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NI1600 2016 - A South Islanders view

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Being a South Islander first challenge was the 715 km to the start point. I had a typical Southerners view of North Island roads i.e. boring, congested, and with a speed cop behind every tree. The torturous, traffic laden ride from the Ferry terminal to Levin in heavy rain didn’t do anything to dispel this.

But once past Foxton the traffic began to lighten and with it my mood. Beyond Mangaweka the landscape changed to rolling hills and the road began to twist and turn. There was still the rain but I could ignore that with a road worth riding.

Then it was the last section of this trip from from Waiouru to Turangi. This is the famous, or perhaps infamous, desert road which appears regularly on news bulletins about road closures or accidents. I’d imagined something like SH8 between Tekapo and Lake Pukaki with its wasteland feel. However, it was a softer more welcoming landscape - despite the obvious harshness of conditions that the tussock and scrubland bushes had to contend with. To top things off the rain stopped and the sun began to break through the clouds to play light and shadow tag over Mount Ngauruhoe. May be North Island roads were worth exploring after all.

The cabins at the Turangi campsite had originally been workers huts for the local Hydro developments back in the 50’s and 60’s. They had then been moved to their new location once the work was complete. They had the comfort and charm you’d associate with the term “1950’s Government Issue”, but still a lot easier than a tent.

First thing to do once I had unpacked was register and then get the Spyder scrutineered. I wasn’t too sure what the scrutineering would consist of as most of the events I been to in the past this part was rudimentary at best, but it turned out to be quite a though check of the roadworthiness.

Once that was complete I sorted out my packing, gave the Spyder a service, made a pot of coffee and sat watching the other bikes going through the scrutineering process. The same weekend as the NI1600 there was also an 800km/12-hour event called, not surprisingly, the NI800. This attracted a more diverse collection of bikes than you normally get – even spotted a Harley which is the first I’ve ever seen at something like this.

The reason for my “hurry up and wait” approach was that the route announcement is not made until 7pm, the start time being 1pm the following day. So, once the checks are complete there’s not much I could do until the route was announced.

Come 7pm and after a brief introduction we were given the route. After a western detour, we’d be heading as far northwards about as you can go - Cape Reinga. This was no motorway bash either because, as the organisers pointed out, a lot of the route would be on tight twisting roads. One organiser called Long John promised I’d be getting a good workout on my Spyder as he knew they were a more physically demanding in corners. He also said he hoped we’d experience some rain as they had a lot when planning the route:-)

Next day I find out that I’ve been put in ‘pole position’ for the start – first rider of the first group. Someone with a sense of humour must have arranged that.

Rain has been forecast for the weekend but I’m loath to put on my waterproofs in case I get too hot. Checking to the west it looked like rain on the hills so I make a last-minute decision to don mine.

1pm - we’re off and as promised the bends start coming right from the off, but they are nice fast sweepers and I make good progress. After 147km’s hit the first checkpoint which is conveniently situated at service station. Check in with the marshal, take the required photo, fill up the tank and off I go.

The next checkpoint is only 67km’s away which lulls me into a false sense of security. The road is narrow, uneven and incredibly twisty – often with a succession of 35km corners. As any Spyder rider knows these slow bends require a lot more physical effort when you’re trying keep your speed up.

By the time I get to the checkpoint I’m drenched in sweat. Made the wrong decision about the waterproofs so take them off again, have a good drink and a few minutes’ rest –during which several other riders turn up and leave. One slightly strange note is at the checkpoint there’s a cop chatting with a local, wonder what that’s about…

A few corners later and suddenly there’s several police cars and large van – my first thought is that they’ve found out about the route and setup a road block. There’s also a reporter standing in the middle of the road doing a piece to camera forcing me to slam on the anchors. Almost made the news myself that night running them down during a live broadcast. Everyone ignores me so I keep on riding. It’s not until after the ride we find out that, in this middle of nowhere spot, two people had been murdered before the killer committed suicide.

I fall in with a group of riders that passed me at the last check point. Occasionally we go off on different directions but then meet up further on as our planned routes converge again. We hit SH1 which at first I move rapidly but as we get into Auckland the traffic thickens. Though I make the most of the Spyders ability to quickly switch lanes it’s not enough to keep up with the bikes as they can lane split as well. Slowly the bikes disappear ahead of me. It seems to take forever to get through Auckland and to the next checkpoint at Orewa – another service station.

