Thursday, May 20, 2010

Riding the inaugural Kiwi Brevet on a single speed


On the 20th September 2009 I had a classic mountain bike crash going over the bars and breaking my collarbone. People proudly told me I was now a true cyclist; a rite of initiation finally completed after nearly 20 years of mountain bike riding and racing. Strangely enough unlike them I didnt see this as a positive at all as I was now stuck inside recuperating with my bike gathering dust.

There was something to cheer me up though, an intriguing event was announced – the Kiwibrevet - a 1100km unsupported bike ride around the top half of the south island through some stunning country starting in early Feburary 2010. This was something truly out of my comfort zone having never done any sort of multiday endurance event like this in my life. I emailed the oganiser Simon Kennett saying I might, maybe, possibly be interested. He obviously thought such a half assed indecisive note was unacceptable and promptly put my name done on the website as a confirmed entrant. All right then I was committed!

In early November with my shoulder barely healed enough to ride I joined a group of 33 friends for a 3 day road bike tour around the West Coast. With days of 160 km, 100 km and 105 km it would be a good test of my capabilities and a kick start to my training. Well it ended up being a severe wake up call – I was dropped by the whole group on day 1, I grovelled up slight up slopes and only sheer bloody minded determination stopped me from crawling into the tail end Charley van. I collapsed in total exhaustion in my motel room at the end of day 1. Minimal riding over winter, out for 6 weeks with a broken collarbone means you end up quite unfit – not exactly rocket science but a reality check for my own self delusional vision that past fitness somehow magically endures. This Kiwi brevet thing was going to be whole magnitudes harder – was the idea that I could somehow complete it a great na├»ve mistake – what was I thinking? I had about 11 weeks to get ready from what felt like a virtual standing start – was it possible?


On the Kiwi Brevet website Simon had links to all sorts of sites full of inspiring stories, ideas for gear to take, endless discussions on bike choice, tyres, wheel size, bags, panniers, backpacks, etc, etc. Quickly becoming obsessed with this I spent many a happy hour thinking, planning, trying to anticipate all possible eventualities, writing and rewriting endless gear lists, researching the pros and cons and most importantly the weight of each item I contemplated taking – this was fun! Slowly it all started taking shape, a delicate balance between taking enough to keep relatively safe while keeping weight and bulk to the minimum. Early on I decided I would take sleeping gear (no accommodation anxiety for me) – a Macpac Epic 450 bag, Neoair sleepmat and a lightweight poncho tarp that I worked out I could sort of string over my upside down bike – Oh how I hoped it wouldnt rain!

The big decision though was what sort of bike to take. I had two mountain bikes – a lightweight XTR equipped 2008 Santa Cruz Superlight FS bike (a great bike) and a rigid Cotic Simple 26 inch wheeled singlespeed. The Superlight was probably the sensible choice but the Simple was my main go to day to day bike – I loved it like a child. In my heart of hearts this was the one I wanted to take. Everyone I spoke to (with the sole notable exception of Dayle McLaughlan) told me I was mad, stupid and/or crazy. Many tried to talk me out of it but I persisted however not without some waivering. A few times I temporarily changed my mind and was ready to take the Santa Cruz but the Cotic kept whispering its siren song in my ear. It was irresistable, I would ride the Brevet on my Cotic Simple single speed.

Spending way more than intended on lightweight stuff I was feeling relatively confident I was prepared in terms of gear. Getting fit enough was the next challenge. Long rides were in order. On the blog Simon wrote that you didnt need to do more than 15 hours a week – whoa thats about twice as much as a big week for me. Yes I would have to step it up. Long but enjoyable rides ensued mainly around Banks Penisula but I also ventured further afield. As a trial I loaded up the Cotic with my Brevet gear and rode through the Wharfedale then a couple of weeks later I rode the Lees valley/Okuku pass loop described in the Kennett book. Finally I drove to Murchison and rode Porika/Braeburn taking a photo of my bike at Lake Rotoroa. On the drive home I decided to drive into Waiuta and ride a bit up the track. My God this track was hard! I got about a third of the way towards Big River hut before turning back to my car in a state of apprehension. I had barely ridden much of it and some of the washed out gulleys were hard enough to negotiate on foot let alone with a fully loaded bike. This section was going to be tough and slow. These long rides were all hard but none were more than 120km. I would need to average almost 150km a day to meet the 8 day Brevet cutoff. It was not going to be easy but I would have been disappointed if it was.

Getting Close

One of the group on the November roadie tour was Darren Tatom. I had told him about the Brevet and his name appeared on the confirmed entry list soon after. Darren was a formidible rider, very fast up a hill with an ability to start strong and just get stronger as time goes on. He had been a front runner on the tour consistantly towing the peloton along at speeds I could not maintain drafting at the back. In addition he told me he was a chronic insomniac and was planning to ride right through the night if necessary. The Kiwi Brevet seemed like an event tailor made for him. I predicted he would be a contender for fastest time (even though it was not supposed to be a race). Giving Darren a lift up to Blenheim for the start he told me of his training – 200km rides, overnight trips, carboloading with beer in local pubs – he was ready but was I?
Detouring via Taylors pass on the way to check it out we turned up at Blenheim a bit late. The owners of the backpackers we had booked were gone but had left a note about which rooms were ours. Only problem was the room I was supposed to be in was full (of smokers) – a good start. Luckily searching around a spare room was found and a restless nights sleep followed. Darren and I met another brevet rider also staying there – Nathan Mawkes. The stories he told us of his epic lone bike tours through China and Tibet had us inspired, our own adventure was now very close.


  1. Hi Jasper, what sort of bags did you use??? ta

  2. The seatbag was an Ortlieb large which worked reasonably well although you had to make sure the drybag closure system was secure enough not to unroll (as it once did on a training ride).

    The handlebar bag was an event compression type drybag that I lashed onto my handlebars - seemed to work OK.

    The backpack was a Camelback Octane 8 - very comfy but not big (a good thing).

    All in all reasonably light and just big enough to hold everything but without much spare space to tempt me to carry too much!