Cycling: At 76, mountain biking 'hoon' has no plans to slow down

By Peter Thornton

Denis Lindesay. Photo / Alan Gibson
Denis Lindesay. Photo / Alan Gibson

The saying "the older I get the better I was" does not apply to Opotiki's Denis Lindesay.

Lindesay, 76, who was a mechanical and marine engineer before retiring, is seen two or three times a week "hooning around" on the Motu Trails, and has no plans to slow down.

"If anyone had told me that I could still race over 100km at the age of 76, I would never have believed it even 20 years ago," said the larger-than-life local character.

Lindesay rides at least a couple of times a week on the trails and on the roads. In 1990 he crashed and broke his hip. He had it screwed together at his insistence, but the surgeon said that had only a 50 per cent chance of success and wanted to fit a full replacement hip.

"I was told not to ride my bike, or to put weight on the leg," he remembered. "But I was to do exercises, pretending I was using it. Well, that didn't work as the x-rays showed no healing in a month.

"I was told that the blood supply was damaged, and that had to work for healing to take place. So I rode my bike. I thought it the best way to get blood to it. And it worked. At the next check the surgeon said that it had "suddenly" started to heal. I said that I was exercising a bit.

"At the next visit I told him what I was doing. He leaned back in his chair and said, 'We don't know about people like you. I am used to screwing people together who go home and lie down waiting to get better. You had best do as you think'."

The hip came right, but eventually wore out after about 10 years, and Lindesay had to have a full hip replacement in 2000.

"In 2001 I did a personal best time around Taupo," he proudly said. These days he loves surprising people with his fitness in his late 70s.

"Going downhill on Motu Rd, which is a gravel road, cars don't usually get ahead of me, and in fact I usually pass them.

"I often smile to myself thinking what if they knew that hoon was nearer 80 than 70. It sounds nicely mature don't you think?"

Lindesay said riding his mountain bike was the ideal way to get around in winter. "I especially enjoy the fitness I have gained. Also I enjoy getting out and seeing some of the out-back roads here. It's exploring. It is especially interesting sometimes when you are caught in heavy rain.

"The rivers rise quickly and waterfalls appear all over the place and sometimes roads become rivers. They rise and fall again surprisingly quickly. A mountain bike is a good means of transport in these conditions. Some of the roads flood or have slips and it doesn't usually stop a mountain biker."

It means a great deal to Lindesay, who has been mountain biking for more than 20 years, to see the Motu Trails redeveloped. "The track is an incentive to go and ride on it. It's social too. I recently met about 22 cyclists in different groups. Actually, of the 22, 17 were women, so that made it even more interesting. Best to keep that a secret from my wife."

He is a regular riding by himself the loop track from Opotiki which is about 92km. "The new dunes track is a good workout by itself, out and back being about 25km. It means that a lot of new people are getting into cycling and this will surely mean generally better health and a new way to enjoy the outdoors."

Lindesay advised people visiting the area to check the Motu Trails Trust website and visit the local information centre.

"The fitter you are the better you are able to enjoy the tracks," he said.

"The Pakihi Track is not for beginners, but anyone can handle it if they allow themselves plenty of time, and are careful to walk the places where there is a vertical cliff.

"It's a confidence thing, but a parachute would be handy if you chose to run off the track at the wrong place. Also, the hills on the Motu Rd are pretty formidable.

"The views on the Pakihi Track are exceptional with native bush, rivers and cliffs. The track follows the Pakihi River for about half of its [21km] length and there are beautiful picnic and swimming places if you are into that sort of thing," said Lindesay.

"It's a great place to be."

- NZ Herald

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