New Zealand Mountain Bike Web

20 November 2011

The recreational value of Whakarewarewa Forest

Just received this blurb about some research into the monetary value of Whakarewarewa Forest to mountain bikers, which makes for interesting reading:


A new forestry study has highlighted the importance of New Zealand’s plantation forests for recreational purposes.

Day by day, week by week, thousands of mountain bikers and walkers already make the most of the country’s forests for outdoor adventure.  But this added value to our downtime has never been assessed in monetary terms.

Now, the recreational assets of Whakarewarewa Forest near Rotorua have been calculated at five times the forest’s annual timber revenue – for mountain biking alone.

This result is consistent with other similar studies in the developed world showing that non-market values are higher than tangible forests products such as logs, wood and pulp.

The findings come from a study by Crown Research Institute Scion based on a survey of 709 forest users. The study provides an economic measure of the community good that forests provide – free of charge - compared with the value of the forest for timber.

Researchers employed an economic valuation tool called ‘travel cost method’ to calculate the forest’s annual recreational value in simple terms by multiplying the estimated average value per visit by the number of visits each year.

The formula shows that Whakarewarewa Forest has a median recreational value of $5.2 million for walking and $10.2 million for mountain biking per year.

Jane Arnott, chief executive of NZ Wood, says New Zealand forests currently add $4.6 billion to export revenues, but just as importantly at the ground level, they provide superb facilities for recreational joys – often at no extra charge to the user.

“Without plantation forests and their helpful owners and managers many New Zealanders would have to go without their recreational hobby of choice, from mountain biking to horse riding or walking,” she said.

“Forests provide a sheltered, robust environment that’s ideal for year-round family adventure.

“And what’s really great about our plantation forests is that while the majority are owned offshore, and represent multi-million dollar pension funds, absolutely everyone can enjoy them,” Ms Arnott said.

In New Zealand, 26.2 million days are spent on recreation each year, with forest activities accounting for a major proportion.

Of those, mountain biking is growing fast.

According to Statistics NZ, there has been a 93 per cent increase in the number of bikes imported, compared with 10 years ago. And the number of cyclists grew by 81 per cent between 2000 and 2008.

New Zealand forests contain some of the ‘world’s most outstanding’ bike tracks, according to Bike New Zealand, and seen by the masses of riders heading for well-worn tracks every weekend at Auckland’s Woodhill Forest, Whakarewarewa Forest, or Eskdale Mountain Bike Park in Napier.

This trend is likely to continue with the total number of forest visitors expected to climb one per cent per year to 2014.

This research shows that forests are even more of an investment into the future with the potential to provide significant recreational value on top of their timber value.

The benefits of these resources can only continue to grow.


Reference: Non-timber Values from Planted Forests: Recreation in Whakarewarewa Forest; 
James A. Turner, Bhubaneswor Dhakal, Richard Yao, Tim Barnard and Colin Maunder 
NZ JOURNAL OF FORESTRY, February 2011 Vol. 55 No. 4

For more information please contact: Jane Arnott CEO NZ Wood 021 807 002

06 May 2011

Travelling Light and Long

Long and Light – the way of the Dirt Brevet

By Simon Kennett, as published in NZ MTBer

There's a new style of mountain biking slowly spreading across the globe – call it a dirt brevet, bikepacking, or fat tyre randoneering if you like. It doesn't matter. It's about travelling light and covering big distances. Eighty kilometres a day is good for a starter; 250 kilometres isn't out of the question. When that includes gravel roads and dirt tracks, you can expect to be riding from dawn to dusk.

Sometimes it's an event, like the Tour Divide; usually it's just a bunch of mates out to see as much of the country as they can in a long weekend. Of course, the best way to see the country is from the saddle of a bike. The best way to see a lot of country is to travel light and quick.

