Orienteering on bikes for ultimate fun

By Peter Thornton

Combining mountainbiking with orienteering is the best of both worlds for regular competitors.

About 100 mountainbikers of all ages and abilities are taking to the Whakarewarewa trail network in the Vegas Vindaloo MTB Orienteering weekend.

Next weekend's event comprises two days of three different mountainbike orienteering (MTBO) events in Rotorua for mountainbikers of all levels.

Take Josie Boland for example. The 55-year-old manager is a keen amateur. She took up running in her 20s, orienteering in her 40s and has been mountainbiking since 1984.

"This has to be the ultimate sport," said Boland. "To combine mountainbiking with orienteering is about as good as it gets."

Boland is travelling with her family from Christchurch to the event and is looking forward to a great weekend.

"Both mountainbiking and orienteering are family sports - we have been taking our son and his sister to Whaka to mountainbike since he was a 5-year-old and could ride a bike, as we used to live in Napier.

"This year we are bringing him with us. This is his 22nd birthday on Bastille Day [July 14]."

Orienteering Bay of Plenty organises the annual MTBO weekend. Experienced mountainbike orienteers such as Peter Swanson set the courses.

"As with any orienteering event, you have to cater to all types - young and old, new and experienced, super fit and less fit," said the 48-year old, who is one of the leading MTBOers in the country.

"Consequently I have set a range of different courses that will suit anyone at each end of those spectrums. It's really important that newcomers and less experienced people have a positive experience, that they are challenged and enjoy the thrills of the sport and can succeed on the course, but not too challenged in a way that puts them off coming again.

"It's also important that experienced riders get an experience that stretches them and challenges them both physically and mentally. For this event I've designed courses that take riders on some of the really excellent trails Rotorua has, but keeps them thinking with different route choices. It's going to be really fun, for all grades and abilities."

The year also sees the introduction of the Chilli Challenge, where prizes will be awarded for the man and woman who do the best over all three weekend events.

There are several riders competing who are in the New Zealand team for the World MTBO Championships in Hungary next month. This will be a big training event for them and with a number of other top MTBOers attending from around the country there is likely to be lots of rivalry between the more serious competitors. But organiser Erin Roberts emphasises that the Vegas Vindaloo is the perfect non-threatening introduction to riding on world-class trails.

"We have regulars who travel from Auckland, Wellington and all over, and even from as far south as Christchurch," said the 38-year-old, who has a sporting background in adventure racing, foot and mountainbike orienteering, rogaining and multi-sport.

"The events cater for people who are completely new to the sport and just want to give it a go and feel a sense of achievement from completing a course, right through to those who are experienced and have competed at an international level. If someone can ride a bike they can give MTB orienteering a go."

What is most pleasing for Roberts is the number of young families who go out and enjoy the shorter courses. Her own nephews, who are aged 6 and under, love getting out on their bikes in the forest.

The most fun part is often at the end, when competitors compare war stories. "There is not a lot of banter on the trails, unless you are lost and then you band together," said Boland. "The banter is mainly afterwards, comparing route choice and where you think you went."

- NZ Herald

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