NZ MTB: Prepping for the plane

Man, can’t believe my last post was in January! In the last instalment I talked about the steps to get my bike to NZ. There were a few other little things that I had to work out before getting on the plane.

As you will have spotted in the photos in that previous post, I was traveling pretty light. Bike bag + one travel bag, which meant taking my hydration pack on the plane (and I had one checked bag + the bike bag).

I had to wade through the contents of my bag and remove any dangerous items (matches, lighter, pliers, multi-tool etc.). I left my pump in there with no issues (I have had one query on a plane ride since). Being an international flight I also removed all liquids (didn’t fill the pack, and removed the 200ml sunscreen I had in the bag) and put all that in the checked luggage. I forgot to do this on the return flight, and thus it was confiscated during the security check. Not a biggie, but annoying given how much suncscreen costs nowadays!

Due to weight/size restrictions I wasn’t able to take a floor pump, but my hand-pump had a pressure gauge and this proved sufficient for my needs (and I borrowed the odd floor pump once over there from bike stores and the shuttle operator).

I’d read that I should drop the pressure in my tires, but later found out it wasn’t really necessary. As I changed my tires just before I left, I just left them down, but this had the unfortunate side-effect of not properly seating the tubeless ready tires into the rims (which I discovered when I did a quick test ride around Rotorua on my arrival). On the return trip I didn’t bother dropping the pressure (I was running ~30 psi for the trails there) and didn’t have any issues.

I’d also read (in numerous places) and also been advised that the weather could be a bit unpredictable, so I picked up a long-sleeve merino base layer just in case.

I also booked a small station wagon through Rent a Dent, as they offered the option of a bike rack, and pick up in Rotorua with drop-off in Auckland (albeit with a return fee). And accoms of course (but I’ll list those in future posts). As an Australian citizen with a valid license I was able to drive in NZ without any issue (right hand drive, left side of the road, very similar signage and road rules).

NZ MTB: Planning (pt 1)

Before jumping into the fun stuff (i.e. the rides themselves) I thought it might be worth just touching on some of the things that helped in getting over to NZ.

As I noted in my introductory post, I was originally booked on the NZ Epic tour with Wild Horizons. I used this as my starting point and began researching different rides and shuttle options.

There’s a tonne of info online about the various trails around NZ, but it can be difficult sometimes to get the nitty gritty details and pull it all together into something more coherent.

I connected via email with Dan from NZ by Bike and he was really helpful. I connected with a number of tour and shuttle organisers, and managed to link up with Ted at Tread Routes to join another group that had booked his shuttle to ride the Great Lake Trail during the period I’d be in NZ.

I was interested in the Moerangi trail and read some reviews of the ride that mentioned the Jailhouse Farmstay who ran a shuttle and accommodation there. Early in my research it had seemed the shuttle had ceased to run, but later I found the site above and discovered that the shuttle still ran.

However, I wasn’t able to link into any pre-booked groups during the period, and it wasn’t cost effective to go solo for rides that required a shuttle.

Once I’d mapped out a few key rides (like the Great Lake Trail) I had enough idea of what I where I needed to be, so I booked my accoms at Rotorua and Lake Taupo (I was planning to stay with a friend in Auckland). Lucky I did, because the weekend I was in Taupo was also the weekend of the Contact Huka Challenge, where thousands of riders descend on Taupo. I managed to find one room left in the city, so I nabbed that and set about filling in the remainder of my itinerary.

After a lot of back and forth, my final plan ended up looking like:

Day 1: Fly in and orientation (Rotorua)
Day 2: Redwoods
Day 3: Redwoods
Day 4: Drive to Taupo, Craters of the Moon MTB park
Day 5: Great Lake Trail (Orakau to Whakaipo)
Day 6: Great Lake Trail (Waihaha to Waihora)
Day 7: Drive to Auckland
Day 8: Woodhill MTB park
Day 9: Woodhill MTB park
Day 10–11: Rest and return flight

I would have liked to have to have done at least one more trail ride (rather than 3 MTB parks), but as a solo rider this was really difficult due to shuttle costs/co-ordination. The only way this would be cost effective is to link in with another group, which I was only able to do for the Great Lake Trail. I wasn’t able to get one for the Timber Trail nor Moerangi on the dates I was there.

