Gravel Grinder Jeff's Bike

Jeff’s Bike – Take the long way home

Last friday I came in to work early with the idea of sneaking out early and doing another evening ride. I reckon its a great opportunity to test gear in its intended environment. I had plenty to test. Once again I had oscillated from my Karate Monkey to the plastic fantastic Giant XTC. It has all the personality of a tupperware container but the frame weighs about as much as the rigid front fork on my Karate Monkey. At the last minute I “Pocketed” a few stories from the Inspiring riding site, onto my phone so I could have them “TTS” read to me by the robotic English woman, whose voice I had chosen, and I also downloaded a couple of podcasts from an MTBing site to keep me company.

I was going to do the “Big Coast” a loop from Lower Hutt and across the Rimutaka incline, down the side of Lake Wairarapa and back along the south coast.

Given that it was reportedly a southerly I was a bit peeved to be experiencing a bit of head wind as I headed north up the Hutt Valley, not a lot, but enough to make it less enjoyable. The first podcast I started listening to was about Bikepacking but after they mentioned people cranking out 400 mile days it kind of lost a bit of credibility with me. I hung a right early on and elected to take the hilly approach to the incline rather than the usual drawn out flat one. It had been ages since I’d gone that route. It was a welcome change. It was my first ride with my new Stealth frame bag, and I was also testing a couple of Klite

A piece of art I created called Nexus Marshmallow

Kerrys 3d printed anything cage mounts. A couple of things were immediately obvious. My actual bottle cage was crap, it was scrounged off a TT/road bike, and every time I pointed downhill in the rough, the bottle fell out. The other thing was, the Giants top tube was a lot higher than the Karate Monkey’s so the GTB (groin to bottle) clearance was not ideal. The Klite anything mount also added a bit of height. The last time I had a bottle on my top-tube is was on a much smaller frame and was mounted directly with radiator hose-clamps.

Approaching Cross Creek

I was enjoying Andy Kerr’s Inspiring Riding tale about custard squares as I was grovelling up those first climbs, but decided to save the rest of the stories for “optical” reading, as a fair bit gets lost in translation with Text To Speech.

I came across a woman on a touring bike part way through the Incline. Her bike was fully loaded and it had taken her all day to get from Wellington to part way up the Incline.

By now I had switched to AM radio for entertainment. 567. Yes RNZ. I banzaied my way through the Incline’s tunnels with my dynamo lights blazing away. When I made it to Cross Creek I was surprised that it was 6:30 and I had been riding for 2 hours 40. I guess I had been stopping a lot to take photos.

Ruamahanga 50. 80km Time trial lives here.

It was a lovely day in the Wairarapa and I was down on the aeros all the way down the side of the lake, and past the turn-off to the Ruamahanga 50, the site of one of my most favoured events.

It was actually pretty cold, but more as a result of speed induced windchill into the southerly I think. I had already stopped to put on a high necked poly-prop at Cross Creek, and I still had rain pants. leggings and a rain jacket at the ready should it get nasty. In hindsight I should have thrown in my bivvy sack and sleeping bag as well, its not like they take up a lot of room, and I had plenty spare.

I stopped at the top of the hill before the descent down to the coast and texted my daughters to say I would be a bit longer than I had said.

I got to the coast and started noticing the rabbits everywhere. There is a real problem over there. Lots of young ones. A few people had already turned up to their holiday baches on the Coast and were settling in for the weekend. I’d been pedalling for around 4 hours 15 at this point.

I see the sea.

The sun started to go down which added to the ambiance of the ride. I bowled through the Corner Creek camp site. No one there. Its my favourite time of the day to be riding, dusk. The Revolution light/SP dynamo  was more than up to the task but I knew it would be useless soon enough when I hit the stretches of unrideable deep sand and scree. I flicked on my 10$ head torch and grunted my way through the gnarly scree. I knew there was a fast line through it somewhere, but I had no idea where, its hard enough to spot it in the daylight hours as it is. The track seemed to disappear a bit at times, maybe due to some heavy rains earlier in the week. Somehow I managed to find my way across the river/stream with minimal fuss, barely getting my shoes wet.

Even though the thick sand and lumpy scree is slow going,  within a couple of hours I was at the Orongorongo end of the trail. Part way along the coast I had got a few texts from the kids when I surprisingly ran into some cell coverage. I had set up my phone with the “Wheres my droid” app.

