New Zealanders love to bike. Even New Zealand’s prime minister, Hon. John Key, funded a cycleway that links one end of New Zealand with the other. Enter, first time Māori (Indigenous New Zealander) adventure mountain biker lining up for a “short” ride with the “tiniest of little” issues being that my first ever adventure ride happens to be the inaugural Tour of Aotearoa. Couple this with having no bike two days prior to the event, no training in the last six months and no idea what was required to set up a bike for a ride of this distance.
Running the entire length of New Zealand from north to south, the Tour Aotearoa is a 3000km bikepacking tour from the north tip of Cape Reinga all the way down south the town of Bluff. The tour is a collection of several of the greatest rides in the country all connected by the best available backcountry roads.
Luckily, the owners of Advocate Cycles are good mates of mine. On a recent trip to New Zealand, I convinced them that Māori were riding not for health, physical activity or even mountain biking but to seek the knowledge that only a mountain could pass on from several centuries of watching humans move across their pathways. In helping me out, they inadvertently helped Māori improve their connection to their lands through mountain biking.
Mountain biking is not only becoming popular with Māori communities seeking knowledge but it’s also becoming the new “rugby/netball” for Māori with too many injuries to play contact sports any longer. On top of this burgeoning interest in mountain biking, I’m convinced that adventure cycling as a form of mountain biking is the modality that will capture the imaginations of Māori due to the cultural importance of mountains within the Māori world view.
How this recent move to rediscover indigenous physical activity has come about has been a fascinating process in its own right. It was recently discovered that pre-European Māori had a highly comprehensive array of physical training techniques to improve power, agility, quickness, speed, coordination, flexibility, muscular endurance and aerobic conditioning. These strength and conditioning techniques were garnered from pre-European Māori’s most abundant resource, the environment that they lived in and shared with other living beings. That is, Māori appear to have looked to their ancestral ties with their atua (gods), kaitiaki (guiding animals) and tipua (spiritual animals e.g., taniwha) to make sense of their world and strengthen their control over their collective destiny by training as a reflection of what they saw in their local environment.
Initially, the whole idea of the Aotearoa sounded like a massive pain in the ass both literally and figuratively because I came from an era of mountain biking that used one bike for everything and each ride had to be completed within two to three hours. I was part of the era that thought that disc brakes were too heavy, carrying gear was unnecessary, and that suspension was for motorbikes and had no place on a bike—not anymore.
Two days out from the start of the Tour of Aotearoa, a smart looking, fresh, white, Hayduke turned up at my house. With the anthem of “steel is real” in the back of my mind I set about getting the bike up and running.
Twenty-four hours later, on a low tide, we set out on the start of the ride. The first section of the tour was 110km—86km of that on the aptly named, 90-mile beach. That’s right, almost 90km on sand with an incoming tide and 35 knot head wind for good measure. The first day was the filter from hell. A number of people on the start line asked how my training had been, to which I stated, “superb”—not a single issue of overtraining since I’d done none. Several comments were also passed that at a svelte 110kg I was probably “too heavy” to ride this type of event, especially with a 1×11 drivetrain, and I shouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t successful in completing the tour. I think on both counts, I was finished with the event four days earlier than those who thought I would never get there.
I found the Hayduke to be a dream to ride on multiple, long, 12-hour days. I’ve been around mountain bikes for a long time (since the mid eighties) during which time I had been mostly interested in hill climbing only for the thrill of downhilling. Jump forward some twenty years and mountain biking has a new cousin—adventure biking. Interestingly, adventure biking allowed me to slow down and look around at all of the different locations more intimately because I didn’t feel obliged to rush.
Even more interesting was the number of people who knew about the Hayduke, especially considering it’s a brand new company. Not surprisingly, a large number of those people wanted to be part of the “next level crew” riding a Hayduke. I literally had adventure bike diehards leering over the Hayduke wanting to know every detail about how it rode.
The bike was a pleasure to ride, compliant to a fault, with effortless handling on the trail despite the gear loaded on the bike. In fact, I felt a little bit like the poor hillbilly with my borrowed panniers. Seeing all of the new techniques being used to carry gear including handle bar bags, seat bags and frame bags was out of this world and I intend to have a go at the correct adventure setup next time around.
I had expected to find the Hayduke tiring after a couple of consecutive days riding, considering I’d only ridden to the local store and back as training. However, I can say that I looked forward to getting back on it to ride each day. I think what I had underestimated was the relaxed angles of the Hayduke coupled with the steel ride making for a totally forgiving bike that could literally be ridden many long days in a row with very little rider fatigue.
In the end, the ride only took 22 days, when I had been told to expect 30, if I make it at all. I think the difference for me was the bike. It became like an old friend I’d catch up with for coffee before beginning each day. It was the absence of issues that made for such a wonderful ride. With the blessing of multiple days on the same bike, I was able to see the very direct effect that the Hayduke was allowing—a smooth ride and a great tour of my home country.
To say that I enjoyed being self sufficient and able to carry all my own food and sleeping equipment doesn’t do it justice—I loved it. Māori have had a long history of guiding non-Māori across a multitude of environments, all whilst surviving in often-difficult terrain. Adventure biking gave me a glimpse of my genealogy, of my very essence via mountain biking.