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Frozen…the mtb version…

January 26, 2015

Frozen – The MTB version

Using an ‘Ice’ metaphor – I have to admit I’m more Olaf than Alex Ovechkin when it comes to my bike skills. However apart from my family and ’living’ if you asked me what would hurt most for me to give up it would be biking.

Biking of all kinds – of late Mountain biking, in the past bike touring, and generally just biking for fun, as a commute, as exercise, as a thrill…as whatever you want it to be…perhaps being an eternal kid.

The ride I did last Saturday though summed it up for me – part grind, part fun, part challenge, part thrill, part wonder, part amazement, part tranquility and wonder at the world – it really caught my imagination. It summed up a lot of what mtb’ing has become for me…an ongoing process of discovery of self and surroundings. Fulfilling at every level.

I’ll let the pictures express as much of this as I can, however at the end I have added a brief history of my involvement and enjoyment from cycling in general. As with all this blog it’s mainly as a record for my girls, but if it resonates with a couple of others that’s great too.

Xmas decorations for free

Xmas decorations for free

I was supposed to go riding with my good friend Joe, the forecast was dreadful, but this was an area rated highly and I knew I had limited time. We decided the night before it was too dodgy – however I woke at 6 checked the weather, checked with Chrissy and hurriedly packed the car and off I went to Douthat (said ‘doubt that’) state park – 2 ½ hours drive away. I’m not good at putting others out – I didn’t wnat to disturb Joe at six a.m Saturday to say I was a gambler…

It was  THIS cold

It was THIS cold

I arrived to what looked like clearing sky’s and a warmish valley – about 34f. Off I went on what was meant to be 18 miles.

At the start of the first serious climb I thought it was hailing –

No hoons smashing windscreens, just wind blowing shards from the trees

No hoons smashing windscreens, just wind blowing shards from the trees

it wasn’t, the breeze was simply blowing icicles off the trees at the lower altitudes… it looked like broken windscreens.

As I continued the ascent it got colder and colder and more beautiful:

Really photo's can't describe...

Really photo’s can’t describe…

How beautiful is that. I never in my life had been in a frozen landscape like this.

Unfortunately it made for hard mountain biking as some of these were so heavily laying over the track you couldn’t ride through them. I wished for my Go Pro to capture the explosion of ice as you collided with the overhanging branches..


this was just a pretty one.. some of them were just MEAN...

this was just a pretty one.. some of them were just MEAN…

Also it meant frequent stops for photo’s

…and more…

Lord of the ice things... at times it was a little bleak...

Lord of the ice things… at times it was a little bleak…


This also meant with each one I passed under , through or over I got wetter and colder and heavier..


frozen south

The beauty was everywhere. I wished I had my GoPro to capture the impact of icicles on my helmet and bike, riding downhill fast was virtually impossible – or at least reserved for the insane and unmarried. It was about 22f at the summit.

An icy tree buttress near the summit

An icy tree buttress near the summit


looking north...

looking north…

And the point is – if i didn’t mtb, I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t have had this experience, this thrill ,this satisfaction.

Further, it happens regularly, almost without warning, it’s like waking up and finding an Easter egg under your pillow and realising it’s easter again! Indeed at times I do feel fully resurrected!

If this gets one person out on a bike I’m overjoyed, if that one gets another and another and another – then I understand that I’ve been understood and we’ve all finally come to our senses 🙂

For me life is strongly connected to having two wheels under my bum.

the last crossing

the last crossing

oh and an hour after finishing I stopped to buy some food – as i went ot my sodding wet camelback I discovered ice shards in the outside pocket…



The Backstory

Despite Belgium being a powerhouse for cycling of all kinds my time there was miserable bike-wise, a commute of up to 2hours and flat terrain for 90 minutes in any direction sort of took the urge away. I was happy to recreate with the kids and go cycling within city limits, enjoying the freedoms cyclists have in that part of the world. I tried a couple of times, but generally all I achieved was finding a new music track I liked.

Once we moved to North America – and in fact before we all moved – I was on the MTB trails again, challenged like never before with rocks that made Karori mtb park look like a sandy beach, and considering the country around me seldom rises above 4,000 ft I am spoiled for choice on demanding rides regularly with 1800-2500ft of climbing in a 10-15 mile jaunt.

