Mountain Biking: Hungary for new wheels

By Kelly Exelby


Christine Harre Browne always knew when it was her mountain bike being offloaded from the transport truck at last year's Oceania championships near Melbourne - the strain on the faces of the NZ team's support crew gave it away as they heaved her clunker off the rack.

While not quite at the stage of being retired as a museum piece, the Tauranga mum's mountain bike has seen better (and faster) days - remarkable considering the ageing machine has carried the 43-year-old to the world mountain bike orienteering champs being hosted in Hungary next month.

Harre Browne is one half of New Zealand's elite women's contingent heading for Hungary, joining former world No5-ranked Northlander Marquita Gelderman, all on a bike she purchased second-hand in the mid-1990s.

"In racing terms, the bike's just about considered an antique and my husband Phil constantly jokes that it's definitely last century," Harre Browne said.

"But it's the only competitive mountain bike I've had and was considered a reasonable bike in its time, although a bit like computers, racing bikes become obsolete fairly quickly.

Bike weight, performance and specifications have moved on considerably since I bought this bike and I've been told I could gain seven minutes on my rivals over an hour's riding if I was on a new model.

"Marquita is always telling me she'd love to see what I could achieve on a decent bike, yet I've never competed on a decent bike. I've got what I've got and have done my best on that."

Harre Browne is not prepared to sit back and settle for second-best with the world champs looming though and has sent proposals out to bike manufacturers in an 11th-hour bid to secure an upgrade.

She's offered her car as advertising space and launched several fundraising initiatives to at least front up in Hungary on a bike that looks like it belongs.

"I'm not expecting a handout with nothing in return, and while it would be nice, I can't promise a spot on the podium at the worlds either," she said.

Times are tight, with Harre Browne's husband made redundant almost two years ago.

She works part-time while raising two primary-aged children, with the family's irregular income making popping along to the bike shop to buy a high-spec model a pipe dream.

"Until now, I've made the most of the bike I have but getting to world championship level has been my life's dream and I'm determined that dream won't be thwarted because of the lack of a suitable bike," she said.

Harre Browne's New Zealand selection came after she finished third at the Oceania champs last October and first in the middle distance race at the Australia/New Zealand Challenge in January in Central Otago.

A national level hockey player and track and field athlete in her 20s, she dabbled in triathlon, multisport and mountain biking before discovering orienteering on wheels in Rotorua's Redwoods.

The relatively unknown sport, where cyclists follow a bike-mounted map to navigate their way to control stations, is generally broken into three distinct races - sprint (20mins over 7-10km depending on terrain), middle distance (45-60mins) and long distance, which can last up to two hours over 30km.

Harre Browne's best results have come in the middle and long distance races but pedal power does not always win out over the ability to decipher a map.

"You can be a great cyclist and not so good at navigating, or a great navigator and not so quick on the bike, so it's a combination of the two you need, to be successful."

Riders need to be able to tell at a glance the best way to move between control points.

"It's not as technical as a normal mountain bike race but the navigational aspect adds a different dimension. The top navigators have an edge in the sprints because they can work quickly, without much time to make a decision, let alone the best decision."

With her selection only confirmed a few weeks ago the Otumoetai mum has been on a crash course involving a weights programme and road mileage, with the more technical sessions on her mountain bike coming in the next few weeks.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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