Tales from the Trails: Wyn’s Race Tales

Words: Wyn Masters
Photography: John Fernandes

“I checked flights and made the decision to head to Madeira for a week of racing...”

So my road to Madeira for the Trans Madeira race — a race that wasn’t even on my radar for 2022 — wasn’t such a clear one. I had managed to contract the dreaded Covid, and tested positive for the second time in 2022, at the final World Cup downhill of the year, in Val di Sol, Italy. This meant an extended stay in Italy to recover and then finally fly home. Not really the end to the ‘22 season I was after.

Then, the following week, back at my current home in the UK, I met up with Phil Atwill who was home for a bit to visit family as he now lives in Greece. He mentioned to me he was heading to Madeira on the following Monday for the Trans Madeira event. Not even knowing it was on, I quickly checked flights and made the decision that morning to head to Madeira for a week of racing, which would at least end my season on a better note. I was on an EasyJet flight the following Monday afternoon, direct to Madeira and arriving at 6PM.

Arriving in Madeira, I met Phil at the airport. He had taken a flight with a connection in Lisbon, and the airline had managed to lose his bike. Apparently, ‘22 was the year for losing luggage — I had it happen a few times myself. Luckily, with my direct flight, I had no such issue. We were picked up by a driver who took us to the base camp, which was set up on a beach, with 100 odd tents for all the riders and a big tent which served as the dining hall. We arrived as the sun was setting, so I got to work throwing my bike together and getting it ready as the race was set to start at 8 o’ clock the next morning.

To anyone planning on doing so, I would suggest not arriving the night before a race. Setting everything up — including the tent and so on — in the dark kinda sucks but, somehow, myself and Phil managed, and a local kid even agreed for Phil to use his 2016 Propain, as that’s the brand he rides for. All in all we managed pretty well considering.

The next morning, we were up early and in the shuttle on the windy long road to the top of the mountain for the 8am start. This became the daily routine for the next five days. Madeira’s mountains are in the centre of the island and stand up to around 1800m. This means that, often, the weather at the beach can be hot and sunny and, up the top, it can be a lot cooler and more damp. This really makes this event, as we cover a large amount of the trails on the island and get such a wide range of conditions and soil types.

Anyway, I kicked off Stage One for the week, following Phil on his borrowed/rental bike. Surprisingly, that didn’t last long, as 100 metres in he was on the side of the trail trying to pull the derailleur out of the wheel, not the best start to Stage One of a 30 stage (yes, 30 stage) blind Enduro race. For me, racing ‘blind’ — or without practice — is the truest form of Enduro racing, and probably the most fun too as you really have to be ready for anything and have a mental state of alertness. Pushing hard and going fast without knowing what’s coming up is quite a cool feeling.

The first stage went off without a hitch. It was quite physical and, as the day went on, it got better and better. Stage Two was quite wet and super techy with a lot of roots. I actually had one of my only crashes for the week at the bottom, when one of the photographers was cheering so I sent this blind jump and proceeded to miss the catch section after. Lesson learnt for the week: don’t let the “Kodak courage” take over. Keep it smooth! Stage Three was one of my favourites and also one we did in the EWS race back in 2018.

“The trail down was what the locals referred to as the ‘Madeiran Massage’, as it consisted of 10,000 stairs, and rattled whatever wasn’t already loose on the bike, loose!”

Dusty and flowing with heaps of drifty corners. We rolled back down to sea level before beginning the climb to Stage 4. It was super hot, maybe 35 odd degrees, and there was nowhere to hide from the sun. Still, we made it up to Stage Four which was super rocky — I nearly killed a family of three goats that were walking on the trail as I came around a corner. Definitely made for a bit of excitement!

From there, it was a shuttle followed by long pedal along the Levadas — the ancient waterways that make up the island’s irrigation system. They channel all over the island and are pretty impressive to see. By the end of the week you truly realise how many of them there are — we spent a lot of time riding along them that week, that’s for sure. I think there is over 1000km of them on the island, with 40km of tunnels too. Anyway, day one turned out to be pretty big with 65km on the bike and quite a bit of climbing too, even with all the shuttles. There were plenty of tired and hungry riders arriving back at the camp area afterwards — luckily, the food the event puts on every day is pretty good. You also get a beer each day on arrival, which is nice. This was where I was surprised, as this event isn’t so much aimed at the pro riders but more the full range of riders, offering them a chance to see the majority of the riding in Madeira in a week. Physically, it wasn’t much less than an EWS day and we still had four more days of it to go. At the same time, I was stoked too, as more racing and bigger days is something I enjoy and something I think the EWS has lost a bit in past years.

Since I don’t quite have time to outline every single day of the week, I will run over my highlights. Day two was another big one, with such a range of different trails and conditions.

We finished off with 50 odd switchback berms which made for an epic way to end the day — especially with Phil chasing me down, still on the rental bike as his never arrived! Then, day three was the one the event staff had been telling us about all week: the big hike-a-bike day. Due to the longer day, we had to be up for breakfast at 5.30am. At this point, we were definitely starting to feel the previous couple of days and, after a one hour bus ride to the top of the mountain, we were greeted with thick clouds and rain. I can say for sure no one was super keen to get out of the bus in a hurry but, luckily, after about 25 minutes of pedalling and pushing we arrived to see the clouds burning off to some of the most epic views all week at the start of the stage. It was definitely bucket list stuff. We then had two open and fast stages through some rocky and loamy stuff followed by a 40 minute climb on a road to reach a trail taking us to the first feed zone of the day. The trail down was what the locals referred to as the ‘Madeiran Massage’, as it consisted of probably 10,000 stairs, and rattled whatever wasn’t already loose on the bike, loose!

Then came the long hike. Phil and I had been pushing our bikes for about 40 minutes when we got to a sign telling us we had 11km to go to the next feed zone. It definitely didn’t excite us but, once up on the ridge, it was much better going with some amazing views of the valley around. It was also a relief to finally arrive at the feed zone and have some food — that was probably the hungriest I’d been all week. From there, we rode and pushed along a Levada and through some long, dark tunnels for a while. We were told, on the event information sheet, to bring a head torch — and now we knew why. After the two long and narrow tunnels, we arrived to a trail that two local kids at the start had told us is the best on the island. I can say they definitely weren’t wrong — it looked slippery to begin with, that kind of wet, volcanic dirt, but after two corners I realised how much grip there was and got into it. It was probably the most flowy trail all week, with all the corners banked in. It had so much grip. After that, we’d definitely forgotten the big hike to get there and I don’t think I saw anyone not smiling after that! We headed to a cool campsite below a big rock face on the coast for some much needed dinner.

The final two days kind of flew by as, after four days, the routine starts to set in, and you get used to the early starts. The nights in the tent also get easier. On day four we had a sweet campsite on a small beach; and by day five, the final day, everyone was pretty smoked. We were also stoked to make it to the end of the race and, after another solid day’s racing, we got to ditch the tents for the night and were put up in a five star hotel with a big buffet dinner and prizegiving for all the riders, which was a bloody good time. I managed to take the win over ex WC DH rider, Marcelo Gutierrez, from Colombia — not that it really mattered, it was more about the experiences we’d had along the way.

This is an event that I wouldn’t even so much label as a race, but more as an experience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has yet to go to Madeira, as it will show you more than you ever could see on the island without a guide, plus you get to ride/race with 100 other people all having a great time too. For me, it definitely was the best event I did in 2022 and my favourite week of riding too. It was the end to the season that I didn’t know I was looking for, but one of the best ways to finish off the year. So yeah, if you haven’t already, I would recommend adding it to the bucket list! One of the best parts is that a lot of the profits from the event are reinvested back into funding more trail building and maintenance on the island, too.

Cheers to the whole crew at Trans Madeira for an epic week!

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

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Trail Builder: Support Stretches North to South

Words: Meagan Robertson.
Photographs: Peter Stoneham and Andy MacDonald.

The latest round of Trail Fund grants – supported by generous donations from Specialized – helps build new trail networks from Northland to Southland. Thanks to an incredible $17,850 donation from Specialized New Zealand, Trail Fund’s spring funding round was bigger than ever this time around, with four grants of $4,000 up for grabs! The increased number of grants on offer saw the biggest number of applicants in years, with 26 trail building groups vying for the funding.

“This was a really tough round for funding decisions as there were so many quality applicants,” said Advisory Board member, Peter Mora. “After much consideration, we chose our top four, but we want to acknowledge the incredible amount of good work being put in by volunteers up and down the country, and the quality of the applications we received.”

The funding is already being put to work by four deserving trail building groups around the country: Ruapehu MTB Club; Waikaia Trails Trust; Cromwell MTB Club; and Kerikeri MTB Club.

