Riding to Raglan (again)

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When I mentally filed away the story of my first ride ride from Pukekohe to Raglan (and back) it was pretty straightforward. There was a simple arc to the story. In the memory I constructed, I was a hero – a tragically incompetent and poorly prepared rider, who suffers heroically before returning triumphant. I spent at least a couple of weeks afterward feeling different, a better person. I was a guy who could ride 250km in 2 days. Alone, without a map (and pretty much without a clue) on the open road.
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Six months later I was feeling more experienced, fitter, and housebound. Coup had been doing lots of travelling – around NZ for Team New Zealand trainings, and to Australia for The Great Southern Slam while I stayed home. How about another ride to Raglan I thought? I’ll take a different route and a different bike, I won’t make the same mistakes, I’ll do it better, faster even.
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The route was mostly copied from The Kennets book again – they describe it as an alternative route, an “interesting ride”. I bought all the necessary NZ topo maps to cover Tuakau to Raglan, and marked the route on them with a pink highlighter.
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I left on a Monday morning train to Pukekohe. The feeling that I was escaping the city was reinforced by the way the train seemed to make it’s way through the ugliest parts of Auckland. The route alternated between droning motorways, sad backyards and industrial wastelands. Half demolished abattoirs followed acres of blank warehouses. Torn curtains looked out on overgrown lawns littered with broken toys. The only nice landmark was the guide dog training centre in Manurewa.
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The first section of the ride, from Pukekohe, through Tuakau and across the bridge over the Waikato river, was ok. Then instead of heading straight up highway 22, I turned left and took some gravel roads – kind of a back way to Pukekawa. At the top of the hill I turned left and headed east towards the river, past the place where The Dukes of Hazard have retired to. It appears they are now silver nomads living in a bus handy to the golf course.
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The weather was cold, still and overcast and the roads were very quiet. There were more animals than people around. Which is pretty much how I like it. Horses, donkeys, goats, turkeys (an enormous flock of turkeys in fact) and of course lots of cows & sheep. This turned out to be my favourite section of the ride. I saw a guy standing, staring in to a bonfire. He saw me and waved, he said “We keep pretty busy around here.” and laughed. “Indeed” I replied, because that’s what I always say when I don’t have anything to say.
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The roads got busier around the Rotowaro open cast mine. But it was still an interesting land mark I suppose. From the mine I rode west, through the hills. Past Glen Afton and the Waingaro Springs. Then I met highway 22, the route I had taken before. In my head it was a short ride, mostly downhill to Raglan from there. It’s not of course, it’s another 25km of mostly scenic rolling terrain, but they passed pleasantly. It had started to rain on and off by this point, but nothing too serious, and I arrived in Raglan tired but not exhausted, and with spare food and water.
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I watched World Cup highlights at the hotel in Raglan. Ate pizza, drank some beer and read The Book Thief for an hour before falling asleep.
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The next day, I took the same route back to Pukekohe. The weather was windier and rainier. On the Ohautira Road I saw several animal carcasses that had been picked clean. I wondered if this was the work of carrion eating birds. Or Bear Grylls.
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People often talk about one of the pleasures of cycle touring is that you have a closer relationship with your surroundings – you feel the hills, smell the trees, listen to the magpies. That’s true – but it’s not all good – you also see more clearly the rubbish that people drop. And not just the few bit flung out of car windows as they drive by. You see the big piles that people have driven out in to the country to specifically dump down banks and in to rivers. I hate those people.
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I arrived safely back at the Pukekohe railway station on Tuesday afternoon with a really sore arse but without a sense of achievement and it’s bothering me ever since. The sore arse I can take care of – I walked to work for the rest of the week instead of riding, and I’ve retired my ancient Brooks saddle. But I’m having trouble working out how to file away the memory.
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Riding the Hutt River Trail