I’ve had a blast and absolutely swear by the multiple benefits of mountain biking – health, exercise, friendship, challenge, thrills, tourism, understanding, patience – and generally a bloody good disposition.

About 18 months ago I hooked up with Joe – a civil engineer known more for his inability to recognize an ascent and seeming to think everything is generally downhill, Tom – an army Captain who climbs hills as if they are not and whose dry humour and mock redneck behaviours keeps us all laughing, Chad – a school teacher and general death defying sports enthusiast – who is lethal on downhills and if he lost 40lbs would slay us all and plenty of others as well, and lastly Ed a Lieutenant Colonel who has now moved on but kept the boys entertained by riding a modified tank on two wheels which proved far more indestructible than Ed.

We have ridden all sorts of trails and generally these guys have had more to do with the development of my mtb skills over 20+ years than the rest of the entire time I have ridden. I’m still anxious about anything involving being airborne (clearly connected to smashing my leg 11 years ago) but now I take on most rock gardens and ride over the many fallen trees you find in the forests over here, I still wimp out from time to time, but I am a way better rider than 2 years ago.

As mentioned I have never been a strong biker, in any format. I can keep going, but I can never do it quickly – up or down. When younger I could climb hills pretty well, but general road riding was almost a lost cause for me.

My long time friend Bruce Maunsell – though he is only about to discover this -totally demoralized me on a ride on the Whangamoa’s in a training ride for the Coast to Coast, I was complete toast and he looked like he was about to get going.

I was involved in multi-sport when Greg Fraine was first making the transition from Olympic cyclist to multi-sport and eventually current coach of the NZ triathlon team – I remember just being in awe at times when he really put his foot down on the bike (hopefully he felt the same about my kayaking!).

Another friend and NZ level triathlete Gavin Hawke came out for a mtb ride with me once, as we went up the first proper climb I had to check to see if I had my rear wheel still on the bike – he simply disappeared.

Finally another NZ age group triathlete Ross Dyer and I hit up a lot of miles together in the Esk forest – but it was always an unfair contest, though fortunately we enjoyed each others company greatly and he persisted with riding with me – Ross was also with me on both my big falls in that forest – I felt like such a klutz/ Olaf back then.

Yet, I continued and will continue and I love it almost every time.

Access to ride:

What has been very interesting for me here in North America is where you can ride, and the diversity of the trails. I could ride for years over here and never do the same trail twice, and ride so many types of trail, and generally the access is – well not quite anywhere – but often close to it.

I was greatly pleased the other day to see Nick smith had prevailed in getting the Heaphy track opened up on an ongoing basis. I truly hope it is the beginning of many other trails opened up over there – there are far more benefits than not.

My friends know me as a conservationist and I understand the fragility of the New Zealand Biodiversity but when have we seen these headlines:

  • Mountain biker found chasing Kiwi’s?
  • Mountain biker stops to disturb native snails?
  • Mountain biker harvests rare native plants?
  • Mountain biker found smuggling native parrots?
  • Mountain biker found smuggling rare lizards?



The real threats to our environment are largely confined to idiots and others inclined to malfeasance or with more time on their hands than an exhausted mountain biker looking to best his mates time through the trail.

As for combined use – over here you often ‘compete’ with horses, people walking dogs (yes –dogs and plenty of them of all sizes), hunters, fishermen, families on walks, and yes sometimes Wild West Virginians who have you looking for an exit route! The point is though, there is never any trouble – if we’re speeding downhill your focus is 20-30 metres down the trail and if you’re struggling uphill the break is always welcome and or one party happily yields. Mostly over here people are happy to see other types of users in the same part of the woods. Stopping for a chat is a frequent occurrence.

I love NZ’s mtb parks – and some I’m yet to discover – but by the same token these are the ‘video game versions’ of the real thing. We are far to precious and myopic in our belief that mtb’rs will do untold harm relative to trampers – how is this not a sellout when you look at access to the Milford track by thousands and the destructive trail cut by thousands across the Tongariro crossing each year. It’s elitist crap supported by an incomplete argument and people too scared to give mtb’ing a go in case they might enjoy it. There are dual use trails already around which have found a happy co-existence for many many years – the Dunn Mountain trail in Nelson being an obvious one to come to mind.