Riding in Ruapehu – Ruapehu MTB Club

For those who have spent non-ski days riding everything they thought the Ruapehu region had to offer – Old Coach Road, 42nd Traverse, Fisher’s Track, Tree Trunk Gorge – it turns out there’s more!

Opened late in 2018, Uenuku Pines was the first mountain biking park in the Ruapehu region, set in Waikune Forest, on the edge of National Park Village.

The opening of the park saw a series of ‘unofficial’ trails – built and maintained by local volunteers –finally made ‘official’, thanks to the co-operation of forestry managers. With 15km of trails, ranging from Grades 2 to 5, the park grew quickly in popularity – as did Ruapehu MTB Club membership.

In 2021, a large section of the park needed to be felled, which stemmed the growth the club had worked hard for. However, the numbers have started to increase again with the redevelopment of the trail network – this time, working in tandem with the forestry company and Crown to avoid future felling impacting the trails.

Building momentum should speed up this summer, thanks to Trail Fund’s $4,000 donation to the purely volunteer-run club. “We’re really excited about the rebuild and reigniting the passion that was building in the area with working bees, weekly social rides, kid’s programs and a women’s riding group,” said club president, Greg Prouse. “The funding help will expedite the construction of new tracks and usage in some difficult terrain, bringing us closer to our goal of once again providing a regional riding facility for riders and their families.”

Why Waikaia? Pure passion – Waikaia Trails Trust

As Margaret Mead so aptly put it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And while the Waikaia Trails Trust might not be looking to change the world, this small town of 150 people is looking to add another string – and a good one – to Southland’s growing mountain biking scene.

As with most good changes, it didn’t happen quickly. An opportunity to develop mountain bike trails in Waikaia Forest, located immediately to the west of Waikaia in the north of Southland, was identified by the mountain bike community, in 2020. The site, which is a 700-hectare forest with approximately 110m of elevation, is owned by Southland District Council (SDC) and there was no public access at this time.

Not to be dissuaded, the instigators had the Ardlussa Community Board (ACB) lead the first stage of investigation, starting with receiving 100% support and permission from the Council to use the forestry block for this project.

“Once permission was granted to investigate, we commissioned a concept plan, including a feasibility study, then a master plan, then set up the Waikaia Trails Trust to lead the project in collaboration with SDC, Ardlussa Community Board and Southland Mountain Bike Club,” explains trust chairperson, Hilary Kelso.

From there, the Trust worked to finalise a Memorandum of Understanding, Access Agreement and License to Occupy with the Southland District Council. This included securing insurance, including $20m liability, and completing a Health and Safety Plan and Overlapping Duties document between the Trust, SDC and IFS (Invercargill Forestry Services). All parties involved have the up-to-date harvesting plan to ensure best use of the area for trail sustainability.

“It’s taken significant effort to get to this point, but we are thrilled to be ready to begin,” says Kelso.

“Our aim is to create an excellent trail experience based on quality, which complements and enhances mountain biking in Southland and caters for all riders, with an emphasis on introduction to, and progression within, the sport.”

Development of the proposed 25km network is divided into stages, and the Trail Fund grant will go towards the development of the park entrance and two initial trails – one beginner and one intermediate. While the Trust is focused on catering to its own residents and neighbours, it also sees the park as an opportunity to add recreational tourism to a town known largely for its railway and mining history.

Cromwell MTB Club working on a new trail in Bannockburn.

Caught in the middle – Cromwell MTB Club

Nestled between a trio of top mountain bike destinations, one might think Cromwell mountain bikers were spoilt for choice. However, as epic as their neighbouring destinations may be, until recently they had no local mountain bike specific trails, and no suitable land to build them on.

That all changed early in 2022, when the Cromwell MTB Club – a newly formed club committed to building free, permanent trails around Cromwell – were granted access to suitable land in Bannockburn, where work on their first trail started soon after.

“We’ve actually been a committee for just more than four years but, until now, the club had been a ‘committee only’ entity because we didn’t want to seek paying members until there was a solid project to be involved in.

Now we have that, and trail work well underway in Bannockburn, where trails will be built purely by club members and other volunteers,” says Cromwell Mountain Bike Club president, Alex Bartrum.

He was thrilled to receive the funding for tool sand irrigation pipes from Trail Fund, and is confident Cromwell residents and visitors will reap the benefits.

“The funding will go a long way to help a fledgling club turn an area that currently has no trails, into a biking hotspot,” Bartrum says. “We are very much an inclusive, community focused club. Our first trails will be accessible to riders of all levels and, once those are built, we will look to build more technical and difficult trails.”

The club is also very close to building more trails at a second location, Shannon Farm, which would pave the way for world class, mountain bike-specific trails within riding distance of Cromwell town, according to Bartrum.

“We are just waiting for final approval from the council and are currently in the process of seeking funding as the first trail here will be professionally built. We are so thrilled to finally be able to put our shovels in the dirt!”

Whitehills Forest, located 8km north of Waipapa, offers a diverse range of terrain.

More than pedal power needed – Kerikeri MTB Club

A long-established Bay of Islands based club, the Kerikeri MTB Club has taken on many projects over the years and has a keen following in the area.

“We have excellent knowledge of local mountain biking opportunities, and our members help to build a vibrant MTB community in the Bay of Islands,” says club president, Richard Pilling. “We foster skills development, with encouragement and challenge in a social environment.

We build and maintain a network of hand-crafted tracks in local forests, and host weekly group rides, events and activities.”

The current focus for the club is Whitehills Forest, located 8km north of Waipapa, which offers a diverse range of terrain, including plantation forest, native bush, gentle rolling areas and steep gullies – with more than 200m of descent to play with.

“Thanks to outstanding support from Summit Forests, the club has been developing the riding area for the past two years,” says club secretary, Odette Yates.

“Volunteer effort and local sponsorship has enabled us to build more than 16 interconnecting tracks covering a range of terrain, which have been embraced enthusiastically by local mountain bike riders.”

With a combination of hand-crafted and machine-built tracks suited for intermediate to expert riders, Kerikeri MTB Club says its goal is to offer the best riding experience north of Rotorua

According to Odette, this is now the only mountain bike area of its kind in Northland, as the existing club tracks in the Waitangi Forest – which had been built over the past 10 years – have largely been destroyed by ongoing forest harvest.

With the project well underway, Kerikeri MTB Club knew what it wanted from its Trail Fund application – a power barrow of its own!

“We have found moving materials, dirt, gravel and timber around on the steep terrain so challenging that we’ve hired and borrowed power barrows on several occasions, and we recently gained permission to extend into another area of the forest, which is further from the main road,” explained Odette in the club application.

“Borrowing and hiring power barrows has made us aware of how much more efficiently we could work if we had access to this kind of machinery on a permanent basis.”

With a power barrow now on hand, Trail Fund looks forward to seeing what will be accomplished by the committed club members for years to come!


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Product Review: Rapha Trail ¾ Sleeve Jersey

RRP: $155

“The jersey comes with a neat little repair kit with colour-match iron-on patches. You can also get a full repair service from Rapha, should you need it.”

Riding jerseys have come a long way. I think they still have some way to go, but we’re in a good place right now. An interesting observation is that we have gone full cycle, with young shredders now wearing baggy cotton tees. I’m not one of them but do like the appeal of a baggy tee, however, not the gross sweat that lingers on said cotton afterwards.

With that said, let’s talk about the construction of the Rapha Trail ¾ Sleeve Jersey. The main body area is constructed from 100% polyester, 68% of which is recycled. The sleeves are woven from a more durable blend of nylon, polyester and spandex, resulting in a thicker fabric that still retains a degree of stretch. This blend of woven material has been specially developed to add abrasion protection from rogue foliage, branches and involuntary trail lie-downs. The whole garment is finished with an antibacterial treatment, specifically for sweating. Another nifty feature is that the jersey is accompanied by a neat little repair kit with colour-match iron-on patches, for any wear and tear your jersey might suffer from. You can also get a full repair service from Rapha, should you need it. Today, having longevity in the apparel you purchase is super appealing.

The jersey fit is very good; it’s certainly form fitting, so you’ll want to be in good shape. I personally like a bit of room between me and a garment, however, nothing binds or pulls and there is little in the way of extra fabric flapping in the wind. As with most of their garments, Rapha have designed this piece with material that is breathable and feels so bloody nice against the skin. Heck, it still feels good even when you’re a hot, sweaty mess from climbing, or soaking wet from an unexpected rain shower. I’ve got large shoulders and arms, which have been growing over the past wee while – thanks to getting jacked in the gym – so the arms felt a bit tight; and the cuff has been tight since before the jacking programme. They are so slim fit that they pull on the rest of the sleeve when riding. For me, they’re better pulled up nearer the elbow, but could also offer better manoeuvrability. Whilst the body of the jersey is super breathable the sleeves don’t offer the same feature. I would even make some sacrifice for ‘less durable’ but ‘more breathable’ sleeves.

