Testing Time: Specialized Hardrock Sport Disc 29er 2014

Logan recently headed out on a four-day MTB road trip in the central North Island with Andy and decided to put the Hardrock 29er through its paces.

Terrain: We rode Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua, Craters of the Moon and the W2K track in Taupo, and then tackled the 85km Pureora Timber Trail over two days.

First impressions: Immediately I notice the HR Sport Disc 29ner has a modern cockpit; short stem, relatively wide handlebars and comfortable grips. When it comes to MTB handlebars the wider the better. They offer more control, easier breathing and better positioning for balance.

Getting grippy with it: Handlebar grips are two of the five attachment points between your body and the bike – and I’d say they’re the most important. The Hardrock’s grips come from Specialized’s own R&D division and feature quality rubber and technical design ribbing for greater grip. After wrapping the finger around the grip, the palm naturally rests on the flared wing – a unique feature of the Specialized Body Geometry XCT grips.

Trigger-happy gear shifts: The bike’s Shimano trigger shifters allowed me to fly through the gears, mainly going uphill trying to catch Andy! I really like the Shimano setup, where unlike the SRAM you use your pointer finger and your thumb to up-shift / downshift instead of using your thumb for both. Once again, well positioned for easy reach shifting and ergonomically pleasing.

Responsive brakes: The Tecktro HD-M330 hydraulic disc brakes were a standout: highly responsive and enabled me to stop aggressively. A confidence booster for cornering and downhill, once again chasing after Andy!

Tricky tires: Not having ridden the 29ner a lot, I found the wheels ran over everything with ease. However it was the tires that let the bike down. They gave minimal grip in the mud, although they were perfect for hardpack riding and would suit many of the New Zealand Cycle Trails, such as the Timber Trail, Alps to Ocean or West Coast Wilderness trail.

Faultless forks: The forks are Suntour SF13-XCT-MLO 29” and feature hydraulic damping, oversized stanchions with lockout and 80mm travel. They’re durable and chattering is no obstacle. The Preload is a nice feature that allows the rider to achieve the proper sag and ride feel.

In conclusion: Okay. ….with such a short travel this is not a bike to take on serious downhill. It’s designed with the recreational rider in mind and is perfect for tackling easier single tracks, cycle trails around New Zealand and gravel road cycle touring such as the Molesworth. Combining practicality and performance the Hardrock Sport is versatile and comfortable, with everything you need right at your fingertips.


Frame: Specialized A1 Premium Aluminum 29er, fully butted, 6061 alloy
Fork: SR Suntour SF13-XCT-MLO 29″, coil spring, mechanical lock out w/ preload adj., 80mm travel
Brakes: Tektro HDC 300, hydraulic disc, dual piston, Lightwave style rotor, 160mm
Shifters: Shimano Altus, 8-speed Rapidfire plus, SL type w/ optical display
Derailleurs: Shimano Altus front, Shimano Acera rear
Cassette: Sunrace, 8-speed cassette, 11-34
Crankset: SR Suntour XCT, 8-speed, 42/32/22 chainrings
Tyres: Specialized Fast Trak Sport, 29″x2.0″, wire bead, 40TPI
Seat: Specialized Body Geometry Hardrock, steel rails, 143mm width


  • Hydraulic brakes are great
  • Tyres no good in mud but perfect for gravel and hardpack summer riding
  • Fast rolling due to wheelsize and tyres, stable cornering
  • Comfy seat but needs lock on grips
  • Suspension not up to rougher trails

Thinking about renting this bike? Click here to view pricing details. Don’t forget: we’re currently offering 10% discount on December bike hire (7 day hire or longer only).

Are You Up For The Challenge?

Andy and Logan are tackling the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in November. Will you join them?
Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

You may have heard about New Zealand’s largest cycling event – the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. This annual event takes place around beautiful Lake Taupo, a volcanic crater lake in the centre of the North Island, and regularly attracts up to 10,000 riders from New Zealand and the rest of the world.

This year’s event takes place on Saturday 30 November and has 15 different challenges to choose from, including a 5km race for the under 10’s (I found Logan trying to enter into this category), team challenges, the popular 160km solo circumnavigate around the lake and the ultra crazy 1280km Extreme Enduro!

