Photos by Graeme Murray

To most, New Zealand is best known for providing the dramatic setting for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To the adventuring outdoorsman, skier, and mountain biker it’s the southern hemisphere’s Mecca. Curiously enough, New Zealand sits an equal distance from the equator as many of the best riding regions in the northern hemisphere. While many of us in the north are waiting for the snow to melt, the Kiwis are enjoying the first days of fall, the undisputed best season for riding mountain bikes.

Impressive scenery, epic trails, and a flourishing mountain bike community set the stage for the first stop of the 2018 Crankworx tour, Rotorua, New Zealand. The magnetic attraction of warmer climes and hero dirt complemented by a persuasive invitation from Wide Open (our NZ distribution partner) and the need to carry on some product testing with the boys at Intense Factory Racing all made committing to the adventure a short deliberation.

“If you’re reading this, you’re one of the first to know about this exciting new product line, dropping this summer”

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the Wide Open crew and ushered to HQ where we were presented with Intense’s latest range of shred sleds fitted with the new M Series wheels. From there, we began the process of adorning each of the dozen bikes with a selection of our soon-to-be-released M Series handlebars and stems. If you’re reading this, you’re one of the first to know about this exciting new product line, dropping this summer.

While we are best known for our wheels, many people’s favorite ENVE products are their RSR (Riser) or DH handlebars. There’s a good reason for this: your handlebar is the most important point of contact with your bike, transmitting all inputs and feedback, and setting the tone for your entire ride experience. Suffice it to say, we take the bar and stem very seriously. After getting all the bikes dialed we were ready to ride.

The original plan was to ride the local redwoods which are replete with flowing singletrack, but with Crankworx in town, the forest was on lockdown and ‘industry sponsored’ activities were not permitted. The Wide Open guys, being the imaginative bunch that they are, mentioned that a friend of theirs flies for Heli-Bike Rotorua. The details aren’t really important beyond that. They had us at “heli”.

Heli-Bike Rotorua provides a shuttle service to native back-country North Island trails where mountain bikers can create a la carte single- or multi-day trips on a trail system supported by huts.

“With bikes loaded onto the heli’s racks, we were piloted for 20 minutes over vast expanses of mountainous rain forest to be dropped off…”

For our excursion, we selected the Moerangi Track, a 13km section of trail that starts in the Whirinaki Te Pua a Tane Conservation Park – aka middle-of-nowhere – rain forest. When you think of heli-biking, you probably think of being dropped off on the top of a mountain from where you descend countless thousands of feet to the trail’s end. With bikes loaded onto the heli’s racks, we were piloted for 20 minutes over vast expanses of mountainous rain forest to be dropped off… in the middle of the forest. We were not on a majestic peak, rather in a small valley surrounded by a stunning forest where the small but well stocked Moerangi Hut is located and ready to provide shelter to weary hunters, hikers, and mountain bikers. With bikes unloaded our guide informed us that the initial 40 minutes or so would be a climb to the start of the descent. Let the adventure begin.

The first part of the track is bench cut and follows the river, then you begin the ascent. The scenery in the forest is such that you hardly notice that you’re climbing steep, root strewn, and at times loose and slippery singletrack. As you get higher, the trail becomes more and more exposed, adding to the feeling of adventure in a remote wilderness.

After a brief lunch at the summit, we began working our way down the mountain, shooting and filming with Connor MacFarlane and the IFR boys, Dean Lucas and Charlie Harrison. The descent is wild and, for us desert rats in the group, riding wet roots at warp speed through the forest added a frisson of fear that ratcheted the thrill level even higher.

Everyone made it off the hill without a scratch, though we did experience a mechanical that highlights the need to be prepared for even the most unlikely of incidents. Ironically, this was a flat tire… All bikes on the trip were equipped with ENVE M730 or M735 wheelsets which feature our Protective Rim Strips, but this flat was caused by something sharp in the trail piercing the tire in a way that sealant couldn’t fix. We’ve all grown so confident in these wheels’ ability to resist pinch-flats that in our group of 10 we had only two spare tubes and one nearly worthless hand pump. All CO2 cartridges were donated to the TSA in the airport. We fixed it, reminded ourselves to be prepared, and rode on.

The final section of trail is flowing singletrack through redwoods that rival those of NorCal’s famous Redwood National Park. The trail exits through an archway into a parking lot signaling the end of an amazing two-wheeled off-road experience. However, unlike most heli-bike experiences, this one requires a second ride in the heli to get you back to base.

“The reaction to the new bars and stems on this ride confirmed that we’re on to something special”

Adventure, memories, friendship, and fun; these are some of the reasons we ride bikes and spend most of our moments on the bike imagining ways to improve the experience. While traveling to exotic locations across international waters and datelines isn’t always required, it’s invaluable for us to see how our products are used and how they perform outside the Intermountain West.

And the product testing? When all 10 riders are walking around with big grins and throwing away high-fives like Trump does White House staffers, you know you’re winning. The test lab tells us that a product meets and exceeds industry safety standards. Professional athletes and trusted test riders tell us that new products ride how we want them to. The reaction to the new bars and stems on this ride confirmed that we’re on to something special.

Stay tuned for more information on the launch of the new M Series components and join us in cheering on the boys of Intense Factory Racing as they take on the World Cup starting April 21-22 in Losinj, Croatia.

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