With the cost of living at an all-time high, the RRP does seem like quite a bit for a riding jersey. However, it’s a quality, made-to-last garment, constructed with high attention to detail; it’s comfortable, has subtle style and comes from a prominent and prestigious name within the cycling industry. What’s more, the repair kit means it offers future-proofness, which means a lot in this day and age.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

New video guide Sheds light on the iconic Old Ghost Road

Words: NZ Safety Council
Photography: Quite Nice Films & Cameron Mackenzie

Its vision of ‘safer places, safer activities, safer people’ is supported by years of in-depth insights. This means NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) knows where, how and why people get into trouble, and how to prevent these incidents.

The organisation has been encouraging safe participation in all land-based outdoor recreation for almost 60 years. That’s anything from hiking to backcountry skiing and climbing, to mountain biking and trail running. These insights clearly show that preventable incidents are occurring across Aotearoa.

By analysing these insights, MSC realised that the best way to encourage outdoor enthusiasts to change their behaviour was to make planning and preparation as easy and robust as possible. This preparation is a vital part of a fun and safe adventure, whether it’s a short walk in a regional park, a multi-day tramp in the Southern Alps, or a backcountry mountain bike ride. This saw the shift in messaging tactics from highlighting what not to do before an excursion, to positive messaging on how to plan correctly.

Over recent years, MSC has created a suite of videos covering safety tips and how-to style content. Its latest, and first mountain biking video, is a new ride-through safety guide on the Old Ghost Road trail, and has been added to the suite of Tramping Safety video series. From the Milford Track to Canterbury’s Mt Somers Track, up to the Coromandel’s Kauaeranga Kauri Trail Pinnacles Walk, the series covers the country’s most popular tracks, where data revealed preventable safety incidents which could be reduced by a target video.

These videos highlight each track’s common risks and hazards, outlines key decision-making points, and offers guidance on walking times, essential clothing and gear items, important weather factors and other track-specific advice.

In 2021, the research behind this ongoing series won the ‘Insights Communication’ award at the 2021 Research Associations Effectiveness Awards. According to the research findings, 76% of people who watched the video said they would make changes to their plans because of it, and 90% of those people did. Furthermore, 95% said they learned something new, with 82% saying their knowledge of hazards along the track had improved; 85% said their overall understanding of the track had increased.

The Old Ghost Road video aims to help mountain bikers prepare for the epic West Coast backcountry trail. One of the esteemed Great Rides of New Zealand, the 85km-long Old Ghost Road is Aotearoa’s longest single-track backcountry trail, and one of the most incredible multi-day backcountry experiences in the country. The adventure takes riders and trampers back in time along a shared-use and long-forgotten goldminer’s road.

This impressive trail weaves through ancient forests and diverse, rugged alpine environments. The infamous West Coast weather – frequent heavy rain, strong winds, snow, and freezing temperatures, even in the height of summer – means the Old Ghost Road is a true adventure.

The video highlights the varied conditions mountain bikers can expect, covering important tips including how to pack a balanced bike, a suggested packing list, the common risks and hazards, and key decision-making points and pit stops.

MSC Chief Executive, Mike Daisley, said the new mountain biking video was the first of what MSC planned to deliver as part of a growing library of backcountry mountain biking video resources. To deliver the stunning cinematography and capture the essence of the trail required a new filming approach and very careful planning and preparation, he said.

“We’re incredibly excited to launch this video and support riders as they tackle what is a truly spectacular, but hazardous, backcountry adventure.” Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust chair, Phil Rossiter, said the new video significantly extends the tools and resources available to help users plan for their trip. The Trust was set up in 2008 by volunteers who wanted to bring the Old Ghost Road to life and now, having done just that, it acts as the entity that operates and maintains the trail. The Old Ghost Road, a Ngā Haerenga NZ Cycle Trail Great Ride, is a destination trail with many unique elements that draw in an average of more than 6500 riders and 5000 trampers each year. There is one key underlying theme that draws mountain bikers and trampers to the trail, Rossiter said. “It’s the rejuvenation of the soul and mind that comes with time immersed in nature and stunning landscapes, away from distractions and the noise of everyday life, and made all the better by the physical exertion required and the company the experience is shared with.”


“Video is a more powerful way of communicating information than just written text. The ability to combine important safety and preparation details with actual imagery from on the trail is a very helpful step forward. Combined with the professionalism and quality of the safety videos that the MSC produces, it wasn’t a difficult decision to get on board,” he said. Plan My Walk by MSC can help those planning to tackle the Old Ghost Road by providing weather forecasts, alerts, a gear list and then create a trip plan to share with a trusted contact. •

• The video can be found on NZ Mountain Safety Council YouTube and Plan My Walk. The video, other useful resources and hut booking info can be found at oldghostroad.org.nz


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

The new fast: eMTB racing is powering up

Words: Alex Stevens
Photography: Seb Schiek

The latest breakthrough is once again led by Bosch, who unleashed their new drive unit for the last race of the Enduro World Series (EWS-E) in Finale Ligure, Italy, in September. The results speak for themselves. The entire women’s podium of Florencia Espineira (Orbea Fox Enduro Team), Harriet Harnden (Trek Factory Racing), and Tracy Moseley (Trek), along with the winner of the men’s category, Adrien Dailly (Lapierre Zipp Collective), and half of the men’s top 10, were powered by the Bosch Performance Line CX Race Limited Edition.

Fair to say, Bosch are experienced players in the sport of eMTB racing. Bosch-powered bikes claimed more than 60 podium finishes in eMTB races around the world this season alone. In the EWS-E overall team competition, Orbea Fox Enduro Team took the win, with Miranda Factory Team in second and Pole Enduro Race Team in third, all running Bosch systems.

The future of eMTB racing is looking fast. Not only is the sport experiencing a rapid uptake, but the technology behind it is also finding more speed, giving professional riders the competitive edge they need when podium spots are decided by fractions of a second.

Bosch have been leading the field for over a decade, ever since one of the first eMTBs was equipped with their drive system, back in 2010. Since then, the company has consistently developed more products for eMTB riders. The Performance Line, CX, was the first eBike drive specifically designed for eMTB in 2014, and the 2018 eMTB mode continues to set the standard today.

So, what does the new CX Race Limited Edition bring to the table? The specially developed Race mode, uncompromised support and low weight are the key ingredients when it comes to setting new record times.

The Performance Line CX Race Limited Edition is an exclusive evolution of the Performance Line CX. The new Race mode offers direct support, with up to 400% of the rider’s own pedal power, compared to 340% in Turbo mode with the Performance Line CX motor. This means riders reach top speed faster, and can stay there for longer.

The Extended Boost of the eMTB mode has also had an upgrade, giving it even more grunt in Race mode and making it easier to tackle large boulders, roots or steps. Race mode can be adjusted in the eBike Flow app, where you can tweak the strength of support, dynamics, maximum speed and maximum torque.

At 2.75 kg, the new drive unit is the lightest drive in the entire Bosch portfolio. This reduces the weight of the bikes equipped with it and optimises the handling on demanding trails. But, with 85 Newton meters of torque, it still offers maximum power for acceleration out of tight corners, which can be a decisive competitive advantage. Even at cadences over 120 rpm, the powerful motor provides explosive support so aggressive that riding over long stages and fast sprints are possible.

The CX-R is designed for tough, technical routes, steep uphills and gnarly descents, which is exactly what the course looked like at the EWS-E in Finale Ligure. NZ’s Joe Nation, riding for Pole, got to experience it first-hand.

“It was great to be on the CX-R in Finale,” says Joe. “The first power stage was a steep uphill with some monster boulders which the extended power boost made light work of. As weight is a pretty big deal – in both bike and body – for eBike racing, saving over 100 grams is a big gain too.”

Joe, who made the switch to EWS-E just this season, finished 22nd in Finale and 12th in the overall season standings. Not a bad result considering he only got hold of his eBike three weeks out from the first race of the season and had a massive learning curve mastering the nuances of racing eBikes. He’s back in New Zealand for the summer and plans on returning to Europe next season, fitter and more competitive than ever. It’ll be exciting to see what he can do after a full off-season spent training with the CX-R.

The new Race mode offers direct support, with up to 400% of the rider’s own pedal power, compared to 340% in Turbo mode with the Performance Line CX motor. This means riders reach top speed faster, and can stay there for longer.

