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James Shirley’s New Zealand Road Trip – Part 1

Once again the UK weather has played an evil trump card and our fair isle is wrapped in a cold blanket of snow and crap weather.  It is tough to find motivation in the grip of winter, however on the other side of the globe, our Kiwi cousins are currently enjoying some fantastic dry dusty conditions.  James Shirley, a founder member of the infamous ‘Dudes of Hazzard’ decided enough was enough, it was time to get some of the good stuff, jetting round the globe with his trusty Orange Five to mix it up with the Kiwi Crew!

Check out the first part of his New Zealand Adventure, full of races, miss-haps and spontaneous nakedness!

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“Feck it baeys, this weather is pish – I’m going to New Zealand…”

I’d been to New Zealand before, when I was a youthful 17 year old, with my buddy Joey B so I knew what to expect: sun, mountains and funny little birds that can’t fly. We did the Kiwi downhill series and this time I wanted to take a trail bike to see what else was on offer. I managed to organise most of my sponsorship deals before leaving on the 5th of January. This meant I arrived with a shiny new Orange Five complete with green team edition Hope parts and fancy X-Fusion gas shockers. I also had a whole heap of brand new Bawbags clothing and O’neal riding kit to see me through the trip (including some swanky looking SPD shoes too). Stoked.

The last time we had a van and travelled north and south following the race series. This time I have come to realise the simple luxury of using a shower and having a bed so I have decided to base myself in one place: Queenstown. I stayed on the sofa of the legend that is Mat Weir for the 1st few days before upgrading to my own room in his brother’s house up the road in Fernhill. Thanks to everyone here for putting up with me! I quickly settled in and bought a cheap second hand road bike to get some training done early in the day before smashing some turns in the afternoon.

After only 6 days in NZ I joined the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club and raced one of their local downhill races at the base of the Remarkables ski area. The course was mint and the uplift was fast and efficient. It was probably one the best single day downhill races I’ve ever been to: well organised, great people and some sweet photos from Sean Lee. I got enough practice in on Sunday morning to figure out where I was going before race runs started after lunch. There are quite a few fast guys who hang out in this part of the world so I was chuffed to get the fastest time of the day on a trail bike. Well good!

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A few days latter I set off with Mat to join Tom Lamb for a few days on the road. Our first riding destination was Craigieburn. There are some sweet trails to be found here – ‘The Hogs Back’, ‘The Cheeseman DH’, ‘The edge’ and ‘The Luge’.

The next couple days were spent riding some epic walker’s paths – ‘Kirwins’ and ‘Creosus’. These trails can be found in the old mining country north east of Greymouth with plenty of interesting things to stumble across.  We would ride up for a few hours in the evening and stay in a hut overnight before coming back down in the morning. The slog up to Kirwin’s hut turned out to be a total mission. The ground was wet and the incline too steep to ride.

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Hungry and delirious we struggled on to the top. We eventually arrived at the hut and celebrated our success in spectacular fashion… Happy days.

“An enduro race with uplift and immaculate trails you say? I’m there!”

After returning back to Queenstown HQ from my road trip with Mat and Tom, I borrowed a friend’s car and set off again for the Dodzy Memorial Enduro in Nelson. For those that don’t know, Dodzy was a bit of a legend in the mountain bike scene. He worked as a trail builder and gave back a lot to the sport. Sadly, he lost his life at an early age whilst out hunting with a friend. One of the places he worked was Wairoa Gorge –the venue for the race. From what I’ve gathered, there is some big chief who has a lot of money and a passion for mountain cycling. He owns bits of land in various locations across the world: Jamaica, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and probably a few other places too. His land here in NZ apparently encompasses five mountains but so far only one valley has been developed. A crew of up to 50 people have been employed to create his trails and in 3 years they have hand built over 40 amazing tracks. All of which are beautifully crafted with excellent sign posting. There are even little stations along the way with track pumps, multi tools and water for anyone to stop and use as they wish. The infrastructure is incredible: fancy log cabins have been constructed to house guests/trail crew and there is a good quality access road for the shiny new pick-ups to do uplift on. Normally this is a private facility but the race was the first time it was open to the public.

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Practise was held on Saturday and the race was on Sunday. The three trails used for the race were fast and flowing. They were a bit on the easy side but still loads of fun to ride. I lost a lot of time in traffic and with a small mechanical however I still managed to finish 12th overall and get my photo in the paper.

The Monday after the race I went out on the bike and had possibly the gnarliest crash ever. It is hard to explain without a physical demonstration but basically I was doing a track stand whilst lining myself up for a huck off a fallen tree, over a gap onto an off camber landing and then… I fell over. From an initial speed of 0mph, I landed on my ankle and twisted it pretty bad. Damn. I blame it on the long grass…

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I spent the next couple days sitting down and editing some old footage I had on the laptop. Everyone I met had been telling me about how great ‘Peaking Ridge’ was so before I left Nelson I had to do it. I strapped up my ankle and met a couple friends (Lucy and Meg) for the guided tour. Despite hobbling about like a wee crip I had a great time. The trail starts on a ridge and is quite flat and trialsy to begin with. It eventually points downhill and gets pretty steep in places with plenty of roots to watch out for.

Epic ride done, it was time to move on. I came up the west coast so decided to travel back down the east to complete the loop and visit some friends in Cheviot, Christchurch, Ashburton and Dunedin along the way.  The road bike came in pretty handy whilst I was away. By the time I got to Dunedin things were getting better and I did a sweet mountain bike ride down the Rongami track with Tom Lamb. I’m now back at base in Queenstown and ripping it again. The current regime is to do some training in the morning, smash some turns in the afternoon and demolish copious amounts of food in the evening. Good times!

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Stay tuned for part 2!

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