Unmissable New Zealand Biking

Unmissable New Zealand BikingThis week we got set a challenge: list our must-do rides around New Zealand. So we pondered and puzzled and cast our minds back over the many, many rides we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing…and this is what we came up with. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your favourites – head over to our Facebook page and let us know. Here’s our list of unmissable New Zealand biking:

Best Rail Trail
Otago Rail Trail
The original New Zealand rail trail through classic South Island scenery. 150 kilometres of high country sheep stations, river gorges, tunnels and viaducts.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best High Country Endurance Ride
Hanmer Springs – Rainbow Road – Murchison – Spring Junction – Hanmer Springs, South Island. A mix of riding terrain and landscapes, from high country stations to the iconic Lewis Pass. The Natural High team recently rode this circuit – read our account here.
Ability: Medium skill + high level of fitness.

Best Bush Ride
The Timber Trail. New Zealand bush at its best. An 85km adventure that runs from Pureora to Ongarue (and vice-versa) in the North Island. Killer views of Lake Taupo and fantastic stories about the logging industry and local Maori.
Ability: Medium skills + medium level of fitness.

Best Multi-Day Singletrack
The Heaphy. Rustic huts, diverse scenery and giant land snails known as Powelliphanta! The Heaphy Track is open to mountain bike riders from 1 May to 30 September.
Ability: Intermediate skill + high level of fitness.

Best Day Ride Through Bush
Waipoua Forest. Therapeutic, calming riding through Northland’s native Kauri forest. Make sure you say kia ora to Darby and Joan (they’re trees!).
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best Airport Ride
The Runway MTB Park at Auckland Airport. The only MTB park at an airport – stretch your legs after a long flight or kill a few hours in transit. A fun, 6km trail that weaves in and around an old farm.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best Downhill Park
Queenstown Bike Park. A huge range of world-class trails suitable for all levels of shredders. Andy’s fave is Grundy but his nemesis is Thingymajig – it chewed him up, spat him out and he has a souvenir to prove it.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness (You can catch the gondi (local’s term for the gondola) to the top to avoid the uphill grunt).

Best Cycle Wine Trail
Hawke’s Bay Trails. 180 km of cycle trails that wind their way between the twin cities of Napier and Hastings. The Wineries Ride meanders past numerous award-winning wineries, including Craggy Range, Elephant Hill and Te Mata Estate. Don’t miss the Saturday market at Black Barn Vineyards (fresh fruit, pastries and breads) and the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Markets.
Ability: Low skill (debatable after you’ve sampled a few) + low level of fitness.

Best City Riding
Wellington. After a day exploring Weta Workshop and Te Papa, hit the hills around Wellington. You’ll be amazed at the quality and diversity of riding so close to the city. The Rimutaka Trail starts and finishes in Wellington and is one of the most undiscovered and underrated rides in New Zealand. End your riding with a beer at Garage Project or Ombra – the best Italian restaurant in Wellington.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness.

And the best way to get around and do all this…
..is with one of our camper and bike combos.
Britz Campervans are high quality, spacious homes on wheels. Add in bike hire from yours truly and you’ll be all set to discover these rides for yourself. Find out more about our camper and bike combos here.


Are You FIT to Cycle Tour?

Cycle touring in New ZealandA common question we get asked by our clients is “how fit do I need to be to go cycling touring?” Honest answer? The fitter you are the more enjoyable the experience will be.

We always recommend getting some bike time in before you undertake a tour. And the earlier you start training the better, since you’ll be giving your body more time to adapt to the saddle and get stronger. Try to avoid cramming in lots of sessions right before you leave – you might end up injuring yourself.

First things first: how fit are you right now?

 
Are you exercising on a regular basis..or not at all? (Be honest!)

I take regular exercise each week, including several cycle sessions.
Chances are, you’re already in good shape for a cycle tour. Continue getting out and riding several times a week, making sure to include some back-to-back sessions (where you train on consecutive days).

I exercise occasionally.
Start a cycling programme that increases distance gradually and builds to at least three sessions a week. Work towards the daily distances of the tour you’re joining. So, if your tour incorporates daily distances of 50km, you’ll want to be able to cycle this distance comfortably.

