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Trans NZ Tested

A funny testimonial of sorts unfolded during my participation in the Trans NZ this year. The five-day multi-stage enduro is considered equal parts competition and exploratory adventure – certainly for this writer visiting the South Island of New Zealand for the first time with a mountain bike in tow.

Post-race multiple shuttle laps of Rude Rock doing some ‘serious testing’ of equipment!

The first two race days, I stuck with a regular trail helmet and a pair of Oakley EVZero Prizm Trail riding glasses: no crashes. On the third day of competition, I wore my go-to option for dusty conditions: a pair of clear goggles. I had two crashes (each on relatively easy sections of race stages) that day. Luckily, neither bike nor rider was damaged, and the day wrapped up with me making the decision to switch back to the EVZero from the fourth day onwards. Guess what: no more crashes on the fourth and fifth days.

The distinctive tint of the Oakley EVZero Prizm Trail, optional on a slow and steady liaison stage climb, but much needed when things pointed downhill and started going faster.

Remarkably, these final two days featured relatively harder stages, including variable lighting conditions both on exposed terrain and in the treeline, heaps of dust, high temperatures, and changing trail textures aplenty. One gets used to the ‘brightening’ effect of the Prizm Trail lenses within a few minutes, with no difficulty at all sorting out what looked ‘rideable’ or not in the heat of a timed enduro stage. The EVZero’s svelte weight (at just 23 grams) and slim, frameless profile had me forgetting I had them on at times, whether it was matched with the half-lid helmet deep amongst Craigieburn backcountry tracks, or with the full-face helmet hitting the bike park high above Queenstown.

Coincidence perhaps? But the fact that avoidable crashes happened on the one day I did not wear the Prizms has encouraged me to keep on wearing them even after the NZ trip was done and dusted.

For those who want to know more about the Trans NZ, it is a multi-day event where all stages are raced ‘blind’ – with no prior practice. Save for the local Kiwi riders who knew the ins and outs of some of the popular tracks, the visiting punter would have to rely totally on their terrain awareness and snap decision-making processes. And beyond that, reliable equipment that could stand up to repeated ‘surprises’ on some of the roughest, most whoop-inducing, most demanding MTB trails NZ could offer.

Zero problems with leaking or flat tires for me during the entire race were such a boon. Keeping me rolling was the TireCare Sealant I poured into my tires (80ml each) prior to the NZ trip. The fact that I put the sealant into a brand-new rear tire and a six-month old front tire – and both held up very well throughout the week – is testament to the reliability of TireCare’s formula. I used their bicycle variant – the primary feature of which was its rapid sealing ability; other variants of TireCare cater to motorcycles, cars, and even heavy vehicles.

Installation back in Singapore: TireCare’s bright pink goop combined with Maxxis rubber and Nobl TR33 27.5″ rims.

That front tire – a 2.5”-wide Maxxis Minion DHF soft compound variant – I suspected would be particularly dicey in the sealing department, having been on big trips to Canada & Indonesia, and sported a pair of perpendicular cuts to the casing where I had ridden it straight into a sharp tiled kerb just before Christmas. It looked a little too tired to be put through the wringer of Trans NZ, but TireCare’s unconventional pink-coloured, viscous goop did the trick. I was impressed with how those cuts initially leaked straight out of the bike case following the bike’s re-assembly, but then sealed up and took the pounding of the race without skipping a beat.

How tough were the NZ tracks on the tires? The aforementioned new rear tire (a 2.3”-wide Maxxis Minion DHR2) was subjected to a week of super-fun rocks, berms, roots, steep descents, and the obligatory hard braking, skids, and cuttys. Seeing it so chewed up and scuffed after that, I retired it – as well as the front one – within 3 weeks of returning from NZ, having never once sprung a noticeable leak in its short and brutal life.

What kept the fun factor really high was the pairing of a DVO Diamond fork and DVO Topaz rear shock. I had been testing this setup for a few weeks already, but had never ridden it in anger down timed enduro stages before… until New Zealand. I opted for the 100mm thru-axle, 27.5” variant of the Diamond fork – sporting a sleek, stealth-black livery that was somewhat appropriate, considering the Antipodean destination of choice.

Diamond in the rough: DVO squishiness up front, up close.

As mentioned, riding blind means putting substantial faith in one’s equipment to handle whatever appeared ‘around the bend’ or ‘over the horizon’. The Diamond fork worked beautifully in this regard: it was tuned and left at slightly firmer settings than what the instructions stated, but only because my loaded weight when doing guiding and instructing work is much heavier than my ‘enduro racing’ weight.

Apart from the usual compression dials & rebound dials, the one thing that I really appreciated was the ‘Over The Top’ or ‘OTT’ circuit. This little adjustment would allow me to set the sensitivity of the first 4cm or so of travel to be as soft as I liked. Essentially, the sag point would be maintained whilst running firmer pressures that would come into play in the mid- and end-stroke. The one improvement I would have liked to see on this non-Boost fork is a wider lower brace. DVO is very thoughtful in its design process: its fork ships with a proprietary mud-guard that bolts directly to the lower brace. But with that 2.5”-wide DHF up-front, tire & mud clearance would be too much of an issue. I would have to resort to applying a cut-out sticker (handily, the fork also ships with one of these!) to the rear of the brace to keep the crud at bay.

As for DVO’s Topaz rear shock, it played very well with the Yeti SB6c frameset I was using. The Topaz has a plush initial stroke and has a linear feel in the stock settings. Two additional volume spacers were slotted into the positive chamber (the shock comes with a total of five spacers that can be added to either the positive or negative chambers). This is an extremely easy process that can be done with just a shock pump and no additional tools. With the Topaz matched to the Yeti’s Switch Infinity suspension – characteristically high in the initial travel and progressive towards the end of travel – I felt the resultant suspension movement to be supportive enough through the mid-and end-stroke to prevent bottoming-out on bigger hits.

I felt the indexing on the Topaz’s rebound dial was a bit faint and quite sensitive, but that is really splitting hairs when the breakaway force required to move this shock past the first couple of millimeters of travel rivals that of a coil shock.

Cue testing on the Trans NZ: the DVO Diamond/Topaz combo proved its mettle with consistent descending performance and good heat management down some pretty hairy enduro timed stages as well as a post-race menu of multiple laps of speedy shuttle-trails and jump-filled bike park descents. It also fared well in the small-bump-eating stakes, maintaining heaps of traction on undulating cross-country style trails and those sustained climbs that are part and parcel of riding enduro liaison stages.

Everything working together to deliver the ultimate ride experience. Photo credit: Brent Neighbour.

It has been established that the South Island of New Zealand is a veritable playground for mountain bikers; but is the Trans NZ and its selection of trails the ultimate testing ground for both riders and equipment? You will have to sign up for the 2018 edition to find out for yourself!

My sincere thanks and appreciation goes out to Joey from Oakley Singapore, Zhiguang from TireCare Sealant, and Raymond from Crankworkz (the Singaporean DVO distributor and service center) for the chance to put their products through the wringer!