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Coup and I flew down to Wellington in February this year, for Nicolai and Jaenine’s wedding. I took the Off-Roadrat with me, with the intention of riding up the Hutt River Trail. As usual my plan was pretty vague – to ride from our (honestly pretty average) hotel in the central city, to the Hutt and then up the trail, maybe to the top of the Rimutakas, maybe down the other side to Featherston.
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Riding to The Hutt was unexpectedly terrifying. You see it started off as a typical urban road, but as I followed the signs pointing to Lower Hutt, the roads got busier, and the speed limits got higher, until eventually I realised I was on a motorway. An actual motorway with 4 lanes of cars doing 100km/hr next to me, and nothing but a painted green stripe on the road to protect me. Jeebus, I thought, these Wellington cyclists are a bunch of hard-bastards.
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So I was very relieved to make it safely to Petone. Having forgotten to bring a map, I just headed for the river assuming that the trail would be next to it. And it totally was. I hadn’t considered however that a river has two sides – so which side should I be on? There were signs indicating that there were trails on both sides, so having arrived on the western side, I rode up there. It was very pleasant – there were people walking dogs, people picking some kind of berry, even some people managing to do both of those things at the same time.
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Eventually, in a place called Manor Park, the trail ran out and became a golf course. I’m sure one of the trail signs showed a crossing there, but it turned out to be a railway bridge only. I discovered this after bushwacking for a while, trying to find a way across. I gave up eventually and rode back down to Avalon Park and crossed there. This side of the river seemed more developed, the trail was wider and gravellier, the dogs were waggier. In fact I saw what I believe to be the waggiest thing in the world – six golden retrievers going for a walk together.
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Eventually, around …Birchville (I think?) I got lost. The trail had become quite haphazard and after following markers that pointed over a bridge, the path just got smaller and smaller. It led through some trees and across someone’s front yard, down a hill, behind a row of houses and then ended at deserted children’s playground.
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I was starting to think that local hillbillies had moved the trail markers so they could lure unwary cyclists to the playground of damnation to be… dismembered? Taught to play the banjo? I wasn’t staying to find out. Suppressing my panic, I blundered up to the nearest road and circled back to where it had all gone wrong. I guessed that the safest thing to do was head north, so I did, eventually emerging at a dairy where I was delighted to find my favourite thing – liquorice toffee. Unfortunately, this stuff is impossible to eat in public due to it’s extreme toughness. So I stuffed it in to my bag with the intention of devouring it later.
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I was starting to think that I was never going to make it up the Rimutakas, but after a couple of lucky turns, somewhere between a Devonshire Tea place and the local Naturist society, the road started to head steeply upward. I followed, and sure enough there was the start of the Rimutaka Hill Trail.
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Which was beautiful. It starts off a bit steep, but gets gentler as it goes on. It runs through a forest, there’s a tunnel, what more could you want?
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When I got to this gate, I decided it was probably the top, or close too, and that this would be a good place to stop. So I turned around and started the ride back. This turned out to be very similar to the ride there, except;
a) the gradients were all reversed
b) I didn’t get lost as much
c) I stopped at the Lower Hutt Pizza Hutt
d) I Strava’d it here
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And the wedding? Well that was lovely.