I rarely (never) exercise.
Start off by cycling every third day. Gradually increase distance and regularity of sessions. You’ll need to be aiming for at least three sessions a week and to be able to comfortably ride the average daily distance of your tour. (You might also want to pay a visit to your doctor before you start your training programme).

Other ways to boost your fitness:

 

  • Resistance training (working with weights) can really help strengthen the muscles you need for cycling. You’ll need to get expert advice and instruction in order to ensure you’re correctly working your muscles – pop into your local gym and talk to the staff. One session a week would be a good starting point, building to two as you get stronger.
  • Stretching after rides can help ease stiffness and keep you supple for your next ride.
  • Think about the environment you’re going to be encountering on your tour and try to get plenty of practice on similar terrain.
  • Spin classes can be a great way to keep up your fitness, particularly if weather or winter darkness are hampering your outside efforts.

 
It probably goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): we’re not trained fitness experts or doctors. This information is designed to give you a general overview of cycling fitness and we recommend chatting to your doc or gym coach before you undertake any type of exercise program.


Brand New: Wellington to Greytown & Rimutaka Rail Trail Cycle Tour

Rimutaka Rail Trail
Cape Palliser Lighthouse, which earned a place in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘Flashiest Lighthouses!’
Right on the doorstep of Wellington – the coolest little capital in the world – is the Wairarapa, a region of rugged coastline, beautiful bush, interesting townships and vineyards aplenty. It’s also home to the Rimutaka Rail Trail, one of the easiest of the Great Rides. We’ve just put together a new, guided tour of the area. Here’s what awaits…

Day 1:
Jump aboard the Wellington ferry to Petone, where your tour guide will be waiting to greet you with your bike. Today you’ll be travelling along the Hutt River Trail, which unlike most tracks in Wellington is virtually flat. (It has a barely noticeable gradient of 0.25%.)

At Lower Hutt, stop for a peek at the Dowse Art Gallery, renowned for its edgy exhibitions and visionary collections. After lunch, you’ll continue along the trail to Upper Hutt, famous for the Trentham Military Camp and the Upper Hutt Posse, pioneers of New Zealand hip hop!

Day 2:
It’s all aboard the old Wellington to Wairarapa railway line today. Easy riding awaits, since the track’s gradient is only around 1%. You’ll pass through Tunnel Gully Reserve and the northern tip of the bush-clad Rimutaka Range, before discovering the engineering ingenuity of the Fell mountain rail system, which pulled passengers up the steep slope of the Rimutaka Incline. Take in the spectacular views before enjoying a sweeping 6km downhill to the quiet country roads of the Wairarapa valley, and an easy 10km cruise to your night’s accommodation.

Day 3:
Wild, dramatic coastline is on the cards for day three. You’ll wind your way along picturesque country roads to Palliser Bay, a vast sweep of black sand beach that’s home to one of New Zealand’s last remaining beam lighthouses. The jaunty, red and white stripes of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse earned it a place in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘Flashiest Lighthouses,’ and you can climb the 253 steps to the top to enjoy grandstand views of the coast.

The area is also home to some weird and wonderful geological features, such as the spooky rock formations of the Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Kupe’s Sail, a triangular ridge of rock above the road before the lighthouse. This region has a rich Maori history and evidence of an 800-year old settlement can still be seen amongst the landscape.

Day 4:
Cleanse your palette and prepare to tantalise your tastebuds because today you’re discovering the vineyards of Martinborough! This picturesque village is home to around 20 wineries, all within easy cycling distance of each other. You’ll get to meet those in the know, stroll the vines and – of course – sample their wares.

Enjoy a leisurely lunch at a winery café, before either cycling the 18kms to Greytown or catching a lift with the support vehicle. Greytown’s tree-lined streets are packed full of charm – the town boasts the most complete collection of Victorian architecture in the country as well as a great selection of boutiques, galleries, cafes, restaurants and gift shops.

Day 5:
Your morning is free to discover more of Greytown: shopping, walking (there are several, interesting self-guided tours available from the Information Centre), a dip in the Greytown Swimming Baths or book in for a yoga or Pilates class with local Steve Impy. Transport can also be provided to visit Stonehenge Aotearoa – a modern, full-scale adaption of Stonehenge.

