It's Not About the Bike

It's Not About the Bike

A friend of Soigneur recently had an interesting day on the bike, with a good lesson for us all thrown in. Let’s call him Jon (because that’s his name). Jon decided to do a two-day gravel ride into the New Zealand hinterland, up and over a remote mountain range and down to coastal Gisborne, the world’s Eastern-most city.

The plan was simple: pick up his newly-tuned bike from the bike shop, drive 100km to the coastal town of Opotiki and start riding. Mid-way accommodation was booked at a remote renovated Post Office, with a bus trip back arranged for day three.

Things didn’t go to plan….

50m down the road and Jon noticed his front derailleur wasn’t working. Fortunately Jon is handy with his bike mechanics and set about re-tuning the errant derailleur. Which is when he realised that his handy-dandy tiny multi-tool was, as we say in New Zealand, “as much use as tits on a bull”.

Realising that the derailleur was in fact broken, Jon stoically decided that a 1x11 option for the journey remained a viable option. Besides, time was ticking by.

Back on the bike.

100m down the road a spoke broke.

Now remember, we noted than Jon is handy with his bike tools. But without a spare spoke and a wheel now wedged into the rear chainstays, he was going nowhere.
A few paragraphs ago we also said Jon could be stoic. Well, he gets enough practice after all. So after walking back to his car and packing the bike away he drives to the local bike hire centre for the famous trail he was now overdue to be reaching - closed for Sunday.

One last chance. Jon checks out the fishing shop next door to see if they could contact the bike hire people. The storekeeper’s first words being “Those idiots shouldn’t be closed on a day like this, that’s crazy – would you like to borrow my bike?”. Everything you’ve heard about Kiwi hospitality is true! (the storekeeper’s second exclamation was, of course, “what a stunning custom-designed merino cycling jersey you’re wearing”).

The catch was that Jon couldn’t take the bike overnight, which mean changing his original plans to the famous Motu Trails one day 91km loop ride, with the benefit of it including the famous Pakihi riverside mountain-bike track.

A beautiful summer’s day riding new roads isn’t to be passed up lightly, so Jon took the bait and got ready to hit the road, three hours late, with the assurances that if he kept his pace up he’d be back by nightfall.

Now, as to the bike. A GT Talera, circa 1995. A steel hardtail with around 1inch of travel in the RST elastomer forks; cantilever brakes, and tiny handlebars with bar-ends. To be fair, this would have been a great bike in its day. Once Jon put his pedals on and removed the bar ends he was ready to roll.

And roll he did, onwards to one of his best rides of the summer. A ride that started with 10km of roller-coaster-like meandering through tussocky sand dunes before turning inland and up, up into the isolated New Zealand interior following the famous Motu Road. Following a twisting, unsealed path up through native bush, down into hidden valleys and sheep farms, over fords and up, up , up, often becoming more a wide mountain bike path than an official road for lumbering cars.

All the way, the faithful GT soldiered on, taking the ride in its stride the way it has for the last 27 years.

Then the top was reached and the start of the Pakihi Track began – 22km of downhill mountain-biking following a river through pristine New Zealand bush. With easy grades and a freshly gravelled riding base, the GT was well within its capabilities.

Come the end of the Pakihi Track and Jon just had 24km of country riding to do to get back to the shop where it lived. This was easily reached by nightfall, even with a detour to buy the bike owner the obligatory 6-pack of beers to say ‘thanks’.

And so a day that started with such difficulties ended with that classic post-ride buzz we all know so well. Having done it on an ancient bike you couldn’t sell for $50, it is clear again that it is the riding we love so much.

If you had to swap your $10,000 carbon fibre beauty for a 1970’s steel department store bike, would you keep cycling? Of course. And (obligatory last sales pitch), would you swap an oil-based mass-production cycling jersey for a custom-designed, totally biodegradable merino wool one? Again, the last word is “of course”

Posted: Sat 18 Jun 2022