New Zealand is well blessed with rough-stuff touring terrain. Where else could you see rainforest, glaciers, alps and grasslands all in the same day? Over 35 000 kilometres of quiet sealed roads, a similar number of unsealed road kilometres, 200+ mountain bike rides,and countless 4WD tracks provide almost endless opportunites. But our young terrain demands good gear choice, as well as good legs. After 25 years of touring, I'm still learning, but here's the set-up I enjoyed at the recent 500km Te Tawhio o Whanganu:

29er – the big wheels roll a little easier over rocky roads

Stans Crow tyres – minimal tread means low rolling resistance and light weight. At 40 PSI they will absorb most normal road shock.

Front Suspension – comfort, even on 4WD tracks, is a big part enjoying a long day off pavement

Aero bars (with extra padding) – a handy place to hang a bag, rest a map, and a position that gives hammered palms a chance to recover. Useful in a headwind, too.

Front bag – 5 ltr dry bag, for clothes

Seat bag – About 5 ltr, for tools, first aid, food, rear light, etc

Spare tube taped above BB – tucked out of the way

Gear carried:

Sleeveless riding top

Woolen riding top

Long-sleeve top

Lycra shorts x2 (with talc powder)

Pair of baggies

Wool socks x2 pair

Long fingered gloves




Sun block

Lip save

First aid kit

Spoon & can opener


Ear plugs




Spare tube taped to frame

Cell phone

Cash and Cards

Contact details & guidbook notes





Reflective ankle bands


2 large water bottles (1x H2O, 1x Sports drink)


2-4 Bananas

Peanut M&Ms

Raisin biscuits or OSM

Salty Cashews

Fresh fruit

Emergency Powerbar & drink powder

Total bike and gear weight = 15kg

The weight is critical for touring in most parts of New Zealand. The Tawhio had over 6 000 metres of climbing in four days, which is normal when using scenic backroads. On the most adventurous routes, some bike pushing is often part of the deal - you must be able to carry your loaded bike. If you carry enough gear to be prepared for every possible problem you might encounter, you'll have created a problem that you can be sure you'll encounter (right from the very first pedal stroke).

Gear I also considered:

Small backpack to increase food carrying capacity, and water purification tablets. Not needed as towns were fairly close together.

Small sleeping bag, bivvy bag and closed cell foam mat (on a Freeload rack). Not needed due to good accommodation options available. However, lightweight summer camping gear needn't increased the load by more than 2 kg, and it opens up a huge array of itinerary options.

Gear I wish I'd had:

A couple more maps (1:50,000 topomaps)

Chammy cream

Pack towel

02 February 2011

Ten of the best tracks in New Zealand, and the clubs behind them

Keep on clubin’

By Jonathan Kennett 2010 [This article was previously published in Spoke Magazine]

Here’s to the clubbers. Between Cape Reinga and Bluff, there are more than 50 mountain bike parks, with over a thousand trails, and at least 100 new ones being built right now, while you’re reading this article. Almost every single one of them has a club behind it; a group of dedicated enthusiasts who are rapidly carving out the best single track in Gods-own. What follows is a tribute to ten extraordinary clubs, and the riding pleasure they have created.

Whakarewarewa – most popular club trails

Famous Fred Christianson was ahead of his time. He started sculpting tracks in the forest near Rotorua in the mid 1990s, but for several years now it has been the Rotorua Mountain Bike Club that has taken Whakarewarewa from strength to strength. They now proudly claim to have the oldest, and most popular mountain bike park in the country. With 100 ks of well-signposted single track, a dedicated treadhead could spend several days riding themselves silly in the forest at Whakarewarewa. And in recent years they have gone from being short squiggly trails to long point-to-point rides that provide a satisfying sense of journey and accomplishment. And when you are finally shattered, there’s the hot pools to recover in. Pick up a trail map for $5 at any bike shop in Rotorua or check out

Taupo - friendliest club

BikeTaupo are the most enthusiastic crew of trail pixies on the planet, and the amount on new track they’ve built in the last two years is incredible. You may have heard of the W2K (Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch) Track that was officially opened last year. Well, in April this year they officially opened another track! The Headland Loop starts and finishes from the middle of the W2K Track. Give yourself a day to leisurely explore both great tracks – for intermediate level riders who enjoy great scenery, they are perfect. Kinloch has a dairy, with great icecreams. Check out for a map before you go.