Throwing down the gauntlet
Natural High’s Auckland branch manager Logan is a veteran Taupo Challenge rider…but I’m not. Can you guess where this is going? Yes, this year the young whippersnapper is taking on the colonel, and we’ve both entered the solo 160km race.

In the saddle
We’re following a 15-week training programme to prepare for the ride, which starts off with two 5km rides a week and then increases distance each week. Being used to longer rides, I’ve found the early weeks of training fairly easy, but it really does show that even those with limited fitness can train for this race.

On the day
Every year we hire out a number of our performance race bikes and tandems to competitors, and this year we’ll have a dedicated tent at the Taupo Domain. We’ll also have a small retail area with gloves, gels, jackets and socks – and a few spare Avanti Giro Trek 2.1 and 1.5s – for those last-minute glitches.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it
I like to set myself three challenges a year in order to 1) combat complacency and 2) resist marathon TV box-set sessions (like watching 3645 minutes of The Wire in one sitting).

One year I (reluctantly) completed a sky dive, in 2011 my challenge was to set up Natural High’s Auckland branch. Today, I’m handing a challenge on to you: have you got what it takes to tackle the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge?

Remember, there are heaps of different categories to choose from, so whatever your fitness or ability level there’s a ride to suit!

As an extra incentive, the scenery around Lake Taupo is stunning and there are hot pools waiting at the end to ease tired muscles.

I’ll leave the last words to the team at Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.
The saddle gets easier to sit on.
Expect the good and not so good.
It’s the body (not the bike) that pedals.”

See you there?


P.S. Need to hire a road bike for the Challenge? We’ve got a fantastic Hot Deal just for you! Get a 3-day hire of one of our top-quality road bikes for just $150 and cruise the circuit with speed and style. (Includes free relocation and pick up and drop off in Taupo). Book this hot deal now>>
(Write “Hot Deal” in the subject line).

Image: Courtesy of Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge
For more information about the event, please head to their website.

Andy’s Great Rides of New Zealand: The St James

south island mountain bikingAndy continues his cycling journey around New Zealand. This week he’s headed deep into the southern wilderness to ride the St James, a unique backcountry mountain biking experience in North Canterbury where the tough get going and the adrenalin really kicks in!

Kenichi has a big grin from ear to ear. “This is like Disneyland,” he says.

I look at him in amazement, wondering how he can compare this unique alpine wilderness to a crowded, corporate theme park.

This is our third mountain bike ride in as many days, and three hours into our six-hour ride we’re already hurting. I’m just hoping that Kenichi – my Japanese MTB cycle guide and Aloha Bike Tours Owner – isn’t hallucinating!

The St James is not a ride for the faint hearted; its unforgiving terrain can throw some curve balls and a mechanical breakdown way out here in the wilderness could easily mean a freezing night under the stars.

But when fitness, weather and great mates combine, riding the St James can be pure heaven.

Today we’ve started the ride at the Marling Pass carpark and are heading towards the Homestead. Travelling in this direction gives us more downhill riding and some extra assistance from the predominant wind. On a ride as tough as this, we’ll take any help we can get!

It’s an easygoing start out to Marling Pass, followed by an exhilarating descent through beech forest to the Waiau River Valley. Keep an eye out here for the rabbit-proof fence, seen to the right of the trail. Completed in 1889, it extends 125km from the Main Divide to the coast.

We push onwards, following the well-formed track along the tussock and wildflower valley floor and crossing the crystal-blue waters of the Waiau River at Saddle Spur bridge. Now the riding gets more challenging, with some hard climbs, uneven surfaces and tricky descents.

A sighting of the St James wild horses, framed against the backdrop of the rugged snow capped Southern Alps is a memory worth holding onto. If the uphills don’t take your breath away, then the scenery certainly will.

From Macarthurs Bridge the trail follows an old 4-wheel drive track up a series of terraces to Edwards Valley and then on to Peters Pass – our last major hurdle of the day. (I’ve since been told there are some hot pools just after Scotties Hut at Cow Stream – I’ll be looking out for them on my next trip in October!)

Totally exhausted from our seven-hour ride, we round off our day with a well-earned soak at Hanmer Spring’s natural hot pools.

Stunning high country scenery
Challenging terrain
Definitely not Disneyland, but truly one New Zealand’s great backcountry mountain bike rides.

Grade 4
This is a ride for ADVANCED riders only.