After lunch, you’ll return by train (1.10 hour) to Wellington, where we can either take you on to the airport or to an inner-city hotel.

5 Day Wellington Harbour to Greytown Guided Cycle Tour, now booking for 20-24 November & 25-29 March. (22-26 January is already fully booked!) Find more info here. Book here.


Small Town New Zealand: Greytown

greytownWith its tree-lined streets and beautifully-restored Victorian buildings, Greytown is often considered one of the prettiest towns in New Zealand. It lies in the Wairarapa region in the lower North Island, just an hour’s drive from Wellington. Let’s take a closer look…

About town

 
You can easily while away a few hours (or an entire day) strolling the shops, galleries and antique stores of the main street. Greytown is a popular shopping destination from Wellington and there are boutique stores aplenty!

If delving into history is more your thing, take a self-guided tour of the town’s most interesting buildings. You can pick up a map from the Greytown Information Centre. A Heritage Tree Tour is also on offer – the town has a strong history of tree conservation and New Zealand’s first Arbor Day plantings took place in Greytown in 1890. Cobblestones Early Settlers Museum also features some of the region’s most historic buildings – it’s set up more like a village than a museum.

Re-fuel

 
Main Street Deli is a bustling little eatery, well known for its pies. The Greytown Hotel serves delicious restaurant meals, as well as bar snacks or head for Bar Salute, considered one of the best restaurants in the region. Those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for Schoc Chocolates, where a whopping 85 different flavours jostle for your tastebuds’ attention.

Work off the chocolate

 
Walk or bike the Greytown to Woodside trail, an easy 5km track running though the countryside. Or take a plunge at the Greytown Memorial Baths, located in Soldiers Memorial Park.

After hours

 
Keep your eyes peeled for Lighthouse gin, made by Greytown Fine Distillers. It’s served in several bars and restaurants about town.

Dates for the diary

 
The Harvest Festival is a popular annual event, showcasing food and wine from the region. Held at a beautiful, sheltered riverside setting on the banks of the Ruamahunga River, next year’s festival takes place Saturday 7 March 2015.

Sweet dreams

 
Greytown Campground is located in Soldiers Memorial Park, just a short stroll from the main high street. Motel, hotel and B&B listings can be found on the Greytown website.

We’re about to launch a new guided cycle tour which takes in the Wairarapa and Greytown region. Keep your eyes peeled for details next week!

Image: Bruce Kirk


Mighty Riding Along The Mighty Waikato River Trails

Waikato River Trails
Water views along the Waikato River Trails

MTB enthusiasts often tend to skip through the Waikato, heading for the more well-known destinations of Rotorua and Taupo. But running right through the heart of the region are the Waikato River Trails – five trails that open up a beautiful, unspoilt tract of the North Island.

Two of the trails offer relatively easy riding and are perfect for day trips, while the middle – and more remote – sections are tougher and more challenging. If you’re a serious mountain biker, tackling the trail in one go would be a great adventure and there are plenty of accommodation and eating options in place – allow three to four days to complete the 100km distance comfortably.

One of the easiest sections is the Karapiro leg, halfway between Cambridge and Tirau on Highway 1.

 

The trail runs from the Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark to Arapuni village. To reach the carpark take Horahora Road off the highway – it’s signposted but it’s also easy to miss!

The first 4km runs alongside the road. It’s not particularly scenic but it does provide a decent warm up – and since we hit the trail early on a freezing cold Sunday morning, it was appreciated.

At the Little Waipa Domain (also home to a carpark so if you want to miss out the boring bit, park here) you join up with the river and the rest of the section provides a pleasant mix of bush and water views, with the odd steep incline thrown in for good measure.

Highlights include a 500m boardwalk through the Huihuitaha wetland and the impressive Arapuni Swingbridge, which dangles high above the river. Arapuni is also home to the excellent Rhubarb Café, which makes for a good pit stop.

Considering it was a Sunday the trail was relatively quiet, although a few families ventured out once the sun emerged. Choose to ride on a weekday and you’ll likely have the paths to yourself.

