Roughly 10 years ago I moved to Hamilton and went about finding an inner city spot to ride my bikes. Needless to say, back then there wasn't much option but to street ride and do skids at the BMX track—unless you had a car which I didn't—but these days there's one good option within riding distance of wherever in Hamilton you may live. Pukete MTB park has developed over the years from being an illegal dumping ground covered in gorse to having flowy MTB trails weaving their way through newly planted native trees and shrubs.
Helping head up the charge for the Pukete park was James Gurney, madcore mountain bike guy. He's been sifting around the XCish scene for years now and has had his hand firmly inside the MTB scene here in the Waikato, from Pukete Park to helping run and organise races (NZ CX Champs etc) and still has time for a beer with the rest of the 'Pain Train' posse.
Ladies and gents, James Gurney...
How old are you? 39
Where do you live? The Tron (Hamilton. 'East side' to be exact.)
What do you like best about living where you do? The central location and it's easy to get to all the great trails in the greater Waikato/Central North Island. Road riding is great here also, with mostly quiet country roads in all directions and yes, plenty of hills to climb! Also surfing and great beaches are easily accessible at Raglan and the Coromandel. Great people here too and the greater cycling community is awesome. Best cafes with supreme Rocket coffee!
What do you dislike about living where you do? Wet winters (but seeing the long range forecast, it's no better for the rest of the country at the moment), some maniac drivers and random magpie attacks in spring (even mountain biking...). FYI the fog is nowhere near as bad as people think either.
Who makes your riding possible? The fact that my partner Rachel is into mountain biking has a lot to do with my ability to ride as often as I can (then it's only work and other life trivia that get in the way). We both love riding, so it's that easy really! She is also supportive of my racing and is a key person in the events we are involved with organising. I would also have to say my job and the business I'm in allows a degree of flexibility as well, as I can make a few client business meetings a bit more interesting by going riding with them. Beats playing golf any day!
First bike? After my three-wheeler, I had the same bike as the Milky Bar Kid in the '70s ad (I sort of looked liked him too with white/blond hair), MX500 or whatever it was called. I was about five or six. Great for skids and pretending to be speedway star Ivan Mauger, ripping up dad's well-manicured lawn with back pedal/coaster brakes; nothing's changed. As far as a first mountain bike, a World Rider Yak. I got dragged up Mt Karangahake one day in the pouring rain with the Deans from Waihi (no wonder Julian has succeeded with the environment he was in—I'm waiting for "Grasshopper" to get into MTB when he retires from being a pro roadie). Great fun and haven't looked back since then.
Best spot in the world to ride? France is pretty good, because it has the Alps which are easily accessible, but here in New Zealand is the best place; we have so many different types of terrain and adventure rides on your back doorstep. Naseby or Wanaka in the South Island are favourites. North Island; Kaimais, Mt Karangahake, Coromandel ranges, the Taupo region in general and of course Vegas. Close to home, Te Miro is awesome. Too many to list really and for different reasons they are all great.
What was the biggest challenge with getting the Pukete MTB park to where it is now? Getting the council on side to even consider the idea of having a MTB park. The HMTBC want to keep growing the riding area, as there is more land which has a tonne of potential that the Hamilton City Council are still considering (favourably I hope) for future use as MTBing area. The HCC are starting to see the bigger picture with the huge growth that has happened in the sport here, especially as we do more events and parents and kids (as young as three) are loving it and getting out there and using it.
Clearing the track when we first started with eight-foot high gorse and blackberry was physically the hardest mission though! Making 100 metres of track was celebrated back then, with many a cream filled pancake as reward. Ross "Gorse" Healey (now living in Rotorua) and I certainly gained some weight at the time, but we put it down to upper body cross training from "how much gravel you could load into the wheelbarrow and get the furthest up the track" competitions. Also we got in a lot of running practice (especially Ross), chasing the motorbikes away as well (as everyone knows, they wreck trails). Possibly they thought we were a bit psycho when we were running at them with slashers etc, but it worked! I have to say thanks to the Hamilton City Council for their continued donation of thousands of native plants to beautify the area and one day soon, the remaining gorse, blackberry and other noxious plants will be gone for good. The attendance at the planting bees is awesome. As I said, the HCC are starting to see the bigger picture, seeing the club turning what was a bit of a dump, into a bush clad urban trail system and MTB playground.