The club has also been revamping the tracks at Wairakei Forest Mountain Bike Park (a.k.a Craters of the Moon), Go BikeTaupo!

Hawkes Bay - largest club

Eskdale is the premier place to ride on the east of the North Island, and why the Hawke’s Bay MTB Club is by far the largest in the country with over 2000 members in June this year. There are 60 stylie tracks to ride, and they are all in a production pine forest. If you live locally it is worth joining the club – you’ll get all the trail information you need, and a forest permit. Visitors can simply buy a temporary permit for $5 from the Napier Information Centre. This amazing club has also built a smaller mountain bike park at Pukeora, just south of Waipukurau.  For more information check out Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides, or

Whakatane - best little club

If you aren’t big, you’ve got to be smart, and that’s what the Whakatane Mountain Bike Club are. The proof is in the riding at Te Rawhiti MTB Park. It’s a fun area because the tracks have been well designed and built, and by only a few dedicated people. If you’re heading to the Bay of Plenty for a holiday, then make sure you pop into the Whakatane Information Centre to buy a forest permit and a map for $5. Then head for the hills.

Glenbervie Forest – a club of battlers

They don’t have it easy in Whangarei, but despite their council having virtually no interest in mountain biking, locals in the far north have made steady progress in Glenbervie Forest, 10 km northeast of town. Lots has changed in the last few years and there is now a proper carpark and several sign posted tracks. Start from Maruata Road, off Ngunguru Road, and ride with the Parahaki MTB Club if you get the chance. The track network is a little complicated, and local knowledge helps a lot. Otherwise, print off this map ( and take a packed lunch (there is a huge fruit and vege shop at the turn off to the carpark).

Wellington - the most clubs

Long gone are the days when all the track building in the capital city centred around  Makara Peak. There are now ten clubs – formal and informal – working on as many projects in the hills around the Wellington Region. It doesn’t matter where you are – Kelburn, Cannons Creek or Khandallah – there will be a mountain bike track close by. And almost every month a new track is completed! The latest is a family friendly loop around the wetland at Wainuiomata Mountain Bike Park, which is now an excellent area for riders of all abilities.

To check out the very latest offerings pick up a copy of the Kennett Brothers’ guide book ‘Wellington Mountain Bike Rides’, in your any Wellington bike shop. 

Golden Bay - the greenest club

Project Rameka is New Zealand’s first carbon sink mountain bike park! Situated at the bottom of the famous Rameka Track, between Abel Tasman National Park and Takaka township, a block of marginal farmland has been bought specifically to soak up Co2, but its location lends itself perfectly to mountain bike trails. So a club was formed last year, and will be opening the first trail – Great Expectations – in November this year. The 3 km track serves a dual use: as well as mountain biking, it will be used to access the land for pest control (possums and pigs) and tree planting. Great Expectations is an easy track, accessible to all riders. In December, works starts on The Odyssey, an extreme technical challenge for expert level riders. For more about the ‘whys’ and ‘wheres’, simply google Project Rameka

Kaiteriteri – the fastest club

The speed of this club is staggering! It’s hard to believe that the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park Society was only formed this year, yet they have already built four tracks. When I phoned the project manager, Guy Trainer, for this article he was thrashing around in the bush designing a fifth track that will be ready to ride this summer. There are also several existing tracks, that aren’t nearly as good as the new ones, but they help expand the network into an area worthy of spending a few hours exploring. And other club members are working on a Pump Track. Next time you head for a holiday at Kaiteriteri, forget the famous beach. The action is in the forest behind the town. The club has a good website at:

Queenstown – the most extreme club

Bungy jumping, rafting, skiing … it seems Queenstown is all about going up and down, up and down, yet it’s premier riding destination is around. Around the Lakefront Trails to Seven Mile Point, where the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club have built the best riding structures and flowing single track in the region. It’s a scenic 30-minute ride from town to The Hub - a central meeting spot surrounded by awesome tracks like Cool Runnings, Kachoong and Grin & Hollar. Check those out and you’ll be begging for more. But give yourself lots of time. There is a good week of cranking to be done around Queenstown, and yes, there’s even some down-hilling if you want to go up and down, up and down.

