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Crankworx hits RotoruaMoerangi - Iconic back-country ridingThe Inside Line - Local knowledge from Rotorua ridersMAN DOWN - Rotorua's First Response Unit in action Press Camps - choosing Rotorua
International brands rate Rotorua for industry events

Press camp junkets are usually based in the northern hemisphere, but more bike brands are flipping that concept and treating their guests to the best riding NZ has to offer in Rotorua.

Specialized timed their 2016 trail product release in the week after Crankworx Rotorua: It brought together a bunch of journalists who tied in their New Zealand trip with numerous other media opportunities across the length of the country either side of the week of Crankworx. It made for a unique situation to attend a high profile industry event with no travel at all involved.


The experience showed that although the international travel is an aspect of attending these kinds of events, it’s really a sideshow to the main feature - the press camp itself. The opportunity to share riding time with some international riders made it really hit home to me how welcoming and entertaining New Zealand’s mountain biking scene is. I’m guilty of sometimes forgetting how good we’ve got it here in NZ. Sure, we’ve all got our favourite local trails and the special ones we’d make an effort to drive or even fly to but these riders travelled from all over the world and rave about our mountain biking scene.


It’s not just the trails and landscape that appeals to riders from overseas, it’s also the culture; the easy-going ‘give it a crack’ mentality that pervades regular Kiwis’ psyche; the friendliness and helpful attitude we show to visitors.

NZ Mountain Biker magazine has been in the loop with several of Specialized’s international product press camps, so I was equal parts excited and anxious about this one: Excited because, duh, getting to ride the latest and greatest then be fed and entertained each night ready to do it all over again the following day. And because of being able to hang out and ride with a bunch of talented people who choose to work at a bike company for the lifestyle and their passion for the sport. Anxious because this is our home turf, and mine specifically.


Being a Rotorua local I was asked if I’d help guide the group because I knew the trails. The decision about which trails to ride was done by someone else, thankfully, so I didn’t have that pressure. I did want our guests to have an awesome time though - to have a great experience for themselves, and to spread the word from their various positions of authority about how NZ rocks for riding mountain bikes.


It’s a rich experience to partake in these events, and as a passionate Kiwi mountain biker I’m proud to say that after two dry days and one sodden wet one the overall vibe was incredibly positive from the well-travelled industry people in attendance. New Zealand - we’re doing it right. Breaking it down, here are a few out-takes from behind the scenes soaking up the new product knowledge at this product launch:



I have it on good authority from my road cycling colleagues that roadie press camps invariably turn into a complete smash-fest - with some participants training specifically to peak at the event. Even going as far as training at altitude to acclimatise if the event is held in the mountains of North America or Europe. The MTB press camps I’ve been to haven’t been that extreme, but there is still an element of it. The governing element at Specialized events is the staff riders that run the press camps. These dudes are fast uphill and down. Other journalists I spoke to confirmed that I’m not just having an off day every time I ride with this crew - they say that although there are fast riders at every bike company, Specialized boasts a deep field of speedsters.

This is relevant because it goes some way towards mitigating the various media attendees trying to outdo each other. It also doesn’t hurt that they invariably have factory sponsored athletes on hand to keep everyone honest. At this launch Anneke Beerten, Curtis Keene and Mitch Ropelato were in attendance. So not only did they have some world-class Enduro firepower on hand, Mitch and Curtis provided a nearly constant stream of tomfoolery to entertain us.

There is still some rivalry there though. I got a couple of confused looks at one stage when I was riding lead for the group and held them up for a couple of minutes to let the photographer ride ahead in order to get a shot of each person as they passed him. Apparently I didn’t get the memo about smashing every ride with a decent amount of effort to establish yourself in the pecking order. The poor photographer is relegated to default tail ender with his 20kg pack of camera gear.


At the extreme end of the spectrum there was one guy who would have been at home in the aforementioned roadie scene. He wrote for a huge publication with readers in the millions, was uber-fit and it was clear he thought he was pretty special. At one stage of waiting in the rain on the last day for some riders to sort out photos for their respective publications he complained loudly. It felt like a situation where he was trying to ‘pull rank’, but with a bunch of heavy hitting (but chilled-out) riders in tow that could have turned him inside out if they really tried, every single person ignored him. Completely. It was awesome. That's the kind of down-to-earth attitude that fits right in with the Kiwi psyche.



Some riders from drier climates struggled with the very wet and slippery conditions we faced on the last day of riding. Others revelled in it, enjoying the fact that we can ride year round in Rotorua, no matter what the weather throws at us. Some of the riders from Southern California were notable for calling out warnings to following riders like ‘look out for the mud!’ when all they were doing was riding through a puddle 10mm deep. Conversely, I’m sure they could completely school many (me included) on rocky or dusty trails. But on slick, rooty New Zealand trails they were out of their comfort zones.



With many different nationalities together some stereotypical assumptions hold true. Of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule our friends from Germany live up to their exacting reputation. They are always the guys changing stems because they simply can’t ride a bike with a stem that is 5mm longer than what they prefer - and using a ruler to set their brake lever reach. Some of them are pretty decent riders, but honestly, unless you’re racing the World Cup circuit a matter of millimetres probably isn’t going to affect you on a bike you’re riding for a total of three days. They take their jobs extremely seriously though, living up to their nation’s reputation for precision and attention to minutae. Makes me wonder what they think of our Kiwi ‘she’ll be right, I’ll give it a go’ mentality.



We’ve got a stunning MTB scene in NZ, with some of the most well-travelled industry people in the world raving about our riding. It highlighted for me that I shouldn’t take for granted how awesome our riding opportunities are.


Originally published in New Zealand Mountain Biker magazine. Writing: Nick Lambert