From Hanmer Springs take Jacks Pass Road, before turning right onto the steep, gravel Clarence Valley Road. Turn left onto TopHouse Road at the Y junction. The Marling Pass carpark is about 30km from the turn off.
As you drive out along TopHouse Road, you will pass the old St James homestead on the left after about 3.5km. This is the end of the St James Cycle Trail.

Inspired to hit up the mountain bike trails of New Zealand?

We can hook you up with top-quality, latest-model mountain bike hire and help you sharpen your off-road skills with a half-day of dedicated mountain bike training. We’ve also got a fantastic selection of guided mountain bike tours on offer!

The Freewheeling Adventures of Bert and Doug

Way back in the 1980’s, Natural High’s intrepid leader Andy had his first introduction to cycle touring, thanks to an adventurous pair of Americans called Bert and Doug…
cycle touring new zealand
I was a fresh-faced youngster in the 80’s when I met my first cyclist.

Bert and Doug were a couple of 20-year olds from Colorado, who were seeing the world by bike. They had made contact with the Auckland tourism hosting group my parents belonged to, which helped visitors to New Zealand arrange meals and accommodation with host families.

My parents were superb hosts. Mum would cook a Sunday roast of Yorkshire puddings and three veges fresh from the garden, topped off with a superstar kiwifruit pavlova. Then Dad would take visitors on a tour of the dairy farm, and if they were really lucky, give them a display of young calves feeding on a Kiwi invention called a “calfateria.”

Not surprisingly, Doug and Bert loved our hospitality and their planning seemed to take a while! Maps with notes, directions and contact addresses were constantly strewn all over our breakfast table. Cycle touring in New Zealand was very uncommon back then, and cars would often stop cyclists to ask if they would like a lift. Cycling was seen as a mode of transport forced upon by circumstances, certainly not something anybody would choose to do for fun.

I’d never seen anything like Doug and Bert’s bikes before – 21 gears, cable caliper brakes, drop-down handle bar, bags capable of carrying extreme quantities of gear and enough repair kit to start their own bike shop. Tubes, tires, spokes, derailleur hangers, brake pads, cables – they had it all!

Yet what amused me most of all was their choice of riding clothing. Tight, stretchy material that was ultra-revealing, yet they called it comfortable and practical?

Their New Zealand grand tour was split into two: North Island, back for Christmas at the Hunt’s, then the South Island. Their stories at Christmas were hilarious and featured eye-opening acts of kindness; a stay with an active mob member and his family, rides with local farmers when their bikes had broken down, kicking up their heels at a Young Farmers Ball…

Doug and Bert were no athletes, but their biking journey had taken them deep into the lives of Kiwis that the average tourist was unable to experience. It was the connection with the country, the land, the environment and the people that seemed to set cycling apart.

Doug and Bert had an acceptance that everything would always work out and a sense of freedom that was inspiring. Their experiences were to prove the catalyst for my own cycling adventures…but that’s a story for another day.

Inspired to start planning your own biking tour of New Zealand? At Natural High we offer a huge selection of both guided and self-guided cycle tours that will give you an exhilarating, first-hand glimpse of Kiwi life.

Not sure where to go? Feel free to drop us a line or give us a call on 0800 444 144. We’re always happy to listen to your questions and share our recommendations.

Until next time, happy cycling,

Photo: Andy and Kay freewheeling around New Zealand.

Small Town New Zealand: Raglan

We’re on a mission to show you our favourite small towns of New Zealand. This week we’re kicking back in the west coast town of Raglan, home to world-class surf, taxing uphill rides and smooth caffeine highs.

Raglan New ZealandPlay: Where to start? Surf, paddleboard, kayak, horseride, fish, walk, swim, rock climb…It’s officially impossible to be bored in Raglan.

Ride: If you relish a challenge, the 45 km slog around Mount Karioi will get your weekend off to a flying start. The route is predominantly gravel, with long, steep climbs offset by stunning coastal views. You might want to come back for the annual Karioi Classic race, which runs every July.

A little easier on the legs is the back route to Bridal Veil Falls, which takes you through rolling farmland. (Gravel roads again). Stop by the Raglan i-Site in the centre of town for maps and directions.

The road out to Manu Bay and Whale Bay is also popular with bikers but be aware it’s twisty and offers drivers limited visibility.