Invercargill – world’s southern most club

Yep, there’s not a single MTB club south of Tim’s Territory. And the best thing about Invercargill is that it knows how to keep your expectations under control. Everything is so low key, I bet you didn’t even know they had a mountain bike park. They sure do. Only 10 km west of town, at the aptly named Sandy Point. It’s an ideal place to ride during or after rain, which is most of the time, as the sand is firmer. There is only about 10 km of track, and although it doesn’t sound like much, I’ve always enjoyed a spin around the forest at Sandy Point.

For more information on these areas, and all the other great rides built by clubs, check out the guide book Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides.

31 August 2010

Back to the future for cycle touring?

By Simon Kennett, 2010 [A version of this article originally appeared in Chainlinks, the magazine of the New Zealand Cycle Advocates Network.]

Since it first took off in the 1890s, the popularity of cycle touring has followed a rollercoaster ride. It's been in a trough for over a decade now, but the success of the Otago Central Rail Trail suggests the public are ready for a revival.

I remember the moment when rural cycling presented itself to me as an aspirational activity. Our family were driving down a small hill into Tekapo. Mum and Dad in the front; Penny, Lawrence and Paul in the back seat; Jonathan and I on top of the luggage in the back of the station wagon. Being at the end of the chain of command, that was our place at age seven. It was mid-summer – stinking hot – and we were nearing the end of a long journey. Out the side window a cycle tourist came into view. He looked foreign, probably American, but I didn't hold that against him. He appeared so free, noble even, and happy as he soared down that hill on his exotic touring bicycle. I wanted to be him!

Seven years later I finally bought a touring bike. It lasted for three years before snapping in two on a 4WD track, just as the first MTBs appeared in New Zealand. The MTB boom made touring rough roads more accessible, but it gradually moved the focus of recreational cycling to shorter, more adrenalin-fueled riding. The bicycle was largely transformed from vehicle to toy.

After a decade the MTB boom generated a surge in the popularity of road racing and then rail-trail cruising. Now, another decade on, we have hundreds of thousands of cyclists with both on and off-road riding skills. If it is time for a renaissance in cycle touring, what's holding it back? An image problem.

Cycle touring rarely features in the mainstream media unless a serious accident has happened. When most people see touring in action it is as they drive along a busy highway, wondering if the poor sod with 30 kilograms too much gear will ever make it to the next town.

Despite the dangers of fast traffic, sports road riding is generally perceived to be healthy and fashionable. Despite the dangers of extreme tracks, mountain biking is seen as exciting and cool. Touring on the other hand is seen as dangerous and boring at the same time. Does that matter? Yes.

So long as cycle touring is seen as a marginal, slightly kooky activity, it will struggle to attract the tens of thousands of riders necessary to generate a safety-in-numbers effect, or justify significant investment by businesses and councils. It will fail to be as sociable as it once was or meet its potential as a sustainable tourism earner. For these reasons, it's worth giving touring an 'extreme makeover'.

If we consider the strengths and weaknesses of cycle touring, most of them are the same as for tramping and mountaineering, activities that are still a popular part of the New Zealand psyche. The main difference is motor vehicle traffic, which has increased significantly in speed and volume over the last 25 years. This has made cycling on major roads less pleasant and the perception of risk much greater.

I say 'perception' because the actual risk may have changed little. Main highways have much wider shoulders that 25 years ago and vehicles have better brakes and steering. Our cycling road toll has changed little over the last decade – at around 10 per year it is in the same ball park as traditional mountain sports. The difference though, is that Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) have a more positive and empowering attitude to safety. They accept there is risk in the hills; they emphasise safe tramping techniques and encourage club members to do alpine safety courses before heading to the mountain tops. They advocate reduced exposure to risk by recommending safe times of the year to attempt difficult slopes. And, the climbs are graded so that people know what they are getting themselves into. When tragedy does occur, the media often discuss what might have been done differently to avoid the situation. 

