Chapter Two

Mountain biking in Dunedin

Mountain biking belongs to a genre of leisure activities that developed in the 1960s and 1970s. These activities, sometimes called adventure or extreme sports, include surfing, snowboarding, rock climbing, skateboarding and sky diving. Behind these sports were a new generation of youth. The cultural phenomenon of these new leisure forms served as a medium for collective representation. To provide a sound explanation for their development the social circumstances of the participants and the cultures in which they are brought up in are vital.(1)

Social dissatisfaction typified the early youth movement. This dissatisfaction expressed itself in a variety of forms including sport.(2) Student protests over the Vietnam War and the experimentation with recreational drugs also expressed youth aversion to social conditions. The predominate social mood for youth in the 1960s and 1970s is best described by hippie leader Jerry Rubin’s famous dictum: ‘people should do what ever the fuck they want’.(3) Youth no longer conformed to what was expected of them by their parents, they embraced what their peers saw as acceptable. Acceptable leisure practices included searching for the ultimate wave or using old bikes to hurtle down firebreaks. Youth no longer believed that competitive and institutionalised sports were the only way to enjoy physical leisure. An emphasis on fun had shifted sport’s focus from wining to personal growth. The movement rejected the unplayful, overly rationalised, technologised and bureaucratised world of traditional sport preferring activities that were free, fun, co-operative and individualistic.(4) Surfer’s ambivalence toward competition in early surfing culture highlighted the movement’s rejection of competition.(5)

Mountain biking has roots further back than this time of social revolution. In 1953, John Finley Scott built an off-road bicycle that looked remarkably similar to mountain bikes on the market today.(6) His bike design never took off. To grow mountain biking required the social circumstances of 1970s, which encouraged experimentation with new leisure forms. During this period a group of Californian bike enthusiasts launched the sport of mountain biking as we know it today. These pioneers took 1930s ‘Roadster’ bikes and modified them with motorcycle handlebars and levers, knobbly tyres, and gears. A race called the ‘Repack’, first held in 1976 with twelve competitors, provided the arena where these pioneers tested and improved their designs.(7) The name ‘Repack’ came from the internal hub brakes of these old bikes. With the speeds encountered the demand on these brakes was so great that riders found their back hubs smoking. At the end of each race these brakes needed to be ‘repacked’ with grease. The race had winners but no prizes were awarded. Charles Kelly, the race organiser, describes the event as a ‘pure form of athletic endeavour untainted by any commercial connection’.(8)

In 1979, Repack veterans Charles Kelly and Gary Fisher approached frame-builder Tom Ritchey. Together they produced and marketed the first commercial bike.(9) These original enthusiasts are still active in the mountain bike industry today. Gary Fisher, who held the course record for the Repack, turned his back yard tinkering into a major mountain bike manufacturer. Tom Ritchey developed his own mountain bike and frame building business. Joe Breeze, another Repack veteran, also produces bike frames and Charles Kelly is a writer for contemporary mountain bike magazines. The backgrounds of two of these pioneers reinforce the origin of mountain biking from the youth culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Fisher describes himself as an ex West Coast hippie and Kelly was a rock group roadie.(10) Fisher also has the distinction of his voice appearing on a 1970 Grateful Dead live album, a band with close ties to 1960s youth culture.(11)

Specialized Bicycle Imports marketed the first mass produced mountain bike. The Japanese-made ‘Stumpjumper’ was first manufactured in 1980 and based its design on the original Ritchey frame. Since then the mountain bike industry has become the domain of large multi-national corporations supplying a huge market worldwide. Capitalists began selling the values embodied in mountain biking that youth of the 1970s had developed back to the youth of the 1980s and 1990s.(12) Further, and much to the disgust of Charles Kelly, mountain biking has developed a world professional circuit and secured inclusion in the 1996 Olympic Games. Introduction into the Olympic movement has seen mountain biking complete the ultimate acid test of a ‘legitimate’ sport. Having investigated the origins of mountain biking, this discussion now turns to how the activity came to New Zealand.

A Revolution of Sorts: The Mountain Bike Invades New Zealand

This new form of recreation enjoyed rapid growth in New Zealand. In some regards the popularity of cross-country cycling may have been predicted given New Zealand’s abundance of suitable terrain. The way in which the mountain bike came to New Zealand is worth investigating, if not for completeness, but to also put into context the present day conflicts.