Java-hit: Raglan Roast, Volcom Lane and Te Uku Roast Office. Roasted daily.

Refuel: The Shack, Bow Street. Tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinner (check beforehand for evening opening hours as these can vary).

Tug at the purse strings: Heaps of great shops along the main street of town. Zinnia is a homeware store with an interesting mix of vintage, retro and new. Find recycled and new clothing at Frocking Gorgeous. Creative Market at the Old School Arts Centre every second Sunday of the month.

Admire: The Studeo Gallery on 21 Cross Street. Disguised as a 1950’s Studebaker car enthusiast’s backyard, this is where you’ll find the ingenious creations of local artist Chris Meek.

After-hours: Fish and chips at the wharf, followed by a sunset spin around the harbour on the Wahinemoe. Or head into town for sundowners on the Verandah Bar of the Harbourview Hotel. The Yot Club has bands most weekends. Pick up a copy of The Raglan Chronicle when you arrive in town for gig listings.

Sweet dreams: Find accommodation listings on raglan.net.nz. There’s a campsite right in town for campervan travellers.

Getting there:
From Auckland: Take State Highway 1 south. At Ngaruawahia turn right at the BP gas station onto State Highway 39. At Whatawhata, turn right at the “T” intersection and follow State Highway 23 to Raglan. Approximately 2 hours depending on traffic.
From Hamilton: Take State Highway 23 to Raglan. Approximately 45 minutes depending on Hamilton traffic.

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Meet the Team

This week we’re getting to know some of the Natural High team…

Natural High AndyName: Andy Hunt
Job title: Colonel & head spokesperson
Home town: Lincoln, New Zealand.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Gees – it’s a toss up between the Timber Trail and the St James but will have to go with the St James. It’s one of the harder epic backcountry South Island rides, with no cell phone coverage, majestic southern Alps, tussock glacial valleys and clear mountain streams.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Zeroes Café (Cashmere, Christchurch) for either MTB or roadie – excellent coffee.
Favourite NZ small town: Hokitika
Who would play you in the film of your life: People used to say Brian Brown looked like me but I’d like to say Jason Statham.
Top tip for better biking: All physical activity requires energy, but for those long rides or multi-day tours, the right kind of food and liquids along the way become really important. While some of us may stop for a coffee and pub, the right nutrition can mean the difference between a enjoyable ride and an uncomfortable, miserable ride. I always take along some gummy airplanes, mini Moro bar, a bottle of water and bottle of electrolyte.
Bike you’d most like to own: 1988 Daccoldi in blue mother of pearl. This is actually Max’s bike (Natural High team member) that he imported from Italy to use in New Zealand… is it wrong to covert another mans bike?
What do you do when not riding: Skiing at small New Zealand club fields, playing crazy games.

Natural High LoganName: Logan McRae
Job title: Auckland branch manager.
Home town: Auckland, New Zealand.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Heaphy Track. First multi-day MTB ride I ever did; stunning and diverse scenery in a unique part of the country and it’s an awesome track for riding.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Beers in the car park straight after the ride. Or if riding Hunua, south of Auckland, drive around to the Hunua Falls after the ride.
Favourite NZ small town: Hahei in the Coromandel.
Who would play you in the film of your life: Henry Cavill.
Top tip for better biking: Get your bike set up right. Seat height, stem length, position of brakes and shifters all make a huge difference in your comfort and enjoyment of your riding. Also, RIDE MORE!
Bike you’d most like to own: Currently it would be a 2014 Rocky Mountain Altitude 799 MSL.
What do you do when not riding: Hang out with my son, read.

Natural High JamieName: James Warren
Job title: Auckland mechanic/fleet manager.
Home town: York, Yorkshire, UK.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Redwoods, Rotorua. I love downhill/freeriding and it has fantastic options for both styles.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Frasers Cafe, Mt Eden.
Favourite NZ small town: Cambridge/Karapiro.
Who would play you in the film of your life: David Beckham!!!
Top tip for better biking: Follow Natural High on Facebook for my weekly Workshop Wednesday posts.
Bike you’d most like to own: Specialized Enduro 26”.
What do you do when not riding: Dad, football, sleep!

