Hurtling down mountain slopes at breakneck speed is all part of the thrill for New Plymouth brothers Wyn and Ed Masters.
Being paid to do it makes it even more rewarding as 26-year-old Wyn found out this year after being picked up by a German team for the World Cup series.
While Ed, 24, wasn't paid to race, he loved it just as much.
"It's a great way to travel and see the world . . . as long as you have your own space," said Wyn on a visit home to see his parents Diana and Rhys. "I'm loving the lifestyle. It's good fun. When you come back home and do a day's work, you realise you would rather be riding your bike."
Wyn said being picked up by a professional team - he secured a deal late last year with Bulls Bikes - helped immensely.
"They pay for everything . . . travel, accommodation, food. That's pretty sweet, especially when I know Ed has to pay for everything. He did it cheap, living out of a campervan on a shoestring budget. But it still cost him 15 to 20 grand for four to five months. The rest of the year he has to work."
Wyn said having one of his friends, Mikey McCallum, from Bell Block, travel with the team as a mechanic helped a lot.
"It definitely made things easier for me in a predominantly German team. It was good having another Kiwi there to talk to and hopefully he will go back with me next year. It was his first time in Europe and he loved it."
One thing Wyn would cut back was the number of races he competed in.
"This year, I probably did too many. I had about 18 races from the start of May through to the start of October. It was too tough. Ideally I should be aiming at 10 to 12 races, then you can train harder and go into each race strong."
Wyn said 2013 had been his most successful season racing.
"I've been racing in Europe since 2008. Next year will be my seventh. In saying that, I hardly raced in 2011 and 2012 because of injury . . . I had a compound fracture in my right arm that didn't heal properly. I had it fixed but bent a plate when I tried to race again," he said.
"The surgeon said I was good to go at the start of 2012, but four days before I left I broke the handlebars when I crashed out riding and ended up breaking my wrist. I was out for another year."
Wyn said this year he had been injury-free.
"I had my best-ever finish in the World Cup when I finished 21st in Leogang in Austria at the end of September. A month earlier, I had my best-ever finish in the World Champs . . . 17th at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa," he said.
"I also finished seventh overall in the European Cup series, so it's been a good year."
Wyn, who finished 2013 ranked 42nd in the world, said he planned to be on the start line for the first 2014 World Cup race in South Africa.
"I've got a few things before that. I'm off to Asia for three races over there before Christmas. Just some end-of-the-season fun-type events. The race in Indonesia, the Asia- Pacific downhill, is the big one. There's a bit of prizemoney up for grabs . . . US$3000 to the winner. Then it's to Thailand and Malaysia."
The plan then is to head to the South Island for training and "maybe a bit of work".
In January and February, the targets are the New Zealand downhill series with the Oceania champs at Mt Hutt in March.
"I've been second in the Oceania champs . . . I'd like to win that before I head off again."
As for how long he can see himself racing internationally?
"I want to keep going for a few more years. Steve Peat from the UK is 39 and he's still at the top. He's setting the benchmark. But it all depends on injury; one bad one can end your career."
For Ed, 2013 has been a learning curve.
Money was the main reason he didn't compete in the World Champs, but he did manage to race in six World Cup races.
He finished 52nd in the rankings, with a crash and a flat tyre in another race not helping. His best placing was 26th in the second round at Val di Sole in Italy - less than a second behind Wyn, who finished 22nd.
"It's been an awesome year," said Ed.
"With two other friends, Matt Walker [Rotorua] and Tom Matthews [Christchurch], we bought a beat-up campervan off Ebay for 1000 pounds and lived in it for three months while we were in Europe. It was aptly named the Marae."
Ed said while he had been racing for 10 years, this was only his second year racing overseas.
"The racing went well. I qualified in five of the six World Cup races, which was a big goal for me. I learnt a lot and know now that I have what it takes to be competitive at the top level," he said.
"I'm definitely heading back next year. I'm currently in the process of organising sponsorship and I'm in talks with some European teams who have shown some interest."
Ed said he had also had a series of videos made during the year documenting his trip and having things like that to offer potential sponsors goes a long way.
"But I'm always looking for help, so if there's anyone out there interested, I'd love to hear from them."
Ed said he funded his trip by working in Australia building private trails north of Brisbane.
"It was quite isolated, so it made saving easy. I was lucky at the end of the season to be invited back to Europe from Canada for an invitational race in Prague, which meant I was able to race in the final two European World Cup races instead of heading home."
But he has been denied the luxury of having a mechanic travel with him.
"No, I didn't have one, but luckily there's a lot of Kiwi professionals nowadays and they help out where possible. Without having access to them, life would be a struggle as a privateer."
Unlike his brother, Ed has been relatively injury free.
"In the past I've badly broken my ankle, but that doesn't hold me back anymore." As for next year, expect Ed to be pushing his brother.
"After looking at my split times this year, I'm confident I have the speed to compete at the top level. So, with a bit of luck in 2014, I can put in some good runs."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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