Quite rightly, organisations like FMC and Living Streets Aotearoa each think quite differently about safety – the mountains are different to streets and tramping is very different from walking in towns and cities. Nobody thinks the Milford Track is particularly dangerous, despite it's lack of concrete and handrails. CAN, however, advocates for both urban cycling and touring. As cycling advocates, we need to be careful that we differentiate between commuting and touring when advocating for safer cycling, least we perpetuate the myth that cycling on the open road is fool hardy.

Cycle touring is not an everyday activity. It is a 'peak' activity where greater risk can be reasonably accepted by those with the appropriate skills and experience. Once we recognise the risk, we can set about mitigating or minimising it. Much has been written about riding skills and safety gear – that is something we should continue to promote. The development of advanced road riding skills is lacking in New Zealand.  But even less attention is given to reducing exposure to risk (without abandoning the road all together).

Huge reductions in risk can be achieved through careful route selection and timing. This can allow us to see cycle touring as safe with only moments of danger rather than dangerous with only moments of safety. New Zealand has over 90,000 kilometres of public roads. Almost 11,000 kilometres of those are included in our 99 state highways (many of which are fairly quiet roads). About a third of our roads are still gravel, because they typically don't have the traffic volumes necessary to warrant sealing. Not only are quiet backroads peaceful and often very scenic, they offer a different perspective on cycle touring with regards to safety.  They allow us to see it as “safe with only moments of danger rather than dangerous with only moments of safety”.

Backroads touring does pose some new challenges though. The roads are rougher, often hillier and the distances between towns greater. As the route less traveled is typically less direct, it's important to remember that touring is more about the journey than the destination. But, no matter how satisfying to the soul, one can not eat good scenery. The distance to the next fuel stop may be over 100 kilometres and it needs to be covered with the resources carried under your own steam.

The traditional view of touring in New Zealand seems to be driven by a Girl Guides and Boy Scouts mentality of being prepared for every possible difficulty, even if that saddles one with a mountain of gear that IS the difficulty. While I normally tour with two or three bags, I've been experimenting lately with ultra-lightweight touring. It's not a style that works when camping is on the agenda, but by reducing a touring load to less than five kilograms (and effectively streamlining it at the same time) you can increase your range by 20-30% in hilly terrain. Where you might have thought 80 kilometres was a long day, now you can cover 100 with the same effort, which opens up the possibility of riding from one town to the next via remote roads that previously required camping gear and lots of time.

Simon Kennett and John Randal enjoying some light-weight cycle touring.

The lightweight approach works particularly well if you are planning to include off-road trails in your tour, as some of the most scenic do require a bit of walking, and many MTBs don't have rack mounts. Neither do many road bikes.

Cycle touring does need a makeover if it is to become a popular pastime once more, and now is the time to give it a push. Recreational cycling is on a high and the NZ Cycle Trails are destined to encourage greater appreciation for cycle tourists (and their spending power). Backroads cycle touring can be promoted as a safe ride back in time to the period when New Zealand really was seen as a pedaller's paradise. The upcoming biography on touring heroine, Louise Sutherland will rekindle nostalgia for long-distance, cycling adventures. New technology like 29'ers and streamlined seat bags can give the modern touring set-up a trendy appeal. Finally, lightweight 'Stealth Touring' and brevets help to re-brand touring as a daring, exciting pursuit. All you really need to do is accentuate the positives, advocate for some improvements in infrastructure, and enjoy the ride so much that when the next generation sees you out the car window, they'll wish they were you.    

SWOT analysis of cycle touring in New Zealand

  • Healthy
  • Sociable or Solitary
  • Tuned into the environment
  • Exciting
  • Affordable
  • Big appitite generator
  • Access to backcountry
  • Sense of acheivement
  • Character building

  • Growing pool of recreational cyclists
  • New wave of environmental awareness
  • 'Challenge tours' appealing to ex-racers
  • Improved route knowledge (with guidebooks, GPS and Google Maps, etc)
  • New bike gear (e.g. 29ers &
  • Trail development
  • Wider shoulders
  • Education for road users (including cyclists)