“A lot of the competitors who weren’t using a Bosch motor were definitely curious about the update, especially as the current CX motor is already top of the line,” he says. The new drive unit requires some pretty precise skills to control the direct response and power of the Race mode. In Tracy Moseley’s words; “It is like taming a bit of a wild horse at times, but it’s just learning its characteristics, learning how to ride it, pre-empting some of it, making sure you’re in a good body position, making sure you’re riding aggressively, and then it’s awesome. If you’re a bit, sort of, resting on your laurels, out for a cruise, it can definitely take you for a ride.”

The Bosch Performance Line CX Race is currently only available to professional riders on Bosch powered brands, and as a limited edition on some eMTB models. Some CXR equipped bikes may well make it to our shores for a lucky few. So, while most of us won’t get to experience this game changing tech for ourselves (for a while) it’s going to be fascinating to see what it brings to the race scene and how riders like Tracy Moseley and Joe Nation use it to its potential in the future. This could change the nature of eMTB racing, from the trails ridden to the approach taken by riders.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Las Cholitas

Words: Jess Dickinson
Photography: Keenan DesPlanques

We picked a line and dodged our way down to our day one camp and a hot meal from Rocky, our gold-toothed cook. An altitude-induced throbbing head and uneasy stomach had come with me to camp, so I took myself away to sleep off the little voice inside that said I shouldn’t be up there.

The Little Idea

It ended with four women, one baby, a dog and a dead alpaca. Not exactly what we’d pictured as Claire and I piled ourselves, nervously laughing, onto a plane in New Zealand. Our plan was pretty simple: ride the best singletracks in South America; make friends; drink beer. A good plan. What we found was an ever-strong group of women, three days of backcountry free riding under the shadow of Mount Ausangate, in the Peruvian Andes, and a wee reminder that from little ideas, big things can grow. Mt Ausangate lured us in from day one. Wherever we went, there she was, our backdrop to Cusco, beguiling us into looking beyond our simple plan of just riding some trails. Whispers of the amazing scree fields, wild views and wonderfully lonely ridges were described. We had been messaging Nicole and her buddy Emily. Nicole runs Haku Expeditions, a bike tour company out of Cusco, specialising in taking people down fatigue-inducing, arm pumping singletracks for a living. Cusco singletracks are distinguished by their twenty- five kilometre stretches of uninterrupted downhill, occasionally broken by ancient Inca staircases or a few alpacas to dodge. This is where Nicole guides every day. The Ausangate fire was lit. Like a weird biking version of Tinder, we made plans to meet up for a ‘test ride’ to see if we all got along. In Peru, women who are of the mountains are called la cholitas. It was evident after our first ride together that our little idea had grown into us venturing up there and following the local cholitas who had walked before us. Nicole described our trip as a hike-a-bike without air. At a maximum of 4800m, pedalling in any direction was going to be hard. And this trip would have a lot of climbing. We had Emily, America’s collegial cross country, ST and omnium champion, to rally at the front; Claire, the ever- enthusiastic Scotswoman, to keep us in high spirits; and Nicole’s baby, Joachim, with his own nanny Iris who, as a local to the area was a mountain woman in her own right. We were also bringing Simon, a trail dog and, as we later discovered, an overly enthusiastic alpaca herder. Add a few pack horses and our mish mash of a team was formed.


The Big Traverse.
It was a 3am start from Cusco to our starting point, where we’d rendezvous with the horsemen and helpers we’d hired to help lug bikes. Late morning saw us starting along a rocky walking path, bouncing around rocks and alongside creeks, before the only path we would see for two days ended and the inevitable uphill loomed. Soon the rocks were too thick to ride through. We were already at 4200m when we started the climb. Our helpers, long-time friends of the mountain, grabbed our bikes and took off ahead. We took turns pushing Emily’s bike up, taking five minute turns. But, as we went up in altitude, it turned into counting out ten steps before the next person took over. Soon I was having trouble catching my breath and was reassigned the responsibility of carrying the camp soccer ball. Altitude requires patience. Patience to go slow and patience to breathe. Each pedal up tested that. Pulling up on the ridgeline on day one to see the valley unfold below us will be one of those completely happy moments I will cherish forever, mixed with undertones of queasy high-altitude breathlessness. We were so pleased to be living in that moment in time, despite the spattering of sleet. Our trail off the ridge was absent. It was straight down, pick-a-line freeriding through a boulder park. It plunged us into high alpine scree fields, needle sharp grass, steep descents and icy blue creeks, dotted with the occasional farmer’s hut. Day two began easily enough, riding a meandering alpaca path through a valley. Our route was set to a fairly easy pass up ahead. This was until Claire hatched the great idea that the ridge framing us to the left would make for great riding. So we climbed, first to the false horizon, and be one of those completely happy moments I will cherish forever, mixed with undertones of queasy high-altitude breathlessness. We were so pleased to be living in that moment in time, despite the spattering of sleet. Our trail off the ridge was absent. It was straight down, pick-a-line freeriding through a boulder park. It plunged us into high alpine scree fields, needle sharp grass, steep descents and icy blue creeks, dotted with the occasional farmer’s hut. Day two began easily enough, riding a meandering alpaca path through a valley. Our route was set to a fairly easy pass up ahead. This was until Claire hatched the great idea that the ridge framing us to the left would make for great riding. So we climbed, first to the false horizon, and finally reaching the highest point of 4800m. Claire was in her element. Emily bounced around taking product shots for various sponsors. I, however, lay behind a boulder trying to find my breath. From behind my boulder I remembered this had all evolved from a little idea about riding some bikes, yet here I was standing (or, at that point, lying) higher than I’d ever been, on an unbelievable mountain mission, with an amazing bunch of women. After photos were taken, hugs were given and moments of awe were experienced, we focused on riding the ridgeline. Riding the ridge was a great idea. But the mountain had piled itself with boulders. So, instead, we carried bikes along the ridge towards the pass. It was hard riding for the next few hours. With no trail to follow and boulders thick on the ground, a lapse in concentration ended in pedals colliding with rocks or a dead stop. Hours of rock hopping lead us down to the lip of a giant bowl, with rough tracks peeling off left and right to the lake and camp below. It was steep, technical, off camber and exposed. I was mildly terrified as I dropped over the lip. At the bottom of each steep section was a ridiculous switchback framed with cactus on one side and a cliff on the other. Ill-timed braking sent my back tyre sliding towards a drop off and I tensed knowing things were going to hurt. By some miracle I pushed out of it only to crash, amid cheers, on the next switchback. When we reached the end of the rock garden, we were welcomed with wide, steep, grassy fields to gleefully freeride down to camp, with Simon leading the way. This is where Simon, our trail dog, took centre stage. He was our fearless leader. Our mascot. Our guardian from all things hairy. But Simon had taken to chasing alpacas. Despite continuous scolding, Simon could not help himself and chased a group of less-than-timid alpacas. All twenty of them chased him back. Simon became somewhat less fearless and hid behind Nicole and her bike as the group of rather angry alpaca surrounded them both. The standoff lasted twenty minutes or so, with Simon whimpering behind Nicole. The rest of us watched from the ridge above, consoling Nicole on the radio but assuring her that nope, we were not coming down to help. Twenty minutes later, the alpacas, in synchrony, turned and walked away. We were almost at camp, incident free. But Simon again charged off into a group of alpacas that were grazing just away from camp. He chased one young alpaca into the rocks and the alpaca broke its leg. After a little discussion between the head herder and Nicole, an exchange of money and a large apology, the alpaca ended up on our dinner plates. A pachamanca, a tepee shaped BBQ furnace, was prepared by Rocky and a few of our horsemen. The whole camp was fed and, I’m sorry to say, alpaca is delicious. There is something so joyful about the simple act of riding a bike. Day three was that day. It was one of those sunshiney days that make you happy to put your smelly bike socks on for the third day in a row. Or maybe we were just giddy from breathing oxygenated air again. The ride out was framed by the lake we had camped along the night before and led us to a river crossing. Claire and I opted for the shoes off, cold but drama free, wading approach. Nicole and Emily, however, decided to use the bridge up ahead. A three-rickety-pipes-tied- together-to-make-a-bridge-above-a-rather-large-and- rocky-drop later and everyone was across and on the final stretch for the homecoming downhill flow. The trail guided us through farms that rested on the side of the valley and wound its way back to our pickup point.