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Andy’s Great Rides of New Zealand: The Timber Trail

Earlier in the year, Andy took on the Timber Trail – an 85 km adventure that runs from Pureora to Ongarue (and vice-versa) in the North Island. It’s a route that takes riders back in time; mixing diverse riding, beautiful native forest and tales of old. Here’s his account of the weekend…
Experiencing the Timber Trail

Day 1: Pureora to Piropiro

Distance: 40km

Our journey starts from Pureora Village, once a thriving sawmill town, and takes us south through 8kms of towering native forest. As we hit the lower-slopes of Mount Pureora, our legs get their first real test – it’s a 14 km climb to the western summit. Here the forest changes, with the lower half of the mountain replanted with modern commercial timber like pinus radiata, and the top remaining largely untouched.

Hats off to DOC – they’ve constructed a masterpiece of a track; the climb gradient is no greater than 6% and the switchback corners are easy to steer.

Mount Pureora, or Pure-ora-o-Kahu, is a spiritual place. According to Maori legend, Kahu was a woman of great status. While searching the lands for her lost son, she became sick and her group came to rest on the northern side of the mountain. To offer prayers, her tribe followed the stream Waimiha (wai = wate, miha = special incantations) to the summit. Upon returning, Kahu bathed in the stream and recovered to full health.

Recovery is on our minds too, as we reach the summit and start our descent, only slowed by occasional peeks of Lake Taupo and areas of boggy track. Maintenance is currently being undertaken on the track here, so expect a full pumice surface in the future.

A 30-metre rocky slope brings us to the first of six newly-constructed suspension bridges. These easy to ride wooden bridges are suspended from wire rope and anchored to basalt rock. They’re a modern engineering achievement and similar to the bridges you encounter on the Heaphy, another highly recommended Great Ride of New Zealand.

One more climb and a final swing bridge before a fantastic 14 km champagne downhill run to Piropiro DOC campsite. Wow – it makes the heart sing! Spying our comfortable Britz campervan ready and waiting is also a relief!

Day 2: Piropiro to Ongarue

Views from the Timber TrailDistance: 45km
We wake to fog, which wasn’t in the itinerary! Fortunately it burns off quickly, revealing a beautiful, bluebird day. Ranginui (sky father) is looking down on us favourably.

The second half of the ride follows the old logging tramways, once used to haul huge logs of timber from the forest to the timber mills in the Taumarunui district. At the height of the logging boom there were around 300 mills in this area – now there are just two.

Narratives placed along the trail tell the stories of the early pioneers of this region. As we sit re-fuelling on salty cashews, Moro bars and bananas, we can’t help wondering what they ate back then?

Logging ended here in 1963 and despite the presence of introduced pests such as pigs, goats, deer and possums, the forest is regenerating quickly.

Talking of those pests – the area is popular for hunting, so be prepared to see the odd hunter riding around on a quad bike with guns, pack of dogs and a dead pig. Yes, this truly is backcountry New Zealand!

A short distance on the flat and we’re climbing again. The reward? A fantastic downhill to the first of four suspension bridges, the highlight of which has to be the 90-metre suspension bridge over Mangatukutuku Stream.

Then it’s another, steady climb to the restored Ongarue Spiral, once part of the timber industry’s bush tramway, before a final, long downhill to the start of the valley and the forest boundary.

The last 8 km of the trail takes us along farmland and road, giving us time to reflect on the spiritual and historical journey we’ve just undertaken. Pure bush, crystal-green rivers and a mountain challenge all add up to a unique backcountry riding experience in the central North Island of New Zealand. We’ll be back.

85 km of mountain-bike riding through native New Zealand bush.
Eight massive suspension bridges.
A chance to step back in time and learn about the early timber workers of this area.
Excellent signage and well-maintained tracks.

Day 1: grade 3
Day 2: grade 2

Specialized Hardrock 29ner

This trail can be ridden in either direction, although riding from south to north is a more challenging route.

From the North: You’ll find Pureora Village located 45 minutes east of Te Kuiti, along State Highway 30. Turn off State Highway 30 at Maraeroa Road and continue on until just past the Harakeke Centre, where you turn left onto Barryville Road. The trail starts 2km down this road.

From the South: Turn off State Highway 4 onto Ongarue-Waimiha Road. Turn right and cross the river at Tuhua Road. Turn left onto Ngakonui-Ongarue Road and continue for 7 km to the trail start.

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