American cycle tourists were largely responsible for bringing these new bikes to New Zealand. Early tourists included a Repack veteran Joe Breeze, who in 1980 toured New Zealand with friend Steve Potts riding a pair of Breeze’s home-built bikes.(13) Many of the first mountain bikes came to New Zealand in this fashion. One of the first Kiwi-owned bikes provides an interesting example. While out riding in 1982, Brian Toggle met a foreign cycle tourist on a mountain bike.(14) On the spot he swapped his ultra expensive Klein road cycle for the strange looking bike. Another early participant is Keith McLeod. In 1984 McLeod built himself a mountain bike using a cycle set he brought back from America.(15) McLeod is described as a real ‘hang loose’ guy and into different sports for the sheer excitement. He reinforces the thrill seeking orientations of mountain bikers that were also present in the Californian pioneers. Also illustrating traits of the Repack veterans is Kiwi Paul Kennett. Kennett, who is still very active on the New Zealand mountain biking scene today, used to modify old bikes bought at Police auctions. With the assistance of his brother Simon, Paul Kennett destroyed these bikes at a fast rate of knots.(16) Kennet had to wait until 1984 for the opportunity to purchase one of the first fourteen imported mountain bikes.(17) Up until 1985, when New Zealand cycle manufacturer Morrison first produced the ‘Sidewinder’, all mountain bikes were either imported or constructed from other bikes. An early report in New Zealand Adventure views these new bikes with wonderment and highlights the excessive price of these machines. At that time bikes retailed in New Zealand for around $4000.(18)

The first national mountain bike race, held in 1986, attracted forty nine competitors. Organised by Paul Kennett this race is the premier mountain biking event in New Zealand. Now called the Karapoti Classic the race consistently fulfils the 1000 entry limit each year. In 1988 at the Christchurch national championships the number of competitors had increased to sixty. Participants in this race were described as not being out of place swinging from a rope half way up Mt Cook or sailing overhead in a hang glider - further emphasising the adventure culture of the activity.(19) Dan Van Asch, organiser of the 1988 national champs, predicted the sport would soon explode saying, ‘We have the numbers becoming interested so it is only a matter of time before the sport really takes off like it has in other countries’.(20) At that time New Zealand mountain bikers were reported to number no more than a few hundred.(21)

Relevant to this discussion is the formation of the national mountain bike association. Established after the third national championships in 1988, the founders dubbed the organisation NORBA NZ (National Off Road Bicycle Association of New Zealand). After NORBA NZ organised the first national championship series of five races in 1989 the name changed to the New Zealand Mountain Bike Association (NZMBA). This organisation has grown into the national planning and lobbying group for mountain bikers and became an incorporated society in 1992. The championship format has developed from one race to a series of races which determines the national champion. Separate series are held for the cross country and down hill disciplines. Mountain biking clubs receive a number of benefits from being affiliated to the national body. These include the right to hold a NZMBA sanctioned events with $1 000 000 liability insurance, newsletters, and ‘strength in numbers’ for lobbying relating to land access.

In 1994 the NZMBA saw fit to set up a sub-committee to deal specifically with land access issues around the country. The main focus for this sub-committee addressed access to the Heaphy track, described as ‘the pinnacle of back-country mountain biking’.(22) This sub committee has achieved some success. In 1996 DoC received 498 pro-mountain bike submissions to a management plan for Kahurangi National Park. This park encompasses the desirable Heaphy track and all other submissions totalled just 150.(23)

The New Zealand mountain biking market had become extremely diverse and segmented by 1989. Consumers could choose from twenty four brands and eighty two different models.(24) However, over the last four years mountain bike sales have been declining in NZ around at around 8-12% per annum.(25) This is representative of a mature market in that people who want bikes now already have them and the market functions on replacing old models. There is now also a second hand market that did not exist ten years ago.

Another indication that mountain biking has firmly established itself in New Zealand is the publication, now in its third edition, of a guide book called ‘Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides’. This book, first published in 1991 and written by Paul Kennett, Jonathan Kennett and Patrick Morgan, details over 300 mountain biking tracks throughout the country.(26) The first edition sold 5000 copies and subsequent editions have been printed in 1993 (6000 copies) and 1996 (6000 copies to date).(27) Further illustrating the significance of mountain biking in the era of the Internet is the number of times a web site, devoted to the activity in New Zealand, has been accessed. Called ‘The New Zealand Mountain Bike Website’, it received 4400 hits in 1996, 29 000 hits in 1997, and over 34 000 hits to date this year.(28) New Zealand has also hosted an international mountain biking event. Wellington hosted a race in the UCI World Mountain Bike Cup on Mt Victoria in 1997.

It is clear that mountain biking is an established and significant activity in New Zealand. The role of the NZMBA as a national advocate introduces the area of mountain bike politics. To contextualise the main topic of this study I will background the significance of mountain biking in Dunedin and investigate the politics of the local club.

Mountain biking in Dunedin

In the late 1980s mountain bikers appeared all over the country. Dunedin, with its mountainous geography so close to the city, had an environment conducive for mountain biking. The preference for a natural riding position and the power gearing of the mountain bikes, along with the new areas that could be cycled, were reasons early Dunedin participants became involved with mountain biking.(29) With the activity firmly established in Dunedin in the early 1990s, land controlling authorities found they had a new problem to deal with.

