelled “low carb” have been tested and should come with nutritional panel telling you how many carbs per 100ml they contain. A good guideline is that a low carb beer should have 1-2g of carbohydrate per 100ml.

It’s important to note that low carb does not equal low calorie, though in the case of the beers listed here, some are definitely lower in calories as well. A beer’s ABV (alcohol by volume) will play a big part in the total calories as alcohol sits somewhere between carbohydrate and fat in its calorie density. So, if cutting calories is your thing, do check the labels.

The best thing about modern low carb beers is that they are super- flavoursome. Brewers use a special enzyme, naturally found in malt, to help ferment out any residual sugars.

That has a number of effects on the beer. First, the lack of residual sugar means the beer doesn’t feel as heavy in your mouth. In fact, low carb beers are often very light-bodied and quaffable. Second, low carb beers finish very dry compared with normal beers, which many drinkers prefer anyway.

Low carb pale ales and IPAs are a great place to start if you’re after flavoursome low carb beers. That because the extra hop additions add both mouthfeel, through hop oils, and added flavour. Plus fruity varieties of hops can add a perception of sweetness that covers up the lack of sugar.

Epic Blue Pale Ale
4.8%, Carbs 1g/100ml As you’d expect from Epic, it has great hop flavour — juicy and citrusy — that’s well integrated into the light body. It’s so good for a low carb beer that it made it into the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top-30 on its merits as a pale ale, that’s how tasty it is.

Deep Creek LoCal IPA
3.5% ABV, Carbs 2g/100ml A super low ABV beer compared to others in the range, but you’d struggle to pick it. Brilliantly executed in terms of balance and flavour. A gold medal winner at the 2022 Australian International Beer Awards. Very low calorie count to boot.

Urbanaut Miami Brut Lager
5%, Carbs 1.5g/100ml Packed to the seams with sweet passionfruit and lime hop flavours. A sparkling carbonation and punchy hops on a light and airy body. You won’t pick it as low carb. Urbanaut’s Copacabana IPA is also officially low carb now and is one of the best beers on the market, full-stop.

Emerson’s Super Quench
Pacific Pilsner 4%, Carbs 1.9g/100ml Super pretty beer to look at and, frankly, delicious. Hoppy, refreshing and spritzy light without any soda water notes.

Bach Brut Ultra IPA
4.4%, Carbs 1.7g/100ml Super-fruity with aroma and hop flavour rolling out of the glass thanks to a massive dry-hop bill that features all your favourites: Citra, Mosaic, Riwaka, and Rakau.


We don’t use the term “light” the way Americans do to reference their very pale lagers. Here, light means low alcohol — generally regarded as anything below 2.5 percent.

The range of beers in this category is more expansive than in the zero and low carb range, as that little bit of ABV helps create a canvas for flavour.

North End Petit Luna
A clever little beer. Hibiscus brings some fruity character and a lovely pink colour. Kaffir lime coupled with spicy Belgian yeast does some heavy lifting when it comes to flavour. Slightly tart and spritzy.

Sunshine Light Pilsner
Smells like the real deal and tastes great too. The body, naturally, is a little shallow, but shallow can be good: like standing knee deep in the ocean and having the waves splash around your legs. A hoppy aftertaste, with a broad bitterness.

Croucher Low Rider Small IPA
Probably New Zealand’s most celebrated low-alcohol beer. In many ways, it’s almost become the flagship beer for Rotorua’s Croucher Brewing — a remarkable feat for such a low ABV product. It’s changed and evolved over the years into an almost perfect distillation of all the best aromas and flavours of an IPA.

Townshend Half Mast
Typically, of Townshend beers, this is all about balance and the fruity expressive hops are perfectly restrained to match the 2.2 percent base. A wee gem.

8 Wired Lo-Fi
This hoppy sour is sharp as a tack with pinging citrus and light acidity it packs way more flavour that should be feasible at 2 percent ABV.


It used to be that gluten free was a dirty word in beer (in short they tasted foul) but Upper Hutt’s Kereru Brewing have changed the game dramatically. They are unrivalled when it comes to gluten free beer.

