No pedalling is allowed in event proving a big hit with competitors and spectators

It will be the Clash of the Tandems at the Rotorua Bike Festival in February.

The Redwoods Coast was a hit at the first two festivals with big spectator crowds and it is returning in 2015.

Tandems aren't the biggest category in the Coast, just the biggest bikes and because of the special nature of the event, bigger is better. It's all about momentum.

Riders start at the top of a steep, tar-sealed hill at the northern entrance to Rotorua's world-renowned Whakarewarewa Mountain Bike Park.

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No pedalling is allowed and whoever coasts furthest down Nursery Road and on to the nearly flat Long Mile Road is the winner.

Rotorua Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson piloted the X-Men tandem to victory in the two-person category in 2013, with stoker Martin Croft on the back.

"It's an oxymoron of a 'race' really," said Donaldson.

"You start slow, gather speed - substantial speed - and coast, increasingly slowly, to a climactic stop. The Coast is also a great leveller with zero training required and minimum rules. It's all about technology and tactics."

Last year, Sam Farquharson and Kirk Austin on Sidehack I decisively defeated the X-Men.

The trash talking ahead of the return match has already started.

"Just how did two oversized hayseeds in a homebuilt Kiwi version of a rickshaw comprehensively beat two superb athletes on a state-of-the-art, factory-built machine?", asked Donaldson with a shake of his head.

"It was only the generous nature of the tandem teams that allowed a contraption loosely fitting the definition of a bike and those two 'riders' to compete."

When Donaldson was asked how important it was to win this year, he replied: "Are you kidding?" before he refused to answer any more questions about possible tactics and bike modifications.

Meanwhile, Farquharson is just as determined to hold on to the title.

"It's a no-brainer really, youth will win," he said from his base in Reporoa.

"Just because Dave is deputy mayor, doesn't mean I will take it easy on him. I may be banned from Rotorua in the future, but I live pretty close to Taupo, so I don't really see too many issues."

He is enthusiastic about the Coast format.

"It's a great race as it's relatively compact and the spectators can get up close - or as close as they dare - to the racers and really make some noise," he said.

"Also, it's great for unfit people, like myself, because a sausage before the race actually helps your results, it doesn't hinder them."

He has always loved sidecar bikes.

"Maybe it's because it's social, but why a sidehack over a tandem?" he asked.

"Well that's easy, I'd rather cuddle up next to a mate than have my nose in his bum - Martin's sense of smell must be awful."

Sidehack I is now II and he and Kirk are also working on new tactics.

"I've given the old girl a full rebuild and included some top secret Nasa-approved innovations," he added. "But, mainly, it's keeping the team on a high-pie, low-salad diet."

Top recorded speeds at the previous Redwood Coast were just over 70km/h.

"It's unbelievable with a capital U", Farquharson continued, with a big smile.

"It's one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done. And, being the swinger or monkey on the sidecar, you have no control over brakes or steering, so it's total faith in Kirk as the pilot."

Donaldson wasn't too worried about the speeds, unlike his partner.

"The only way to encourage Martin back on this time is to organise full motorcycle leathers for him."

Although speeds drop as the competitors roll down Long Mile Road, there is one last dramatic twist: a ninety-degree right-hander into a stand of giant Redwoods that give the event its name.

"It's the most daunting thing about the race, by far," said Farquharson.

"A tandem or regular bike can lean and turn the corner rather predictably, but a sidehack turns more like a water trough, so no matter how many times I make that turn, I get a dry mouth when we approach it."

When Martin Croft isn't hanging tightly on to the back of the X-Men tandem, he's one of the organisers of the Bike Festival.

"The first two were really successful with a big growth in numbers and participation from 2013 to 2014," he said.

"And that's the key to the festival, really. It's inclusive and all about biking and the local community."

The 10-day festival has 30 events across the whole spectrum of biking.

"Everything from mountain biking to BMX and road and from the highly competitive to silly, like the Coast," added Croft.

"Though, not so silly as to be very, very serious in the tandem class."

The festival also has a broad range of ages represented.

"It says something about the remarkable nature of biking and our festival, that last year we had riders from 2 to 72 years old," he said.

"It will be the same this year with beginner riders in a lot of the more casual events to top elite athletes in events like the National Mountain Bike Championships and the Rotorua BMX Club meet on the opening weekend and Bike the Lake and the Giant 2W Gravity Enduro on the second weekend."

Events are free to watch and many are free or gold coin donation to enter.

Sport Bay of Plenty are festival partners this year and will run the community events like Go by Bike, Fun Ride and Frocks on Bikes.

"It's great to be involved so much in the festival," said Melanie Short from Sport Bay of Plenty.

"The more people we can get on bikes, the healthier our city and region will be."

Rotorua Bike Festival

When:

February 13-22

Where

: Rotorua

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