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...

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