  • Risks of traffic
  • Risks of rough roads
  • Exposure to weather
  • Noise and fumes from traffic
  • Boring
  • Slow/time consuming
  • Exhausting & uncomfortable
  • Uncool
  • Special gear required

  • More traffic
  • Bad driving
  • Negatively biased reporting
  • Poor maps and road signs
  • Unpredictable weather
  • Crime
  • Fear

30 July 2010

The Art of Publishing

By Jonathan Kennett 2010 [This article was previously published in Spoke Magazine]

Boredom is a terrible thing. Terrible. Back in 1991 I washed up in Wellington, broke and jobless after a long cycling trip overseas. The dole queue seemed like my best  bet, so I signed up. But while walking home, day dreaming of all the riding I would do, I bumped into the manager of the Bivouac shop at the bottom of The Terrace and I  had a job on the spot.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like to work. But after months of selling packs and sleeping bags I was bored and dreaming of escape plans. Between serving customers and stocktaking I’d been sketching mountain bike maps on the back of till receipts. Would a guide book be a goer? My brother Paul and friend Patrick had similar dreams, so I clocked off and we hit the road in search of classic rides.

Back then most New Zealanders knew as much about mountain biking as we knew about writing books. Experience is the best teacher.

It sounds like a bad road movie: a bunch of twenty-somethings roaming the backblocks in a borrowed Holden looking for adventure. Except for sex, drugs and rock and roll, substitute smelly socks, mugs of milo, and sausage rolls.

Armed with a list of tracks Paul had garnered from Karapoti Classic riders, we free-camped and rode every day until we had sore legs, battered bikes and enough material for a book.

As newbies we were easily distracted. One day while paragliding Patrick ended up in A&E after bouncing off a cliff above Taylors Mistake. Another time we rode near Hanmer through thick snow. After a long slog we just made it back as night fell and our toes froze.

But we had strengths too. Patrick knew how to string a sentence together, and where those apostrophe's went. And Paul had edited a mountain bike zine and owned a computer capable of laying the book out. Don’t laugh – back then few people owned computers.

And we had luck on our side.

The time was right for a mountain bike guide book. Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides surprised our publisher by hitting the bestseller list for eight weeks. Two reprints followed in as many months. And then our publisher dropped it. In fact they dropped everything except government publications, and we ended up with the copyright. So in 1993 we decided to publish a second edition on our own. My brother Simon was back from racing overseas so he came on board. The Kennett Bros business was born.

The second edition was bigger, had more maps, and introducted an animated flick cartoon. Now there was a labour of love: Paul videoed a trials rider and printed every fourth frame, which was then traced by our sister, Penny, scanned and placed at the corner of every page. I added an evil rock creature, to explain why the rider crashed.

Great guidebooks need inspiring photos. Our styles range from Dave Mitchell’s epic  landscapes, Caleb Smith’s arty shots, to our quirky ideas-based photos. Getting slide film developed was an uncertain process, whereas with today's digital cameras we know if we’ve got a money shot before remounting our bikes.

People ask if we make money from our books. In short: not much.

Authors typically make ten percent of the cover price, with the rest going to the publisher, retailer and GST. After choosing to become publishers, we ended up with a bigger slice of the pie, but had to meet the costs of writing, illustrating, editing, printing, marketing and distributing our books. We lived frugally and worked in Lambton Quay's dingiest office. I might have done better flipping burgers, but the path l travelled was heaps more fun.

More recently we have upped our tempo. In the last 6 years we have published a cycling history each year. The first was Ride and the latest was Dreams and Demons, our only two histories that have broken even.

But as every artist knows, money isn't everything. Our readers appreciate a labour of love, and are generous with sharing trail tips, photos, cycling stories and offering enduring friendships.

We have rich lives. We love creating things. Publishing books is satisfying – to smell the ink and watch a year’s work roll off a printing press is mesmerising. Many readers are also track builders, and relish the feeling of stepping back and looking at a new stretch of freshly dug trail. It’s the same with writing. An hour ago this article was a blank screen. And like track building, it doesn’t suit everyone and is often damn hard work.