Journey’s End.
In Inca lore, Mt Ausangate is an Apu, the mother mountain spirit; the source of all good things and a caretaker to her land. She looked after us. That night, we reminisced back in Cusco over beers and burgers. That little idea to ride bikes in South America seemed so far from where we’d ended up. Maybe it was the unending enthusiasm and desire to push ourselves that drove us up the mountain. Or maybe it was a simple falling into place with the right people. The mountain let us make our little ideas evolve into something more; that we could grow a team that pushed each other when we needed, supported when necessary and cheered each personal accomplishment with wild abandon. It allowed us to connect with women who identified as moms, pro bikers and wilful wanderers. Our mish mash group of girls had taken a little idea and grown it into our own mountain adventure. As simply as we had come together, we were about to disband. I talked about a wee rest on a nice low-altitude beach somewhere. That was until Nicole let it drop that Haku Expeditions had organised a riding trip with Brett Tippie the next week…. But, that’s another story.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Musings Issue 109

Words and illustration by Gaz Sullivan

“I got hooked up somehow, spat over the bars and into the thicket of manuka that was trailside…”

I worked out recently that 2023 is something of a milestone: I have been riding mountain bikes for 40 years. If practice makes perfect, I should be very good by now. That premise doesn’t necessarily prove to be correct, though. In approximately half a dozen outings so far this year, I have crashed during almost every one.

The first — the one that will require physio — was performed on a short, flat section of a very steep climb. Even with electrical assistance the climb rendered me briefly cross-eyed, and I misjudged a corner. Slight back sprain, but nothing serious. I did knock the control button doofer off its little mounting bracket, but I wrapped it neatly around the brake and dropper cabling and made for the nearest set of Allen keys, down at the car park.

The next bail was executed at a standstill, and involved more pain but less long-lasting consequences. Exiting a favourite trail requires crossing a steep little gully which contains another trail. The procedure is: slow down, check nobody is coming, drop down a bank to get enough momentum to clear the other side. I have done it many times but, for no valid reason, I stalled at the top of the far side. I couldn’t get my foot out of my pedal and toppled over an ancient piece of gnarled wood that is a feature of that section, thus jamming my leg between the wondrous-but-hefty e-bike I am supposed to be reviewing, and the gnarled old log, leaving most of my carcass occupying the trail I was trying to cross, almost upside down. The gigantic battery I like emptying was now making itself felt and, as my foot was still securely clipped-in under the thing, I was sort of stuck. I had to make my biggest effort in living memory to get free before a train of groms ran me over. Lower leg looks worse for wear. Dignity shattered. No other damage.


The best ride of the new year, so far, was out in a jungle I had never entered before, in the company of a gang of very good riders. Here is where the modest skillset I have accumulated after four decades of trying to ride mountain bikes, really jumped into focus. It was a tricky set of trails, most of which I loved. There were a few sections that were well outside my comfort zone. I don’t actually recall any particular crash, but I am sure there was at least one. To demonstrate that falling over from a standing start is my new reality, I made sure nobody missed the next episode. A group ride in Auckland on the roadie was a complete success except for my hard landing. We rode over 50 kilometres in brilliant sunshine, most of it on cycleways or gravel paths on the edge of the Manukau Harbour. Part of that section was a muddy but entertaining bit of singletrack that let us get around a fallen tree, and also filled my roadie shoes and pedals with dirt. We opted for an excellent lunchtime burger in Mangere Village, and I coasted to a halt on the sidewalk in full view of my colleagues and the assembled citizens, and toppled onto the tarmac, feet securely trapped in the pedals. To add to my humiliation I needed assistance to get detached. The consistency of the Ambury Park mud was the perfect roadie pedal glue.

We got back to base a few minutes before Auckland turned on a tropical-style deluge. Rain is never as nice as when it is dodged by a tight margin.

The next day was a bottler, with bright sunshine and high fluffy clouds, making the Rotorua caldera look like the introduction of The Simpsons. There haven’t been two days in a row like that since last year, so bike riding was on the menu again. That jungle I visited needed another look, so I went there again. It was a great excursion, at least as good as the first time. I didn’t crash in any of the difficult bits, but I was steaming along an innocuous stretch on the homeward leg when I made a spilt-second (delusional) decision to get myself out of a rut that had developed in the centre of the trail. I got hooked up somehow, spat over the bars and into the thicket of manuka that was trailside. It bent to accommodate most of me and some of the bike, and I was wedged securely into the landscape, the flexible young manuka trunks were spring loaded and popped in between legs, feet, cranks, frame and wheels, pinning me in position. The prickly foliage was a nice extra feature of that incident, magically distributing itself between my outfit and my skin.

I was tempted to give up and maybe have a nap. I wasn’t uncomfortable really and it seemed like an easier option than trying to extricate myself. But the remains of the trail beckoned, and nothing felt broken, so I wriggled out of the scrub and brushed off the evidence.

Today is Friday 13th. The sun is out, and I am going to push my luck.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Product Review: Ride Concepts Tallac Flat Shoes

RRP: $279

“Finding the ‘just right’ pair of shoes has been something of a challenge for me; admittedly I have, as my wife kindly reminds me, ‘Hobbit feet’.”

Not too hot, not too cold — just right. That’s the Goldilocks approach right? And it pretty much sums up how I approach shoes: always looking for a pair that are just right.

Not too light, not too chunky — just right. Not too subtle, not too gaudy — just right. Not too thin, not too fat — just right. Not too breathable, not too cushioned — just right.

Finding the ‘just right’ pair of shoes has been something of a challenge for me; admittedly I have, as my wife kindly reminds me, ‘Hobbit feet’. Flat and wide. That rules out about 50% of available shoes right away, so trying to find the ‘just right’ pair from the remaining 50% can be tricky. Anyway, first world problems aside, I’ve been pretty happy with the Ride Concepts Tallac Flat.

The Tallac is Ride Concepts’ (RC) latest release and, to me, it’s a bit of a Goldilocks shoe. The sole is decently thick to provide good cushioning without feeling overdone. It almost Not too hot, not too cold — just right. That’s the Goldilocks approach right? And it pretty much sums up how I approach shoes: always looking for a pair that are just right. Not too light, not too chunky — just right. Not too subtle, not too gaudy — just right. Not too thin, not too fat — just right. Not too breathable, not too cushioned — just right. Finding the ‘just right’ pair of shoes has been something of a challenge for me; admittedly I have, as my feels like a more downhill oriented shoe… but, not quite. As I said, just right. The sole is their MAX GRIP compound, and is dialed specifically for the utmost pedal contact and feel whilst also upholding a high level of durability. It’s tacky but not so much that you feel like you are unhelpfully glued to the pedal. The sole also contains some D30 material to help with shock absorption. I really liked the overall feel underfoot. The D30 gives it a noticeably cushioned feeling and the tackiness seemed to be just right for my style of all-day trail riding.

The uppers are made of Cordura and keeping them on are regular ol’ laces. Laces! No boa, no ratchets, no Velcro — good old laces still work great as it turns out. They also have the advantage of just looking like, well, shoes. As a result, these have been on my feet walking around town and getting a drink at the pub as much as they have been used on my bike, which I see as a great bonus. (Admittedly they are a little on the stiff side for walking in, but that’s not what they were designed for, obviously.) In terms of style, the Tallac is available in three colour ways, the Charcoal/ Oxblood that I have had on review, a plain Black/Charcoal, and a bit more wild Olive/Lime. I think the Charcoal/Oxblood is the Goldilocks option – not too Plain Jane, not too ‘look at me!’ either.

After a summer of riding (and walking), I’m still really impressed with the fit, especially for my aforementioned Hobbit feet. I often find shoes feel too tight across the widest part of my foot, (kind of laterally across from the ball of my feet), however, these feel great. They also seem to strike a nice balance between having enough padding internally that they feel really comfortable, without feeling like they will be a complete sponge which will weigh a tonne when it rains. The toe box also offers good protection. While it’s no steel capped work boot, I donked my foot head on (toe on?) — pretty nastily — into a surprise tree stump once and was stoked that my foot came out unscathed, well protected by the Tallac. The tread has also had some thought put into it, with a bit more of an aggressive pattern at the toe and heel — this gives the shoe the ability to hook in nicely if you’re walking up a slippery bit of trail. The Cordura outer seems to have a certain slickness to it as well — mud doesn’t appear to stick and absorb, so they just always look sharp. I reviewed the new Specialized 2F0 Flat last year and while they were fantastic as well, I found they had skimped on the inner padding (presumably in an effort to keep weight down and to help them dry out fast). The downside for me was that they just weren’t as comfortable as I thought they could be. If I was choosing one, I’d personally go for the Tallac. The Tallac is a bit thicker, a bit burlier, and just a bit comfier all round.

Weight wise, my size 44 weighed in at 870g for the pair. That’s fairly hefty compared to some other offerings (the Specialized 2F0’s were around 740g by comparison), but to me it’s a fair tradeoff for a great feeling shoe. I never felt like I had ‘heavy’ shoes on, but I did appreciate the added support underfoot. All in all, this is a great shoe for anyone looking for something with just a bit more to it than some of the other lighter offerings on the market.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Queenstown = Dreamstown

Words by Jake Hood
Photography by Jake Hood, Cameron Mackenzie & Jay French

Can a photo be life changing? I’m not just talking about a photo that makes you go, ‘Wow that’s amazing!’, but an image that actually changes the path in which you are destined to take in life. It’s a turning point; a defining moment. Well, this is what happened to me.