Auckland Bike Slob vs Sydney Part 2

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I had an afternoon free during my recent trip to Sydney, So I decided to get out of the city and take a ride in the country. I had heard that the Royal National Park was nice, so I asked at the Clarence St Cyclery if they thought that was a good idea. The very helpful staff assured me that it was indeed a good idea, and gave me comprehensive directions. Also, somewhat endearingly, I overheard them refer to me as ‘the touring gentleman’. So I blundered around the central city looking for a railway station, eventually finding one hidden underground. Sydney trains are pretty flash, electric double-decker things. They don’t cater very well to bikes though. So I wedged myself and the Roadrat in the doorway, trying not to block it too much. After a hearty lunch of coffee and banana-bread in Sutherland I set off. The first few k’s were on a fairly busy (but generously shouldered) highway but soon I turned off in to the Royal National Park.
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This was much quieter. I followed the road as it meandered steadily downwards, worrying very slightly about what it might be like riding back up. Pretty soon the road stopped meandering and started plummeting downwards. I was trying to remember the directions I had been given. “Ride through the Royal National Park to the —- Weir”. The Orderly Weir? The Otterly Weir? Aha – there it was – The Audley Weir. Now go along the Lady Something Drive.
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And there it was – the beginning of the Lady Carrington Drive.
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This was completely beautiful. There were no other people, just me and a Lyre bird (who I spotted sneaking across the trail in front of me).
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There were also at least a billion insects producing a periodically deafening buzz from the trees.
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One particular sparrow-sized insect gave me a hell of a fright when it dropped out of the sky and expired while stuck to the front of my shirt. It had a suspicious looking beak mark across its abdomen, so I think it was a present (or a warning) from one of the other birds.
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Eventually (after about 10km) I reached the end of the trail and got back on a road. I was pretty sure they had told be at the shop to keep heading “right and down”. So I did.
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This road was also lovely, I was passed by the occasional car and the occasional cyclist.
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Until I reached the coast. I followed the road along the top of the cliff, stopping for a little while to watch people hang gliding.
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I stopped at Stanwell Park where the gliders came in to land.
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I ate some of a muesli bar, and shared the rest with the local cockatoos.
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Then I was back on the road and cycling over the fantastic Sea Cliff Bridge. I hadn’t really planned how far to go down the coast, but just past Thirroul the road started to get busier and less pleasant to cycle along.
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So I gave up and caught the train from the Thirroul station back to Sydney. I can heartily recommend this route to any other “touring gentlemen” or ladies who might be in the area. It was about 45-50km of beautiful scenery, lovely wildlife and good roads – I loved it.

Auckland Bike Slob vs Sydney Part 1

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Temazepam is a drug prescribed for insomnia and anxiety disorders. I took some a few years ago when my fear of flying was at it’s most abject and I needed to get to Christchurch. It worked perfectly. I assumed that there would be side-effects – drowsiness or incontinence or something. But there was none of that, it was just as if the part of my brain that worried about the plane crashing had been surgically removed. These days I’ve managed to get my terror under control, but I can still do with a little help. So wandering through Sydney airport on my way back to Auckland the other day I was very pleased to be offered a shot of ‘spiced’ Wild Turkey. While not as efficient as Temazepam, it did help take the edge (of fear) off.
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I was at least a couple of hours early for my flight, having left The Glenferrie Lodge (on Sydney’s glamorous North Shore) at about 11am with the vague plan of riding across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, along a nice cycleway to Darling Harbour, on to Cheeky Transport in Newtown and then out to the airport.
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The first thing I discovered was that the nice cycleway that appears on the map, seems to have been buried under an enormous building site. Darling Harbour was nice though. The second thing I discovered was that like Auckland, how pleasant your cycling experience is, depends very much on the route you take.
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Let me start from the beginning – the Off-Roadrat and I arrived in Sydney on a Monday afternoon, I was there for a work-thing, the bike was there to provide transport and entertainment. I had travelled in Air New Zealand economy, the ‘Rat had flown (fairly) safely packed in a Ground Effect ‘Tardis‘ bike bag. After retrieving my bike from the ‘fragile and oversize items’ baggage claim, I took it to a quiet spot outside the terminal and reassembled it.
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The bag is pretty minimalist – no wheels, not much padding, only just enough space for the bike. It took me about half an hour to put it back together, that is – to put the wheels, pedals, saddle, front-rack and handlebars back on. To minimise mess, I had removed all oil from the chain and waxed it.
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The Roadrat survived the flight ok, thanks I suspect to it’s robust chromoly steel frame. The wheels are also tough – they’re both 36 spokes on touring rims (the fat Bruce Gordon tyres probably help protect the wheels too). I used the remaining spaces in the bag to put things I didn’t want to take on the plane with me. Obviously one of the upsides to a minimalist bag, is that you can fold it up and carry it with you – which is what I did.
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I had done a little bit of research to see if there was a nice route from the airport to the city. I found one, and tried to follow it (I printed out the pages and stuffed them in to the clear sleeve on top of my front bag). It was indeed quite bike friendly, with some nice separated paths and was a good introduction to Sydney.
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I got lost a few times, and eventually made it to the waterfront. But then I couldn’t see how to get over to the North Shore where I was staying. So I asked a couple of locals, they told me to carry my bike up some nearby steps, ride through the Botanic Gardens, along the waterfront and then over the bridge. I couldn’t ride along the waterfront because it was closed due to some event, so I rode in circles trying to find a way to the bridge, until I eventually followed some signs that took me to the walkway that is attached to the side of it. It was super nice riding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night. There were people out running, and tourists taking pictures, and then a couple of German backpackers flagged me down and told me I shouldn’t be riding and that “ya it’s better for your life you know – if you get off and walk”. I said “yeah ok thanks” and then kept riding wondering what the hell they were talking about. But I later discovered they were totally right. One side of the bridge is only for cyclists and the other side is only for pedestrians and I was on the wrong one.
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Over the next few days I rode to and from the office I was visiting on the North Shore. Over there the roads are mostly nice and quiet, except where they’re really busy, and I found a brilliant cycleway next to a motorway. I rode around central Sydney which was mostly ok, and I took the ferry to Manly. Which I didn’t like so much – there are lots of bikes over there, but the official attitude seems very prescriptive. There were signs that pointed me to ride on the footpath in some places, and then signs in other places threatening to prosecute me if I rode on the footpaths. The best thing about going to Manly, was that it resolved something I’d been wondering about for at least 20 years – what the hell is the lead singer of Australian Crawl, saying in that line from ‘Reckless‘? “As the Manly ferry cuts it’s way to..” Sub Gillard bee? Sad killer knee? It hit me when I was buying my ferry ticket – “circular quay”! Hurrah, finally sorted that out.
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It wasn’t all city riding though – I spent one day doing a great ride outside of Sydney, which will be described in Auckland Bike Slob vs Sydney Part 2.

