Tackling New Zealand's iconic Timber Trail on an E-Bike
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Like many popular cycling routes, the Timber Trail used to be a railway.
This means that gradients aren’t all that productive of lactic acid in your leg muscles, although it needs to be said that this was a bush railway, not the Main Trunk Line.
It was a rough and often dangerous method for getting logs of native timber out of the hilly terrain between Bennydale and O¯ ngarue in the North Island’s King Country, especially when enraged wild boars attacked the brakemen, and the ensuing battle sent the train and the logs plunging into one of the many river gorges.
Crossing the gorges is perhaps the most challenging part of riding the trail. You’re basically riding across a section of the volcanic plateau where the rivers have carved deep valleys.
Fortunately, DoC has erected an impressive number of suspension bridges across the waterways, restricting the distance you have to glide down into the gorges before climbing out of them again.
Without these, the trail would have a higher difficulty rating than “intermediate”, and wouldn’t be suitable to be “ridden by children aged 9 and upwards”. Be warned, however, there is a long climb towards the summit of Mt Pureora in the northern part of the trail, a task made far easier by riding an e-bike.
In my case this was a Bottecchia Watt, a $3500 mid-drive “hardtail” mountain bike with only rudimentary front suspension, but equipped with soft-riding 27.5 Plus tyres. The latter provided most of the absorption of shocks along the trail and there were occasions I would have swapped the added “oompha” of the Bottechia’s excellent 90Nm Brose motor for better suspension.
The bike’s 13.8 amp/hour battery also had to conserve enough energy to ride the 81km trail twice, as I chose to make the DoC camp at Piropiro my base near the middle of the route, and ride the trail to Bennydale and back on the first day, then to O¯ ngarue and back the next.
This gave the opportunity to do the trail without the impediment of carting camping baggage, but I was constantly wondering which would run out of energy first: the battery or the rider?
Reserving electric assistance for the climbs, and never selecting the “sports” mode of the bike, allowed the modestly sized battery to provide enough power to last the entire 162km two-day ride, keeping this rider relatively fresh and keen to keep on pedallin’.
The rewards of the Timber Trail are many. The swing bridges place you many metres above the water-courses, and make great excuses to stop a while and take in the views.
Your progress is constantly accompanied by native birdsong, as logging ceased nearly 80 years ago and the regeneration of the native forest has been spectacular. Oh, the serenity.
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