If anyone texts me a special predetermined word, the phone messages back to them with my lattitude and longitude in a clickable link which will open in Google maps or a web browser. It only works if you have your GPS on, which it is by default if you are using Strava, but you also need cell coverage.

So now I was at the Orongorongo farm, and out of cell coverage again. I decided against doing the proper Big Coast course, over the hill and around to Pencarrow, as it was already late, and so with a slight tailwind I got down on the aero-bars again and motored along, destination Wainuiomata. That stretch bores me to tears, but I had to keep alert, as on 4 separate occasions I was attacked by marsupial suicide attack team of possums who shot out from the side of the road and nearly took me down. Maybe my dynamo light was attracting them. They seem to be inherently more stupid than a rabbit as far as road sense goes and their bow-legged gait has got to be more useful for scaling and decimating native trees trees than negotiating 3/4 chip at speed.

I called in at the first gas station at Wainuiomata and squaffed a coke and a hot coffee. I felt like a strange alien impostor as I witnessed the banter between the locals and the staff. I most likely looked like an alien  with my thousand yard stare and flashing gizmos on my lid. “Take me to your barista!” I had probably already eaten about 5 muesli bars from the expired stash recently inherited from my work and less than 2 bottles of water and electrolyte drink at that point.

I got a text from Ash to say she had cooked me a nice tea for when I got home. With my caffeine levels topped up I scaled the Wainui Hill and opted for the trail down the other side rather than push my luck with local Friday night bogans on the road proper. I have to say everyone was on their best behaviour that night. The Coast road can be a scary place on the wrong day.

Petone foreshore with the lights of Wellington in the distance

At 11pm on RNZ they were playing an hour long doco on the Legendary Sun Ra who I had only vaguely heard of. It was a pretty interesting listen as I rode along by myself into a the Wellington CBD.

 An hour later at 12.00 on the dot I staggered down the stairs and knocked back the delightful meal I found waiting for me. Thanks Ash!  8 1/2 hours after I had left work I was home. 148kms under the belt and some lovely terrain covered and gear tested. My legs felt great on my final climb up the Brooklyn  Hill and I had no significant gear issues. My shorts were mint. No chafing anywhere. 

The plastic fantastic did the job. But do I want to ride it for up to twice that amount of kms a day in the upcoming TA ?  Maybe my next big coast will be on the Karate Monkey again….

Plastic fantastic vs steel is real….
How google earth sees it.

All images from Nexus 5, running Android Marshmallow

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Bike Hutt Gravel Grinder Hinakura 100 Jeff's Bike Singular Kite Wairarapa

Jeff’s Bike – Hinakura 100 Mile Gravel Grinder

Mike tells us the way its gonna be.

Mike at the Bike Hutt had been talking about a Gravel Grinder for a while now, and so it came to pass. The
Hinakura 100 was a 160km ride on a secret course in the Wairarapa. As we had all guessed, it would take in the back end of
Admirals Hill, and possibly head out along the Pahaoa River to the coast
and back. A beautiful piece of gravelly road that flanks a normally
emerald green river down below.

 We collected our laminated map and course
notes and rolled out of Martinborough Square at more or less 8am. It was
a beautiful crisp and sunny day with the potential to get very hot. The
action started almost immediately when the first turn was missed, and a
rider went down when his front wheel was clipped. He banged his head a
beauty at quite a low speed. Unfortunately it was game over for him 5
mins into the ride.

Punters ready to rip

We carried on, sniffing out the elusive gravel that was going to
justify the usage of our knobbly tires and shiny Cyclo-cross bikes.
Dave Sharpe was already up the road by now, getting some run-up for the
first hill on the fixed gear single-speed bike he likes to call the

I tried to take a photo and then struggled to get my camera back in
its bag as we started the first of our gravelly ascents, which just
happened to coincide with the first real move from the riders at the

The Hinakura 100. A 100 mile romp in the gravel. 1558 metres, or 5111 foot climbing for the old school imperilists. There was also a 100km version for those with more sense. The shorter event still crammed in 1100 metres of elevation.

I found myself in a little group with Ken Feist, Dave, Nick Kennedy
and the NZ women’s Cyclo-cross champ Kim Hurst. By the time we crested the hill
there was a bit of a gap to the more sensible riders and as we
concentrated on pulling back Dave we must have increased it a bit more.

Dave, Nick, Barryn, Kim (hidden) and Ken.

The problem with Dave’s death-machine was its inability to descend at
speed, due to it not having a coasting hub, so as Dave continued to
smash us up all the Hills we would eventually pick him up going down the
other side. Ken must have decided to be more sociable and drop back to
the next group behind.