Their Hazee, a gluten-free hazy pale ale, has to be tried to be believed. It’s as good as a normal hazy pale and you don’t even notice the gluten-free aspect. They have a standard gluten-free APA, nice and hoppy, and a clever raspberry-infused version of their original Auro, a golden ale. And they’ve just released a gluten-free Mocha Porter. You can order a mixed box of the gluten-free beers from their website.



Words: Michael Donaldson
Photography: Henry Jaine.

Musings Issue 108

Words and illustration by Gaz Sullivan

“Leaving the power setting on high makes me feel both good and bad at the same time.”

Elsewhere in this very magazine, I wrote a piece about my time aboard the Trek EXe, my first extended period atop an electric-assist machine. I finished by saying: “when I get one”.

Going trail riding on the e-bike is ridiculous fun. The e-assist provides the buzz of riding a mountain bike fast, almost anywhere. The speed available on a flattish trail makes the chore of climbing to the top of a downhill run almost unnecessary. And of course, if you do want a downhill run or three, they are easier to get to.

Surely that is what we look for when we go mountain biking?

It is hard to express exactly why we ride. Sometimes it is for that endorphin payoff available when a difficult task is performed as well as we can do it. Everybody has their own little envelope of bike riding ability and being out there in the woods doing your best is part of why we go out. The desire to do that more often, to make more of your bike time inhabiting that zone, is what has driven the whole phenomenon of shuttling, and for that matter, adding electricity.

A pile of watts that can’t be delivered personally gets us more of that sweet spot we look for.

Well, maybe.

Meanwhile, the Luddite in me has been quietly niggling away in the back of my mind.

I really like the simplicity of basic bikes. I like steel frames, five of the six rideable bikes in my stable are ferrous. I like bikes I can work on myself, which means they have to be simple. I can dismantle and reassemble any of my steel bikes without needing assistance or therapy afterwards.

My carbon, fully-suspended mountain bike with hydraulic brakes and tubeless tyres is bristling with things I don’t feel qualified to mess around with. Yes, I know, these are personal shortcomings I could address, but adding electronics, several batteries and a motor won’t help.

I like going out on my bike with no fixed plan, and riding until I can’t. Having a digital readout on the top tube telling me how much range I have left is a different experience. After a dozen rides I have figured out how much of the battery is required to get me up various hills, in various power modes. Because I know my patch pretty well, I can wring the thing dry most rides. I took great pleasure in arriving home with the readout showing less than ten percent. Several times it was two, and on one occasion, one. How that would work out in unknown territory is something I have yet to experience.

Part of bike riding is also sort of masochistic. People say that getting fitter doesn’t make things easier, just faster. I like to feel how I feel… hard to explain to the outsider but getting to a particular part of a certain ride and feeling slightly less discomfort than the previous episode in that place is a good thing. Adding an external power source doesn’t remove that possibility, but it makes it harder to judge.

Maybe that is the niggling thought I have. When I am on the E, hooning up the climbing section of the jungle trail that is my favourite five kilometres in our local patch, the most accurate description of what I am feeling is probably guilt.

Like, this should be harder. I can make it harder, by buttoning down the power. But I don’t, because the power is what makes this section with the diagonal roots across the trail so much fun.

And leaving the power setting on high makes me feel both good and bad at the same time.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #108

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The kitchen: Rice Cakes

Words: Liam Friary

Yes, these are rice cakes. They are a super simple staple that will keep you fuelled during long days on the bike. Bonus — they are easily made ahead and carried on a ride. This recipe is just a starting point; depending on preferences, what foods are in season and what’s available in your pantry, additions can be made. Add anything from maple and bacon to blueberries and chunks of dark chocolate. Get creative with what you like and what you have on hand, wherever it is you’re cooking and riding.

