Two Kinds of Awesome: Riding the Timber Trail on a KTM e-bike
by Michael Tritt
The Timber Trail is located in the Pureroa Forest Park, around 3 ½ hours south of Auckland.
The area was one of the last opened up to native forest logging in 1946, and it’s built around the old tramlines and roads that were put in to facilitate the industry.
Conservationists managed to stop the logging in 1978, preserving large tracts of forest which now form the backdrop to one of New Zealand’s most impressive cycle trails.
The 84km route was opened in 2013 as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail and is attracting a growing number of visitors, both local and international.
So, together with my business partners, Ron and James, we decided we’d go and check it out.
Officially the reason for our trip was a “strategy retreat”. Yes, I know that sounds horribly corporate (which is not what we are) but the pace of our business means the phone calls and emails never stop, so we rarely get the chance to pause and reflect on how we can really improve on what we do.
Morning mountain biking, followed by beer, wine and very important strategy discussions into the evening sounded like a plan.
Our accommodation for the trip, the Blackfern Lodge (a 6km detour off the trail, about halfway along), seemed to be the ideal choice. As we leave the main highway on Friday evening and head down the gravel road towards the Lodge, it’s like going back in time.
The cell signal disappears – we won’t be taking phone calls, reading emails or attending to social media this weekend. We pass a deserted logging village on the way, literally frozen in time with abandoned vehicles and houses.
Upon arrival at the Lodge we are greeted by the friendly owners and are shown to our rustic cabins. As part of the package we are treated to a home cooked roast before retiring for the evening ahead of the morning ride.
A shuttle arrives around 9am to collect us, our bikes and take us to the start of the trail. It’s a fifty minute drive in a battered van towing a custom-made bike trailer. The Timber Trail is generally split into two days, and our plan is to ride the first part of the trail Saturday, finishing up at the Lodge, then depart on Sunday morning for the second part.
James, Ron and Michael - Electrify Directors looking conspicuous
When we arrive at the start of the trail, the car park is buzzing with other cyclists preparing to head off. Most of the bikes there are non-electric, but a few are, including of course our KTM e-MTBs.
Our bikes are attracting some attention, aided by the fact we are all wearing bright orange, KTM-branded cycling attire. We are however not subjected to accusations of “cheating” as might have happened in the past. It’s probably a sign that, while the electric bike market is maturing, so are the attitudes of those who were initially skeptical.
While I’ve been a commuter cyclist nearly all my adult life, I’m an inexperienced mountain biker, as are Ron and James. Parts of this trail are grade 3 (Intermediate) so we expect it to be a good test for both ourselves and our bikes as we set off.
The first 15km of the trail is primarily ascent. We soon settle on the best way to use the Bosch Performance CX motor on the bikes, which is to use Bosch’s “e-MTB” mode to help us power up the hills, while switching to “economy” mode on flatter or downhill terrain.
It’s amazing how much faster you go than regular cyclists up hills. For several kilometres we’re passing cyclists who set out ahead of us. The track varies in width, so we wait for the right opportunity to pass, signal our intention and thank the rider as we pass. I’ve found that applying common courtesies like this when passing through on an e-bike is important, whether in the city or on the trail.
We take a brief detour to stop for a photo with an historic tractor, before continuing on the ascent. The further we go up the hill, the more exhausted the other cyclists look as we pass. Again, there are no negative comments, but there are offers (including one monetary) to swap bikes.
James, Ron, historic tractor
It’s not that we’re not getting exercise. The heart is pumping but it’s moderate impact, and it is a whole lot of fun. Bosch have done a great job with their e-MTB mode: it is an intelligent system that delivers just the right amount of power when you need it, and the 12 speed SRAM cassette on the KTM gives a great range of gears for climbing varying gradients.
The scenic highlight of today’s ride is the Bog Creek suspension bridge, one of several along the trail, where we stop for lunch. Looking down from the bridge across the forested valley, it’s an incredible view, enhanced by the fact you are seeing it from your bike.
Michael at Bog Creek suspension bridge
The cycling highlight of the day is undoubtedly the descent
down Mt Pureroa. By the time our descent
begins we have passed nearly all of the regular cyclists who set out before us. I switch my bike back into “eco” mode and
enjoy the most thrilling part of the Timber Trail.
As the track snakes it’s way down, I feel myself handling the bike with increasing confidence. Many of the corners are tight, and as you ride through a thick canopy of forest, you never quite know what is around the next one.