The State of the Roadrat

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This is how my Cotic Roadrat (or Off-Roadrat as I refer to it) is looking these days. It’s set up for on and off-road riding, can carry a fair amount of gear, and is really fun to ride.
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The brakes are a weird combo of Tektro cantilevers at the front and an Avid BB5 on the back. It used to have an Avid BB7 at the front, but I had to change to rim brakes when I wanted a dyno-hub on the front. I was intending to build a new front wheel using a Shimano hub with a disc brake mount, but when the hub arrived I noticed that because the Roadrat fork puts the disc brake on the right-front of the fork rather than the rear-left, the hub would be running backwards. I have emailed Shimano tech support to ask if this is a problem, but haven’t heard back yet.
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The front wheel (Shimano DH-3N80 dynamo hub on a Mavic A319 rim) is one I bought fully built from Rose Bikes in Germany, and the rear is a Shimano Deore hub on a Velocity Dyad rim, which I built myself. The tyres are the excellent Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Roads. They’re surprisingly fast on the road and fantastic on gravel, grass and mud, providing lots of grip and a smooth ride.
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The crankset is a Stronglight Impact. I bought this from XXCycle in France. I like the Stronglights because they are simple, good quality, fairly cheap, and they have a great selection of sizes. You can choose singles, doubles, triples, and with all different combinations of teeth & crank length. And, they’re silver (I really don’t like black bicycle components).
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The handlebars are Salsa Cowbell 3s. These are fairly wide, have a shallow drop, and flare slightly outwards. Not especially aerodynamic but very comfortable. The front derailleur is a Shimano 105 and the rear is a Shimano Deore, both secondhand. They are operated by Shimano Ultegra bar-end shifters. The brake levers are Tektro.
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The saddle is a Brooks Flyer and the front rack is a Nitto M-12. On the back is a Planet-Bike Versa Rack Disc. Hanging off the front of the Nitto is a B&M Eyc light.
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The bag on the front? Made that myself (hence the dodgy sewing). There is a padded compartment on the left for my camera, and a map pocket on the lid.
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Riding to Woodhill

