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Another massive decade for MTB in RotoruaMoerangi - Iconic back-country ridingThe Inside Line - Local knowledge from Rotorua ridersMAN DOWN - Rotorua's First Response Unit in action The Suspension Lab
Jono Church talks suspension, favourite trails and the set-up of his own Zerode Taniwha

You know Rotorua is a real deal mountain bike town when a 'niche' business like The Suspension Lab arrives… and is booked solid.
The man behind the Lab, Jono Church recently celebrated a very successful first year.

Thanks to Ezra Newick (all photos) and bluedog media.

MTB background. When did you start and why?

Got my first mountain bike in 1996 and dad would take me to Bottle Lake forest to ride, plus like any 10 year old we would ride everywhere doing skids and making jumps as much as we could.
Then at high school in 2001 my friends were into it so I got a Wheeler hardtail and we started exploring the mountain bike tracks and hills around Christchurch.

Jono Church by Ezra Newick


When/how did you start hands-on working on bikes?

Mostly from my general curiosity of how things work, I would always pull my toys apart to see what was inside them so naturally had to do the same with my bike.

Then, of course it became necessity to learn how to change tyres, brake pads, cables and true wheels as I was constantly wearing things out but couldn't afford to take it back to the shop all the time.

Working on my own bike was always my first introduction in to most things, which was good because I wasn't ruining anyone else's bike.

The local Polytech actually had night classes in mountain bike maintenance around this time run by Dave Johnson (the old school South Island guys will remember him) so we got to learn how to strip everything down and was my first introduction to using proper bike tools too.

Come to think of it I don't think there was a single disc brake or full suspension bike in that group so probably wasn't as intimidating as it would be today.

I got my first shop job assembling bikes at Penny Sport Cycles in 2002, I was in all the shops every weekend with my mates and had made a cv to hand out to everyone.

Finally, Penny's needed someone to build the new 2003 model year bikes coming in and I got that job.

I finished high school and went straight in to a shop where circumstances meant I was thrown in the deep end as the only full time mechanic so I pretty quickly gained experience in servicing forks, building wheels, bleeding brakes and working in a workshop.


The Suspension Lab by Ezra Newick


Why Rotorua?

Wide Open Distributors were looking for someone to run their workshop, doing mostly suspension (which by now I had become obsessed with) and wheel building as they didn't have a dedicated technician up till that point (2009). I jumped at the chance and sent in my CV.
The fact that I knew there was awesome riding here meant I had no reason not to go for it.

It was a great opportunity as the job eventually morphed into me becoming the NZ Service Manager for Marzocchi Suspension.

Why the Lab?
Suspension has always been a obsession of mine, it plays such a big part in how a bike handles that it pays to give it attention.

I always have (and still do) read every book and website I can find on the topic (usually from motorsports, as the bike industry is light on proper technical info there) so I was learning and testing things on my bike, and at the same time listening to feedback from all different kinds of riders who were often struggling to feel good on their bike. They often would spend months or years feeling uncomfortable and lacking confidence in their expensive bike, and I knew how much suspension was likely playing a part in that.

A regular bike shop doesn't have the time or resources to thoroughly analyse all the little details, but I knew if I had a workshop that just focussed on suspension I could really start to quantify what made bikes feel a certain way and problem solve how to fix it.

Hence "Making Bikes Better" became my motto. Obviously things like geometry, tyres and wheels play a big part too abut they are usually a little easier to manage.


The Suspension Lab 2 by Ezra Newick

Client feedback?

I've been hugely encouraged by the amount of good feedback I get, that riders are more comfortable on the bike and riding much more confidently than they were before. It's an area that doesn't usually get this level of attention so I think some riders can be skeptical and while I was confident starting the business I still wasn't sure how many people would be on board. So I'm stoked when they come back saying what a "night and day" difference they feel from even relatively minor work. I try not to tell people what to run or what they should feel too much, rather I listen to what they would like the bike to do and try my best to make that happen. So a lot of that feedback feels genuine and not like I've put words in their mouth.


Favourite trails?

Strangely, my favourite riding styles are polar opposites - either dirt jumps such as 'Mini Dream' in Queenstown or ultra-technical, steep and rooty trails.

My favourite Rotorua trails are anything native, especially Kataore.

Te Mounga and the Rocky Horror show are awesome as well.

Outside of Rotorua the Kaimanawas are magic, lots of techy beech forest, sub-alpine mountain tops and native birds.


Current ride and why?
Zerode Taniwha Enduro for so many reasons - the low unsprung mass (the weight of all the parts that "move" as the suspension goes through its stroke) is a major benefit but maybe overlooked by some.

It's well known in motorsport that removing as much unsprung weight as possible helps the wheel respond faster and track the ground easier which means more comfort and more control so the Taniwha has a huge advantage over everything else.

The gearbox is a joy to use, being able to instantly select the right gear at any time is amazing, and not having to worry about adjustments or damaged parts. Plus it suits my riding.

The well engineered no-nonsense design means its super durable, pivot bearings last forever and just doesn't give any grief.

I feel I have to talk about suspension choice - up front is a Rockshox Pike converted to coil spring with a Vorsprung Smashpot kit (which is my all time favourite upgrade) and a Push HC97 compression cartridge.

In the rear is a Cane Creek Double Barrel Coil most of the time, but I also have an air version I'm testing that works very well too.


Zerode Bikes with internal Pinion gearboxes are designed in Rotorua by Rob Metz and trail-tested in Whakarewarewa Forest Bike Park…The 'history' of Zerode hangs on one of the walls in The Suspension Lab with frames from the very early days to the latest model.