The stuff of champions: Kiwi ingenuity and the birth of 'chunder bike'

By David Leggat

Development rider James Vercoe with Murray Grace. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Development rider James Vercoe with Murray Grace. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Time to salute all those New Zealanders who possess the roll-the-sleeves-up and have-a-go philosophy.

Step forward Murray Grace, father of Bike New Zealand's men's sprint coach Justin Grace. Between them, they possess a touch of that attitude, wherein nothing beats a good challenge.

So about 19 years ago, when Justin Grace returned from a training stint at the Australian Institute of Sport, he had a story for his father. He'd spent time riding an unusual training bike at the AIS but reckoned it was just the ticket. He didn't have any photos, but they talked about what it consisted of.

"I thought, oh yeah, I might try and build one for you," Murray Grace said. Out of that came an unusual, but hugely effective tool, one of whose nicknames is the "chunder bike".

Murray, a former competitive rider and fitter and turner by trade, had the skills and knew the specifics of his son's racing bike at the time, so made an identical trainer.

Every bit of machinery on it is his handiwork.

Trial and error? "You should have seen the concrete floor on the basement. It had drawings all over the place. There was a lot of, 'Oh, that didn't work quite right'."

Murray remembers lying awake at night, trying to figure out the minutest detail. It took several months.

It has one other piece of apparatus: a little bucket which sits beside the machine. It has had frequent use as riders have emptied the contents of their stomach, such is the hurt. But remember the line about pain and gain.

Justin Grace, who houses the bike in his garage in Auckland's eastern suburbs, admits to the odd chuckle as a rider tumbles off the erg and reaches for the bucket, but "in an understanding way".

"I feel I'm okay to do that because I've done it myself; I know what it feels like and I like to see the guys do it occasionally because it means they still have the drive to do it."

All New Zealand's leading sprint cyclists of recent years, plus plenty of riders from other disciplines, have paid a visit. So naturally there'll have been a few others copied and in use around the country? No.

"I could guarantee very few people around Auckland even know it exists. You can buy commercial ones similar, but nothing like this. Justin still reckons this is better than anything you can buy," Murray said.

In layman's terms, it will "recreate the feeling and power outputs required to ride in the real world", Justin added. And if you're assuming with time it has been modified, you'd be wrong. What you see now is what always was.

As for the riders, who often finish sprawled across the garage floor, "I don't think they enjoy riding on it, but they appreciate its value". Sprinters might spend about 70 minutes on it, but with regular breaks; road racers or triathletes could have up to two hours, again with rest blocks. Murray remembers someone saying "it looks like it came out of the Burt Munro workshop", in reference to the Invercargill motorcycling legend, another innovative thinker.

Justin is proud of his father's handiwork; Dad, just quietly, is pretty chuffed too. Long may New Zealanders who think outside the box prosper.

How it works

* The one wheel is out in front and the set-up is "upside down" from a normal cycle.

* It has two chain rings and one standard derailleur. The one fixed gear can be adjusted to create more resistance.

* Fans, or blades, are attached to the spokes. The more fans, the greater the resistance.

* The aim is to mirror as precisely as possible the feeling of racing on the track, therefore allowing the rider to derive maximum benefit.

- NZ Herald

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