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When I was a child, my family and I lived for a couple of years in a pine forest. Not because we were Beatrix Potter style charming woodland creatures, but because my mother was scared of the wind. You see, we had arrived from England in the mid 1970’s and my parents had chosen the Marlborough Sounds as the ideal place to live. We hadn’t been there long when it became clear that the wind which periodically howled through The Sounds was slowly driving my mother crazy. At first she resisted – when the wind started up at night, she would get my sister and I out of our beds in the upper storey of our A-frame house, tell us to put our mattresses up against the visibly buckling ranch slider windows and sleep downstairs.
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But eventually she realised that this level of anxiety was untenable, and when our goat tragically hung itself, she decided that it was time to move house. My mother confronted my father and demanded that he find the town in New Zealand that was furthest from the sea, and therefore the wind. Fortunately he is a Master Mariner and consequently entirely qualified to find such a place. After consulting various maps, charts and taking sightings on his sextant, he determined that we should move to the teeming metropolis known as Minginui. Not only was it way the hell inland, in the middle of the Ureweras, but it was surrounded by a Radiata Pine shelter belt. Surely my mother would be safe from the wind there.
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And so it was that we moved to Minginui, and lived there for a couple of years amongst the trees. This formative childhood experience left me with an unfashionable fondness for pine forests, as well as the conviction that as soon as it gets windy, everyone should be putting mattresses up against their windows.
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I was thinking about Minginui on a rainy Tuesday morning in the Woodhill Forest Mountain Bike Park. It’s years since I’ve done any proper mountain biking. In my early twenties I owned a flourescent-orange Diamondback Ascent and my friends & I would frequently thrash our bikes and ourselves around the Riverhead & Woodhill forests. Before there was a park and before bicycles had suspension. I had gotten the urge to reacquaint myself with Woodhill but I didn’t want to drive up there. So the Off-Roadrat and I caught the train from Auckland city out to the Waitakere station and rode the remaining 25km. Most of the way it was pleasantly quiet backroads, but there was a stretch of about 5km on the main highway to traverse.
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I rode around the park for a couple of hours, got lost a couple of times and then cycled back to the Waitakere station just in time to catch the 2:30pm train back in to town. Although it was a nice day out, I’m not in a big hurry to take up mountain biking again. But I am tempted to explore some more of the Woodhill forest area – I wonder if there’s an overnight trip to be had somewhere up there…
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Salsa Casseroll

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Last year I was pottering about on TradeMe, looking for nothing in particular, when I cam across a Salsa Casseroll frame. It was a 2008 model which, strangely no one else seemed interested in. It came with a Chris King headset and Salsa seatpost & stem. I managed to resist the first time it appeared, but when it was relisted at an even lower price, I caved in and bid. I was the only one who did, and it was all mine for only $280. Soon after, also from TradeMe I bought a set of wheels – Mavic OpenPro rims, Shimano Ultegra hubs, with 72 spokes between them. I hid the wheels & the frame behind the couch for a few weeks while I scoured various exotic corners of the Internet for more parts.
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From XXCycle in France, I bought a Stronglight crankset. Why the Stronglight? Three reasons, they’re reasonably cheap, they’re quite good looking (I really don’t like those modern Shimano cranksets that look like a stingray is glued to your bottom bracket) and they come in a good range of sizes. The ‘standard’ 50t road ‘big ring’ is too big for me, and I wanted a low bottom gear for ascending some of the very steep hills you find in a city built on 57 volcanoes. So I chose a 48/34 and put a mountain cassette (11-34) on the back. This has worked out really well – I spend most of my time in the outer ring, and the middle third of the cassette. If necessary I can crawl up steep hill in the 1:1 bottom gear, and I have never spun out in the top gear.
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Lying around in the garage, I had a set of Miche dual-pivot brakes. So installed them hooked up to nice Tektro levers. To change gears I bought 9-speed Ultegra bar-ends. Why bar-ends? I like their simplicity and versatility, also if the indexing gets screwed up, you can switch them to friction.
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I was very fortunate with the all important contact points – the saddle is an old Brooks I salvaged from a 1970’s Peugeot, and the handlebars are Grand Bois Maes Parallel that I found on sale at Planet-X in the UK. Both of these items are very comfortable. At first I put on Shimano Deore deraileurs, but I have since replaced them with Shimano 105. The tyres are the classic Panaracer Paselsa TGs.
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Built up like this, it was my Sunday rider. But I don’t really ride on Sundays, so it wasn’t getting much use. I thought I’d try riding it to work, this required the addition of some accessories – via TradeMe, a Tubus Fly rack, from Rose Bikes in Germany, a B&M Lumotec IQ Fly-T Senso Plus front light, SKS mudguards and dynamo hub front wheel.
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So now I ride it all the time – to work, on “training” rides on the way home from work, for longer loops around Auckland and it’s even been on a little tour. I like it a lot – it’s very comfortable and reliable, without being slow or boring. It’s not perfect though – the bottom bracket is low enough that it suffers from a bit of pedal strike, and there is some toe overlap. Maybe one day I’ll buy a nice 650B randonneur to replace it. We’ll see…