RIde the Waikato River Trails
The Arapuni Swingbridge

The other sections:

 

Arapuni Section (36km)
Arapuni village to Waipapa Dam.
This section is the toughest! The first 5km (between Arapuni and Jones Landing) is classified as Grade 5 (expert), with the rest of the section a Grade 4. There’s a mix of on and off-road riding.
(Important: the Arapuni section from Waotu South Road (near Barnetts Reserve), down to Waipapa Dam will be closed until September 2014 as logging operations are in progress. Strictly No Access.)

Waipapa Section (19km)
Waipapa Dam to Mangakini Lakefront
A Grade 3 section, through remote bush.

Maraetai Section (12.1km)
Mangakini Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam
Running alongside the lake, this is a fun, easier section, well suited to a day trip.

Whakamaru Section (23.5km)
Whakamuru Dam to Atiamuri.
Beautiful scenery and mostly intermediate riding. To avoid the Ongaroto steps use the signposted 200m road section, or park your bike at the bottom and walk to the top to enjoy the views.


Gear Review: Bikepacking Bags Put To The Test

bikepacking bags review
Liam and his bikepacking setup.
When Andy asked if I’d like to write a review of the Revelate Designs frame bags, I figured why not? Having just got back from a 10-day trip around the top of the South Island, I’ve had plenty of folks ask me about my bike set up.

Revelate Designs, founded in Anchorage Alaska in 2007, was created by a fellow named Eric Parsons in order to address a growing need for ways to carry equipment on a variety of lightweight adventures, chiefly the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Since then, the popularity of the bags has grown and Revelate Designs has made a name for themselves amongst offroad cyclists. They also continue to design new, innovative products to meet the needs of bikepackers.

It was about a year ago when I first laid eyes on a Viscacha seatbag, thanks to a fellow Canadian and good friend of mine, Ben Shillington.
He was anxiously awaiting the delivery of a seatbag to make an ultralite cycle trip to France a possibility. He intended to carefully pack this one seatbag with everything he’d need for the journey.

The benefit of the seatbag over a backpack was obvious: minimizing weight on his back would add to the overall comfort of the ride. He’d be keeping the weight of his gear lower and more in line with his bike, plus the bag would be lighter than a rack and pannier setup, which was paramount. I was impressed with the setup and the Viscacha performed perfectly as planned for him.

Shortly after I left for New Zealand and put my Revelate Designs dreams on hold. Andy can attest to my excitement when I walked into the Natural High shop and sure enough there was the Viscacha! It wasn’t too long before I had pretty much ordered the whole setup for myself.

Why did I decide to invest my cold hard cash in a frame bag setup as opposed to using any one of the dozens of racks and panniers we have available?
An accountant would probably say it’s because I’m afraid of saving money… but I had a better reason then that. I wasn’t planning on doing a lot of road touring here in NZ – I wanted to use my hardtail XC mountain bike to really explore some off-the-beaten path places. We’re talking rough roads, narrow single track, big hills and sometimes completely destroyed “hike-a-bike” sections, where I needed my bike to perform as close to possible as it does unloaded. The frame bag concept of carrying gear allows for this because the weight of your gear is evenly distributed across the frame. The bags also weigh less and by their inherent capacity limitations, ensure you aren’t travelling too heavy.

bags for bikepackingThe Revelate products I bought were the Viscacha, Harness, Frame Bag, Jerrycan, Gas Tank and small pocket that mounts on the front of the harness.
A standard bikepacking luggage system will consist of a seat pack, frame bag and handlebar bag so I snagged a few extras on top of this. All these mount directly to the bike – no racks are needed. I was immediately impressed with the quality of construction and the way they all attach to the bike. The straps are even offset in ways that allow everything to fit together nicely when you’re using multiple Revelate products.

Packing at first was a bit of a challenge, being used to the increased space of panniers and all, but after a few rounds of gear-Tetris everything had its place.
It meant a few things were left behind, but since I never missed them once I was on the trip I obviously didn’t need them in the first place!

I had the Harness loaded to capacity but this was due to the extra size of a two- person tent and a -30 sleeping bag. (Needed in Canada, not so much in New Zealand.) Clothes, rain gear and on occasion, food, were kept in the Vischacha seatbag. With the addition of a small bungee I was able to attach my solar panel to the top of the Viscacha. With a max capacity of 14 litres, this seatbag can swallow a lot of gear.