Both the DCC and DoC illustrated a reluctance to accommodate the new activity with both authorities endeavouring to stop mountain bike riders using tracks designed for walkers.(30) At this time Chris Stewart, DoC’s Dunedin field centre manager, believed that ‘most tracks in the Dunedin area were unsuitable for use by mountain bikes’.(31) The DCC and DoC considered only two tracks suitable for riding. Swampy Summit consists mostly of legal road anyway and Signal Hill is largely overgrown with scrub and has poorly maintained tracks. While these tracks were the only legitimate place for bikes according to the DCC and DoC they were not popular among riders. They preferred the Otago peninsula and nearby forests.(32) Trev Gerrish, who began riding in Dunedin in the late 1980s, summed up the problem as ‘a lack of sufficient, easily accessible areas with good terrain that can be legally used’.(33) The general public was provided with a different view on facilities for mountain bikes. A feature article that appeared in the Otago Daily Times in 1993 stated that ‘Dunedin is particularly well endowed with lots of wonderful places to ride close to the city…’.(34) Even though the article did not suggest where all these ‘wonderful places’ were it gave the impression that mountain bikers had plenty of quality tracks.

Mountain biking as an activity in Dunedin can perhaps best be explained by examining the dedicated individuals who formed the local club. Originally known as the Dunedin Mountain Bike Club this organisation is currently known as MountainBiking Otago.

MountainBiking Otago: History and Role as a Mountain Bike Advocate

A group of enthusiasts founded the Dunedin Mountain Bike Club in 1989. The initial publicity for the club promoted ‘getting out and about rather than just talking about it’ with meetings kept as informal as possible.(35) From the very start access to tracks, promoting good will with other track users, and safe riding were priorities for the club. Jenny Cooper, a founding member, expounded the virtues of the Dunedin surrounds as a perfect environment for using the new multi-geared, fat tired bikes. She urged riders to get out and enjoy it but cautioned them to ‘respect others, respect the land, and respect yourself’.(36) Right from the start the club recognised that members were not the only users of tracks and they should acknowledge other group’s interests. The club focused on organising recreational rides that in the early 1990s were staged fortnightly. With rising numbers the club introduced membership fees in 1990 of $10 for an individual, $5 for school students and $15 for a family or couple.(37) These fees were to cover trailer hire and other expenses.

Primarily the club organises weekly recreation rides and gets anywhere between five to twenty people along. Races are important for club members and it is at these events where they get large turnouts from mostly non-members. Even as early as 1990 a race attracted over seventy participants.(38) The club informs its members through a regular newsletter and has had a weekly column in a local newspaper, the Dunedin Star Midweek. This column first appeared in April 1989 and the two main authors have been Jenny Cooper (1989 to 1991) and Trev Gerrish (since 1991 to mid 1995). The club adopts a conciliatory nature when advocating on behalf of mountain bikers. A popular topic discussed in the newspaper column is places where mountain bikers shouldn’t cycle. One column warned against riding on walkways such as the Pineapple track.(39) Another cautioned that the police have the power to issue instant fines of up to $500 for mountain bikers caught in ‘no go’ areas.(40) Advocacy for other riders is important. Members promote the value of the club by saying, ‘without a local club to tackle these issues mountain biking in Otago will not continue with as much freedom as it does today’.(41) It is obvious in these reports that the club feared the closing of many track because of conflict with walkers. The club promoted tolerance to the rules imposed by the DCC and DoC believing that a creating a harmonious relationship with walkers would present them as responsible users worthy of their own tracks.

In 1992, the Dunedin Mountain Bike Club comprised about 60-70 members of which only 20-25 were active in club activities.(42) It has had as many as 120 members in 1995 but presently has only 57 financial members.(43) The recent decline in membership is attributed to lack of interest in organising events. Treasurer Pete McDonald laments that mountain bikers would rather be on their bikes than organising events.(44) The club believes it is representative of a greater number of local mountain bikers on issues such as access to land.(45) However, when complaints from irate joggers in Ross Creek were directed at the club, members distanced themselves replying that they ‘can’t be held responsible for behaviour of non-members’.(46) Jenny Cooper bemoaned that ‘because our club has a public profile and contact phone number we have had to carry the can for all mountain bike behaviour’.(47) On one hand the club disowns poorly behaved riders who bring the activity into disrepute and on the other believe that they represent these same riders in land access issues. In this case MountainBiking Otago manipulates its position to suit the preferences of its members.

On 13 September 1996, the club became an incorporated society officially known as MountainBiking Otago Inc. As part of incorporation the club had to produce a constitution. In this constitution the stated purpose of club is to promote and develop mountain biking as a recreational pursuit and competitive sport in the Otago region. The objectives are ‘to be a pro-active advocate for issues affecting recreational and competitive mountain bikers in Otago, in particular to work for improved land and trail access for mountain biking’ and ‘to promote responsible mountain biking and in particular, adherence to nationally recognised ‘Off Road Codes’ by all mountain bikers’.(48) What is clear in these stated objectives is the implied role of MountainBiking Otago in lobbying land authorities to provide better facilities for all mountain bikers. But land authorities have to deal with another significant user of tracks – walkers.