Rail Trail Bail

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I was sitting in my car on a rainy Thursday night, in the carpark of the Thames Pak’n’Save, stuffing my face with a McDonalds Fillet’o’Fish while listening to the final melancholy tracks on Echo & the Bunnymens’s ‘Live in Liverpool’ album. “Nothing ever lasts forever” Ian McCulloch was singing – unlike these fries I thought, which did seem to be lasting forever. Why are there so many of them? When I was was a kid there were 8 fries in a small bag and 15 in a large, but this ‘medium’ had thousands in it. Would I never be free of them? The melancholy atmosphere deepened when the CD finished and the carpark PA became audible. It was playing ‘Snoopy’s Fucking Christmas’. I slumped down lower in the seat – where had I gone wrong? What twisted train of events had brought me here?
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Well, I’ll tell you. My plan had originally been to catch the ferry from downtown Auckland to Coromandel Township on Thursday morning, ride down the coast to Kopu, get on the Hauraki Rail Trail, ride to Te Aroha, stay the night, ride back on to Coromandel on Friday and catch the ferry to Auckland. Is simple, no? But a representative from the ferry company had called me on Wednesday to tell me that there would be no sailing on Thursday – apparently due to a “weather warning”. My initial reflex was to cancel the trip, but then I remembered that I like weather, so the ride would go ahead, but I would drive my car down there instead. Sure enough there was lots of weather – it poured with rain all the way there.
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I had been informed that the road from Coromandel to Thames was very pleasant to cycle along, but as I drove along there through the numerous blind corners and past the not infrequent slips I realised that that was bollocks. Riding along that road today would be both miserable and scary. So I came up with a backup plan – park in Thames and ride to Te Aroha along the Rail Trail. Maybe ride back the same day.
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I assembled the Off-Roadrat in the rain, put on my Buffalo jacket, and set off from Thames at about 1pm.
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The first 26km section from Kopu to Paeroa is classic flat gravel rail trail, through open farming country. There are lots of little bridges, and cattle stops. And cattle. And horses. The signage isn’t that great – I missed several of the links between sections and spent some time in Paeroa riding in circles trying to find my way through. The second section was quite different, it wound through bush, past waterfalls and through a long creepy tunnel.
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It was the tunnel that made me wonder if I was going the right way – I thought that was on the Waihi gorge section, but I was supposed to be heading for Te Aroha. The trail continued along beside the river and eventually popped out in a small town. Te Aroha? Nope – Waihi. Ummm, ok then. By now it was about 4pm and I was hungry. So I ate a toasted sandwich, drank a cup of coffee, bought a light (in case it got dark before I made it back) and got back on the trail. While eating the toasted sandwich and drinking the coffee, I had decided to bail out of this thing, ride back to Thames tonight and drive home.
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It really is a nice ride through the gorge. “Was it still raining?” I hear you ask, why yes it was. Did it rain all the way back to Thames? Yes it did. In fact, do you remember that bit in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ where they’re living in a town in the middle of the jungle and it doesn’t stop raining for 5 years? Well it felt very much like that.
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I finally made it back to Thames about 8pm. After 100km of soggy riding, I was starving. The first thing I found to eat was an artificial food-like substance from a multinational chain. And that’s how, dear reader, I ended up in the Thames Pak’n’Save with too many French fries, listening to Echo & the Bunnymen.