Let’s turn back the clock a few years – back to when I had fewer wrinkles and a lot more hair. I was a know-it-all grom, working in a bike shop in Scotland. On my lunch break, I was flicking through a UK-based mountain bike magazine when I stopped turning the pages, captivated by this one image that caught my eye. It was a photo of a beautiful golden landscape, featuring three riders carving their way down this unbelievable bit of track that snaked its way through the orange, sun-kissed hillside. There were huge mountains in the background. The corners of the track looked like those perfect berms you only dream about, and dust clouds tailed the riders, highlighted by the evening sun. The golden orange light contrasted the dark moody hills perfectly in the background. It was such a defining photo. A photo that I needed to know more about.


‘Where is that?’ I thought. ‘I need to see this place, I need to experience it for myself! It looks like paradise.’ Well, it turned out to be Queenstown, New Zealand – or as I like to call it: Dreamstown.

A couple of years after first seeing that photo, I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud, and set up camp on the alpine shores of Lake Whakatipu. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew this place was something special. The mountain air felt dense. Jagged, craggy mountain peaks towered over the lake, while the small, sunny town below basked in the late evening sun. The energy of the town seemed to echo through the valleys. I remember getting a taxi from the airport to town and seeing the Skyline Gondola for the first time. It literally went straight up – like, vertical. How was that even possible?! How could there be trails off that hill? My mind was blown. The first summer I spent here, I experienced as many of the myriad trails as possible. I would finish work and commute home via the gondola back to Fernhill. There were just so many trails to explore and places to see. I kept having to pinch myself to remember I was really living here, in Dreamstown. This place really made an impression on me. But something weird happened after living and riding in this amazing place for a summer. I started to realise that it’s not just the landscape, town or trails that make Queenstown oh-so-special. Yeah, these aspects are amazing, but there is something else that makes this place special… I’ll come back to that later.

It would be hard not to talk about the trails whilst on the topic of Queenstown. There is such a variety, spanning the 7 Mile riding area to Arrowtown. Over a weekend, you would be lucky to just scratch the surface of the amount of riding there is. Every year, this network grows, and us Queenstown riders get better and better trails. In the past few years, the quality of new trails has skyrocketed. The driving force behind this movement are Elevate Trail Building and Dirt Tec Trails. Tom Hey from Elevate Trail Building started shaping the trails of Queenstown in 2013, with Rude Rock being one of his first builds, supported by Queenstown Mountain Bike Club (QMTBC) and and Queenstown Trails Trust (QTT). This trail was an instant classic and is now known across the world. Since then, Tom’s been shaping the dirt, rocks and roots of Queenstown into some of the finest bits of singletrack on the planet. Like an artist with his paintbrush, he has this amazing ability to build perfect bits of trail that become instant hits. Kepler Rek, local trail building legend, was working at Skyline Gondola from 2013-2015, as a lifty and running trail maintenance. In 2015 he started transforming the Queenstown Bike Park and moved up the ranks to the manager of the bike park. This is when the bike park started to transform into what it is now – up there as one of the best in the world. Before 2015, all the trails had a bit of an old-school feel about them; very fast and straight. Nothing lined up well; they were very janky, you could say. Once Kep was on the scene, he started the process of transformation. The first big shift in the park was Huck Yeah – a Queenstown Mountain Bike Club-funded jump trail in the park. This was the catalyst for the rest of the park getting rebuilt. Things got de-janked, rebuilt and realigned – and safety was also improved. It was such a shift forward, and every year things kept getting better in the park. More trails were built with more variety of terrain, including new blue and green trails, so riders of all abilities could test their limits. It was the shift the park needed and involved a more ‘new school’ way of building. It also brought the trails up to a modern, sustainable standard that improved flow whilst also leaving character. In 2017, Kep joined the Elevate Trail Building team. From that point, Tom and Kep went on to build and shape the next generation of Queenstown mountain bike trails, such as Nearly McGnarly and Hot Rod – trails that are now world-famous. Last year alone, Nearly McGnarly was ridden 75,000 times and Hot Rod was ridden 67,000 times. These are trails that work for all abilities, from beginners to the best riders in the world. It’s these types of trails that are helping get new people into the sport and giving beginners a place to improve their skills in a safe environment. For many people visiting Queenstown, Nearly McGnarly and Hot Rod are on the must-ride list – but there is so much more to be enjoyed. From flowing beech forest singletrack, like Missing Link, to Creaky Winder and steep, techy trails like Salmon Run – and everything in between. Throw some jumps into the mix, such as the world-famous Dreamtrack, Gorge Road Jump Park, and Kerry Road pump track, and you’ll find something for everyone to enjoy. Just last year, Kep went on to start his own company, Dirt Tec Trails, with Skyline taking a back seat in running the bike park. Dirt Tec Trails is now in charge of all the maintenance in the park and I have to say, the park has never been better. Dirt Tec Trails is also lending a hand to other projects around town – most recently, the new BluGazi trail. To say we are spoiled for passionate trail builders in Queenstown is an understatement. With two of New Zealand’s best trail builders living here, it’s easy to see why Queenstown, as a biking destination, is known around the world.

The other big reason Queenstown’s mountain biking scene is what it is today comes down to all the hard work put in by the QMTBC. Since forming in 2003, the club has really brought to life the vision of so many people, making Queenstown a world-famous destination for mountain biking. The amount of work these local legends get done is nothing short of a miracle – and it’s all volunteer work. There is an ever-changing group that takes the reins of this juggernaut of a club. Every year at the AGM, club members can nominate themself to become committee members for the following year. This constant change of committee members keeps the club moving forward and ensures fresh ideas come in year after year. These committee members are the true unsung heroes of the mountain biking scene in Queenstown. From trail network planning and gaining land consents, to running weekly dig nights, local jump sessions, fundraising events and getting new members on board, the work this club achieves is endless. What the club gets done is monumental but, through all this, we have this amazing thriving group of locals that just keeps growing and growing. Every year, membership numbers go up and the club receives more consent for trails; the community grows, and new trails get built. Overall, this club has been such a benefit to the Queenstown region and its community.

The network of trails that spans the basin is the artery that joins everything together all thanks to the Queenstown Trails Trusts. The QTT is responsible for the gravel trails that connect the Queenstown area together, giving access to different parts of the region without the need to ride on busy roads. The QMTBC and QTT work together to create a bigger, better network. Recent projects, like Bush Creek, a single track that has connected Coronet Peak to Arrowtown, has massively improved the famous ride, ‘Corotown’, by removing all the horrible river crossings. By using the QTT network and the QMTBC network, you can link up huge rides whilst mostly avoiding the roads. It’s flipping fantastic! And, if you’re not in the mood to ride mountain bikes but still want to get out and about, it’s easy to grab a gravel bike and smash out the k’s. With over 130km of gravel trails in the area, there is more than enough to keep you busy. For those who feel up to a big backcountry XC ride that feels kind of remote, I can’t go past recommending the Coronet XC loop that takes you around the back of Coronet Peak. These trails and networks are all possible due to the hard work QTT puts in. I’ve heard about the plans for the future and if they get the go-ahead, it’s going to make Queenstown an even more connected cycle network, which is a huge win in my books. With such a host of trails available on Queenstown’s doorstep, it’s easy to see why there are a bunch of locals doing so well on the world circuit in downhill, enduro and freeride events. The list of riders who now reside in the small alpine town during the summer months is pretty ridiculous: Eddie Masters, Matt Walker, Cole Locus, George Brannigan, Louise Ferguson, Vinny Armstrong, Jess Blewit and Robin Goomes, just to mention a few. In the lead-up to the World Cup, Enduro World Series, and Crankworx seasons, there is a whole host of teams and pros that come to town for testing and training. Line up at the Skyline Gondola in the latter half of the season and you will see everyone from Loïc Bruini to Emil Johansson lapping the park. And it’s not just the big names that are savage riders – there are so many low-key shredders in town. People that you have never even heard of, who can outride the best. There is something in the water here. People will come for a season and progress so much in that time. Being able to ride after work probably helps a lot – and I mean, literally from your office to the bike park, just two minutes out of town – but another big factor is being able to ride with people that are better than you. From trying to hold your mate’s wheel down a track while you chase him at a pace you don’t really want to ride at, to rolling up to Wynyard Bike Park for a jump session with your mates and getting spurred on by them making cool shapes while in the air — there is a culture of moving forward, of improving, taking inspiration from others, and applying it to your own riding. The progression levels of everyone seem to go up every year. It’s really a product of its own environment: with lots of variety of trails and long summer days giving you heaps of time to get out on the bike, the bike time just racks up. I will warn you though – don’t drop-in in front of the grommets, because they’ll be flying past you in no time, with more style than you could imagine. The next generation coming up are talented beyond what I can comprehend. They are so incredibly fast and stylish. It’s like they watch a YouTube video, and then just go do it — there’s no question about how they do it; they just do it. It’s so impressive and I think in the next few years we’ll see even more big names come out of this small town.