The Trouble With Walkers

Walkers are significant actors regarding mountain bike access to tracks. Dave Lovegrove, offers fellow club members strategies to negotiate good relationships with walkers.

The tracks are meant for walkers, but all the times that I have ridden on them, I have never come across any. I suppose I should say that you will need to keep a lookout for walkers at all times and give them right of way. A nice hello, or apology if you startle them will also go down well and distinguish us friendly [mountain bikers] from pretentious [road cyclists].(49)

Walkers are largely concerned about their own safety when they have to share tracks with speeding cyclists. Angry walkers have made public their contempt for mountain bikes in Dunedin’s local media. In one complaint, published in the Otago Daily Times, a walker retells an incident when she met riders on the Pineapple track. The writer describes how ‘several [bikers] were unable to stop and in trying to avoid us, ended up off their bikes in the bush’.(50) A reply from the DCC explains that signs, which are the main method for controlling mountain bikes, are continuously vandalised. The DCC found that enforcing compliance is difficult. Staff can not continuously monitor tracks and the DCC relied ‘to a large extent on the goodwill and common sense of mountain bike riders not to use walking tracks’.(51) Indeed the DCC has not charged any mountain biker with illegally riding on walking tracks. A DCC by-law pertaining to the use of reserves specifically excludes vehicles.(52) This includes mountain bikes as cycles are defined as vehicles under the 1960 Transportation Act.

Walkers often use isolated incidents of near accidents to highlight the illegitimacy of bikes on walking tracks. For example, a local walking guide book outlines how a ‘particularly bad incident occurred on the Pineapple track when a mountain bike nearly ran over a jogging police constable’.(53) To counter these suggestions the club believes that promoting mountain bikers as a responsible group of users will result in better facilities. In 1990, a piece written by club representatives appeared in the Dunedin Star Midweek.

In consideration of others enjoyment of the bush, pick your time when you ride on tracks – on a rainy evening when everyone else is home having dinner you should be pretty right, but we recommend that you DON’T ride on popular walking tracks even if there is no specific rule saying you can’t. The Pineapple track comes into this category; walkers are understandably getting annoyed by inconsiderate behaviour from riders. Don’t jeopardise access by behaving selfishly and dangerously. Join the club and get information about all the other areas you can enjoy.(54)

Commenting on riders who disregard prohibited tracks Mark Tyrrell, a club member, suggests that ‘you are always going to have that 5% who are just idiots and who ruin everything the club sets out to achieve’.(55)

A mountain biking advocate suggests that retaining and increasing land access, and improving the facilities at existing riding places should be the first priority of any mountain bike club.(56) The following section analyses how effective MountainBiking Otago has been in achieving these objectives.

Lobbying Land Authorities

Members have been eager to work with DoC and DCC to provide quality tracks for mountain biking ever since the club’s inception. Representatives from both authorities have attended club meetings from 1990 and expressed eagerness to provide an area where cross-country cycling is enjoyed legitimately.(57) MountainBiking Otago believes that both DoC and DCC ‘regard mountain biking as a legitimate recreational activity’.(58) This belief has changed over the years. Now club representatives have expressed the DCC has a ‘walkers mentality’.(59) Early frustrations with lack of action by the DCC led club member Craig McNab to warn the public that ‘if people do not move to help they will be overwhelmed’.(60) The question is whether the well meaning intentions of the DCC are reciprocated with action.

Completing formal submissions to various DCC policies typifies MountainBiking Otago’s strategy for improving land access. For example, in 1993 a submission to the DCC Recreation Strategy requested the opening of new tracks and the continuing maintenance of Signal Hill for mountain bikers. The author, Trev Gerrish, pointed out that the club had put some effort into maintaining this area and that these efforts should be reciprocated by the DCC.(61) The club agreed with the DCC’s desire for other reserves to be kept free from mountain bikes but suggested that prohibited areas such as Ross Creek and Bethunes Gully, which appealed to mountain bikers, would be difficult to police.

In a request for access to Flagstaff forest the club adopted a similar process with letters written and formal submissions made. The forest, the premier are for mountain biking in Dunedin, is used regularly and has been the setting for a number of races, including the South Island championships. The area is operated by City Forests Ltd which is a Local Authority Trading Enterprise (LATE) owned by the DCC. LATEs are similar to State Owned Enterprises in that while the public owns them they are managed as a commercial enterprise required to return a profit back to the public. To access this area riders require written permission one week before use. This works well when club rides and races are held in the forest but does not address causal use for recreational riders. Causal riders do not go to the trouble of getting written permission.

A club submission to the 1994/1995 DCC annual plan requested recognition of the recreational use value of Flagstaff Forest. The club felt that mountain bikers, as ratepayers, have a right to access resources owned by the DCC and its subsidiary companies.(62) After this submission had been lodged City Forests requested the club to respect their wishes and not ride during weekdays when they are logging.(63) Again, this process of letter writing did not produce any considerable advances in the quality of access to this desirable mountain biking area.