Riding To Raglan

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I was just outside Waingaro Springs when the Powerade began to take hold. The sign reading “Raglan 29km” that yesterday had made me want to cry (because I was hungry, tired, pretty much sick of this whole thing and still had 29km to go) had the reverse affect today – it was 11:30 in the morning and I was already a third of the way home. I was full of sugar and electrolites (whatever they are) and feeling good. The previous day (Monday) I had caught the train from central Auckland to Pukekohe and then ridden 125km to Raglan. It wasn’t supposed to be 125km, it was supposed to be 105km, but I had taken the wrong road out of Tuakau. This took me on a 20km Detour of Futility which I regretted bitterly later.
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The trip was my first attempt at bicycle touring. I had, somewhat cautiously, chosen a route described in a book by The Kennett Brothers as “Auckland’s Great Escape”. The plan was to ride down on Monday, stay the night in Raglan, ride back to Pukekohe the next day and then catch the train home. It didn’t sound that big of a deal – I ride an average of 100-150km a week around Auckland, and had done a couple of 100km loops & survived. How hard could it be? Quite hard as it turned out.
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My attorney had strongly advised me against the journey – “Why are you doing that? It’s too far! What’s wrong with you?” she had shouted when I mentioned the idea. Yesterday as I had gasped past the turnoff, wondering if I was going to make it, her sage words had haunted me. But today I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps I should just get a more supportive lawyer. Because today the sun was shining, the road was empty, and I was on the way home.
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The next section of the road was my favourite of the whole trip – a beautiful valley full of cows, sheep, horses and turkeys. A surprising number of turkeys really. Some of whom were very keen to impress their ladyfriends. The ladyfriends seemed fairly underwhelmed with their displays though and looked to be politely edging off to somewhere else.
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After the valley, the road headed upward and then meandered along a ridge for a while. One of those ridges where it’s always windy and the wind is always a headwind. I stopped for some time to watch a couple of harriers riding the wind above a gully. Now & then they would swoop down near the trees, and pairs of magpies would fly up and chase them off. Although I lack the beauty & deadly elegance of a bird of prey, I could sympathise with them – a magpie had chased me yesterday too. I had also helped (sort of) round up some escaped cattle, seen men cleaning beehives, and watched a pair of Paradise ducks chasing their errant offspring across a field.
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The road between Onewhero and Waingaro Springs is pretty good for watching wildlife thanks to the absence of traffic. At times I had the road to myself for 20min at a time. I talked to the guy at the garage & he told me that it’s busier at weekends, mostly with motorbikes. Which explains all the giant road safety signs along the way that have motorbikes on them.
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Days later, the memory that keeps coming back to me, is how it felt on the way back, when I had passed through Pukekawa and stopped at the top of the long hill leading down to the bridge over the Waikato. It’s a lovely view, and it’s when I was finally sure I was going to make it home. There was still 20km to go, but they were flatish kilometers, and going home always seems shorter doesn’t it?
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The Dual

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I’m not an especially competitive cyclist, but I do like an interesting ride. So when I heard about this race called The Dual, taking place on Mototapu and Rangitoto Island, I was keen. Not because I wanted to race other people, but it just looked like a chance to ride around a beautiful place that you aren’t usually allowed to ride around. In the weeks before the race I turned The Roadrat into The Offroad Rat and tried riding further more frequently (I believe this is called training).

I thought I was feeling reasonably prepared, but in the last few days prior to the event, I had trouble sleeping and had nightmares that my ex-girlfriend was trying to smother me with a pillow. I don’t think it was the actual ride I was worried about, so much as the logistics – dropping my bike off at this place, picking up this stuff from from there, remembering to bring these things on the day, and very importantly – getting down to the ferry in time. But as it turned out, all that stuff all went quite smoothly, so by the time the ferry left downtown at 7am on the Saturday morning, all I had to do was follow everybody else.