The four-piston brakes on the KTM are however super-responsive. An overly speedy entry into a hairpin corner is quickly corrected, the wheel skids a little, but you are soon back in full control as the plus-sized 27.5” rear tyre grips the terrain and the motor helps power you out of the corner.
The larger 29” tyre on the front of the bike also comes into its own here. It’s very forgiving as you plow over tree roots and ruts, which as a less experienced rider, I greatly appreciate. I am probably riding faster than I should be given my skill level, but it’s too much fun to do otherwise.
The closest I come to losing control is probably down a dirt road we encounter after coming out of the forest. It’s straight, it’s downhill and the speedometers are climbing well into the forties. We sight a couple of ominous bumps in the road, and as you momentarily leave the ground you wonder whether slowing down might not have been a bad idea. You don’t, but the stability of the bike takes command again.It's on these bumpier sections where the full suspension on the KTM (with a generous 160mm of travel) is also extremely useful. There is very little jarring and having a slightly dodgy back (I've slipped a disc before) it's a blessing.
The journey back to the Lodge takes us on the 6km detour off
the main track. It goes through a pine-clad route up a brutally steep
hill. This is the gladdest I have been
all day that I’m on an electric bike.
The battery meter clicks onto its last bar as we ride back to the Lodge. We’ve done around 45km of riding, much of it uphill, and I’ve used about 80% of the battery. As a larger than average unit (6”3, nearly 100kg) I reckon that’s not bad. We compare battery status, and notice a definite correlation between rider weight and remaining battery, but we’ve all made it back on a single charge.
The Lodge owners are surprised to see us back so soon (most riders take about 6 hours, but we’ve done it in around half the time). The beers are cold, and we have plenty of time to have those strategy discussions. Some, but not all, of our ideas pass the morning sobriety test.
Morning at the Blackfern Lodge
The next morning, we take a short walk to check out the
waterfall at the Lodge (yes, they have their own waterfall) before we prepare
to set off again. This time, Mark the
host drops us to the top of the pine-tree hill in a modified Ute. We’re all a little sore from the previous day
in the mountain bike saddle, but we soon forget about that as we charge down
the hill back towards the main trail.
As with the first day, much of the early part of the day is spent ascending. We pass another group who we’d met at the Lodge the previous night, had got away early, and seemed surprised to see us arrive so quickly.
We pass numerous other cyclists as we progress, but we are surprised when we are passed for the first time on our ride, by a couple (on electric bikes, of course) zooming past on full power.
Not far down the track, however, we see them again as they have dismounted. The male appears to throw his bike into the bush beside the track in frustration. We’re guessing something has gone wrong electronically. Unfortunately when an electric bike stops working, it just becomes a rather heavy regular bike. And a rather heavy regular bike is not what you want on the Timber Trail.
I am quietly thankful at that moment that we are riding bikes using the uber-reliable Bosch motor system. The thought of an electronic problem never even crossed my mind.
The trails are a bit less demanding on day two. After the initial ascent, the descent is longer, and less tricky. We still pass through some superb scenery, including more suspension bridges with forested river valleys below.
Following the old bush tram route, there are several points of interest including the Ongarue tunnel (a slightly disconcerting experience, as your eyes adjust you can’t really see the track you're riding on, as you head towards the light at the end).
As you approach the end of the trail, there are a few muddy sections where our bikes got relatively dirty for the first time. Again the KTMs plowed through in their very forgiving way, but after sustained periods of rain (it had rained a couple of days prior, but the summer was generally dry) I would think the track in this section would be a bit tricky.
As we arrive back in the carpark at the end of the trail, our van is there waiting for us (part of the service at the Blackfern Lodge). Despite the longer ride today (around 50km) the relative amount of descent versus ascent means that we have not depleted our batteries as much as the day before. I’m still showing more than 30% and my system is telling me I could have ridden another 30km (the bike’s system is intelligent and bases its range estimate off your recent riding).
Excepting the muddy section, the Timber Trail is an extraordinarily well-constructed and maintained track, and a real gem among New Zealand’s cycling trails. Combining some of New Zealand’s best native forest scenery with some thrilling descents, it’s an experience I would highly recommend to anyone.
If you want to accomplish the physical challenge of doing it on a regular bike, I commend that. If, like me, you are attracted by a more hedonistic experience, consider doing it on an electric bike. You’ll still get the stunning scenery and the downhill adrenaline, but you’ll take the pain out of the ascents and find yourself with more time on your hands to enjoy the incredible location you find yourself in.
Michael Tritt is a Founder/Director of Electrify NZ
The opinions expressed are his own.