The DCC is not the sole provider of tracks in the Dunedin area. DoC administers a number of reserves close to the city and works with the DCC ‘to improve land and trail access’.(64) In 1990 club members had their first formal meeting with a DoC representative who suggested the production of a leaflet detailing local tracks on DoC land.(65) This has not yet been produced. To promote its case with DoC the club employed the same letter writing approach it had used with the DCC. The submission to the Conservation Management Strategy in 1993 states that ‘attempts to ban mountain biking from all DoC estates is unlikely to be successful now that the sport has become so widespread’ and that ‘the mountain bike … [should] be given separate consideration with regards to access to conservation land’.(66) One method the club suggests for controlling mountain biking is the use of signs informing riders if access is prohibited.

In 1993, the club again prepared a written submission to DoC regarding the draft Otago Recreation Strategy. The club recognised DoC’s effort in providing some requirements for Dunedin’s increasing mountain biking population and believed that this strategy appeared mountain biker friendly.(67) In 1995 yet another submission, this time to the Visitor Strategy Discussion Document, called for DoC to ‘recognise mountain bikers as valid visitors to the conservation estate’.(68) The club promoted mountain bikes as a ‘low impact, non-motorised form of transport’ and should be ‘entitled to access to at least some of these areas’.(69)

MountainBiking Otago has recognised the importance of the national debate regarding access to national parks by mountain bikes. The club interpreted the closing of the Heaphy Track in Nelson, described as the ‘Milford track’ for mountain bikers, as threatening access to tracks closer to home.(70) The club realised that only a few irresponsible riders were needed to justify the closure of tracks to trampers who then actively lobbied a sympathetic DoC. In defence of mountain biking Karl Larsen, a club member, said that ‘this minority group of trampers don’t understand that we too as mountain bikers appreciate the environment, views and the conservation of tracks’.(71)

MountainBiking Otago believes in the importance of numbers for successful lobbying. Mike Anderson, the club president, explains that the ‘more members we have the better bargaining power we have with DoC and DCC regarding land access and funding’.(72) In a bid for better quality tracks MountainBiking Otago have used the acceptable channels of letter writing and making submissions to policy for both the DCC and DoC. This method has not produced any significant results since the club’s inception in 1989. They only worthwhile project the DCC has completed for mountain bikers is to produce a brochure identifying appropriate areas for mountain biking. But this brochure only tells riders which walking tracks they are permitted on and is as much for the appeasement of walkers as for mountain bikers. In one area the club has gone beyond letter writing in a bid for better tracks. The battle for Signal Hill demonstrates the problems the club has with the DCC.

The Battle for Signal Hill

Within the club’s first year of existence the quality of mountain biking facilities became a prominent topic for discussion. In 1990 Jenny Cooper suggested the development of a ‘mountain bikes only’ track with the possibility of club members being involved in the planning and maintenance.(73) This is not such an outrageous idea considering the vast number of tracks walkers can choose from including the Botanical Gardens, Ross creek and Bethunes gully. Identified as an obvious site for this development was Signal Hill, a reserve situated at the northern end of the city within close proximity to the University.

Signal Hill’s potential for a developed mountain biking area has been suggested since 1990. At that time both DoC and the DCC were working together to provide alternative areas for mountain biking and the club had the impression that Signal Hill would be developed as riding territory. In talking with adjacent landowners the DCC hoped further access, over private land and by utilising paper roads, would extend existing tracks to link up with Ravensbourne and North East valley.(74) Though members have negotiated the use of private land to access top sections of Signal Hill the original suggestion for wholesale development has not yet come to fruition.(75)

To access the bottom of the Signal Hill track riders must cycle through Logan Park High School. In 1989 the school banned riders as the grounds were being misused.(76) The school rescinded this decision and in 1990 held a meeting to discuss mountain bike use of Signal Hill. In attendance were the Principal and groundsman of Logan Park High School, representatives from both DCC and DoC, and club members.(77) The club was informed at this meeting that access to the bottom of Signal Hill depended on the goodwill of the school and some riders were jeopardising this with inconsiderate behaviour.(78) To illustrate the club’s goodwill, members arranged working parties to maintain tracks. While not a regular occurrence, members have spent a number of days maintaining the Signal Hill track.(79) In 1991 further complaints from the School led to a warning.(80) Riders were using fire hoses to wash mud off their bikes in the school grounds. If this continued access to Signal Hill through school grounds would again be under review.

Even DoC staff recognised the value of purpose built mountain bike tracks. Chris Stewart, the Department’s Dunedin field centre manager, recognised this type of facility’s potential for alleviating conflict problems in 1992.(81) DoC staff suggested that the club should contemplate the possibility of building their own tracks in much the same way as the original walkers and trampers.(82) The club had previously investigated this option and publicly advertised for anyone with a disused piece of land willing to make it available for the club to construct tracks.(83) No response came from this request.