I think one of the reasons we have so many fast grommets in town is due to the Vertigo Summer Series race events. The main man behind this series is Paul Angus (a.k.a Pang), a legendary figure around Queenstown. Co-owner of Vertigo Bikes, and sometimes known as the ‘Huck Wizard’, Pang has seen and done it all in Queenstown. He lives and breathes the sport that we all love. As a former World Cup racer, he’s deadly fast on a bike, riding with pinpoint precision, and as stylish as they come, making him a great person to watch flow down the steep trails of Queenstown. His passion for downhill is prevalent from the moment you step foot into Vertigo Bikes. There’s a museum of old downhill bikes as you walk in the front door and dotted around the shop are old classic parts and frames. Pictures of the staff out shredding the local trails, cover the walls.

There’s a vibe you can feel as soon as you enter and you can sense the passion which is shared by everyone who works there. The smell of the workshop lingers in the air; that classic old bike shop smell, it’s fantastic. Vertigo has such a rich history in mountain biking in Queenstown, that it’s such a staple in the community. Throughout the summer, Pang, Jimi Ramsay (manager at Skyline MTB) and a few legends from Skyline run the Vertigo Summer Series in the Queenstown Bike Park. A grassroots race series that consists of four rounds, with the Whakatipu World Champs wrapping it up. Pang and Jimi pour their heart and soul into these well-organised races, which are a passion project of theirs, along with volunteers who donate their time on race day. It’s a hotly contested race series – everyone comes out to race their mates and settle the trash-talk that’s been going on all summer. The turnout is huge and normally you have to pre-register to enter. All the funds raised at the races go back to the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club.

The groms make up a huge number of participants and their times are within seconds of the elites. Each race is on a different track and often have fresh bits of track dug in for the racing. The atmosphere at the side of the track is electric. They are awesome events to be involved with and it’s so cool to see all the young, up-and-coming riders get to race on the local trails.

If you want to see a representation of this local scene, there’s no better place to be than Atlas Beer Cafe on a summer’s evening. This tiny yet wholesome pub will be packed to the brim with locals after finishing their ride. There are bikes everywhere, parked up all over the place, and smiles and cheers getting thrown about left, right and centre. Big hearty pints are being poured from the range of 24 beer taps that consume the wall of the bar, and the warm, welcoming atmosphere sucks you in. Above the bar hangs Kelly McGarry’s bike that was famously flipped over the canyon gap at Red Bull Rampage. Other bike memorabilia is scattered around the place, and the friendly staff always want to know about your ride as they pour you a beverage to quench your thirst. If you’re a local and you come to Atlas on a Friday evening, you will be sure to bump into someone you know. You don’t need to plan your evening, as it’s one of the best places be post-ride. It’s a common place us riders like to descend on to catch up with each other after the week’s events and plan the weekend’s adventures. There are two reasons why everyone comes here though; 1) the fact it’s just a fantastic little bar that has a vibe that is second-to-none; and 2) Atlas give so much back to the mountain bike community. Atlas’s owner, Davey Mackenzie, and all the staff put so much effort into helping the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club, from organising and running fundraisers – like the SOS (Season of Shred) Party at the start of summer as well as the end-of-season wrap-up party – to sponsoring trails and the club’s trailer. The staff outdo themselves every year by putting so much effort into these great events that see a huge turnout – they are always a night to remember.

Personally, it’s not Queenstown that makes Queenstown such a special place to be. Yes, I’ll say it again, the riding is pretty extraordinary, the landscape is breathtaking and having three lift-accessed parks in close proximity really does add to the appeal. But that’s all just a bonus. What really makes this place oh-so-special? It’s the people who live here. They really make this place what it is. I’ve never lived in a place where the community feel is so prevalent – it’s more like a big family.

I’m so glad I saw that photo and it changed the trajectory of my life so many years ago. I’m happy I made the leap of faith by moving about as far away from home as possible. After a few years of living here, Queenstown is my home. When I head away on holiday, instead of dreading coming home, I find myself looking forward to being back. The breathtaking landscape, vibrant energy and unbelievably good trails on its doorstep, really make this a special place. You soon realize, it’s the people that make Queenstown, Dreamstown.

A little slice of paradise.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

An interview with Sam Blenkinsop

Words: Lance Pilbrow
Photography: Cameron Mackenzie & Sven Martin

I’m two minutes into our Zoom interview and Sam is juggling kids on his lap. Prior to this, he’s been on another Zoom, negotiating deals that will form part of his 2023 season. Undoubtedly, his kids will have let his potential sponsors know that Sam, their dad, should really be giving them his undivided attention. But this is the new normal for Sam. The Juggle.

Most New Zealand Mountain Biker readers will be familiar with Sam Blenkinsop in some form or another. If longevity is a sign of success, then Sam could arguably be New Zealand’s most successful downhill mountain bike rider, having been riding professionally for 19 years. He’s been a fixture on the NZ riding scene for as long as many of us can remember. I personally remember watching Sam ride at the 2006 Rotorua World Mountain Bike Championships where he came second in the juniors. I was blown away by how fast he was riding and just how much style he had on the bike — his bike seemed to effortlessly drift through corners, through the air, always slightly sideways, slightly tweaked. Somehow, he made it look more fun than anyone else.

Fast forward to 2022 and Sam is now one of the seasoned veterans on the World Cup circuit. And a lot has changed over that time. Most notably, he now has a wife and two children to join him as he moves around the globe following the UCI circuit. With his experience on the circuit, and confidence to try something different, in 2022, he ditched the established way of doing things, bought a motorhome and hit the road racing; wife and two kids along for the ride too, as support crew. “We purchased a motorhome in the UK, and just drove the whole of Europe,” says Sam. “We did something like 9000km.”

Having recently toured New Zealand in summer with my own family, I’m well aware that life on the road isn’t always plain sailing. The idea of taking a family on the road, managing a race schedule and the pressure of performing at an elite level made me wonder if he’d had a few too many knocks to his head. But he assured me it was fine. How was it for his wife, Lysh, though? “It was hard for Lysh, for sure. She had to deal with our younger one in the motorhome; there is all the feeding. Yeah, it wasn’t aways easy,” explains Sam.

Sam’s kids come in and out of view on his webcam. In the background, I can hear some fighting over toys, and I’m imagining doing all of this inside the close confines of a motorhome — for six months. On the whole, it’s clear Sam, at least, had really enjoyed the past season.

“To be honest, it was awesome,” he admits. “It was just so exciting having the family there. It was like learning a new way of racing; racing while being a dad. It was more interesting than other years because I was going to all these places I’ve been to for 19 years, but I realised I actually never saw them properly. Typically, I’d just be with the team and at the hotel, and I wouldn’t really enjoy the place as much. Now, I’d be at practice, then as soon as that was done I’d go hang out with the family and really enjoy everything. It was great being with them and not just having the race as the only thing. It was like being on holiday with the family, but getting to race too, which was like an awesome bonus.”

This change of pace seems to suit Sam. The more we talk, the more he seems to relax. He’s reflective on his time as a racer, and the privilege that has been, but also how the reality of being on the road has real downsides. “When you’re with a team, everyone can be in their own bubble and often they don’t really do much. It can actually be quite boring a lot of the time. It’s crazy!”

But he hasn’t always been this way, and he seems to be able to see his own evolution and maturity as racer. “When I was younger, I was more like how I see other younger racers now — it was just racing, racing, racing! Everything had to be absolutely perfect.” He laughs, seeming to sense a bit of irony at what he is saying. “But now I’m old!” I’m a little surprised at just how casual he seems about it all, he just seems to be more realistic. “I just feel like I know what goes into racing — what works and what doesn’t. But actually seeing places differently, that’s what changes when you become a parent. It’s interesting in new ways,” Sam laughs. “Now I’m just looking for the best playgrounds and parks!”