Hardest of all is accepting criticism. Taking constructive criticism is a major part of the publishing process. Some call it “killing your babies”. Your baby is that special sentence you created and swear is your best work. Invariably, editors hate it and convince you to give it the chop. Ouch. But then, if it was easy, I’d probably be bored out of my brains.

30 September 2009

Trade Secrets - drugs and race fixing

By Jonathan Kennett 2009 [This article was published in Spoke Magazine]

“People say drugs is cheating. Of course it’s cheating, but cheating for what? Money? Fame? I was a keen green New Zealander; I didn’t know anything. I grabbed at the wrong things. Was it right? Was it wrong? Some people don’t like hearing it. Tough! It’s what happened.” Tino Tabak, dominator of New Zealand road cycling 1965-67

When the young road champion, Tino Tabak, crossed the globe and entered the lions’ den of European professional racing, it was to fulfil a dream that he’d pursued for half his life: to ride the Tour de France. What he discovered, and has finally revealed in his recent biography, was a ruthless, hierarchical maze, riddled with ‘trade secrets’. Drugs, race-fixing and sabotage were so common in the 1970s, that riders accepted them as part of their sport because, as historian Les Woodland puts it, “If the choice is between labouring in the fields or living your dream of bike racing, why hesitate if the only condition is that you take what everyone else is taking?”

For some the logic went, ‘If everyone cheats, then it’s not cheating’.  And so a covert ‘drugs race’ developed where self-taught soigneurs dispensed medication to riders like Tino. Sometimes they were only placebos. But the ‘good stuff’ was usually speed – amphetamine.

Amphetamine was marketed as a wonder drug in the 50s and 60s, for weight loss, depression, and asthma. But studies eventually showed that 15-20 percent of users become dependant, and developed ‘amphetamine psychosis’. Tino was one of them: “I got past a certain point, and I just needed to escape. … You sort of lose yourself. I lost Tino – he was gone.”

The trail of casualties was shocking. Mental health problems, and death from exhaustion, sudden heart attacks and suicide were common. But in the 70s there was a code of silence that kept the trade secrets from being revealed.

Race-fixing was another prevalent trade secret, and one that is much more complicated than most imagine. Tino talks of two categories: forming combines, and buying security. Combines are common around the world. In New Zealand professional racing they called it ‘the chop’. An informal, and secret group, would agree to ride for one man, and if he won, the booty would be ‘chopped up’ and shared. But of course everyone wanted to be in the chop with the fastest riders, and that’s where the deals became complicated (it’s also why individual pursuit riding is favoured by some).

Buying security is a different kettle of fish. It usually happens during a race, and is an agreement between the front riders. For example, two leading riders make a breakaway, and they both want the victory and the prize money (they are professionals after all).  Unless one of them is very confident, they will probably enter into an informal auction. Whoever bids the highest for the victory, pays the other rider to help him win. Sometimes it gets out of hand. Freddy ‘the Ogre’ Maertens claims that Eddy ‘the Cannibal’ Merckx offered him 100,000 francs to win the 1973 World Road Championship Title! In the final sprint, Felice ‘the Phoenix’ Gimondi snatched the title and left the Cannibal “crying like a choir boy” said Freddy.

Perhaps the cycling scene in New Zealand is so different because there isn’t the same magnitude of fame or fortune. That’s not to say we’re 100% squeaky clean and green. Amphetamines and their derivatives have been used occasionally in track and road cycling here. Possibly the first instance was in 1958 when a young rider had his drink spiked by his mechanic. But most of the broken rules have been funny in comparison.

Back in the 1960s, when car door handles were huge, a NZ Cycling magazine reported that latching onto cars was becoming a problem, and joked that one particularly dim-witted rider, held on to the race referees car before realising who it was.

And in mountain biking we seem to be prone to taking short-cuts, intentional or otherwise. In one early race, the leader took a shortcut, and most of the field followed. They were all disqualified, gifting the victory to a turtle who was so far back that they weren't led into the shortcut.