The DCC arranged a meeting in 1993 with representatives from MountainBiking Otago, the DCC and DoC to identify areas where mountain biking could be encouraged.(84) As a result of this meeting the Signal Hill area was given the highest priority for development. This decision was based on its closeness to the city and the potential to extend the current mountain bike area by making additional tracks. Frustrated by lack of action club members, on their own initiative, prepared a five page proposal outlining potential development for the area in 1995. This proposal, presented to Richard Benson (Recreation Officer) and Annie Dignan (Outdoor Education Co-ordinator) of the DCC, suggested the construction of a dual slalom and a trials course on Signal Hill.(85) While these courses would be used mainly for competitive events the club showed it was prepared to do more than just write letters in an attempt to get appropriate facilities. Promoting the development of specific facilities might get the DCC to construct recreational tracks as well. Even before DCC staff saw this proposal, the club sought $1500 from the charity fund of a local hotel for the upgrading and maintenance of the Signal Hill area. The request detailed how ‘the track is in many places unrideable at the moment especially for inexperienced riders, making it in places dangerous’.(86) This request remains unfulfilled.

The proposal described Signal Hill as having enormous potential for riding due to its proximity to the city, varied terrain, access and parking. The club appealed to the DCC:

As a civic-minded group, the mountain bikers are keen to avoid the skateboarding controversy where the growth of the sport and lack of venues led to riders using the Octagon to satisfy their recreational needs…Riders could enjoy their sport in a suitable environment for mountain bike activity, while the wider community would benefit by discouraging illegal trail use and the accompanying potential for trail damage and user conflict.(87)

After the proposal had been presented, staff claimed it needed further information. The DCC wanted background information, a detailed project description with costing, alternatives, and maintenance details. This requested information was quite specific. For example, staff wanted details of water runoff and engineering information concerning the depth of the track surface. This information was beyond the capabilities of club members. Lack of detail was not the only deficiency staff had with this proposal. They suggested that a ‘united front be formed, consisting of an amalgamation of local clubs and others willing to support the cause’ because ‘such support by the mountain biking community would be looked upon favourably by Council’.(88) Not only did the club have to come up with detailed engineering information about the construction of the track they also had to organise a large lobby group. If club members thought they had initiated an effective project which staff would then take over they soon realised this mistaken assumption. MountainBiking Otago did not obtain the information required by the DCC and the proposal was left to gather dust in club archives.

The current standard of tracks on Signal Hill is unacceptable to many riders. In 1997, the DCC conducted a user survey of a number of tracks including Signal Hill. This survey had flawed methodology with the site only visited twelve times for half a day. This resulted in a sample size of only thirty, with eight respondents identifying themselves as cyclists.(89) Even with this small sample size, user attitude towards the tracks was clear. When asked what they did not like about the reserve, seventeen out of the thirty respondents identified the poor condition of the tracks. A further eleven respondents did not like the amount of gorse growing on tracks. When asked what developments they would like to see twenty two respondents (almost three quarters) wanted the tracks improved. Even though cyclists accounted for only one quarter of the sample size it is likely that the poor condition of tracks kept riders away. This survey, while limited, clearly shows the majority of users dissatisfied with tracks. The DCC shouldn’t need any more evidence to show that action is required.

It has been patently obvious that requests to develop Signal Hill have met with a reluctant DCC. One possible explanation for this reluctance is zoning constraints. Local governments have a legal obligation to provide District Plans that determine how land can be used. It would be understandable if the DCC was restricted by legal planning constraints. In the DCC’s district plan the entire Signal Hill area is zoned as ‘rural’. Policy 3.3.3 of this plan states that rural areas can ‘allow the establishment of activities that are complementary to rural resources’.(90) Outlined in the explanation to this rule is that certain activities may be appropriate in the rural area because they provide for the well being of the people. This includes community recreation. Clearly, a mountain biking facility on this area can not be ruled out due to zoning restrictions.

Unwillingness by the DCC to spend money on a mountain biking facility is also obvious. The club has itself tried to raise funds for development. It has approached the Hillary Commission, Trust Bank Otago and Lottery Grants Board for money and all three indicated that the project would be eligible for funding.(91) The club treasurer, Pete McDonald, even suggested that the $3000 profit from hosting the 1996 Naseby National Round Event should be spent on developing Signal Hill.(92) But even this willingness for the club to spend it’s own money on developing what will become a public facility has been overshadowed by a greater threat - the proposed Signal Hill Arboretum.