The middle frame bag handled all of my cooking supplies, snacks, food, first aid, PLB and other odds and ends. In the front pocket, I kept my maps, toiletries, headlamp and a small shortwave radio. The Jerrycan was great for all my spare bike parts: levers, small pump, patchs, allen keys, tube, lube, spare pads etc. The Gas Tank was great due to its easy access on the top tube. I kept things I’d need throughout the day in this bag, like my notebook and wallet. All in all, once I had established a packing order, I really enjoyed having these different compartments to organize my things.

Having used the bags now on some longer trips and shorter overnights I’ve noticed a few small nitpicks but honestly they don’t take much away from the Revelate products.These aren’t things that are wrong with the products themselves, but are points to be aware of.

Velcro taps and straps attach the bags to the frame. I never once had anything come off or even loosen but be aware that if grit gets in between these straps and the frame, or if the Harness rubs against your headtube when you turn, you will slowly but surely loose paint off the frame. The easy remedy is to wrap frame tape or rubber tubbing at these wear points before you attach the bags. The trouble I had was the harness wearing on my headtube. This occurred while cycling the Rainbow Road on a pretty nasty day. The rain and grit got between the harness and my frame and by the end of the day had worn through my paint job. Again, easily fixable with a tire boot stuck to my headtube for protection, but it never occurred to me this could happen so quickly. Rookie mistake!

The rear Viscacha saddle bag which attaches directly to the seat post and saddle rail bars, was a little tricky when it came to threading the straps through the saddle rails, but this is easily overcome with a bit of practise, having the straps loose and doing one at a time then tightening. Again, nothing major, just something to get used to.

The bags are made of a tough 210 denier Xpac fabric, which I found to be highly water resistant and very durable.
I did, however, find the Viscacha leaked a little in a full day of rain, but considering the spray coming off the back tire directs towards the bag all day long (essentially serving as a fender), I think it held up really well. I would recommend having all your gear in a waterproof gear bag, just to be doubly sure. This double bagging kept all of my clothes bone dry for the entire trip.

I also managed to separate a bit of the zipper from the fabric, likely from overpacking the Frame Bag on a day when it served double duty as a grocery bag. With a needle and sewing kit I could easily sew the zipper back to the fabric and away I went. Essentially, with a sewing kit you can pretty much fix anything that can go wrong with these bags.

Am I happy with the investment? Hell yeah!
Anytime I’m doing an overnight single track ride I use these bags. And because they’re modular, you don’t have to use all of them at once. For example, if it’s a ride into a hut instead of a fully self supported trip, I can easily fit my lightweight sleeping bag, some clothes, food, stove and emergency gear between the Viscacha and Frame Bag.

It’s amazing how much you can fit in these bags – and attach to them. You can see from some of my pictures that sometimes I’ve had more then I really needed hanging off them. Despite the beating I gave them, they stood up well and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a great way to carry gear in the backcountry.

Like to try out a frame bag next time you’re touring? We have both the Pika and the Viscatcha seat bags available for hire. Head here to find out more >>


Fancy Cycle Touring New Zealand But Don’t Know Where to Start?

Cycle Touring New Zealand
Big smiles and big vistas. Cycling touring in NZ is fun!
We regularly receive requests from people who love the idea of cycle touring New Zealand but aren’t really sure which route to choose – or whether they’re even capable of making it to the end (you will).

So, to make planning that first foray easier, we’ve put together a selection of rides to suit different abilities, ages and passions.

All these tours are guided because we think having everything organised will make that first experience a lot less stressful. You won’t have to worry about making a wrong turn, booking accommodation or finding somewhere for lunch, because we do it all for you.

Even better, you can ride with just your daypack (we organise luggage transfer between your overnight stops) and if the pedalling gets a bit much, you can always hop aboard the support vehicle and rest your legs for a spell.

Sounding good? Let’s check out a few tours…

Want to bring the family?

