There were large doses of envy around the office when Jamie suggested I join him and Santa Cruz photographer Gary Perkin on a mtb roadie from Picton to Rotorua. With the NZ Enduro in Marlborough and the EWS in Rotorua two weeks later a swag of international riders were in town, including the Santa Cruz enduro team and 50to01 film-ride crew. The roadie morphed into a travelling circus with the 'talent' (Josh 'Ratboy' Bryceland and CG Cedric Gracia perhaps the most recognisable), media and even a camp chef.
Burn before reading (but after unpacking). Photo: Max Schumann
My state of mind pinballed between excitement and trepidation in the weeks leading up to blast off. Yet I was reassured by Jamie’s "it'll be all good" demeanour and the anticipation of chef Sarah's (of Yum granola fame) fabulous meals.
Dinner, (bed) and breakfast on tour. Photos: Max Schumann
Conveyance and accomodation was provided by Jamie's faithful Bedford school bus and the Ground Effect VW Kombi - plus a few tents for the overflow. Both vehicles gently defined as classic but certainly not speedy. They were each adorned with twelve race spec Santa Cruz bikes - weighing in at a cool $180K - securely 'ball and chained' when unattended.
CG, Guy & Max loading Jamie's trusty Bedford school bus at Link Water, Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Gary Perkin
Our itinerary started with a misty, moody camp at Momorangi in the Marlborough Sounds. It was a nothing day that the lads turned into a carpark session. Every nook, lip and cranny was a potential feature to boost, roost or launch. Josh 'Loosedog' Lewis I think scored the most kudos for his (almost) fufanu on a chain fence.
Loosedog on the fence. Note the custom EWS paint job on the Santa Cruz High Tower. Photo: Gary Perkin
A lazy, balmy afternoon at the beach with Ratboy. Photo: Gary Perkin
Flight Lieutenant Craig Seven Evans. Photo: Gary Perkin
Bright and early the next day, we Bluebridged across the Cook Straight to the Dirt Merchants bike shop in Wellington.
Gary and Jamie topside across the Cook Straight. Photo: Max Schumann.
Kombi and School Bus at Dirt Merchants. Photo: Gary Perkin
Sixty tuned in for the shop ride including a dozen groms who skived off after the ride for some urban trials with the two Joshs and Craig. The lads are like energiser bunnies, constantly gurgling with enthusiasm for, well - everything. And their engagement with the younger riders is 100% genuine.
After-match froth with the 50to01 crew. Photo: Gary Perkin
The larger than life CG Credric Gracia delights the next generation. Photo: Gary Perkin
Max tucks in after beer o'clock. Photo: Gary Perkin
Garage Project brewskis completed the day, but led to a late departure and arrival at that night’s destination - the Dirt Farm - a nudge inland from Te Horo. Road gaps, table tops and flow. The boys rated it - fast trails through open country. The dirt just so - grippy and drifty all in one.
Iago 'Do You Even Drift Bro' Garay answers the question at the Dirt Farm. Photos: Gary Perkin
Unsurprisingly, beyond the antics and bravado they are all committed athletes. Devastatingly fit and skilled. They invest a lot of time and energy stoking their, and their sponsors', profiles on Instagram and YouTube. Cedric Gracia has 100,000 Instagram followers. He would spend a couple of hours at the end of each day editing material to upload whenever we next found ourselves connected. The two Joshs - Ratboy and Loosedog - would regularly reap 5000 Instagram likes for photos and 50,000 to 150,000 views for their 50to01 videos posted as the trip progressed.
Craig, Josh and Josh relive the moment. Photo: Max Schumann
Josh trapped in the editing suite on Jamie's bus. Photo: Max Schumann
Next stop Palmerston North, and the Bicycle Studio shop ride to Arapuke Bike Park. More flow and more great riding. A dedicated high school student, who shall remain nameless, bunked school early to join us. He stashed his bike for a quick getaway, leapt over the back fence and pedalled 16km to meet us at the shop. It also turned out that Levi Sherwood of Nitro Circus fame is a local. He cruised well under the radar at the back of the pack with his border collie 'Blue'. The penny dropped when a Red Bull cap was donned later in the carpark.