In September 1998, a fifty page proposal for the development of an arboretum on Signal Hill was presented to the Community Development Committee, a sub-committee of the full Council.(93) An arboretum is a collection of trees growing in a natural park situation. This proposal, put forward by Rodney and Caroline Hogg, would not require any direct funds from the DCC and would take around twenty to thirty years to become fully established. The Hogg’s are asking the DCC for Signal Hill to be gifted to a community trust, yet to be set up, to run the arboretum. Finance would come from the creation of this community trust and also through an application to a government fund for Millennium projects. They already have organised support. The Botanical Gardens management, the University of Otago Botany department and Palmers Quarry, endorses the project. It is a lifetime goal for the Hogg’s to build an arboretum and their involvement is dependent on Council accepting them as project managers. Also conditional for the Hogg’s is DCC consent to build a ‘caretakers’ house on site for them to live. The Hogg’s explain that they will build the arboretum at their expense and see a suitable house site as remuneration. This house would no doubt be situated to take full advantage of the breathtaking views of the Otago harbour and surrounding city.

This proposal had an enthusiastic reception with councillors. It is politically attractive as it would not cost the city ratepayers large sums of money and would result in a potential tourism attraction. The project even suggested the construction of a cable car to the top of the hill. For mountain bikers the ramifications are unclear. The proposal includes the construction of a cycle track. However, the reason for developing cycle tracks on Signal Hill was because walkers did not use it. The construction of a botanical garden like arboretum would defeat the purpose of cycle tracks as the area would be just as attractive to walkers.

The Community Development Committee approved this proposal in principle.(94) The Hogg’s required this approval so they could apply for government money from the Millennium fund. Also passed was the creation of a working group of staff and elected representative. The mission for this group is to examine the feasibility of the project and to explore options for implementation. What is clear is that this project is desirable for politicians. The future of Signal Hill for mountain biking still remains uncertain.


(1) E Dunning, ‘Sport in the Civilising Process: Aspects of the development of modern sport’, in E G Dunning, J A Maguire and R E Pearton, (Eds.), The Sports Process: A Comparative and Developmental Approach, Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, Il, 1993, pp. 39-71.

(2) D Humphreys, ‘Snowboarders: Bodies out of control and in conflict’, Sporting Traditions, vol. 13, no. 1, 1996, pp. 3-23.

(3) J Clarke, S Hall, T Jefferson and B Roberts, ‘Subcultures, cultures and class’, in S Hall and T Jefferson, (Eds.), Resistance Through Rituals, Hutchinson, London, 1976, p61.

(4) D Humphreys, Boarders, Punks and Ravers: An Introduction to the History of Commercialised Rebellion, Master of Physical Education, University of Otago, Dunedin, 1998.

(5) D Booth, ‘Ambiguities in pleasure and discipline: The development of competitive surfing’, Journal of Sport History, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995, pp 189-206.

(6) C Kelly, ‘The vanguard: ATBs and their dedicated, imaginative band of California builders’, Bicycling, 1985, pp. 126-139.

(7) Kelly and Crane, Richard’s Mountain Bike Book.

(8) Kelly and Crane, Richard’s Mountain Bike Book, p21.

(9) Martin, ‘Mountain biking turns 10’.

(10) Television programme, PBS, Bicycles, aired January 1992.

(11) ‘Spoke X’, Bike, vol. 5, no. 5, June 1998, p 28.

(12) Two studies by Duncan Humphreys offer an excellent explanation on the commodification of youth culture as it relates to snowboarding. See D Humphreys, 'Snowboarders: Bodies out of control and in conflict'; D Humphreys, Boarders, Punks and Ravers: An Introduction to the History of Commercialised Rebellion.

(13) Kelly, ‘The vanguard’.

(14) Personal communication, J Kennett (Mountain bike author), 17 August 1998.

(15) J Durning, ‘The 1988 National Mountain Bike championships’, New Zealand Adventure, June/July 1988, p51.

(16) Personal communication, Kennett.

(17) Personal communication, Kennett.

(18) M Parakoti-Lewis, ‘Off-road equipment’, New Zealand Adventure, April/May 1988, p11.

(19) Durning, ‘The 1988 National Mountain Bike championships’.

(20) Durning, ‘The 1988 National Mountain Bike championships’.

(21) N Coventry, ‘Pedal Extremities’, PacificWay, April 1988, p 66-7.

(22) ‘Land access’, Planet Dirt (NZMBA Newsletter), May 1994.

(23) ‘Mountain Bikers overwhelm DoC with Kahurangi submissions’, Planet Dirt (NZMBA Newsletter), November 1996.

(24) ‘Mountainbike buyers’ guide’, Adventure Mountain Biking (New Zealand Adventure supplement), August 1989, pp. 22-25.

(25) Person communication, T Smith (Sales and Marketing Manager, Sheppard Industries Limited), 6 April 1998.

(26) P Kennett, S Kennett and J Kennett, Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides, The Kennett Bro's, Wellington, 1993.

(27) Personal communication, Kennett.

(28) Personal communication, Kennett. This site can be accessed at

(29) ‘On your bikes!’, Otago Daily Times, 18 July 1990.

(30) ‘Mountain bikes on walkways concern’, Otago Daily Times, 7 June 1990.

(31) ‘Mountain bikes on walkways concern’, Otago Daily Times.