 
We recommend: The Otago Rail Trail
This journey is perfect for the kids since much of the riding is flat and you don’t have to worry about traffic. Plus you get to explore old goldmining towns, river gorges, tunnels and viaducts! At the end of the trail, you’ll have the added excitement of boarding the famous Taieri Express into Dunedin – considered one of the world’s great train journeys.
For more details, here here >>

The 5 Day Alps to Ocean tour is also fun for families – daily distances average 50km and it’s fairly flat riding (see below for more details).

Not hugely confident of your fitness?

 
Maybe you’re just easing into cycling. You can handle a few hours in the saddle but you’d prefer to avoid big hills and steep slogs.

We recommend: Otago Rail Trail (see above)

5 Day North Canterbury and Marlborough Cycle Tour
This tour starts in Christchurch and takes you out into the picturesque Canterbury landscape. It’s easy riding through the Waipara Valley to Hanmer where hot pools await. From there you cycle the Molesworth Valley, flanked by mountain ranges, and stay in shearer’s quarters on Molesworth Station. The ride ends in Kaikoura, where you can hop aboard a whale watching tour.
For more details, head here >>

Love the peace and quiet?

 
We recommend: 7 Day Road Cycle Tour Queenstown to Christchurch
This is rural South Island life at it’s best; quiet roads, stunning scenery and firsthand encounters with the local wildlife. You’ll meander alongside the beautiful lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri, experience the tranquility of remote Stewart Island – keep an eye out for the shy kiwi bird – and ride the rugged coastline of the Catlins.
For more details, head here >>

Looking for a bit of everything – stunning scenery, interesting history, local wildlife and fine wining and dining?

 
We recommend: 6 Day Alps to Ocean
The longest continuous ride in New Zealand, this tour descends over 2000 ft from the lofty heights of Mount Cook to the coastal town of Oamaru. Along the way you’ll soak in the beauty (and hot pools) of Lake Tekapo, experience Mt Cook and the Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre, get up close with tiny Blue Penguins, discover the Victorian Quarter in Oamaru, pop into the award-winning Pasquale vineyard, the Whitestone Cheese factory and Riverstone Kitchen (a former NZ restaurant of the year) and dine in style at Loan & Merc, a medieval themed restaurant operated by highly regarded New Zealand chef Fleur Reville. Phew…that’s one fun-filled week.
For more details, head here >>

Want to experience both islands?

 
We recommend: 17 Day Cycle Tour Auckland to Christchurch
Quite possibly the ultimate New Zealand cycling tour. Experience the white sand beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park, the peace and tranquility of the Marlborough Sounds and the twists and turns of the wild West Coast. You can also do this tour from Christchurch to Auckland.
For more details, head here >>

Got questions about any of these tours? Fire us an email and we’ll gladly help you out.


Bike Review: 2014 Specialized Camber 29

According to Specialized, the Camber is the perfect bike for everything from weekend trail rides to all-day epic excursions. The 29-inch-specific, 110mm-travel Camber offers a trail-specific build for confident riding at speed, and ultimately the ideal balance of efficiency and plush suspension performance for every rider.

Let’s see how it stacks up…

 
camber-29Logan here, and I’ve had a number of rides on the Camber now, finding it to be a very versatile bike. The traction of the big wheels and range of the 3×9 gearing is great for climbing hills and cranking along gravel roads, but it also handles tight, twisty singletrack well, and the geometry gives a very stable feel on fast descents.

I even tested the bike (and myself) down a local downhill track and while I have to admit I by-passed the gnarliest bits and took chicken lines around the massive jumps, I found the Specialized Ground Control 2.3” front and 2.1” rear tyres gripped the damp clay surface well, the suspension soaked up the rough stuff that I did ride over, and the Tektro Draco 2 hydraulic disc brakes slowed me up when things got a little too fast for my liking (quite often).

A lot of mountain bikes are coming specced with 2×10, 1×10 and even 1×11 drivetrains these days.

 
While all this new-fangled technology is great and certainly serves a purpose, I’ve found that the 9-speed Shimano Deore Shadow rear derailleur on the Camber 29 offers reliable, precise shifting and the 11-34 tooth cassette combined with triple chain rings up front gives a wide range of gears for a variety of riding, from Rotorua singletrack to epic South Island back country adventures.

