Cycle of celebration

SARAH BENNETT
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2012
Queenstown Bike Festival
TIM CLAYTON/Fairfax NZ
AIR UP HERE: A mountain bike racer tackles the Ben Lomond Forest course high above Queenstown during last year's Dirtmasters Downhill event, part of the bike festival.

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Talk about greedy. Not content with four ski fields, spectacular wilderness tramping, a shot of adrenalin activities and proximity to superlative pinot noir, Queenstown is having a bash at becoming the epicentre of New Zealand cycling.

Grist to this mill is the second annual Queenstown Bike Festival, being held in and around the town over 10 days from March 30.

The programme boasts more than 20 events, on-road and off, and some in mid-air.

Many can be tackled by mere mortals like me, while others will be best left to those unafraid of the odd crash.

Over the Easter Weekend, such daredevils will wow spectators in the DirtMasters Downhill, a blast of five frenzied minutes on the slopes of Ben Lomond. I, for one, will be seeking to emulate their form (in slow-motion replay) after I've hitched my bike to the Skyline Gondola and been effortlessly transported up to the ever-improving Queenstown Bike Park. (Why haven't we got a gondola up Makara Peak in Wellington?)

In a similar and possibly black'n'blue vein there's the Teva Slopestyle, which looks a bit like BMX in an adventure playground.

Fearless riders will defy both gravity and sanity on a "five-hit" obstacle course involving scaffolding and several tonnes of dirt, custom-built in the middle of town.

In competition for cold, hard cash but mainly glory, this event will be jam-packed with gnarly tricks such as flat-spins, can-cans, flips and Supermans (think: planking on wheels).

An event making its southern hemisphere debut, this is shaping up as the not-to-be-missed event – unless you're one of the riders' mothers, in which case you might want to stay at home.

I'll be pushing my own boundaries by embarking on my first night ride. We're not talking about an after-work winter pedal under the street lamps of Aro St. This involves blindly following a bunch of local riders on the magical mystery tour known as the Nitelights Night Ride.

Fortunately we may self-select our own pace group, so I'll be going for "slow", although I'm slightly perturbed to hear that ride organisers have no idea where they're going, yet, and that last year they "killed only one or two".

The night ride is one of many free events throughout the festival.

Another is the Hilton Coffee Ride, a social spin along the scenic Jacks Point Track that starts and finishes at the flash new Hilton Hotel where riders may partake of fine espresso.

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I'm looking forward to seeing the look on the concierge's face as a procession of cleat-wearing, sweaty bods collapse on the new leather lounge suites.

The signature event is the Tour de Wakatipu, which takes in sections of both the Shotover and Kawerau rivers, and also follows new tracks developed by the Wakatipu Trails Trust that form part of the National Cycleway.

Pedalling off from Millbrook Resort near Arrowtown (autumn leaves ahoy), the 36-kilometre recreational or 45km elite courses traverse four-wheel-drive and gravel roads, single track and a small section of tarmac. It finishes with food, wine and music at Chard Farm Winery. Sign me up.

Out of the saddle there are plenty of social events, kicking off with an opening-night dinner and show. Comedian Joseph Harper will present "Bikes I've owned versus women I've fallen in love with", aptly followed by an awards ceremony for the best bike built in the man shed.

A series of parties and ad hoc meet-ups will ensure local bars will be packed with cycle lovers of every persuasion.

Maybe – just maybe – it'll be okay to go to the pub wearing Lycra pants.

FAST FACTS

Queenstown Bike Festival, March 30-April 9, queenstownbikefestival.com.

Destination Queenstown, queenstownnz.co.nz.

Bicycles can be hired from numerous Queenstown operators; see the festival website for details.

Both Jetstar (now flying direct from Wellington) and Air New Zealand allow you to take a bicycle with you as part of your baggage allowance provided they are correctly packed. Presuming you can't pack your bike and other bits all together within the allowed weight, you'll be looking at around $30 extra.

A cheap packing option is to ask your local cycle shop for a bike box, into which you can pack your bike by removing the seat, pedals and handlebars. Duct tape will come in handy. Similar boxes are also available from the airlines.

Otherwise, consider investing in a bike bag such as those available from Ground Effect. groundeffect.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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