A Long Weekend in Wellington …via Napier

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A weekend away with my trail crew, hitting trails and sipping ales – sounds like a great idea! Friday we packed up and hit the road, arriving in Napier just in time to share a sunset shred on the recently opened concrete pump track with locals Glenn Richards, Dingo Dave and Jared Perkins. It was cool to see the facility so busy and not just with bike riders; the brushed concrete surface opens it up to skateboarders and scooter riders to mix it up too. This is a Napier City Council project that I did the CAD design work on, then the construction was done by CPM Construction. The inspiration came from the work that Claudio Calouri and his company Velo-Solutions have been doing in Switzerland – world-leading concrete and asphalt hotmix surface pump tracks and pump parks. The roller and berm dimensions came from Southstar Trails experience, taking the best sections from the dirt surface pump tracks we’ve built.

I’d done site inspection visits in Jan/Feb 2015 to check on progress. Unfortunately the base material under the concrete is river gravel, without a lot of clay content to bind it together. I had been able to check all the rollers rode well, but CPM weren’t able to pre-form the berms to a rideable state before the concreting was to be done. I couldn’t check how two-thirds of the track rode before it was set in concrete - ahhhhh. Any designer will tell you it’s tough to envision something on a computer screen and have it come out perfect in real life, especially something that’s never been built before! So I was super nervous rolling up to the site on Marine Parade. But it worked out, the outside berms are awesome, and the concrete surface makes them super-fast. Some of the inner berms transitions are a little steep; they still ride okay on a bike but may be a little tough on the skateboard.

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Overall the crew was stoked, there are endless loops and combos to put together. Mostly the traffic all goes in the same direction, but you do have to keep an eye out for other riders. Napier is definitely stepping up to the plate as a national destination for holidaying mountain bikers with its trail development in Eskdale Forest and now this concrete pump track.

Following the Saturday morning sunrise video shoot we all piled back in the trucks and drove down to check out Rod Bardsley and Pete Woodman-Aldridge’s developing trail network at Whareroa Farm MTB Park near Paraparaumu. Rod and Pete lead us out the back of the park and deep into the Akatarawas where the Karapoti Classic is held. However we weren’t planning on riding any boring gravel road descents; locals know there’s a maze of tight and twisty ancient trails hidden away in here.

After a dozen left and right turns we managed to lose Thomas and Rohan somehow. They were ill-prepared for being lost; no food, no water, no maps, no jackets. With temperatures rapidly dropping and the sun starting to dip towards the horizon the rest of us were making jokes about who would spoon who to get through the night, while Rod told us “this is the third time I’ve lost someone in here” ! After lots of searching, doubling back and looping around we couldn’t find them and decided to exit out into cell phone coverage.

While contemplating calling search and rescue, I got a text from Thomas: “Got lost but made it to the saddle heading out now” Whew.

One of the best things about a riding trip to our capital city is all the other things that you can do in between rides. We were lucky enough to score some Saturday night tickets to the Wellington Saints vs the Nelson Giants Basketball game. It’s amazing just how tall and skillful these dudes really are!

Sunday Morning, the top of Makara Peak MTB Park for sunrise, riders ready, bikes assembled but it's touch and go if it’s too windy for Thomas to get the drone in the air. A day with no wind at the top of a mountain in Wellington is rare, and today wasn’t to be. However we got some awesome handheld and GoPro footage of the new trail, Peak Flow. Makara Peak is a pretty cool place for a number of reasons. Number one, it’s where the legend pioneers of New Zealand mountain biking, the Kennett Bros really made their mark as trail builders. If you read the Kennett guidebooks and get to know these guys you’ll soon realise they love big, day-long adventure missions with bigger doses of hill climbing. Makara Peak’s existing trails bring that raw backcountry ethos into the city; the trails are typically narrow and tight, there’s lots of handlebar catchers and the riding requires accuracy and rapid full body tweakage to maintain momentum.

The 300m vertical climb up Makara is so well made, that the problem arose that beginner riders could access the peak but struggled with the easiest descent, the grade 3-4 Northface Trail. So the Makara Peak Supporters and Wellington City Council recognised that they needed a new easy grade descent from the peak of the park. A wider, flow-type trail would provide a great yin to the yang of the existing trails. It would provide a facility to develop the bike-park type riding skills of pumping rollers, manualling, riding bermed corners and working up to doing jumps. The second reason Makara is a cool place is that it’s had a huge amount of native tree planting and pest control. The forest is slowly regenerating and there’s plenty of bird life. It’s a wonderful thing!

Southstar Trails was contracted for the trail design and construction work. The track took a week of trail marking in the late December sun. It was tough going through dense scrub of double head height barberry and gorse that had to be chainsawed and then pulled out just to be able to walk through. Bryn Dickerson and I did tank-about on the chainsaw, definitely one of the toughest trail designs we’ve done.

Following design the construction team moved into action, with two diggers operating and a third person chainsawing, raking, shaping and compacting. There was only a very thin layer of topsoil over the top of rock, so the first machine was equipped with a rock breaker, while the second followed behind shaping the rock into track features. Compared to constructing trails in the volcanic soils of the central North Island, construction speed was only a quarter, but it also means the track is super solid! Emil de Vries, Rohan Alton, Bryn Dickerson and Lloyd Jenks were the Southstar Trails trail crew for this project and they got creative adding lots of features, many of which come to light as your speed and skill increases, like roller doubles that become triples and wallrides that open up as momentum increases.

Part of the build process is to ride the trail and check that the speed is right for the size of the trail features—not too fast, not too slow, just Goldilocks. To do this the trail has to be fully compacted and this compaction requires moisture in the soil. During the whole two-month build process Wellington didn’t get a single drop of rain. The soil was like little marbles, the crew tried all sorts of compaction machinery but the surface just wouldn’t compact without moisture. With Wellington staring down the barrel of a drought, we couldn’t truck in water, so we just had to wait.

The trail got completed, the diggers moved onto the next project and locals started riding the trail. Then the rain came. Not just a gentle sprinkling, but 60mm of it in one night. The trail inevitably got cut up, and so Bryn Dickerson, Lloyd Jenks and Thomas Lindup went in, smoothing and compacted the now moist soil, adding gravel to the muddy bits and rock armouring the berms.

When we arrived for the Peak Flow grand opening the trail was looking mint! Mayor Celia Wade-Brown gave a rousing speech, cut the ribbon and ripped off down the trail, followed by 50 or so riders. It was cool to see families with kids, and all levels of rider having fun. From the rosy cheeks, big grins and bubbling speech at the bottom, the riders were pumped!

With the trail crew maxing out on the stoke-o-meter we settled into a Karori pub Café 163 to watch the Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather fight and sip a few of Wellington’s finest Garage Project beers. How did Manny lose? The papers next morning claimed the judges mixed up their blue and red corners with the score sheets – could this be true? Will there be a rematch? All of a sudden the weekend was over. Thomas headed to Rotorua, Emil and Rohan headed to Tokoroa where we're building an 8km loop for the next Day-Night Thriller event, Bryn, Lloyd and I headed up to Porirua to look at Southstar’s next trail project “The Doctor” for Mana Cycle Group. There’s some exciting trails planned for this area, but that will have to be another story!

Want to find out what’s happening when it’s happening? Progress reports on Southstar Trails projects can be found on their Facebook page here or Jeff’s Instagram handle is jeffcarter21