I rode a 45km event recently, which consisted of gravel roads and farm paddocks, and was able to fly along in the big chain ring on the flatter and downhill gravel road sections, and also grovel up grass hills in the granny gear. On my own bike I have a 1×10 setup as it suits the majority of riding I do, however it does limit my top speed and also makes steep climbs hard work.

The rear X Fusion air shock on the Camber performs well, has rebound adjust, and is nice and easy to set up for different rider’s preferences or weight.

 
The fork is a coil sprung Suntour XCR with 110mm of travel. Specialized have specced different-sized bikes with different firmness springs – small: soft; medium: standard; large and XL: hard. This makes sense, as a light woman on a small won’t be able to use much of the travel with a standard spring, and vice versa for a big guy on an XL. However, not all tall people are heavy.

I’ve been riding medium and large Camber 29s from our fleet and at 180cm and around 89kgs, I’ve found the large frame fits me best but the forks are way too firm. The large bike I rode was pretty fresh out the box, so the forks may have just needed some more riding, but the fork on the medium with the standard spring was plusher and suited me better.

Rebound adjust and lockout on the forks are great features.

 
The ultimate would be an air fork that could be dialled in for individuals. While handlebars, stems, seats etc can be quite a personal preference, Specialized have done well to spec the Camber 29 for the riding it is designed for. There are different length seatposts and stems on different frame sizes which work well, and the 720mm wide bars give good control without getting too wide. It’s a good thing seats are easy to change. I found the standard Specialized Rival seat okay on shorter rides, maybe up to two hours, but anything longer than that and I had to keep standing up on the pedals for some relief.

In conclusion…

 
…for someone who still isn’t completely sold on the 29er craze, I found the Camber 29 to be a fun trail bike to ride. On singletrack it rolls over trail features better than a 26” wheeled bike, but still gets around tight corners with ease. And I could pedal up steep pinch climbs that I’d usually have to push up on my own bike with 1×10 gearing and 26” wheels. It also gets along efficiently on long XC type rides. While I would definitely change a few items in the component spec if I owned one, I think Specialized has nailed it with the frame geometry and suspension travel to provide a stable, confidence-inspiring ride.

Like to hire this bike for a spot of off-road adventure of your own? Head here for all the details >>


We’re Gearing Up for the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge…Are You?

Last year, Natural High client Kirsten Edelkraut visited New Zealand from Switzerland for a spot of cycle touring…and knocked off the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge as well. With this year’s challenge now open for registration, we asked Kristen to give us her thoughts on New Zealand’s biggest cycle event…

How did you hear about the challenge and what compelled you to enter?
The story begins in 2012. I was on a bus trip to Taupo and Rotorua, when we passed Taupo on the day of the 2012 Lake Taupo Challenge. I got crazy about all these cyclists and asked myself, why the hell I didn’t bring my road bike… next time, I decided.

You took part in the 160km one-lap circumnavigation of Lake Taupo. What sort of hydration, food and supplements did you take on the ride?
It’s always a risk to rent a bicycle for any trip at all, in particular for a road race of 160km! I am used to road biking, to long distance riding as well, but never did a race about this distance. So, quite a challenge. I stocked up with sports food I’m used to – I brought these things from home. Two gels, two power bars, one banana. Plus one bottle of water, and another with electrolytes. On the race around the lake I needed one refill. Good preparation before the race (lots of carbohydrates during the week before) and some regeneration drink after.

You’ve completed a number of bike races, how did the Lake Taupo Challenge compare?
Do I? Thanks. In fact, I do a lot of road biking in Switzerland but only a few races, most of them during the Swiss Gigathlon, which is a big multiple sports event – maybe the biggest in Switzerland. The Lake Taupo Challenge compares very well to our events. Nothing completely different, except the big prices in the end.

This is your second visit to New Zealand. Why did you decide to cycle tour this time?
Last time, when I was here, I really missed my bike. I do a lot of bike touring in many different countries. My longest trip was from Triest (Italy) to Al Aquaba (Jordan) over nearly eight months. So, biking or bike touring is often part of my holidays and I was sure that when I came back to New Zealand, I would definitively have a bike with me.