NZ MTB trip 2014

Given my last post on mountain biking on this blog was about a mishap, I figured it’s well past time to post a more positive (and constructive) post about why I’m hooked!

Just over a week ago I flew back into Australia after a two-week mountain biking holiday in the north island of New Zealand. (I joked^ with Ang that I returned from the land of the great white cloud to the land of the great white Australia policy, but I digress…)

I was originally booked on the NZ Epic tour with Wild Horizons, but unfortunately they were unable to secure sufficient numbers to run the tour. Given my experience over there, this is a total shame—I really hope next year’s tour runs!! (But again I digress…)

For a bit of a taste of what was on offer, check out this vid from Australian Mountain Bike magazine:

Tempted by this, and with flights and annual leave already booked I decided to press ahead and see what I could arrange travelling solo. I used the Wild Horizons tour itinerary as a starting point and started to make enquiries as to what might be possible.

Over the next few posts I’ll share what I learnt in each space with a few pics (on occasion). I really wanted to blog as I went, but I deliberately left my laptop in AU, and wasn’t all that enamoured with using the iPad and/or iPhone I took to do anything too heavy in terms of blogging. But I did keep notes as I went, some of which I hope to share in each instalment.

^ I use the word “joked” for effect here, but the matter is obviously quite serious and no laughing matter. “Deplorable” is a word that comes to mind…

The day I became “that guy” you see on the news…

I’ve often seen news reports on TV about someone who got caught out on a bush walk and ended up needing to be rescued by helicopter, sometimes after days in the bush. I now have a new appreciation for how it is all too easy to end up in that type of situation, even if you think you’re adequately prepared. I wanted to share my experience so that other MTBers might think through their own circumstances and perhaps avoid the mistakes I made in a recent ride.

I ride in the Blue Mountains area—so typically along fire trails in bushland. I’d read about an track that was “well sign-posted”. For an average rider, the “mostly single-track” loop would take about 45 mins to complete a circuit. And you’re never too far from the car should you get into trouble. I’ve ridden the Oaks, McMahon’s Lookout, Wombat (VIC) and Quarry Road fire trail near the recently opened MTB track at Hornsby. Suffice to say, I figured that I had sufficient experience to tackle the course unassisted.

I arrived at the trail head and started down through the fire trail and true to the description I came across a small section of sign-posted single track, only to emerge at another fire trail with no signposts. I rode out and back a few kms along the firetrail and eventually found some single track a bit further on. Excited to get into a bit of single track (finally) I followed some other riders along for a period, before they pulled over at the next, un-signposted, juncture. They seemed like they weren’t sure which way to go either, so I decided to press on, picking what looked like an interesting path. The maps I had used to evaluate the trail indicated a simple loop, so I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that the trail would loop back and I’d be on my way back to the car before long.

After one or two further un-signposted junctures, I found the single track looking was more like walking track… then more like water trail (i.e. the remnants of a creek or water run-off channel). Before long, any sense of “track” had completely disappeared.

Thinking I had my bearings, and convincing myself that I could see a walking track a bit further down the hill, I set off across some light scrubland. Before long I’d lost all sense of the trail I had left. I’d stopped RunKeeper by this point and had scant mobile reception so was finding it difficult to determine my bearings and location.

I kept walking, (thankfully) found some decent mobile phone reception, and using Google Maps on my iPhone determined the direction of my entry point to the reserve in which the trail was located. I started off in that direction only to find a creek that I didn’t remember crossing, and that the terrain was becoming increasingly difficult to traverse, especially with a mountain bike in tow. After a few more minutes of this, I had to concede that I was lost, with no sense of where my original trail had left off and where I was heading.

So I called 000 for assistance. My iPhone GPS co-ordinates proved less than helpful, but about 3 hours later, after dark, two Police rescue personnel were standing in front of me, after receiving some helicopter support. I feel terrible that I caused such a fuss and the resources that were mobilised to find me.

I’m not a person to take the risks of mountain biking lightly. I’ve read many articles highlighting the value of preparation. I had decked out my hydration pack with a first aid kit and bike repair tools. I ensured that I had a fully-charged phone, that I’d told my partner and friends where I was heading. But even with this, I found myself terribly under-prepared.