Ingredients –

4 cups tap water

2 ¼ cups white short grain rice

2 ½ cups full fat cream cheese

2 Tablespoons granulated white sugar

2 Tablespoons melted coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method –

  •  In a rice cooker, combine your water, rice, sugar, and coconut oil. Turn it on (white rice setting, if your rice cooker specifies) and let cook. Once cooked, mix cream cheese and vanilla into rice. Note: this is also the time to throw in any spices, fruit, chocolate, nuts, etc that you’d like to add to your rice cake.
  • Spoon into a large zip-closure freezer bag. Flatten, smooth the air out and leave to cool on a flat tray. Once cool, transfer to the refrigerator to chill overnight. In the morning, slide your tasty slab of rice onto a cutting board. Cut into approximately 20 squares. You can either keep them all together in an airtight container, or individually wrap them in foil. Either way, they should be stored in the fridge until needed. Refrigerated, they will keep for about four days.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #108

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #108

Trail Builder: The Gift That Keeps Giving

Words: Meagan Robertson
Photography: Specialized

Thanks to its Soil Searching initiative — created to recognise, celebrate and support trail builders — Specialized has helped enable future trail building efforts through one local legend and a generous Trail Fund donation.

Talk about making the most of winter — while some hung up their bikes to avoid battering sloppy trails, and others jetted off for an overdue overseas trip, Specialized set its sights on finding and rewarding the nation’s top trail builder with a limited edition Soil Searching Specialized Levo, then auctioning off a second and donating all the proceeds — an incredible $17, 850! — to Trail Fund NZ.


Designed for trail building, and to reward trail builders, the Mountain Guardian is one of 50 Soil Searching Specialized Levos produced worldwide. Featuring the Specialized Soil Searching logo to reiterate the importance of trail building while following sustainable building practices, the custom made eBike boasts Soil Searching Paint, RockShox Zeb Select + Fork, RockShox Super Deluxe Select + Shock, SRAM XO1 Groupset, Code RS Brakes, Soil Searching Tyres, Roval Traverse Alloy Wheels and TCU2 Display.

In mid-July, Specialized put the call out to ensure one of the two Mountain Guardians in New Zealand landed in the hands of New Zealand’s best trail builder. In a country known for its incredibly high number of volunteers, the nominations came in hard and fast, with more than 100 committed and talented trail builders in the running.


With only one Mountain Guardian to give, Specialized NZ reviewed every application and, according to Specialized’s Marketing and Events Coordinator, Ben Crowley, choosing the winner was no easy task.

“Trail builders are the unsung heroes of mountain biking, and we are committed to changing that by recognising, celebrating, and supporting the trail builders who help shape our sport and our stoke,” explained Ben.

“That said, there are a lot of them, and so many are volunteering in a way that is truly outstanding that it made the choice incredible difficult. In the end, we decided on a guy that sums up what Soil Searching is all about — Marty Richards.”

A key part of the Cable Bay Adventure Park trail crew based in Nelson, Marty is a trail builder that leads by example.

“Marty is a serial volunteer whose contributions to various projects have improved the trail offerings for all in Nelson and, over the past three years, he has had direct involvement with all of the 18 trails built at Cable Bay,” says Richard Ussher.

“Marty is super approachable and always willing to help or give advice to new trail builders. He never asks for anything, or expects anything in return, and truly does it for the love of mountain biking. He has inspired and imparted a lot of knowledge to a wide group of people, which has helped grow the competence of trail builders in the region.

“Probably the biggest influence he has had is with the ‘Sunday School’ team. This is a group of teenagers from a variety of backgrounds who come out to the Adventure Park to regularly dig and maintain trails with Marty. Nicknamed ‘Dad’ in the group chat due to his mentoring, Marty organises transportation, oversees the trail building and drives shuttles for them afterwards.

“The Sunday School crew often do some of the toughest yards on the sections that others shy away from, and it is easy to see the positive influence impact he has had on them.”

Richard says Marty is so committed to ensuring the best experience for Cable Bay riders that he has — largely by himself — built a 1km walking track for the sole purpose of getting walkers and other non-mountain bike users off the main exit trail at the park.