The next big Hill was the one approaching Hinakura, while not
gravel, it was still a beauty. Somewhere up there we lost Dr Nick and
despite seeing no sign of Dave up ahead, we soon pulled him in again
down the other side. Kim and I, making the most of the tail-wind and
down hill, pushed on, at a very sociable conversation pace down to the
coast for the turnaround.

This part was fun, because it was out and back, and we could see who was
closest to us. Dave, Nick and then the group with Trevor Barryn and Ken. A spot of rain in the hills that week had the
normally pretty river flowing a muddy brown. The upside was that the gravel
roads were not putting up any dust. More of a concern to me though was
the head wind, the return elevation, and how long Kim would put up with
me sucking her wheel !

A short section of tar seal lead us up to the turn at the Hinakura
Hall and it was into the farmland proper. These were farm roads. The
domain of tractors, Big Reds and Hiluxes. This was the high-light for
me. It could have been anywhere in rural New Zealand, but here we were grovelling away, trying to ward off the cramp. With no sign of Kim up
ahead I stopped at the top to take a photo. And and as I was about to
leave, Dave and the death-machine turned up. This was a contentious spot,
as Map-my-ride had omitted the road name in the course maps it had generated. I had
been up here once before, and so had Dave. Gut feeling was that left was
right. A bit of downhill followed then the big one. Admirals hill.

At the top of the farm track before the infamous fork. Kim was long gone. Dave turned up on the Death Machine a few minutes later and we spanked it down some nice gravelly descents.

Admirals hill is the Queen stage of the Tour of
Wellington each year. It’s the big one, but the mostly untraveled “back side” of
it is gravel. This was our route. It was getting hot. Not Wairarapa hot,
but hot enough that riding through the short patches of shade made you
want slow down and linger a while.

If you were a Magpie would you be scared?

I was really suffering by now, hoping for the gravel to abate. Looking for signs
of civilization. Seeing a school bus sign always does it for me.
Children live nearby, therefore it cant be more than 50kms to the
nearest country school. Unbeknown to me Dave was a long way up the road
getting dive-bombed by magpies. I wasn’t, either my slow progress wasn’t
deemed to be threatening enough to them, or the big white eyes I stuck on the
back of my helmet were doing their job. More aerodynamic than the
zip-tied porcupine look.

Good news bad news. The gravel stopped but the tar seal got steeper.
This was particularly testing for riders like Dave, Mike Anderson and
Ben Knight on their single speed Cross bikes. I think there were single speeders in the Metric hundred as well. They also took in this part of the course. I stuck my head down, spat
the “milk bottle” lollies out of my mouth as there was obviously not
enough saliva left in my glands to swallow them.

I crested the hill and enjoyed the long descent and as it flattened out who should appear
beside me but Kim. She’d taken the right instead of the left at the top
gate and reckoned she added about 10kms to her journey! We rode on and a few minutes
later picked up Dave suffering from his usual gear shortage on the long
flat section back to Martinborough. I think The hill on Millars road
was the last time we were all together, and as Kim legged it off down
the other side I only gave a half hearted chase as I knew my goose was
crispy on the outside.

Dave caught me up again and must have a photographic memory or
something as he seemed to know exactly where to go without looking at
the notes. I was in reptilian mode and all ability for cognitive thought had long gone. I would like to say that we rolled into the
Martinborough Square to the adulation of our peers, but we didn’t. They
were still out there. Anyone that respected anyone else silly enough to
do a 100 mile Gravel Grinder was out there participating.

Tom was out
there, having not been on a bike in about 7 months. Thomas was there
having left home at 2am in the morning to ride over the hill from
Wellington. Owen borrowed a bike because his brand new one broke a week after he built it up. I’d be surprised if anyone of them regretted it.

For me it was a chance to test my new bike, and it came through nicely. A
steel frame on a long ride like this was perfect. Not one scary moment
and no sore bits anywhere. I’m not sure how much of the smooth ride was
due to my carbon rimmed wheels but it may have
helped. Although I had several periods of bad cramping I was still able
to stand up and move my position about on the bike. Riding more than
twice a week would probably be the best way to address the cramp issue in future I
would think.

On the day around 30 hardy soles entered the inaugural Hinakura 100’s. About 20 in the Imperial, and 10 in the Metric. Thanks to Mike Anderson and his
team from the Bike Hutt for organising it and giving us another reason
to go out and play in the gravel. I am sure we are all looking forward to the next one.

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