(32) ‘Dunedin riders active in club’, Adventure Mountain Biking (New Zealand Adventure supplement), October/November 1990, p77.

(33) ‘Problems with mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 27 May 1992.

(34) ‘Go mountain biking this summer’, Otago Daily Times, 30 December 1993.

(35) ‘Mountain bike club active’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 19 April 1989.

(36) ‘Mountain bike club active’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 19 April 1989.

(37) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 28 February 1990.

(38) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 24 October 1990.

(39) ‘Mountain Bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 24 April 1990.

(40) ‘Mountain Bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 29 July 1992.

(41) ‘Mountain bike club meeting’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 21 June 1995.

(42) Letter, T Gerrish (President DMBC) to Cycling Magazine New Zealand, 27 October 1992.

(43) Personal communication, P McDonald (Treasurer, MountainBiking Otago), 24 August 1998.

(44) Personal communication, McDonald, 24 August 1998.

(45) Letter, T Gerrish (President DMBC) to J Connell (Regional Conservator, DOC), 12 February 1993.

(46) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 26 March 1991.

(47) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 20 June 1990.

(48) Constitution and Rules of MountainBiking Otago Inc, 13 September 1996.

(49) D Lovegrove, ‘Berwick Forest foray’, Fat Chat, August 1995.

(50) ‘Pineapple Track’, Otago Daily Times, 9 September 1996.

(51) ‘Pineapple Track’, Otago Daily Times.

(52) City of Dunedin by-laws, Part 10 - Reserves, 10.3 Vehicles and horses in reserves.

(53) G Bishop and A Hamel, From Sea to Silver Peaks, Silver Peaks Press, Dunedin, 1997.

(54) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 7 March 1990.

(55) ‘Mountain bikes on walkways concern’, Otago Daily Times.

(56) D Deacon, ‘What mountain bikers want’, online at

(57) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 4 July 1990.

(58) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 13 June 1990.

(59) Personal communication, Mike Anderson (President of MountainBiking Otago), 20 September 1997.

(60) ‘Problems with mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek.

(61) Letter, T Gerrish (President, Dunedin Mountain Bike Club) to J MacKay (Community Advisor, DCC), 7 May 1993.

(62) Letter, T Gerrish (Dunedin Mountain Bike Club) to Chief Executive (DCC), 14 April 1994.

(63) ‘Mountain Bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 18 May 1994.

(64) Letter, C Stewart (Dunedin Field Centre Manager, DOC) to P McDonald (Treasurer, Dunedin Mountain Bike Club), 30 July 1996.

(65) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 4 July 1990.

(66) Letter, Gerrish to Connell.

(67) Letter, T Gerrish (President DMBC) to O Graham (Regional Conservator, DOC), 13 May 1993.

(68) Letter, T Gerrish (Liaison Officer, Dunedin Mountain Bike Club) to the Director, Visitor Services Division (DOC), 12 January 1995.

(69) Letter, Gerrish to the Director, Visitor Services Division (DOC).

(70) ‘Heaphy Track closing to mountain bikers’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 14 June 1995.

(71) ‘Heaphy Track closing to mountain bikers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.

(72) M Anderson, ‘The ‘New’ Presidents report’, Fat Chat, 1994. Fat Chat is the Dunedin Mountain Biking Club’s regular newsletter sent to members.

(73) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 27 June 1990.

(74) ‘On your bikes!’, Otago Daily Times.

(75) In early reports the club acknowledged Jo and Bertie Court for allowing access over their land; ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 4 March 1992.

(76) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 13 September 1989.

(77) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 1 August 1990.

(78) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 1 August 1990.

(79) Columns that have reported track work are: ‘Mountain Bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 21 November 1990; ‘Mountain Bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 3 March 1993; ‘Naesby Forest for mountain bike event’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 28 September 1994;

(80) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 17 July 1991.

(81) ‘Problems with mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek.

(82) Letter, Stewart to McDonald.

(83) ‘Mountain bikers tackle summit’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 28 June 1995.

(84) DCC, Meeting notes, Parks and Recreation Department, 25 November 1993.

(85) DMBC, Signal Hill Proposal, presented to DCC on 27 July 1995.

(86) Letter, R Fleck (Secretary, DMBC) and W Jordan (President, DMBC) to Captain Cook Hotel, 20 July 1995.

(87) DMBC, Signal Hill Proposal.

(88) DMBC, Signal Hill Proposal.

(89) DCC, Dunedin 1997 Summer Recreation Visitor Survey, 1997.

(90) DCC, Proposed District Plan, 24 July 1995.

(91) Mountain Biking Otago, meeting notes, 10 March 1997.

(92) P McDonald, Treasurer’s report to Annual General Meeting of Mountain Biking Otago, 23 April 1997.

(93) DCC, Agenda for a meeting of the Community Development Committee, 8 September 1998.

(94) DCC, Minutes from a meeting of the Community Development Committee, 8 September 1998.