“It is hard to overstate what a positive member of the mountain bike community he is. He is never looking for recognition and just gets on and does what he loves — digging and riding. The region would undoubtably be significantly poorer without his massive efforts.”

Marty was absolutely thrilled to receive the Mountain Guardian and is already putting it to good use!

“I feel so privileged to know such an awesome group of people and so humbled from the support I’ve received from the Nelson MTB community and Cable Bay Trail Crew,” said Marty.

“It’s been quite overwhelming. I think I’ll go hide in the bush for a bit… and go dig a track.”

Marty Richards.


With one Mountain Guardian out the door, Specialized looked to further support trail building through a different channel — Trail Fund NZ.

“We created Specialized Soil Searching to fuel and support the energy and passion of the trail building community,” says Ben. “So, we thought, what better way to do that than fundraise for an organisation that is already doing that on a regular basis?”

Founded in 2012, Trail Fund NZ is a not-for-profit organisation, run solely by volunteers, supporting the development and maintenance of publicly available, environmentally sensitive and sustainable mountain bike-accessible trails in New Zealand. It is also committed to providing funding for — and education on — trail building, as well as advocating on behalf of mountain bikers to Government.

Since its inception, Trail Fund has distributed more than 150 grants — totaling more than $400,000 — to a wide variety of mountain bike trails. From Thames to Taupo to Wanaka to Bluff, from Grade 5 singletrack to skills parks, Trail Fund has tried to cater for riders of all abilities around the country.

And now, thanks to Specialized donating the proceeds of the second Mountain Guardian to Trail Fund NZ, the organisation can provide even more grants than normal in the coming months.

“We are so thrilled to be able to pass on the money raised by Specialized to trail building groups around the country using our well-established funding process,” says Trail Fund president, Hasely Lobb.

“This is the most substantial donation we have received to date and it’s great to see bike brands investing in the trails their customers love to ride.”

Thanks to the donation, Trail Fund’s next funding round is our biggest in many years, with four grants of up to $4,000 available. The deadline is 1 December. For more details, see the ‘Get Funded’ section on

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #108

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #108

All Thyme Alexandra

I’m just joking. But not about the riding. Alexandra is sprawling with some of the finest singletrack you can find in New Zealand — heck, maybe even the world. For me, it’s up there as one of my favourite spots to ride. I’d put it in my top 10 and, for some reason, even though the riding is so amazing, no one seems to know about it. Well, apart from those who know. In a world where we have information at our fingertips at any time, Alexandra has escaped blowing up on social media and has managed to stay the hidden gem of Central Otago.

About a one hour drive from Wanaka, 75 minutes from Queenstown, and 2.5 hours from Dunedin, Alexandra is located in the heart of Central Otago. You can track the origins of this quiet sleepy town back to the Central Otago gold rush of the 1860s. Established in 1862, (formally called Lower Dunstan) its humble beginnings and rich history came from gold mining. Miners from all around the globe flocked to Central Otago in search of the precious, shiny, rare metal, hoping to strike it rich. The miners might have gone, but there’s still plenty of gold to be found. Not so much the gold you would find in a wedding ring but the type any mountain biker craves: technical flowing singletrack in an amazing landscape. The magic we all search for.

“Alex”, as it’s affectionately known by locals, has somehow avoided the hustle and bustle craziness of Queenstown and Wanaka. The all go, non-stop, 24/7 mentality of those towns hasn’t travelled across. Instead, you find this beautifully quiet town, where the locals all know each other. They are proud of their town, and so they should be. It’s a stunning little place. There’s a real sense of community that stays true to its humble beginnings. The pace of life seems a lot more relaxed, and you won’t find most of the high street shops open on a Sunday. Instead, people close up shop and make the most of their weekend before starting back into the week. It’s a refreshing feeling in this modern world we live in, but don’t get lured into thinking Alex is a calm place; it’s a town of extremes. Take the climate for example; during the summer it’s the hottest, driest place in New Zealand. Temperatures often reach over 25 degrees Celsius and sometimes even push up into the mid-30s. The flip side of that, is it’s the coldest in winter; on average it’s below 0.

