Monday, April 30

Back on track...

Our working bees so far this year have been dominated by some of the 'less sexy' tasks.

Cutting back bracken & gorse, spraying re-growth and spreading gravel are never going to rate highly on a volunteer's list of Things to Do with My Sunday Mornings.
Still, someone's gotta do it so we owe a lot to those Park stalwarts who will regularly turn up, whatever needs doing.

Last Sunday, though, we finally got to turn our attention to some of that sexy stuff.

Our latest track, Corkscrew, has proven to be extremely popular. It was designed as an intermediate-level climbing track to access the top, ridge-line, expert-level tracks.
But what punters have discovered is that it's great fun to ride down as well!

Fortunately, the sight-lines are pretty good and there are only a few places where riders need to exercise caution to avoid a head-on collision. It's a credit to everyone that we haven't heard of any 'majors' yet...

But the committee has had to recognise that, until we build an intermediate-level, descending line from the top of the Park (timetabled for 2013), there are a few things we could do to make coming down Corkscrew a bit safer and a lot more fun!
We started with the uppermost switchback in the forest. Carved out of a steep slope, much of the excavated soil had disappeared down the side.
Still, it was perfectly ok for riding up.

Coming down was a different story.
The lack of a decent berm meant speed had to be throttled back and, for less-confident riders, the prospect of going over the lower edge was intimidating.

We began by armouring the outside edge with a combination of previously-felled kanuka and woven bags filled with excavated soil.

Then, as Rob de Leeuw is doing above, we covered the bags with more soil, carved from the upper sides to make more of a 'wall ride'.

Raking and compacting as we went, we soon had the semblance of a berm taking shape (it's more impressive than it looks here!).

With a surfeit of perfectionists on-board, we probably fussed over it a bit longer than was necessary- but that's what perfectionists do...

All that was needed was for our nominated test rider, Jay Nelson, to check it out.

From the speed he entered the switchback, I was thinking more "crash dummy" than "test rider" and expected to see him fly out over the lower berm, landing amidst the tangled debris and undergrowth below.

Instead, Jay gave us a demonstration on how to ride switchbacks without losing speed - in fact, I think he came out quicker than he went in...

Satisfied, we headed down to the next one.

This corner needed even more building up but, now experienced in the task, it took half the time.

Here, Grib Buchanan and Ross Savile tamp down the fresh berm before we let Jay loose on it once again...

Oliver Weber took several tracking photos of Jay railing the berms, mostly for studying technique afterwards, I suspect...
I think a few of us felt there was definitely scope for a switchback-riding workshop on Corkscrew sometime in the future (one for blokes, that is - see previous post).

Still, there are a few more to do yet. We're not saying all 62 switches* are going to get the same treatment - but that could depend on how many perfectionists turn up for the working bees...

Coming up: the 6Hr Mid-Winter Breakout! Start thinking about getting your team together.

*This is by no means a definitive count! Everyone's definition of a switchback will differ but we should all agree on somewhere between 50-70 :-)

Wednesday, April 18

Taking it to the hills

With the absence of any recent posts, you may think things have been quiet around the Park.

Not so! With the great Autumn weather, the tracks have been getting a lot of use. The daytime temps. are perfect for a fast blast and the nightriders are back in action.
If you'd like to meet up with a few of the latter, Thursday is the most popular night. Some ride from the Riwaka rugby grounds (and up the Marahau hill), leaving at 6.00pm, while others meet on the Kaiteriteri beachfront at 6.15pm.
All levels of fitness & ability are on show so you're bound to find somebody compatible to ride with.

Emma Bawtree is about to start up her Wheel Woman mtb coaching workshops in the Park again. As the name implies, these are for women only and she caters for beginner and intermediate riders. Check out the calendar for the w/shop dates or go to her new website for more info.

During March, I went on a two week road trip of Otago, sampling some of the best tracks the region has to offer.

This included 'mtb park' singletrack in Dunedin, Queenstown and Wanaka, as well as some forays into the North & Central Otago ranges - like here, at Duffers Saddle on the Nevis Rd, about to follow the 4WD route down through old gold mining digs back to Bannockburn.

Over this period, I had plenty of time to reflect on what I enjoy most about mountain biking...

Part of the reason behind the trip was to see what other track builders further South were up to. I've been increasingly reading & hearing about some great new tracks that have recently appeared. Tracks like Switchback in Dunedin, Hammy's in Queenstown and Deans Bank in Wanaka.
Complementing these are the superb 'little' mtb parks that have recently appeared or been upgraded.
Multiple circuits of the Redwoods Loop in Dunedin's Wakari Rd kept me happy when more established tracks were too wet to ride. 7 Mile on the shores of Lake Wakitipu had me returning the following morning for another helping of their smorgasbord selection of routes down from "The Eagle's Nest" high point.

What was common to all of these purpose-built tracks was the high quality of design and build. They flowed, they included fun features and various (usually optional) technical challenges like this log ride on the Redwood Loop.

Due to good design and, where necessary, liberal applications of gravel, they also had sustainable surfaces, extending the riding season into winter.

Another key element of the best parks was signage. Having a good map or mapboard is one thing. Relating it to what's on the trail is another if the track junctions aren't clearly signed. As a local, you know the best way to ride a circuit to get the best out of it. As a visitor, the same network can be confusing without a 'recommended circuit' or directional arrows. Hanmer Springs is another excellent example of where good signage has significantly improved the riding experience for the casual visitor.

At Kaiteriteri, we feel that we're doing a lot of things well. We're still relatively new on the scene and started from a fairly low 'knowledge base' in terms of creating a MTB Park from scratch.

Each year we've learnt new things and incorporated that experience into our development projects.

We put special emphasis on creating family-friendly trails, while also trying to accommodate as wide a range of riders as possible, including providing storage posts for unicycles...

But what excited me most about visiting these other centres was that there is still much we can do to improve on what we want to offer. And, now that our weekly working bees are cranking back into life, some of us can't wait to get started!

What I also came to appreciate from the hours I spent in these various mtb playgrounds was that they are ideal environments in which to increase your fitness and improve your riding skills. Unless you're in Q'town and catching the Skyline Gondola up to Bob's Peak for your downhill runs, they all involve a fair amount of climbing - and that's gotta be good f'ya!
And then, riding the same track several times does wonders for increasing your confidence. Each time you go a bit faster, maybe take a more adventurous line, maybe take on that log ride or table top. After a couple of hours you inevitable depart a better rider.

Which brings me to the other thing I spent time reflecting on. With that increasing fitness, skill and confidence, there is no shortage of places around our stunning country to take it!

I know that there are plenty of mtbers who already are on top of that one - and some excellent guide books to help the rest of us to get started - but too often we (well... I) settle for what's local & familiar.

The back country epics usually involve transport logistics, careful preparation, well-maintained bikes, good weather forecasts and, preferably, compatible riding companions. All reasons to go on deferring that trip you've talked about doing for months, if not years.

But, if you set your goal, ring-fence that w/end and commit yourself to it, those are the rides that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

And you'll remind yourself of what it is you love about mountain biking...