But despite the highs of having his family on the road with him, the challenge any professional athlete faces is that results still matter. So, I asked him if he had achieved what he wanted to this year? “To be honest, my race results weren’t where I wanted them to be. It was pretty frustrating,” Sam admits. “I would get a mechanical or a flat tyre, it was… annoying.” Fort William was one such race. He missed out on qualifying for the main event, a race that is usually one of his favourites and one he performs well on. “I got a flat tyre halfway down…. I missed out on qualifying by half a second.” This was a tough pill to swallow. “I hadn’t been that angry for a long time. We’d driven all this way, I’d been with the family, it was a week of shitty weather, everyone was cooped up in the motorhome, there were midges everywhere, kids couldn’t do anything.” I ask him if having his family there changed how he was able to cope with a disappointing race. “Having the family there changes everything. In the past, if I was at a race and I didn’t do well, I would be thinking, ‘man I wish I was at home’. But, with the family there, it was completely different. It was just like, ‘ah, it doesn’t matter, it’s just part of it’.” This family thing sounds like the ultimate racer’s edge: great support when things are tough and the people you most want to celebrate with when things go well. Like at Mt St Anne, in Canada, where he was back in the top ten: “The high of that whole weekend was really just having the family there with me. It was just the best thing ever.”

Sam seems to have been able to carve out a career as a racer that is pretty enviable, and the longevity of it all is unique. In fact, just staying healthy in a high risk sport like downhill is a challenge; always balancing risk and reward. “When I was younger, I just wanted to go as fast as I could,” says Sam. “But you figure out pretty quickly that it doesn’t really work well that way. You just can’t ride that way all of the time, ‘cause you just end up crashing.” I ask him if this is, however, just what is required to be at the very top? He agrees. “Those guys [Loic Bruni and Amuary Pierron] just ride at such a high level. The risk is so high. But, if anything happens, when they hit the ground, they’re done, the season’s over. I can ride at that pace too, but it’s risky. You need to be comfortable with it.”

Staying healthy, staying on the bike, and showing up to races year in, year out has helped Sam keep sponsors happy. He has just finished up a contract with Norco, after seven years working together, to explore something new. Now, he’s taking charge of managing his own sponsors and race schedule. This seems like a lot of work to me; I ask him why he’s doing it? “I always wanted to run my own program, and I’m finally getting a chance to do that. I feel like I’m going back to my roots — not like a privateer, I’ll have factory support and I’ll have a good budget — it’s just a simpler operation.” Being on the Norco factory team, Sam has seen it all. It’s big business with big overheads. “In a big team, the team takes everything you make them. The managers get paid because of you; the budget is massive to move a team around. I realised this year, in taking myself on the road, it just doesn’t actually cost that much. But, with a team, you’re spending so much money with hotels, mechanics, managers and different staff. The amount of money that gets blown is unreal. With Norco, about twenty people were involved with the team; mechanics, ex riders, masseuse, other staff, an on-track guy.

They were a Canadian team, so lots of them would go to the race and then fly back to Canada each week. The amount of money that got wasted… I couldn’t believe it. So I just knew I could do something simpler that would still allow me to make it work.”

Sam seems to be confident in his own experience. Confident he’s developed skills he can now use to help navigate the new reality of racing whilst also being a family man. “I’m excited about the direction I’m going in, I really feel I can be in the top 10 for sure. I still believe my riding is at that level. I still feel like I can be on the podium the weekends that the track suits me and I’m feeling good.” But the sponsorship side of things is a steep learning curve. “It was so much easier when I had a manager doing all this! Now it’s way harder. I’m just not used to doing it. I’m so Kiwi! We just don’t say, ‘I need this much money so could you please give it to me?’. We’re more reserved and sort of just end up asking for something, anything. Often, I’ll say a number and sponsors will be come back to me with; ‘we can do more than that — you should really be asking for more!’ So, I’m learning I need to be a bit more cocky really. Sponsors often have more to offer than I think they do. But I like that I’m learning all this.”

Taking charge of his own program is about creating new opportunities. For example, he’s getting to work directly with the brands he has always wanted to work with, and working with them directly instead of through a manager or a team. “So often I’m hearing the brands say how good it is to be dealing with me directly. They’ll tell me they’ve always wanted to work with me, not this other person or a team I have been associated with. Often, they just want to do a little deal with me directly but they’ve had to negotiate with the whole team. So it’s cool to be able to work more directly with the actual companies and hear this kind of stuff.”

It’s not all plain sailing, though, and even trying to ensure he gets enough support to run the lean operation that he has in mind for next year has challenges. “It’s hard at this time, all the sponsors are tightening up. They’re not selling as much and everyone is overstocked, and everyone’s freaking out, and just taking so long to return calls and emails.” But Sam’s confident it will all come together, and he’ll be back on the circuit next year. He won’t tell me what bike he’s riding just yet, but he’s obviously excited about it. “I’ve pretty much got everything locked in but there are still a couple of things we’re waiting on. In terms of the industry, to be honest, it is probably the worst time to do it.” But he’s enjoying the new challenges of management, and of the conversations he is getting to have. “It’s just great to be able to choose the people I want to work with, and work with the people I like to work with. Everyone that I’m working with is a friend; I’ve worked with them for years and they are fans of me and I feel like I’ll be able to have a long future working with them. I was with Norco for a long time, and a part of me was just thinking, ‘this would be good if it carries on forever’, but in other ways a fresh start is exciting too.”

There are other changes on the horizon, too. Not least of all Discovery TV taking over the broadcasting rights to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Something that has a lot of riders, Sam included, curious to see how it all unfolds. It’s a complicated business working with the UCI, and the relationship between the UCI and riders has often been fraught. Plus, there are lots of unknowns. “We don’t even know how many people are going to qualify; how many people they are going to show on TV… It seems like they are trying to suck every cent out of us,” explains Sam, candidly.

On the other hand, Sam has always been a fixture on the Crankworx schedule, something some of the other riders don’t seem to prioritise. The reason is simple; “I’ve just always enjoyed the Crankworx events,” says Sam. “If you go to a UCI World Cup, the organisers don’t really care about you at all. You are the show, but they just aren’t bothered. The Crankworx guys, though — you go to the race, and they do everything for you. They are so supportive of you; they help you out with everything. You email the organiser and ten minutes later you’ve got an answer. They just really take care of the riders.” And the festival-style race schedule appeals to Sam, too. “All the events are so fun. They just pack the events in, too. You do one race one day, and if you do badly in that one race, you’re like, ‘oh well, I’ve got another race tomorrow’. It’s busy, and I like that. At Rotorua this year I had the downhill practice, slalom and pump track all in one day. The people love it. I’ve always told the organisers I’ll race these ‘til I can’t race anymore.”

Right now, however, it’s the off season and, for Sam, this means it’s time off the bike and a different pace of life. “I drop my daughter (Indie) at pre-school, then I take Blake (his son) for a spin in the bike trailer.” Family commitments mean Sam doesn’t have the luxury of training whenever he wants, either, so he’s being more efficient than ever with his time — doing weights in the garage before the children wake up being just one example. But his off season is more than just being off the circuit, its exploring other passions too. “I love hunting and spearfishing and that’s what I love doing when I’m not racing. This time of year I love those things even more than biking… Racing is so intense, but with diving you’ve got to really slow your heart rate right down and be relaxed. Plus, it’s all about just being in another environment. Hunting is the same, you have to be calm.”

Nineteen years in any career that takes you on the road for six months of every year is a challenge that could wear thin, but it seems to suit Sam just fine. “I can’t stay in one place for too long. I don’t know how people live in one place for so long! After being in Christchurch for seven months, I’m ready to go back to Europe and start racing again. I just – still – love racing. That’s what I realised this year; I just love racing.” I ask him how he’s stayed in the game for so long, and how many other riders he seen come and go, and his answer reminds me of the day I watched him race in Rotorua: “I think it’s just because I enjoy it so much”. We talk about this for a while, and Sam mentions that one thing he’s wondered about is whether his ability to really enjoy life off the bike has helped him enjoy life on the bike even more. “I think, guys who didn’t stay in that long, all they did was ride their bike. I think if you’re just doing that all the time, you’ll get over it. It’s almost like they’ve put too much into it. To be honest, in my off season I hardly ride a bike. I just do other things – hunting, fishing, diving, and spending time with the kids. Just having other things going on aside from racing is so important.”

Sam acknowledges it hasn’t always been this way. Without being arrogant, he seems proud that he’s been able to evolve over the years to approach riding in a more mature way. “When you’re young you need to be on the bike all the time, you need to do that to get the skills and that’s exactly what I did. I just rode my bike every day, did dirt jumps, pushed up to do downhill runs, XC — whatever I could do. I spent every day on my bike, from dawn ‘til dusk. It was all about biking. But now, I know I’ve got those skills, so it’s more about having fun on the bike and enjoying it and not getting burnt out. It’s key to know when to train and when to stop – to avoid getting burnt out with training. It’s a learning thing — and I’m still learning.” He seems genuine. Genuine that he really does still just love riding his bike, but hungry for more too. “I feel like I’ve got a lot more in me. There’s a lot of young kids coming through the local scene, but they don’t seem to be able to beat me yet, so I might as well keep going.”

Might as well.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109