It’s not just the climate that’s extreme, there is the landscape (or moonscape, as some would describe it). In the surrounding hills, it’s rugged wild country. Sharp, rocky outcrops are a common occurrence; they appear to have viciously pierced through the earth’s surface many moons ago, leaving a reminder that it’s tough out here. It makes for a real ‘Mad Max’ feeling. Wildflowers, briar and thyme make up the main vegetation covering the rolling hills. The story goes that miners planted thyme so they could put it in bread for a better taste, but the thyme took off due to the rich, fertile soil. Now, Merino sheep can be found roaming the land, thriving in the extreme conditions of the high country. It’s a landscape that demands respect. Treat it wrong and it will bite back but look after it and it will reward you. If you get it right and catch one of those perfect days, you will see just how beautiful it is. The days when you hit the golden hour, blasting along the narrow hand-built singletrack on the ridges. Purple thyme bush all around, dust trailing behind, in that perfect flow state. It’s at this point Alexandra really takes your breath away.

The mountain bike trails in Alex started like many: illegally. Back in ‘95, Richie Bailey and Gordy Rayner pioneered the way when they started to scratch lines and loops around the area. From what I’ve heard, there were more XC trails in comparison to a lot of the tech you will find in Alex now. As bikes developed, so did the trails. Things started to get harder and more technical. Old motorbike tracks and water races were adapted and made into bike tracks. Although it was very much a stealth operation. Dave Fearnley and Phil Oliver are responsible for a lot of the legendary trails. Initially, they did not realise that they were both building the trails. Each of them went on their own stealth operation but, eventually, they bumped into each other and the rest of history. Phil and Dave are responsible for some of the finest trails found out here. They have this amazing ability to find flow where there shouldn’t be. Scratching in creative lines through the rocky outcrops and chewing through the thyme with the “Thyme Eater” — a petrol push lawnmower that cuts its way through to leave a line in the thyme. They are actually onto the Thyme Eater 2 now.

There are two main riding areas in Alex: behind the clock, and Flat Top Hill. A couple of years ago, Flat Top Hill was the only place to go if you didn’t have a local to show you about. This was due to the trails behind the clock being on private land, so there were no trail maps for them. It was hard to work out where you were whilst up there, as a lot of it looks the same. “Yeah, it’s the trail that starts next to the tree and the rock. The rocky looking rock. After you finish that, head back up the road and take a right next to the cattle gate.” Cue spending hours riding round in circles. After a few times up there, you kind of get an idea of the lay of the land but you could still easily head down the wrong trail.

Flat Top, on the other hand, is on DOC land. All the trails on the hill you will be able to find on Trail Forks as they are all legal and sanctioned. Although they never started that way. The Roxburgh Gorge Trail opening up is what really started the Flat Top movement. This trail gave a way to ride out and back to town. Not long after opening, Phil, Dave and the crew started poking about. They scratched out an exceptional bit of trail down the face of the hill to the river trail. These tracks were Ledge of Death to Rock of Doom. It wasn’t long before DOC picked up on this trail. DOC had a meeting with the MOA, ‘Mountain Bikers of Alexandra’, which subsequently led to a land management agreement between MOA and DOC. DOC gave MOA the go ahead to build legal, sustainable trails on Flat Top Hill. Now you can find seven legitimate trails on Flat Top. It’s all signposted with markers to help guide you around the loop. But don’t think that you aren’t getting the creme de la creme just because they are legal, marked trails on DOC land. Far from it. There are some flipping incredible trails up there. I love parking up at the car park right next to Butchers Dam and heading up the wiggly switchback climb to the start of ‘Black and Blue’. A quick buzz down upper Black and Blue then on to Ledge of Death to Rock of Doom. (Yup, there’s some zest in these trails). This takes you down to the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. Head along this the opposite way from Alex and you’ll find a climb to take you back up to the start of Black and Blue. This time around, hit the whole Black and Blue, back down to the carpark, and be sure to also hit the bonus lines. Just make sure you look before you leap. It’s a tremendous loop that has a bit of everything for all abilities.