Mostly, I was totally sideswiped by how much of a mess I ended up in for what should have been a totally innocuous ride—what was supposed to be a quick and easy 45 minute circuit. I would feel less embarrassed if I was attempting a multi-day ride through a forest or something. I think this demonstrates that even a seeming simple ride can go wrong all too easily.

Experienced riders may scoff or write-off my experience as me being a dumb-ass, or not taking the dangers seriously and being ill-prepared. And in hindsight I can think of a hundred things I would/should/could have done differently. But in the moment, when panic starts to set in (even a light panic really degrades your ability to think clearly, I discovered), all of that was pretty meaningless.

My hope in sharing this sorry (and embarrassing) tale is in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes. While I was waiting for the Police to arrive—and having done some serious reflecting since—I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I’d do differently, and what I need to do in future. The Police also had some tips and advice to share on the drive back to the trail head.

From that, here’s what I would suggest:

Pause, breathe, and retrace

If you find yourself “off the beaten track”, stop and retrace your steps to your last known good area of track, rather than trying to press forward, even if you think you know where you need to go. If you’re tracking your ride using a tool like RunKeeper (and you have adequate reception) use that to help you work out where you need to go to get back to the track you left.

A phone is not enough

The GPS co-ordinates reported by my phone were way off. Google Maps simply put me in a “sea of green”, with no indication of trail locations. I expected that being in an area with reasonable reception I’d be ok with just the phone, but this clearly isn’t the case. (And friends have highlighted that I was lucky to get reception in that area.) That said, I was able to call the Police, communicate with friends (via SMS), use my flashlight app as a signalling device. I will be packing a battery extender (like the Mophie juice pack) for future trips, as my battery hit 20% capacity just as the Police arrived.

Ensure your emergency kit is well stocked

My standard emergency kit was totally inadequate. I didn’t have a thermal blanket. I didn’t have salt or matches/lighter to fend off leaches. I didn’t have my wet weather jacket (which I lamented when it started to rain, thankfully only briefly). I didn’t have a mirror for signalling. I didn’t have a torch. The list goes on… I was going on a short 45 min circuit and never imagined I’d need such things—but I would have benefited from them all.

I’d recommend chatting to a mountaineering store for advice, and adapting as required for your circumstances. I’ve since done so and received great advice a number of options that will be finding their way into my standard pack before I tackle a new trail.

Do new trails with a buddy

Make your first ride of a new course or trail with a riding buddy that knows the area and the terrain. Connect with a local club, or online forum (e.g. in my case SydneyCyclist, local riding groups like BMORC etc.). Having an experienced riding buddy can help make the process much more enjoyable, and safe. I’ve just recently benefited from this riding some lovely, local single-track and receiving useful advice from local riders.

Get a beacon

You can get a free “hire” emergency beacon from the Police before a ride, where you can also register (unfortunately only by fax or in-person) where you’re heading in case something untoward happens. I’ve chosen to purchase an InReach beacon (the Spot is another, cheaper, option) from my local mountaineering store (and signed up for the ongoing service). These commercial units enable SMS messaging even when your phone is out of range, as well as being more accurate and enabling an “SOS” signal to be sent. The InReach also supports a smartphone-based mapping application that uses the GPS from the unit for positioning (and provides more detailed maps). While these are an expensive addition to your kit, considering the value of one of these units vs. a dropper post or that you-beaut saddle/sunglasses/etc. in an emergency situation (as I had occasion to do while I waited for the rescue party)… well, I think you get the picture.

What’s in my pack

For what it’s worth, my pack now includes:

  • First aid kit
  • Spare tube
  • Tire repair kit
  • Tire levers
  • CO2 pump canister and adaptor
  • Allen key multi-tool
  • Leatherman (pliers, knife etc.)
  • Spare brake pads
  • Sunscreen
  • Duct tape
  • Salt
  • Waterproof matches, fire starters and a lighter (in a waterproof pack)
  • Thermal blanket/bag
  • Mirror (for signalling)
  • Emergency GPS beacon
  • Micro-size high-power/long life LED light
  • Spare batteries (for beacon + LED light)
  • Battery extender for phone

All of this fits snuggly into a CamelBak and is quite reasonable in terms of weight. This all might seem like overkill to some, but as I hope my experience demonstrates, it is worth the little bit of extra prep + weight for peace of mind.

I’d be interested in what others think of these suggestions and any other tips that might be beneficial.