Well done Dr Smith – there is “No Danger Will Robinson”!

And so I bike…

So now you know, biking is an absolute part of me.

Riding home last week Chrissy came up behind me 500m from home with the girls yelling and whooping from the back of the car – she told me later how she loves to see me on my ‘bike’ and how excited the girls get. That brings a glow to me as well. Age is no reason to stop anything, and cycling is something I do as well now as 45 years ago, that’s amazing really.

I always feel better for it, and it is a self-fu-fueling ‘cycle’ of a healthy and happy life.

It came to me when I asked for a Fixie for my 56th birthday – that bikes where my thing. I love the engineering, the functionality and simplicity of it all. Riding my Scalpel the other week I drifted of the back of Joe as we headed downhill – not because I couldn’t keep up, It was simply that I was admiring the silky smooth descent and the engineering in the bike that made the whole experience like arm honey. The Fixie takes this further it’s like riding a stealth fighter through town – and about as easy to stop! I love it all. So genuinely now I have 5 bikes – Road, fixie, single speed mtb, 10 speed mtb and my scalpel. Each has a specific use and different enjoyment. I probably won’t ride the roady much if at all, but I can’t throw it away either – I owe it that much.

I never thought of myself as a geek, but maybe, just maybe I am.

My Cycle history

First Bike: Blue , Steel, with Blue painted rims, hand me down from somewhere, rear (back pedal brake)… I think I got this when I was about 8 or 9 – it was the same as the day I learnt to ride. My older brother had got a new 3 speed ‘mans’ bike and was cycling from Palmerston North to Fielding with my sister… a feat I thought totally incredible – at 12 miles of flat flat flat riding. That morning I couldn’t ride, had never tried, by the time they got back (on the bus I think) I was riding my bike.. and my love affair with cycling had begun.

Second Bike: At the start of high School my parents bought me a new bike for Xmas. A n=bit like Barry Manilow, it was in fashion but not really cool – a three speed, Gold metallic Raleigh Twenty – I’ll never forgive the British for this. It was probably fortuitous as I was sort of ashamed and knew there had to be something better. I don’t know when I started saving to buy the bike of my choice but I did

I would have liked it more this way - unfortunately it came assembled...

I would have liked it more this way – unfortunately it came assembled…

Third bike – I start in earnest.

I remember walking into the bike shop on Main Street where I had been eyeing up a Grand Master 10 speed. It was about 1974. I knew the price, had saved the money walked in and paid cash – about $120 – they couldn’t believe I was going to just ride it recreationally and didn’t belong to any cycling club and had no real interest.

It looked a bit like the Schwinn below but with a racing seat.

Purple wonder I struggled for girls...

Purple wonder I struggled for girls…

I was the only kid at a high school with 1100 kids to have a 10 speed – by the time I left it was one of many, the move to multi-speed commuter cycles had begun. I kept the bike until I finished varsity and sold it for $140 – 6 years after I brought it.

1981 Fourth bike:

I had custom made at Avocet Cycles in Perth Western Australia, with Shimano Dura Ace componentry, all set up for touring – that was 1981, it cost me AUD$640. This bike – with some components replaced is still going strong in Hawkes Bay. I rode more miles on that bike than any other, twice around the south island, once around the East cape and from New Plymouth to Hawkes Bay (the last 1 ½ days with a broken rear derailleur), amongst a lot of other shorter trips and general riding and commuting. It was of course – Blue.

1992 Fifth Bike – I decided I was going to do the Coast to Coast race in the early nineties and a touring frame wasn’t going to cut it. I brought a Raleigh, Reynolds 531 framed racing bike in Auckland for $1200. Train as I might, I never got any faster, nor any slower, and had a tale of woe to tell for when the race eventually came. For the record I trained pretty solidly on the bike for 6-7 months and my average speed went up by – exactly nothing!!!

Mountain Bikes: 

My first one was about 1988, the very beginning, I brought it at the cycle store in Stoke – around $600 I think for a steel shipping anchor with no suspension and questionable brakes. It got me by.