For me, though, the real Alexandra riding experience is behind the clock. Here lies Matangi Station MTB. In 2021, the trails became established and legitimised when the farm owners saw the value in mountain biking and what it brought to the town. Before 2021, the tracks were there, but they were all illegal. The farmers that owned Matangi would kind of turn a blind eye to it. Nothing was marked; you had to be a local to know where you were going. No maps, no signposts, no trail heads. Locals only. If you didn’t know there was riding out there then, you would never know. The Linger and Die (now in its 26th year) was the one race a year where you would be able to get out and have a route to follow, following the pink dots to make it down. Since Matangi Station MTB made the trails official, there has been a big investment in infrastructure of the trail network. There is an extensive trail map, and the trails are all signposted with arrows pointing you in the right direction. Stiles have been put in to help get across the fences. There is a massive table at the top of the hill with a post showing lots of iconic riding spots across the world, including my old stomping ground, Innerleithen. Some of the trails have also had a lot of work making them more sustainable for the future. Passes to ride Matangi can be purchased at Henderson Cycles and Willbike Cycling Central Otago, as well as at the Foursquare and Unichem Pharmacy.

So, what’s the riding like in Matangi Station MTB? Well, I needed a reminder. It had been about three years since I’d last been across to Alex. Having spent the last two years living in the Capital (Wellington), I rounded up some mates and we hit the road to Alexandra. We left on a Saturday afternoon and stayed at the Antique Lodge, in Clyde. A great little spot for the evening, it gave us the full day to make the most of Alex. If we weren’t local-ish it would have been the perfect location to base ourselves for the weekend, as we could spend the day shuttling Clyde DH on one of the days and ride Alex on the other. Breakfast was provided, bright and early, and to let us make the most of the Sunday. Fizz, the host, showed us her gin tasting bar — just to give us the full experience of the place. Definitely a top spot on the list of places to base the weekend out of. We set off on the short drive to Alex to meet up with Phil. It has been years since I had ridden with Phil, so I was looking forward to catching up and trying to hold his tail while he effortlessly guided his bike through the rocks, turns and rolls. Our crew for the day was Phil Oliver, Jimmy Ramsay, Craig Munro, Luci Vo and, later, Ashton Oliver (Phil’s son) would join us. We parked up at Phil’s and rode through town to the Industrial Eater Cafe to pick up some lunches to take with us. An inversion layer had happened during the night, so the town was covered in cloud and fog. There was a grey, moody monotone feel about the place. The streets were quiet, almost lifeless. It seemed like we might have been the only people up and about. After picking up lunch, we set off on our way to the top of Matangi Station MTB.

We crossed over the shaky bridge and headed to the start of AC trail. AC I think was formerly known as Shit Track. It’s a slightly techy climb that weaves and meanders its way up through the valleys. The steep hills overlook the trail, covered in lines that zigzag their way down to meet the valley floor, with rocky outcrops towering overhead. The further we headed up the climb, the more the fog started to lift. Eventually, we made it to the start of the second climb, called Carter’s Grind. Like the name suggests, it’s a bit of a grind but it gets you up to the top of the hill in a fast, efficient manner. We made it out of the inversion and were blessed with perfect blue skies. We parked up at the bench at the top of the hill for lunch, with the vast moonscape stretched out ahead of us. Alexandra was still covered in a layer of cloud in the distance. The table really made for a great place to take a rest before dropping into some seriously fantastic singletrack. The first descent of the day was Supercharger. A classic. Right from the get-go you are thrown in at the deep end. The trail sends you charging at high speed over a rock lip, followed by a sweeping left to right. From there you duck, dive and weave your way through the rock fields. Quick right lefts, rocks, rolls, and turns. Up and over obstacles. Holding off cambers. You have to be on the ball. The trail could change direction at any moment. It’s not an easy trail to read. The line is sort of faint. You can’t just ride off instinct. It keeps you on your toes. The flow comes from riding smooth; linking your turns and nailing your braking point. If you get it right it’s oh so rewarding. The rock, if dry, has heaps of grip; you can trust it. You can trust the line as well. It’s built well. There may not be the berms, lumps and jumps that you’re used to but what you will find is raw and rugged. You’ll find Alex berms — ruts that have formed from people riding the lines. There’s just enough support.

