A quarter of a century ago mountain biking was a new fringe sport. There were only a couple of brands of mountain bike available and any races were just a few mates getting together. Until one day in the summer of 1986, when Wellington enthusiast Paul Kennett sent 49 hardy souls into Upper Hutt's Akatarawa Ranges.

On March 6, the Merida Karapoti Classic turns 25. From those humble beginnings, Karapoti became the event that popularised mountain biking in New Zealand. It is still the longest running mountain bike race in the Southern Hemisphere. Founded by brothers Paul, Simon and Jonathan Kennett, the Karapoti concept offered an uncompromising 50km of 4wd trails, gnarly single track, wheel-sucking sludge, raging river crossings, wall to wall wilderness and huge hills.

Back then it was a cutting edge challenge. The event seemed like a major expedition with many competitors sporting bush shirts and backpacks. Since then iconic elements of the course such as "The Rock Garden," "Devil's Staircase," and "Big Ring Boulevard," have been discussed in hushed tones of nervous anticipation and misty, sometimes bloody, memories.

Completing Karapoti has become the mountain bike benchmark Down Under, with American magazine Velonews naming it among the best 25 mountain bike races in the world.

Between them, the Kennett brothers have ridden every Karapoti Classic. Paul and Simon have both won and Simon was first to break the three-hour mark in 1988.

Karapoti, however, is more than just the race of champions. Every year riders throughout New Zealand and the world take on the holy grail of New Zealand mountain biking. Its popularity is due to a mix of history, challenge and a goal to provide something for everyone. If the full 50km Merida Classic sounds a bit daunting, the 20km Penny Farthing Challenge is scenic but less savage.

Entries are limited to 1000 riders in the 50k Classic and 300 riders in the 20k Challenge. Organisers receive close to 2000 applications for the 1300 spots and entries are usually full by New Year.

2010 promises to be a Karapoti to remember too. Organisers are hoping to track down past winners and riders from 1986, as well as holding anniversary functions and gallery exhibitions. Every entrant will receive a special commemorative programme tracing the 25 years of the event and every finisher will receive a 25th anniversary medal. In keeping with the anniversary aspect there will be a retro category for riders on old-school rigid bikes and a competition for the oldest bike to finish the race.

Next Event:
2010: 28th February



17 18

PACE is a  marathon-photos.com  Publication