My life in motorcycling
Growing up on a small dairy farm on the side of the Kaimai Ranges, near the small North Island town of Matamata, meant that farm bikes were part of my childhood. Though it was probably also a matter of genetics. My dad, Ken Sutton, was motorcycling as soon as he worked out how to attach a lawnmower engine to his trusty push bike, and he never looked back. Thus my interest in motorcycling was probably inevitable.
At age 11 I reached the milestone of being able to touch the ground while seated on the AG 100. This meant that Dad would teach me to ride. Until then I had been a pillion with Dad around the countryside in various weather, on one of his various motorcycles. So it was with much excitement on a sunny Waikato day that I carefully let the clutch out and turned the throttle on the AG. Upon which, I promptly grabbed too much throttle and rode swiftly into a barberry hedge. Not a great start to my motorcycling career but I got the hang of it eventually. At age 15 I got my license and began to patronise the roads and trails of the North Island on Dad’s DT 175, or my battered XL 125, depending on the occasion.
I was very fortunate to be part of the NZ organised adventure riding scene which had its heyday in the 1990’s and 2000’s. The great organisers, the likes of Mike and Angela Britton, John Forsyth, and Bruce (Diesel) Marshall would plan the ultimate adventure course, through private and public land, over grassy hills, gravel roads, through bush and forestry tracks and along windy tar-seal. Epic. They were run from the Far North, the East Coast, Wairarapa back-blocks, the wilds of Taranaki, and everywhere in between, with an eclectic mix of riders, ranging in ages from 10 to 80 and road legal adventure bikes with varying degrees of off road suitability.
Lasting one to two days, Adventure Rides were accompanied by receiving a unique ride badge, and attending a giant Saturday night dinner, which was followed by a prize giving where everyone could regale and hear the embarrassing stories of the day, just in case someone didn’t see their mate miss that corner and end up in a pickle down a bank with a gorse bush and the smell of billy goat; they definitely needed to hear about it over a couple of brewskies.
Adventure Ride campsites next to the coast were my favourite, waking up to a view of the ocean, great stuff. Usually based at a scenic location, waking up for breakfast from a variable sleep, depending on how much ol’ mates down the way had decided they needed to drink and carry on the evening prior, with the anticipation of a great day’s riding ahead, was the best feeling. The time I camped downhill of the toilet block and there was a slight sewage overflow during the night was also memorable but less than ideal experience.
Adventures were sometimes had off the bikes as well. One evening there was a band playing at our dinner venue the same evening we were present. There were no other pubs in town, so indignant that we’d be charged an entry fee for a place we had already entered, some of us made wristbands out of green course marker triangles. Not that I condone that sort of carry on, but it made sense at the time. Ingenuity and camaraderie was the spirit of adventure riding. From the click clack box that the route sheet was carefully rolled onto, to a crowd gathered at tricky spots to help other riders get through.
Before I could propel myself on these events with my own engine, I would pillion with Dad. This usually involved two up on the DT 175 with me wearing a massive backpack full of our gear, riding for anywhere between two and six hours to get to the Adventure Ride campsite. Dad’s feeling was that if you are adventure riding properly, you need to also ride to and from the ride, otherwise can you really call yourself an adventure rider? The answer is no, you cannot.
From age 15 I had my own wheels and had a grand old time at Adventure Rides tearing through the forestry and wobbling my way about on windy gravel. Gravel is my happy place these days, my enjoyment increased once I figured out how to go around corners without stiffening up like the ground was about to give way.
The first bike I purchased was a KLE 500. A very festive looking bike with red faring and a green seat. Great on road and on gravel. This occurred in my mid-20’s, until then I was very fortunate that Dad and his mates had a bunch of bikes, they didn’t mind me riding about on. Spent a bit of time on an NX 650 Dominator that Dad’s mate from Raglan leant me, Dad’s old faithful DT 175, a zippy DRZ 400, and an XT 600 that Dad rebuilt. That XT was the business; a perfect height, great get up and go, and a nice cushy seat.