Any tips for other clubs developing their trails? I think the Hamilton MTB club have done well with the limited amount of land available, because they had to. So don't take for granted what you have and if possible, go to trail building seminars, get the "bible" on track building (via Ground Effect or MTBNZ) for your club and most of all, when trying to get land access, don't give up!
HMTBC has grown a very strong club membership as the track has developed. Getting the website up and going (thanks to Tui Allen) made a huge impact on making people aware there is actually a place to ride IN Hamilton. I think you have to make people feel involved and welcome (which the website has done with updates and postings of working bees and events etc) and you have to have an enthusiastic committee to drive and motivate people to want to be involved in all aspects of the club, including track building. Then you will get more people helping out and understanding the reason tracks are built the way they are. This also gives an appreciation for all the other trail builders in New Zealand who spend endless unpaid hours doing a great job, so we have more places to ride. So short story long, you need people in the club to drive home the importance of trail building and the flow-on effect it has for the rest of the cycling community and general public. The current track team lead by David "Cookie" Hudson is doing great work and prior to him, Ross Cochran, Russell Stark and co. took over the "spade" from Ross and myself. The club's summer race series which gets up to 150 riders on Wednesday nights, shows the real success of the Pukete MTB park in a place not renowned for mountain biking.
What can’t you travel without? Passport. But seriously, a good book to read (probably something cycling; just came back from Europe and read Lance's comeback book Tour De Lance and A Long Ride For a Pie). We used to always take our bikes, but it can be a mission, so now I just make sure I take helmet, shoes and pedals.
What's your day job? Sales Manager (AliWays Windows and Doors) selling and supplying to the building industry mainly, in the Waikato/Central North Island. Marketing and networking is a big part of this and looking after our ever growing client base. A good number of these business owners are now keen mountain bikers as well—circle of influence, I hope. I dabble in a bit of coaching as well as the odd event to organise, mostly in my spare time.
What's your average day look like? No day is ever the same. Basically the phone rings a lot normally, so that means lots of talking (not like me at all...) for all sorts of queries from clients to AliWays staff, site meetings to measure the joinery so it fits, client meetings etc and I go to Taupo for a visit to our factory and a "state of the nation" catch-up every couple of weeks (try to get a ride in too). But the main thing is to make sure our production factory is busy, and by keeping our clients happy, it normally is. I also get the odd cycling related call on phone #2 (I've got 2 mobiles...), usually a call from Daryl (local Subway owner and keen as born again MTBer), or Pain Train regarding riding plans etc. A typical day over the last month or so would also involve some bike orientated event "to do list" being thrown in the mix as I zip around the countryside. Also very importantly, there is coffee to be had - either @Cycology or a "9.50" at Rocket gets me the fix needed.
What can you not live without? Rachel would say my mobile. I'd say something else you can't print ;-)
What motivates you to get out of bed and go to work each day? I'm not an early morning person, but when I do get up, the clients I deal with are generally great (obviously due to my "DDWD" policy) and usually keen to talk about riding/racing as well. Also being part of a business from the very start, through the ups and downs and watching it grow successfully, slowly but surely, has its rewards both personally and financially. Okay, the recession has been hard this last year, but not too bad considering. I'm competitive and we we are in a very competitive cut-throat market, so there's that challenge daily as well.
What are your plans / events for the coming summer? After doing the 12 hour solo at the last minute, I'm sort of still in"the off season"(fat and unfit) and am carrying a few physical niggles so I haven't been training and therefore my goals have not been laid in concrete as yet. The Pain Train team are all doing the Singlespeed Worlds, so should be a fun weekend; certainly the only race for us is who is going to be first into the beer tent. I hope to do the Huka XL, National Champs in Dunedin, Karapoti and then the tour of Northland, which is great fun as far as road riding goes. As I'm not helping organise the Wednesday night summer series "World Champs of Pukete" this year, I intend to race a bit more and see if I can give my body a good thrashing and hurry up those young fellas. Obviously going to be sifting at both the Day/Nighter and Pukete Spaghetti that are coming up soon, trying to get some fitness back.