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After we all arrived at Home Bay on Mototapu Island, there was plenty of time to retrieve our bikes and watch the triatheletes swim up and down. At about 8:30 we were summoned to our pre-race briefing where we heard about the bird trust and were told to be careful. There was an interruption to this – a loud bang. When we all turned to look, we could see a very non-plussed looking man holding a bike with the tyre hanging off the front wheel along with some shreds of recently-expoloded inner tube. It was at this point that I noticed everyone else had brought their bikes to the briefing, while I had just wandered over by myself. Why? I thought. The answer was provided when the briefing concluded and we were informed that the race would start in 2 minutes. By the time I had fetched the Roadrat and packed my stuff, everybody else had gone. So I cut through between a couple of tents and started the race third to last.

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The first part of the course was up and down gravel roads on Mototapu, where I learned that a) the Off-Roadrat is pretty happy on those roads, b) I’m faster than some people riding up hills, and c) I’m slower than almost everyone riding down hills. Then it was across to Rangitoto and what became quite a steep ascent. Coming down the other side was, frankly, terrifying. It was a loose gravel “road” surrounded by nasty-looking volcanic rocks. Crashing on your way down there would be very unpleasant. This is probably why an ambulance was placed there. Part way down, I came across a guy carrying his bike, so I asked him what was up. He told me he had just gotten his second flat tyre and didn’t have a second spare tube. I hesitated for a bit, then caved in to my own good nature and gave him my spare tube, after soliciting a promise from him to give the tube back to me, if he found me by the side of the trail with a flat tyre of my own.

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Now up until this point I had, I must admit, found myself unexpectedly caught up in, well, racing. But after stopping for a few minutes, and then being alone back on the track, I remembered that I was just here for a nice ride. So I slowed down even more, started taking pictures and enjoying myself. Fortunately that descision coincided with a really beautiful section of the course that took us back across Rangitoto to Mototapu. From there it was more gravel roads back to Home Bay where we started, then back up & down some more hills, followed by a turn off to the extra loop for the 50k’ers that the 30km course didn’t take. This section started off fairly innocuously as a left turn on to some grass.

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But it soon became clear that this section was a tour through Mototapu’s armpit. It’s a beautiful armpit I’ll grant you, but the surface alternated between cowpat-ridden long grass, and fields so dry and sunbaked, it was like riding over lumps of smashed concrete. The un-suspensioned Off-Roadrat was not so happy in these conditions. One real bright spot was an aid station we came to. I was coasting gracefully down the side of a hill (like a chimp on a skateboard coasts gracefully down a sheet of corrugated iron) when I spotted a secret military training base  Well that’s what it looked like, except that the buildings all had solar panels on their roofs – a secret GreenPeace para-military training camp perhaps? That would also have explained why the aid-station there, was staffed by the nicest and most enthusiastic children I have ever met. One of them said to me “You can have water or some energy drink.” While I was deciding, she added “It’s not really energy drink, it’s just water with a bit of cordial in.” which was fine with me. Fortified with cordial, enthusiasm and a barley-sugar, I continued.

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And then there was more grass and more cowshit and more fences, and then every few kilometers there would be a person directing us where to go. Finally we made it back on to the gravel roads – I was very relieved. They had told us at the briefing that the very last leg was all downhill, so everytime the road went down, I thought, is this it? Is this the last downhill?

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But none of them were. Eventually I arrived at an intersection and was directed, along with a whole lot of runners, to a grass path heading up a hill. This turned out to be the least enjoyable part of the course. It was more rock-hard uneven ground, but now with a million runners and another million walkers. At times there was a relatively smooth path, but it was jammed with walkers, so I was constantly saying “excuse me” so they would step aside and I could stay on the path. This didn’t work on one guy who told me he couldn’t move sideways because he had snapped his achilles tendon.

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Finally I made to the home stretch – the descent to the finish line in Home Bay. This turned out to be not much fun at all – steep hill, lumpy surface etc. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and I was able to totter across the finish line and collapse under a tree. I got up after a while and had a beer. Then I had a second beer – I believe this is acceptable post race hydrating.

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For a first race, I thought it went well. I managed to finish, I wasn’t injured and apparently I didn’t come (quite) last. Would I do it again? Hmm, not sure. I’m leaning towards riding The Contact Epic around Lake Hawea next year though…

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