My second one was a couple of years later with the luxury of about 60mm of front suspension. I did my first race on this – I remember a young Nathan Fa’ave appeared on the scene – I managed to beat Kathy Lynch but I think Nathan was at home having fish and chips by the time I rounded the last corner. I also crashed this riding in the Moutere hills one day, knocking myself out and covering myself in gorse, I had little recollection and only started to piece the trip together over the next few days (and when my partner asked what all the scratches on my back were and why my 8km ride had taken 2 hours)

1994 I brought my only carbon framed bike ever – a Giant at Taradale Cycles in Hawkes Bay – it cost about $1200 on special as it was the last of the model in stock. It was a good bike, and proved a bike could make a difference, though I ditched it going downhill once and still to this day suffer in my right shoulder.

Approx 2000 I brought a specialised FSR Rockhopper with standard brakes (Bike shop guy talked me out of discs), my first full suspension bike. I never settled with the bike. For one it was unattractive, but the old style brakes and the geometry just didn’t suit me. Ultimately my last ride on it was almost my last mtb ride. Getting back into cycling in mid 2004 after a lay-up due to a collapsed lung I was out training with a bunch of mates on a day we shouldn’t have been riding – pouring with rain and greasy greasy clay with a coating of pine needles in late winter. I had a crash going down hill with very much the same damage as Gary Moller describes here (without his understanding of the correct procedures to follow). I was over 2 hours wait to be carried down the hill on a stretcher and be put in the helicopter and be flown to hospital for three consecutive days of surgery.

That was September 2004, by January 2005 I was back on my bike – a Specialised (never learn) full suspension with disc brakes. It was by far the best bike I had had to that time. It came to a grissly end without me even being on it – it was in the boot of my car – when ‘we’ were run over by a fully loaded truck and trailer until. Unbelievably I faired way better than the bike.

August 2005 I brought my first Trance – I only just took it to the refuse centre the other day after I leant if too a friend and some strange things seemed to have happened to it. I’d stopped riding it in 2009 when I upgraded to a Trance 1 2010 model.

Trance 1,  2010, I love this bike and Xmas of 2013 I converted it to a 1 x 10, and still enjoy riding it even though it too suffered the 4 – 5 year bike buying cycle I seem to follow.

When I was in the process of moving to North America I thought I would bridge the gap and buy a single speed to try it out and have to knock around in the evenings and weekends before my family and all our stuff got here. So in early 2012 I brought a Gary Fisher Trek 29 SS. I’m not really strong enough for it, but I had some great rides on it and for certain trails it provides a very satisfying sense of achievement and fun, I use it as a commuter too…though when I had my seat-post and seat stolen in Chicago I lost some of my energy for it for some inexplicable reason (and the $120 to replace the lost items).

My current bike is a Cannondale Scalpel. For a number of reasons I still haven’t done a lot of miles on this since buying it at the end of June 2014, but it is without a doubt the smoothest ride I have ever had. I really enjoy the geometry and the engineering with this bike. The lefty set-up is still cool without being too geeky, and it’s just a bout the right level of tech for me. Other than switching out the rear brake and the front axle lock it is unchanged.

People I’ve ridden most with

Nelson : Grant Fox

Hawkes Bay: Ross Dyer, Simon Gilbertson

Rotorua: Simon Trail, Mike Simonsen

Wellington: Marcus Baguley

Belgium: No-one

North America: Joe, Chad, Tom, Ed

Best tour cycle:

Gisborne around the East Cape back via Taupo and Waiouru to Palmerston North in four days with full touring gear, by myself. 790kms with nearly 7000m of climbing.

Scariest moment:

After biking on my racing bike from Waipukurau over the Paihatua track towards Palmerston North, I came onto the main highway and went to reach for a drink with cold hands after a freezing descent – my other hand slipped off the handle bars and I lost control of the bike bouncing off the front wheel arch of a camper van/ RV which was just passing me – a second either way and I would have gone under it for sure. They were almost as shaken as me, but I didn’t stop shaking for several hours.

 Most Victorious:

None. As I have said I am a very average biker, every ride is a major success.



i’ll add more photo’s to round out this post as time permits… but this gets it out there for now…

hope you enjoy it…

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