A memorable outing was when I was working near Whitianga and was heading back up from Hamilton one evening, so of course a ride route featuring the Thames Coast at sunset was the only choice. This delivered great scenery and windy tar-seal. The plan fell over a bit when I hit the Tapu Coroglen Road, 28 km of freshly graded windy gravel under the cover of darkness with a fun quirk the XT had of the headlight going out occasionally. I needed a cup of tea and a sit down after that.
Fortunately, for several years, I had a job that involved motorcycling. Though most days were spent on a quad bike, tracking down signals for transmitters on the elusive kiwi bird in Tongariro Forest in the Central North Island. A series of old forestry roads off the well-known 42 Traverse Track meant that one could usually find a signal for the kiwi being sought, before having to launch into dense regenerating scrub to track the thing down. Anyway, my boss got us a couple of road legal DR 200s so we could ride down the road from the office and into the forest. This was a good plan except he vehemently believed the bikes couldn’t be fitted with knobbly tyres because of the tar-seal section between the office and the forest. A belief I did not subscribe too, having ridden my whole life everywhere on knobbly tyres. In fact, my Dad, the expert justifier of road-riding on knobbly tyres, has a theory that they are actually better in the wet because the individual knobs dispel the water. No aquaplaning for this rider.
Riding in Tongariro Forest on standard tyres made the muddy, steep clay tracks of the forest difficult to negotiate. However, I gave it a whirl, and would head out with my tracking aerial slung over my back like a gun case, or a big pack back, for an overnight kiwi listening mission. It was a good time.
In 2011, I purchased the ultimate adventure machine, a DR 650. It’s yellow, solid, and I love it. I’ve ridden it on and off road from the far north to the far south and many places in between. On one trip with dad and Uncle Russell, their respective wives Pam and Lynda
as pillions, we thought it’d be a good idea to ride from over Waikia Bush Road, from Picnic Flat to Roxburgh, after the bloke at Riversdale service station told Aunty Lynda about it.
Awesome ride, up a steep rutted track out of Picnic Flat, along the track consisting of a series of solid rock shelves, through deep bogs at the top of the Old Man Range and down the thankfully, straightforward gravel road on the other side coming out near Roxburgh. An added challenge was doing this with three week’s worth of gear strapped to the bikes, dad and Pam two up on his KLR 650 and Uncle Russell and Aunty Lynda, two up on his R1100 GS. Dad had a bit of an off and injured his ankle rather badly, but adopted a typical Sutton “she’ll be right” mentality and carried on, then limped sadly about for the remainder of our South Island trip. Didn’t affect gear change ability though, so all good.
They all visited me recently. I’ve been living in Alexandra in Central Otago for a couple of years and it was great to show them the trails I’ve found and to ride a couple I hadn’t got around to yet. Central Otago riding is awesome, the Nevis, Skippers Canyon, Old Dunstan Road, the Old Man Range, Oteake Conservation Park; so much to explore.
I enjoy heading out alone for a bit of a scoot, but also like riding with my partner Mike with his DRZ 400 and some of the guys from a local adventure riding club. They’re very supportive of each other and enthusiastic about great scenery, I find them inspiring, after all, isn’t that why we do what we do? That and the therapeutic feel of reading the trail and being in the moment.
I’m 39 now so I’ve still got a few years riding ahead of me. I’ve had no serious offs, and I hope to continue that trend. I find riding, as though anyone may drive into, me at any time, is a good mind set. I occasionally think about trading in the ol’ DR, but how do you beat perfection? So, I’ll probably have it for a while yet.
See you out there, I’ll be the one on the windy gravel road, with the wind in the bit of hair sticking out from under my helmet, and a massive grin on my face.
By Nicole Sutton
Nicole lives in Alexandra, Central Otago and saw a post on the WARNZ site about sending in a reader story, which inspired her to write a few words about her motorcycling journey…. hasn’t she written an great account of some fun adventures… thank you Nicole ♥
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