The Roadtrip Lifecycle
The four phases of moutain bike adventure.
Words by Tama Easton | Images by Sven Martin
There’s a point most mountain bikers reach when they wonder what trails are like outside of their hometown, invariably leading to road trips, where you and your mates set off to places near or far to sample alternative riding delights.
Our most recent summer road trip was significantly different from previous trips and it got me thinking about how my missions have changed over the last 25 years. Much like the butterfly or dung beetle, mountain bike road trips have a definite life cycle, and this is how I reckon they roll:
Loads of Time, No Money
After leaving the family home, many of us move into a wondrous time of life where we have loads of time but very little cash. The ample time either comes from holiday breaks from study, or, free of mortgages/families, any time away from work being available for fun.
My first road trips were in my flatmate’s Hillman Hunter he bought from his aunt for $50. It wasn’t very reliable but between four of us we got really good at crash starting it. We’d spent all the money we had (and some we didn’t) on our bikes, so everything was planned around low cost accomodation and eating.
At this point in life, the only thing limiting time on the road is running out of money for petrol and/or food. Food tends to be low cost/high carb, and accommodation is anywhere you can sleep.
Route planning was often ad hoc, with the next day based on whatever trails some local had told us about. We pitched tents on rugby fields, school grounds, and in one case a small floodplain. Distant relatives and friends were invaded by grubby mountain bikers, leaving them reeling from the chaos. A lot of pasta and tuna was eaten. It was glorious.
More Money, Less Time
As we get older, responsibilities catch up with us. Sooner or later most of us find ourselves with ‘proper’ jobs and a lot less free time, but more money to make up for it.
Road trips, by necessity, become more organised, as instead of weeks you might only have days to get out and ride somewhere different. Plane tickets are booked along with accommodation, bike park tickets, rental cars, helicopter flights, boats, shuttles—whatever it takes.
Eating instant noodles gives way to eating out, and sleeping on your mate’s couch turns into renting an Airbnb for a long weekend. Time is money and time is riding, so you end up buying time to ride.
In my late 20s I had an IT job that paid me a decent amount, and lots of mates in similar positions. We’d be having a post-ride meal and suddenly a throwaway line about heli-biking in Queenstown would turn into our next long weekend away.
It was expensive mountain biking debauchery, but it certainly took us to a lot of cool places.
Kids, Less Money, Even Less Time
The appearance of mortgages and kids generally heralds the disappearance of money and time. It also completely changes the focus of road trips.
When I started, we were all about epic trips into the backcountry. The cash-fuelled debauchery turned this into targeting legendary and often insanely technical trail riding with heli-drop precision. With kids in tow, the trail selection changes accordingly.
Our summer trip down the West Coast of the South Island to Central Otago targeted a completely different set of trails compared to my normal menu. Wide tracks with good grades were top of the list; I found myself looking for grade 2 trails that a 7-year-old could enjoy on 20” wheels. The good news is the New Zealand Cycle Trail network offers up heaps of this kind of accessible riding.
I’ve been watching friends with older kids as their trips start to evolve into higher grades and the kids start to out-ride their parents. Our son graduated to 24” wheels when we got back from our trip and has ridden a couple of grade 3 trails, which definitely expands the possibilities for our next trip.
No Kids, More Money, More Time
And finally we arrive at the last phase of road tripping. The kids have left home, hopefully money is no longer an issue, and work has taken a back seat to play.
From what I’ve observed, people are approaching this time with a whimsically-named campervan (a favourite of ours we spotted was ‘Adventure Before Dementia’) and a couple of e-bikes. But the overseas bucket list also features around this point in people’s lives.
To be honest, I don’t know enough about this phase to talk about it with any great knowledge. But I did recently buy a sweet Cannondale e-bike, so I’m some of the way there. Give me a decade or so and I’ll get back to you.