We blasted down Supercharger with big grins on our faces. It was so good that we looped back up to the top for a second blast. This time around it was a bit tidier. We had gotten into the Alex style of riding. It involves thinking about what you’re doing. From the bottom of Supercharger we pedalled back up to the main dirt road, crossed the stile and rode up Connector to take us to the top of one of my all-time favourites, Dr Strangelove. This trail really sums up Alex riding to me. It’s got it all: fast flowing sections where you’re blasting along a ridge on a narrow trail that Thyme Eater has carved out many moons ago, into some tight awkward tech jank before you head into the steeps with Alexandra blossoming below. You can smell the thyme as you fly along the ridges and down the corkscrew. The trail spits you out into the bottom of 5th Amendment, just for a little extra spice when you think you’re close to done. It’s just got a little bit of everything, this trail. Some moments you’re speeding along at mac 10, following your mate’s thyme smelling dust. Next minute you’re at crawling pace, working your way through rock channels trying to make the janky turns flow. The steeps will keep you on your feet; control your braking, drive the line. It’s such a tremendous piece of trail. Just Alexandra riding summed up in one trail.

After we got to the bottom of Dr Strangelove, Luci, Craig and I decided to call it a day and head to the pub for a beer. All good rides should finish with a beer, right? Jimi, Ash and Phil set off for another lap and would meet us at the pub after. We crossed back over the spring bridge and headed to the main pub in town, Monteiths, on the main street. The cloud had burned off and we were graced with Alexandra in all its glory on an early spring day. The cherry blossoms were starting to flower, and the temperature was just right. Just a perfect chilled Sunday afternoon in Alex.

Beers started to flow. The outside beer garden was still getting the sun, and the mood just seemed right. We weren’t the only riders that had the same idea — there were a good few that had been out on the hill that day, all parked up at the pub afterwards for a pint and yarns about the day. Jimi, Ash and Phil joined us after their second ride; they’d smashed out another big loop. More pints were poured and cheers were made to a great day out in Alex. “I’ve said it before, but you never have a bad thyme in Alex.”

As we were sitting, shooting the shit in the sun, Phil was off talking to some locals about their rides. You can really get a sense of how proud the locals are of the riding community and what they have — their exquisite trail network, the local club, and the town itself. It’s fantastic. On Wednesdays they have the local shop ride out, on which you’ll normally find 60 people on average. How cool is that?! During Christmas time this sometimes reaches up to 200. It’s a strong bike community that’s only going to grow stronger with the legacy that has already been left.

I may have painted Alex as a place for extreme riders, but it’s far from just that. There are plenty of great XC loops and trails you can put together. In 2018 and 2019, the Pioneer ran two of its six days in Alex and, since 2021, Phil and James Williamson have been running the Prospector XC stage race — a three-day race named the ultimate XC challenge. For the last two years, riders from all over NZ have come down to give it a go, and have been blown away with just how good the trails are and how great Alex is. For 2023, Phil and James are looking forward to getting some overseas competitors over, to really show them some great racing. There really is riding for everyone here.

So, I’ve broken the first rule of Fight Club. But who cares?! Rules are meant to be broken and people need to know about the gold that still sparkles in the hills around Alex. Should you be putting Alexandra at the top of your ‘must ride’ list? 100%. I really can’t say enough good things about it. The trails are world class, and now the Matangi Station MTB is established, there is no better time to head to Alexandra for a riding trip. It’s in my top five places to ride in NZ — and I’m sure it will be in yours after you go. The riding really is all thyme in Alex.



Words and Photography: Jake Hood