Tern P24h electric conversion

In about a week’s time, Angela and I will be moving to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We’re really looking forward to the shift (more on that another time perhaps), but as I’ll be commuting around 3 days a week I wanted to find a way to reduce the time it takes to get to and from the train station at either end (about 15 mins walk each end — so an hour a day).

Some time ago I started looking into a fold-up bike for work, in part inspired by Digital Eskimo’s “bike fleet” for staff. But also a reflection of the increase in my monthly expenditure on taxis since moving to our shared office at Redfern from the CBD. My friend Miream had also suggested I look into electric-powered bikes/conversion kits.

So I did a bit of digging and found two Sydney suppliers of electric bikes. After chatting to Jake at Sydney Electric Bikes (SEB) and trying out a folding Apollo Stowaway 2.0 at the store, I was excited by the idea.

SEB allows you to hire out an electric bike to “try before you buy” — so I hired the Apollo for a few days to see how it would work in practice. I had it over a weekend and used it to nip across to Parramatta from Merrylands, and then on the Monday I used it to travel from Redfern to Bondi for a client meeting. On both occasions there was a good mix of flats and hills, and at the end of the ride (about 10 mins to Parramatta and 15–20 mins to Bondi) I was quite comfortable — no overly sweaty — about the equivalent of a brisk walk.

While I was sold on the concept, I wasn’t sold on the actual bike. I stand at 185cm tall, and the Stowaway’s ride height was just too low for me. Also, the 8 speed gear set on the Apollo was too low also — once on a hill I was “freewheeling” which I find extremely disconcerting, especially in city traffic.

I’ve had my eyes on Tern folders for some time. They seem to be the natural successor to Dahon, who were leaders in fold-up technology until recently (there’s a lot of politics behind Tern/Dahon, but I’ll save you the details). I learnt from Jake at SEB that Tern are only distributing 4 models in Australia, the Link P9, Link P24h, Link C7 and Verge P18.

Fortuitously, Jake was able to arrange a demo bike, fitted with a rear motor, of the P24h. I tried out the bike and it was a much better fit. But unfortunately the rear mounted engine system left a lot to be desired (the Apollo was fitted with a front-wheel mounted motor). The Tern bikes’ front forks are too narrow for a front-mounted motor, but Jake and the crew started to explore options for how we might solve the problem.

It turns out that the Apollo front forks and stem are suitable to retrofit on the Tern, so that’s what we did. And after using the bike for the last week, I have to say the end result was worth the effort.

Tern P24h converted electric folding bike

The Tern is a terrific bike — I’m really enjoying riding it. The gearing and ride height are perfect for me. The 8 speed external and 3 speed internal hub gear set combination provides an excellent gear range, and I’ve been able to reach just under 50km an hour downhill on the bike, which is very zippy for a folder. The Tern’s folding mechanism is smooth and very easy to understand and use. I did a demo for some of the folks at work yesterday and they were very impressed with how quickly it packed down.

It’s perfect for the train trip in — I’ve stowed it a number of times this week on both the Blue Mountains trains (which have areas in the entrance to the cabin for bikes and luggage) and standard CityRail metro trains. The folding mechanism is important for train riding, as CityRail charge a child fare for non-folding bikes taken onto trains during peak hour.

I rode from Redfern to Gardeners Road in Alexandria (about a 5km ride) for a business meeting the other day (in my suit), and again the bike did the job beautifully, with only light exertion equivalent of a walk of similar length. The only (minor) thing I’m not 100% sold on are the pedals. The Apollo’s pedals seemed a better bit of kit to me.

I have to say, too, that I’ve been thoroughly impressed with SEB’s work. The ability to hire before you buy, and the extensive effort they’ve put into this conversion (being the first Tern they’ve converted there was a lot of trial and error) has made me a fan.

Jake is still looking into suitable front forks that may allow us to restore the Tern front stem, as the folding mechanism is smoother than the Apollo’s. But even if what I’ve got is what we end up going with, I think I’m going to be a very happy commuter.

SydneyCyclist.com

Damian recently launched Sydney Cyclist – a place where those of us who ride and Sydney can get together and chat. I’ve joined (though not been as active as I’d like due to work and life commitments this week). But I’ll hopefully get some time to play on the weekend…

(For the techies: it’s built using Ning and Damian seems to be enjoying the process so far.)