Now the Cyclecross is done and dusted, the Day/Night Thriller in Taupo is next on the agenda. We've had a Hamilton/Taupo combined teams site every year for the past four years (AliWays party central) so this is now on the to do list to help organise. Good times are had as a number of AliWays clients plus Hamilton MTB club teams join in for a great day out, which the AliWays Taupo team cater for (thanks to owners Mark and Diane Stringfellow). We get a marquee, big screen TV and get Sky hooked up for the rugby, plus epic Stringfellow venison burgers if Mark or one of the guys from work has been hunting. We should have over 10 teams this year! Pop in and say gidday if you are at the event; you can't miss us, or our signage. Just don't call my number as I'll be sifting with the rest of the "AliWays" (feat. Pain Train) older dudes team.
What's wrong with mountain biking? Call me old fashioned, but shuttles are making it way too easy to get to all the good tracks. Especially in Vegas, but I think Jeff has a great little business going there. I'll contradict myself in a minute. See below question.
I think parts of mountain biking that were strong, are weakening (like XC racing at National level). The main reason is that there are so many other events around that appeal to a wider audience. Once upon a time all you had was the National series, hence the numbers were way better. I don't know the answer to this and I know Chris Mildon etc at MTBNZ are trying their best to figure it out.
What's right with mountain biking? The boost in the downhilling side of the sport in New Zealand and our rise to the top. We're now one of the best at it in the world, which is great to see. I think the growth in numbers competing in New Zealand probably has something to do with those damn shuttles......
More personally I also like the idea there is now a tilt back to an older format of downhill/cross-country combined type races. Kamiakaze was a great event and it's good to see JK involved with organising the Crank Taupo event. Also marathon type races and going back to old school one lappers (Marcus and Dean at N-Duro have done well at this format). On the fun side of things, Vorb has been influential in the New Zealand MTB community with their forums and the subsequent story telling and banter of the "sifting FTW" Bushlove lads, Pain Train and the like. It all just makes you want to get out and ride and be part it.
The absolute best thing though, is the way mountain biking keeps reinventing itself in technological terms. Most people don't just have one bike that does it all any more; 29rs, singlespeeds, trail bikes, hardtails, 2x10 full sus race bikes and on it goes. Just like surfers, you now have a "quiver" of bikes to suit the terrain or race conditions or even the mood of the day! It's way easier to get a purchase order as well when you are buying "another bike".... "I don't have one of those yet honey". The average house now getting built by cyclists needs three-car garaging too. One car, 10 bikes.
Who do you look up to? Being short, most people! But yeah Frishi (Thomas Frishneckt)—legend and nice guy who doesn't mind a beer and a yarn . I met his mum in Vegas at the 2006 Worlds as well. Nice lady and strong genetics there.
Favourite piece of bike kit? Pain Train Team shirt (of course).
What are your vices? Coffee, chocolate, beer or wine and Jesters pies.
Got any dirt / story of a MTBer you’d like to share? Yeah, but my life is worth more than that. I'll just say Mikey, rum, Hilton's 21st. I think there is possibly more dirt on me to be shared, so I'll quit while I'm ahead. Worlds 2004 after party was interesting though.....
You're stuck on a desert island with only a good MTB trail on it and nothing else. What bike would you like to have with you and why? 29r singlespeed; next to no maintenance and the Fox shocks were serviced and loved by Ricardo Woodward so should be fine for a couple of years. The wagon wheels, even with this short ass on them, roll baby roll.
Okay, a bit of word association-
- Whaka 100 Singletrack heaven
- 12hr Solo race I should have trained for it
- Tour De France party in the Alps
- National Series XC races catch up with mates
- Pain Train bunch of good bastards
- 29ers less braking more railing