Some of the scenery in Switzerland is stunning, how does the New Zealand landscape compare?
The scenery is completely different. That’s why I came to the North Island, because of its subtropical and volcanic scenery. What I can say: the wide landscape and these huge areas with nobody living there – wilderness – is completely different from Switzerland. We also have some wild areas, especially the high mountain areas, but I never feel so alone like here in the forests.

What has been your favourite ride in New Zealand and why?
Oohhh – I think, this is the most difficult question… and I think, I have not done the best ride yet. I hate-loved the ride in Whangarei, because it was probably the most difficult. I enjoyed the W2K2W-trip, especially the downhill to Kinloch. And I liked the Waikato River Trails – all of them outstanding landscapes, interesting views, nice riding. Some trails seem to be too perfectly built to me: lots of sharp (and unnecessary) curves, which take away the flow and the speed. But most parts of the trails are really good. I’ve also run some of the trails around Taupo. I like trail running and these trails are perfect for running, too. Luckily there weren’t any bikers out there that day!

Like to give the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge a crack?

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge
Raring to go! Logan and Andy at the start of last year’s event.
This year’s event takes place on Saturday 29 November…which means you’ve got plenty of time to get into training. Not that you have to be an elite athlete to enter – there are rides to suit every level of ability and riding style, from on road to off, short to ultra-long (we’re talking 1,280km long)! Check out the website for full details.

Need to hire a bike for the event?

 
If you’re coming from overseas like Kristen, or want to rent a high-performance bike, we’ve got two great deals for you:

2-day performance road bike hire + event insurance + bike relocation to and from Taupo: $178 (normally $268).
2-day Specialized Sirrus hire + event insurance + bike relocation to and from Taupo: $148 (normally $238).

You’ll be able to pick up your bikes in Taupo on Friday (we’ll make sure they’re fitting you right) and return on Saturday after the event. Drop us an email to reserve your bike today.


Pedal the Plateau

The Tongariro National Park, in the centre of the North Island, is one of New Zealand’s most intriguing landscapes. With its towering mountain peaks, active volcanoes (don’t worry, they’re closely monitored), desert-like plateau, deep blue crater lakes and thick swathes of tussock and flax, this is a region of dramatic contrasts. Little wonder then that the park provided filming locations for Ithilien, Mordor and the Gates of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.Ride the Central Plateau

The region is used all year-round by adventure seekers: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the best day hikes in New Zealand, there are mountain tracks aplenty, while in winter, skiers and boarders flock to the skifields of Whakapapa and Turoa. It’s also an absolutely brilliant place to explore by bike…

Introducing: Pedal the Plateau

 
Lake Taupo Cycling Trust has just introduced a new cycling tour of the Central Plateau. This 345km circumnavigation of the region takes place 22-28 March 2015 and takes riders from the shores of Lake Taupo through the Tongariro National Park and back to Taupo. Six days are spent in the saddle, with a full rest day to explore the alpine villages of Whakapapa and National Park.

The six legs of the journey range from 30km to 105km over undulating countryside. There are enough hill climbs to leave riders with a sense of achievement, but this isn’t a gruelling, gutbuster of a tour and anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to complete it comfortably.

The entry fee for Pedal the Plateau is NZ$1495 per adult or NZ$1120 per youth (10-16 years inclusive). This includes meals during the seven days of the ride, tented accommodation in Waiouru and Tihoi and luggage transfer. Accommodation in the overnight stops of Taupo, Turangi, Ohakune and Whakapapa/National Park is an additional cost and dependent on your selection (options to suit all budgets available). Online entry is now open and places are limited – so get in quick if you want to take part. Head to the website for more information.

Natural High is providing bike hire for the event. We recommend the Specialized CrossTrail, the Specialized Sirrus or one of our high-performance road bikes. If you’re thinking of taking part and don’t want the hassle of bringing your own bike, we can hook you up. Simply send us an email with your requirements and we’ll match you up with the perfect bike.

Pedal the Plateau dates not working for your schedule? The following guided cycle tours also incorporate the Central Plateau:

15-day road tour of the North Island
17-day road tour Auckland to Christchurch
17-day road tour Christchurch to Auckland