Levi, Blue and Josh. Photo: Max Schumann
The day was topped off with a magic night on the banks of the Rangitikei River at Vinegar Hill Domain. With the campfire raging and a clear night sky, an impromptu photography tutorial took place with Jamie, Max (EWS rider from Germany) and Josh Lewis borrowing wisdom from Gary. Nick-named 'Flipper' while in the South African Navy, Gary has been capturing images on the world circuit since 2001. He seems able to recall every trail, race, personality and anecdote from all corners of the globe. There were also endless campsite tales from the navy and trans Atlantic yacht racing that never failed to delight us.
Gary constantly at work capturing the road trip for Santa Cruz. Photo: Guy WW
It was then onwards to Mordor and Mt Doom - camping on the flanks of Mt Ruapehu. A gentle spin up the Tukino access road rewarded us with views north over Lake Taupo. The EWS factory team (Mark, Josh Lewis and Iago) worked harder. Watching Mark rip past doing intervals was exhausting. Then on descent he playfully manualled long sections of the shingle road while I, with both wheels on the ground, gritted my teeth and struggled to keep up.
Siren-like, Mt Ngauruhoe summons the Kombi. Photo: Max Schumann
On final approach to Mt Ruapehu. Photo: Max Schumann
What goes up.... Photo: Gary Perkin
Guy, Max and Jamie playing on Tukino access road. Photo: Gary Perkin
The perfect star filled night had terrifying interlude when a midnight bogan slalomed at speed between the tents and the kombi. Gary and Laurin (our journo from Germany) were caught in the headlights. No air evac required but the mood at breakfast was a little subdued.
A Don McLean night - before the bogan encounter. Photo: Jamie Nicoll
Transit stages on the bus were seldom dull. En route from the mountain to Te Iringa in the Kaimanawa Forest Park there was a hard fought battle for the title of Bus World Planking Champion.
Mark Scott planks the school bus. Photo: Gary Perkin
Gary captures Ratboy climbing trees before riding Te Iringa. Photo: Jamie Nicoll
Te Iringa - old school hand built singletrack. Sweet. Photo: Gary Perkin
Ear to ear grins and a few tender body parts after a playful afternoon on Te Iringa, we pinned for our final campsite in the Waikite Valley (just south of Rotorua) and its restorative thermal pools.
Kombi and bus pin it for Rotorua's hot pools. Photos: Gary Perkin
Our final shop ride with Bike Culture was the following day. To span the gap, Jamie enrolled us in the Rotorua Mtb Club's Low Key Super D on Rainbow Mountain. Rainbow apparel was requested by organiser Nick Crocker. Jamie hit the high note with his Op Shop riding top. The low key vibe continued with the (timed) assembly of a rainbow kid's toy at the start of the single stage. A great evening washed up with a soak in the Kerosene Creek natural hot pools.
Jamie drives a 1952 prototype Ground Effect. Gary sticks with the contemporary rainbow theme. Photo: Guy WW
Post race dosing in Kerosene Creek. Photo: Gary Perkin
Our final day and ride around Whakarewarewa trails with the Bike Culture locals was one of mixed emotions. The riding was a blast but our roadie was over. Laurin returned to Germany, Gary to Capetown, Sarah to Nelson and me to Christchurch. The Santa Cruz team moved into their hotel as they ramped it up for the EWS and Crankworx.
Last day on the road. Selfie: Gary Perkin
Each and every moment of our eight days on the road was a buzz. Not always a given with 12 living in such close quarters. Testament to this was the ink on skin that Loosedog, Ratboy, Seven and Iago collected in at the end of the trip.
Jamie had the knack of creating this vibe on tour. A meticulous planner, mechanical wizard, universally loved and ungrudgingly leaned on wherever we travelled. From day one he was crowned 'Captain' by the boys. The hat fitted, or in Jamie's case the gumboots.
Captain Nicoll at the helm. Photo: Max Schumann
All terrain, multipurpose footwear. Photos: Gary Perkin