Thredbo – I’m going to need a bigger bike

I started my first run of three runs on Thredbo’s All-Mountain Track in the face of a gale whipping off the top of Mt Kosciuszko.

Spinning the granny gear on the Santa Cruz’s old-school triple chainring I hardly made ground against the wind as I rolled to the start of the trail.

At 1900 metres, the altitude and my lack of fitness left me puffing hard as I steered towards the first boulders shouldering the new singletrack.

Pinned to a boulder on the right of the trail was a sign with an arrow pointing down, saying ‘easiest’.

But filled with courage from a newly installed 2.35 inch rear tyre, a new 750mm wide handlebar and dropper post, I took the left side and plunged down.

Sky and alpine ranges spanned the horizon but I focussed on the trail out of utter fear of tipping over the edge.

Built above the tree line, the hard-packed singletrack weaved between granite boulders, a lingering patch of snow and a swift creek.

Sculpted berms swung me down to the next contour, linked by short rolling climbs over rock ledges.

It was only the second weekend since the trail opened and there was little sign of braking ruts.

An open fire trail descent that finished with a 180 degree left hand sweeping turn tested the brakes and I was left needing more as I stuttered through bunting marking the turn.

‘I missed that my first time too,’ said another rider in full body armour and full-face helmet, who was taking it slow around the bend.

The full descent back to the village was 9km long and the trail traversed open grassland ski slopes and twisted through shady groves of snowgums.

On the third run down, I rolled over a steep drop into a right hand berm at speed, but lacking the skills to match ambition tasted the loamy Thredbo dirt.

I was not broken, just bent, as that song goes, and still intact to finish the run in a decent time.

The Santa Cruz Blur was at its limit on this track. At first I thought it was doable on an XC bike – it is – but then there’s a good chance of broken bones or bike.

On the way down I saw several riders who were either spent and sitting by the side of the track, or whose bikes had given up. One rider’s rotor bolts had flung off and his crank and chainring had split from the frame.

Back at the base of the chairlift terminal the bike scene was of downhill machines or enduro weapons with 150mm+ of travel.

There was a guy with an old hardtail and v-brakes but I didn’t know if he’d finished or was about to be the next medivac case.

My brakes worked hard, but at 140mm, its discs looked like water crackers compared with the dining plates of some of the bigger beasts.

Until riding Thredbo I thought I had enough bike for the riding I do. But the lure of slack frames, big travel, fat tyres and wide bars to ride down these trails leaves open an enticing line of thinking.

–Ray Marcello

The Old Ghost Road

Harri and I had an awesome time riding the Old Ghost Road on the northwestern end of the NZ South Island.  It’s an 85km purpose built dual purpose mtb/ hiking trail, that climbs up into the mountains, winds around, plunges up and down a few times and has typically awesome NZ scenery.  It was spectacular and super fun.  It’s been open less than a year and already becoming heavily booked in advance.

We split it up into a 30km day riding into the Ghost Lake Hut, and then a 55km day to ride out and stay at a lovely lodge at the trail end, Rough and Tumble Lodge.  Our logistics were made easy by being picked up in Wellington by our NZ based friends Heather and Shane, who had also organised for their car to be shuffled from the start to finish as well (lots of tour organisers catering for pickups/ drop offs/ car shuffles).

Sounds cruisy?  I wouldnt have wanted to do it any quicker, and most of the cyclists we chatted with on the way stayed a second night out on track at Specimen Hut, leaving a short 17km ride out.   Our  last day was a pretty decent day – around 7.5hrs out on track, with lots of photo stops, and we were crazy lucky with the weather.  The weather is not to be underestimated –  it snowed on the track all around Ghost Lake Hut 2 days previous, and we had some good patches of bog to navigate.   You’d want to be super fit and strong, carry good lights, and not want any photo stops if doing it one day.   The photo of steps – best to go south to north as there are 302 steps at that point!

If you do plan to ride it some helpful notes are

– dont take a camelbak, a single bidon is more than enough (good water at all 5 huts and loads of fresh streams)

– if you have a choice don’t ride a hardtail, and I really appreciated being on a beautiful squishy trail bike rather than my Epic.  The track is pretty rough and rocky for much of it.

– the huts are really well set up with gas stoves, crockery and cutlery and coffee plungers.  You do need to take a sleeping bag but providing you’re booked in to the huts, it doesnt need to be a super duper one – I had a light bag only and was too hot, as the wood heater was cranked up.

– limit the weight in your backpack as much as possible.  Drybags strapped to handlbars and under seats are pretty good at helping to achieve this (or a helpful partner protecting my knee!)

– make sure any Nelson riding is planned for later – then if you break yourself as per Harri, at least you’ll have enjoyed the OGR!

– an emergency device or at least a good mobile phoneat if things go wrong should be carried.  There are several high points on the trail where there is phone coverage, and NZ is well practiced at pulling off chopper evacuations (we’ve seen 2 at close hand over the last week, not Harri).  The terrain is awesome but rough and there are plenty of spots where a slight slip has huge consequences.  image image image image image image image