Blog: Its not about the bike

As the long hot New Zealand summer comes to an end and we get our custom merino jerseys out for the autumn, we here at Soigneur have been thinking about the great riding we’ve had. Unfortunately for local farmers, we’ve actually had a drought, but that just makes for fantastic riding conditions.

One of the most memorable of the summer rides was had by Soigneur friend and cycling accomplice Jon, who decided to see in the New Year with a two-day ride encompassing a specially-made coastal cycle path though a Sand Dune Trail and the unsealed Motu Road delving into the New Zealand hinterland, up and over a remote mountain range  and down the Rere Falls Trail to coastal Gisborne, the world’s Eastern-most city.

The plan of attack was simple: pick up the newly-tuned mountain bike from the bike shop, drive 100km to the coastal town of Opotiki, leave the car safely cared for in a camping ground and then start riding.  Mid-way accommodation and a home-cooked meal was booked at a remote renovated Post Office, with a bus trip back arranged for day three.


Happy Jon once he FINALLY got riding....

Things didn’t go to plan….

Just 50m down the road and Jon noticed his front derailleur wasn’t working. Considering that Jon’s mountain-bike is a single-speed converted to triple-speed via a triple-chainring, and losing the use of the front derailleur has more serious consequences than would be the norm.  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 roady multi-tool was, as we say in New Zealand, “as much use as tits on a bull”. Cue humbling visit to a service station where he toiled away for 30min using borrowed tools while smug motorists stared and confirmed their own misconceptions about the difficulties of cycling.

Realising that the derailleur was in fact slightly broken in a small but important way, Jon stoically decided that single-speeding the entire journey remained a viable option. Besides, time was ticking by.

Back on the bike.

100m down the road the chain broke.

Now remember, a few paragraphs ago we noted than Jon is handy with his bike tools. He even had quick links and a chain tool.  The quick links sucked and the loss of chain links required to reconnect the chain meant shortening the chain too much for the now single-speed.

Pakihi Track
Crossing the river on the Pakihi Track

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 centre for the famous Motu Trails he was now 2 hours overdue to be reaching.  After all, the Motu Trails people are famous for bike hire and shuttle services – and all inexplicably closed for New Years day.

One last chance. Jon checks out the fishing shop next door to see if they could contact the Motu Trails 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 and the Deore componentry still shifted smooth. 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 18-odd years.

Opotiki Dunes Trail
On the Dunes Trail

Then the top was reached and the start of the Pakihi Track began – 22km of downhill mountain-biking through pristine New Zealand bush, following first one side of the river then the other. With easy grades and a freshly gravelled riding base, even a cyclocross bike would have been comfortable here, and so 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 $5000 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”  

Motu Road
Starting the Motu Road

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