The traffics still heavy and there’s road works everywhere –I can feel myself getting frustrated with the slow progress. But as the sun sinks the road clears and I get back into the swing. I had planned to get to the next checkpoint (Kaeo) on a single tank but end up having to fill up at Whangarei, the heavy traffic has meant the Spyders been drinking petrol like the 6 o’clock swill.

After Kaeo the next checkpoint was Cape Reinga and I arrived there at 11:15pm. This is the unofficial halfway point, not only in distance at 860km, but also because it’s the furthest check point from the start. From here we’d be heading ‘home’. I stop to top up the tank from my spare can, eat a snack bar and as a special treat - drink from my coffee flask. I know many are anti-coffee on these sorts of rides, I avoid it myself with longer runs, but as this was ‘only’ a 24 hour one I wasn’t bothered.

Kaitaia checkpoint in another petrol station, just what the Spyder needed. From there the roads are fantastic to ride, switch back bends that have been perfectly cambered - a great tonic in the early hours to keep you focused.

The Two Bridges checkpoint is photo’d and its off southwards towards the last but one checkpoint, Kumeu. Beginning dark and in ‘foreign lands’ I’m completely reliant on my GPS and this when it lets me down, taking me a longer route than planned. The rain showers are also back slowing my progress – I learn later that the riders who took the correct route missed these.

Bombay Service station was the last check point before the finish. The route from Kuneu to there was motorway so I had hoped to make up some time, but for most of the 68km I have a cop car behind me which means some very careful monitoring of the right hand.

There were several options for the final stretch but Long John had recommended a backroad route to avoid all the major roads and built up areas. This route was an absolute peach to ride with very little traffic and with the sun now rising again I could finally see some of the countryside I was riding through. It had taken careful programming to convince my GPS to stick to this route but it was well worth it.

70km from the finish the showers became a downpour and then a vertical river. A few months before I’d invested in proper motorbike waterproofs rather than the cheap ones from hunting shops I normally used. After 10 minutes, it became apparent this had been a waste of money as could feel the water seeping in. Strangely the waterproofs appeared to let the water in but not out again, so I was soon sitting in a pool of water. My boots were also filling up as the water ran down the inside of the trousers. The road conditions were also getting perilous with larges puddles of water; the rear wheel began to aquaplane and I had to reduce my speed to a crawl. Fortunately, I was the only vehicle on the road.

Finally, I arrived the finish back at Turangi camp site, took a photo of the speedo and then squelched into the meeting hall to check-in having done 1707km in 19:45 hours. The extra distance due to the unplanned detour my GPS took me on.

There I bumped into Long John and let him know he’d got his wish about us ‘experiencing’ some rain:-) After that an absolute angel presented me with a massive fry-up. The organisers had cooked up a huge feed for the returning riders and waited on us like royalty – something that I hadn’t expected but was very appreciated. Had a good chat with three riders that I’d fallen in with a few times on the ride and met before at the TT2000. Then it was off to find somewhere to dry my very wet gear and a shower before getting my head down for a bit before the trip home.

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  1. NiggleC's Avatar
    Well done PB. There is a real sense of achievement completing one of these. I once entered the GC from which this ride is derived only to have the final drive bearing on my BMW1100 begin to give up the ghost on the way up, subsequently i failed scrutineering. A long way to go from ChCh to fail but thats life. I stuck to the Chatto Creek 1000milers after that because a least i would be in the same island. Next year i am looking at the NI800 as part of a week holiday up north. will be interesting to see if anyone goes to print about that ride. Cheers N.
  2. GPS MAN's Avatar
    Good write-up! Well, having done 2 of these already...might be looking for another challenge!
  3. PistonBlown's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by NiggleC
    Well done PB. There is a real sense of achievement completing one of these. I once entered the GC from which this ride is derived only to have the final drive bearing on my BMW1100 begin to give up the ghost on the way up, subsequently i failed scrutineering. A long way to go from ChCh to fail but thats life. I stuck to the Chatto Creek 1000milers after that because a least i would be in the same island. Next year i am looking at the NI800 as part of a week holiday up north. will be interesting to see if anyone goes to print about that ride. Cheers N.
    There was at least one bike that failed the scrutineering this year, not sure if they were riding the NI1600 or NI800 but it must be disappointing to do so. I must admit I was nervous as I do my own maintenance and have made a few mods as well:-)