One island, one gear, good times

By Vicki Woolley

Waiheke hosts the weirdos and tattooed winners of the NZ Single Speed Champs.
Lycra cycle shorts and jerseys are strictly frowned upon at the New Zealand Single Speed Championships. Photo / Alick Saunders
Lycra cycle shorts and jerseys are strictly frowned upon at the New Zealand Single Speed Championships. Photo / Alick Saunders

The mud ... the madness ... the lack of gears! On Anzac weekend, Waiheke Island will host the off-the-wall, but serious at the sharp end, New Zealand Single Speed Mountain Bike Championships.

The Single Speed Championships has a reputation as being one of the more flamboyant events on the national mountain bike calendar, with beer shortcuts, extravagant costumes, raucous crowds and tattoos for the winners.

Little surprise the event attracts competitors who are equally eccentric, colourful and gutsy - none more so than Garth Weinberg.

Weinberg proudly bears the title of "NZ's most decorated single speed mountain biker" for good reason.

"When we say 'decorated' we mean it literally," says Bernadette Mark, one of the event organisers.

"Garth has winner's tattoos from multiple New Zealand and Australian titles and, the most important one of all, the Single Speed World Championships in 2010.

He really does put his body on the line.

"The winner's medal comes in the form of a permanent tattoo, so if you don't want it, best you don't win," she laughs.

"There is nothing else like it. I keep coming back because I am trying to relive former glories - trying to reclaim my youth," Weinberg replies, tongue in cheek.

Weinberg is the favourite to take the men's title and add to his impressive tattoo collection after narrowly losing to New Zealand representative Carl Jones in 2015. But with a no-holds-barred approach to competitive advantage, it is anybody's game.

Lycra and racing jerseys are strictly frowned upon - a competitor wearing a Nasa outfit complete with jet-pack literally smoked out rivals immediately behind him at last year's championships. Previous crowd-pleasing ensembles have included a man in full scuba gear and Mark herself, who put bike cleats in a pair of high-heeled boots to ride the course.

This year is the first running of the event outside of its birthplace in Rotorua in 2008. The Auckland Mountain Bike Club, Waiheke Mountain Bike Club and Department of Cycling are supported by Auckland Council to host the event. Council parks adviser Gary Wilton believes this is a great chance to promote Waiheke as a serious mountain biking destination, though Mark remains coy.

"We can't give too much away about the course," she grins. "But we can tell you each lap is somewhere between seven and 11km long, requires a refreshment stop and could possibly involve river crossings, scenic selfie opportunities, monster gorse slalom, mud run, hill climb, hard racing, a hecklers' corner and water slide ... or does it?"

The weekend begins with mainland or island guided rides on Saturday. The championships themselves take place on Sunday and those who have something in reserve after the evening festivities may join a group ride to the Dawn Service at Anzac Reserve on Monday.

Ra Bhana has had a long association with the race both as a past organiser and course-setter and returns as Master of Ceremonies this year.

"This is more than just a race - it's an event. Placings, times, how many laps you complete don't matter. It's about smiles, laughs, meeting old and new friends and knowing you are more than simply a number or an entry."

Single speed
What: New Zealand Single Speed Mountain Biking Championships
When: April 23-25
Where: Waiheke Island
For more information:

- NZ Herald

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