As a mountain biker, it’s nice to know we don’t have trade secrets, but I still wonder what fuels the motivation of those that go to such extreme lengths to win? And does a crooked victory stand the test of time? Let’s leave the last word to Tino, a man who was the road champion of New Zealand, then the Netherlands, and came 14th in the Tour de France.

“The simple pleasures in life make me happier now than my greatest victory.”

For more on Tabak’s colourful cycling career, check out Tino Tabak: Dreams and Demons of a New Zealand Cycling Legend

25 March 2009

On your left!

By Jonathan Kennett 2009 [This article was previously published in Spoke Magazine]

Riders and walkers may come from opposite sides of the playground, but both have plenty to gain from sharing their turf

Rewind ten years, four months and six days. Location: Makara Peak. Grid coordinates: 528-891. You find yourself thrashing around in thick gorse with five other people, scouting out a route for a track appropriately named Missing Link. It’s the start of a monumental effort by Wellington mountain bikers to build what has since become one of the Peak’s favourite trails.

Now fast forward to the summer just gone. More clear skies, not a breath of wind––a typical Wellington day. One of the five pioneers is back in the park, on foot again, only this time running along Missing Link’s flowing line. Behind her she can hear a mountain bike approaching so she steps aside (in plenty of time) and calls out a cheery ‘hallo’. The rider scowls. Ten minutes later, on the climb out of the valley, the runner catches up with the rider and says hello again. This time the scowl is followed by a stern telling off, in a thick European accent: “You are not allowed on these tracks.”

“Excuse me,” replies the runner, “but yes I am.”

“No! It’s dangerous. This is a mountain bike track,” exclaims the Euro. In the end he lost the argument, but was he right? Are runners and walkers taking an enormous leap of faith by venturing onto cycling tracks?

Cyclists are particularly familiar with leaps of faith. Every time we ride on the road we must have faith that the dominant road users will not swerve and hit us. Sometimes, the car drivers themselves try to persuade us that it’s too dangerous to cycle on the road. Nevertheless, for the growing number of cyclists the obvious benefits outweigh the slim risks.

Thirty percent of the users at Makara Peak are walkers, and I guess they feel the same way. Which brings me back to Missing Link. I’d argue that runners, who can quickly step aside, are safer on bike tracks than mountain bikers themselves. Some riders like to blaze, even when it’s not race day, and Missing Link is a two-way track. Last year two fast riders met on a blind corner––Smack! The combined speed of 50 km/hr broke one nose and bruised a shoulder. Luckily, the bikes were okay, but it was a painful reminder to slow down and be prepared to meet riders, walkers, track builders or fallen trees around any corner. It was by no means an argument for segregation!

Ever since we started riding, walking advocates have been arguing that it’s too dangerous to share tracks. It amazes me that some cyclists are now singing the same tune. If they win that argument then we’ll all be banned from riding walking tracks. Doh! Now this may not bother you too much if you live north of Taupo. In Whangarei, Auckland, Tuaranga and Rotorua, riders are banned from riding most walking tracks already. But south of Taupo it’s a different story. Land managers are more tolerant and potential track users are usually assessed according to their environmental and social impacts (an approach that’s finally creeping into National Parks). In Wellington, mountain bikers share over 30 traditional walking tracks, and walkers have access to all 28 mountain bike tracks on public land. In fact, over the last few years some walkers have been helping build mountain bike tracks (or should I say dual-use tracks).

In the South Island the split is less balanced. A flick through Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides shows that 70% of the four-star rides existed long before cyclists started heading off-road. Mountain bikers have built the rest in the last ten years. Most are dual-use.

Land managers usually see dual-use tracks as an optimal use of resources, and most mountain bikers agree. We want to share the Heaphy and the 42 Traverse and the Whakamarina, etc. Although there are still some complaints from walkers about skidding on tracks, or almost getting hit by bikers, sharing tracks is generally working out fine.

I’ll concede that some tracks are just too busy and narrow to allow all users (the Huka Falls walking track springs to mind ––since we were banned BikeTaupo have built a great alternative, the Rotary Ride). But most tracks can be shared amicably, with a little bit of respect from mountain bikers and little bit of faith from our biped friends.