It's extremely difficult for you to predict the terrain you'll face whilst riding on our New Zealand mountain bike tours. Understanding what sort of trails you'll be mountain biking on is an important part of deciding which bike to bring with you and how to set it up for your ride. Choose a bike with too much travel and you'll suffer on the climbs. Stick the wrong tyres on and you'll find the rest of the tour racing ahead of you.
Which Wheel Size
A hot topic in the world of mountain biking at the moment is wheel size. Are 29 inch wheels superior to 27.5, or should we all have stayed riding 26 inch wheels. For riding in New Zealand, it really doesn't matter - you're not racing (well ok maybe you'll race the others for beers).
There's a real mix of terrain on each tour, slow and tight switchbacks, fast rocks descents, technical climbs and long ribbons of flowing singletrack to name but a few. The key thing to conquer all the trails and ride them fast isn't about wheel size, but more about the confidence you have in whatever wheels you are riding. In short, there is no perfect wheel size, bring what you have and what you feel comfortable riding.
How Much Suspension
Whichever mountain bike you decide to bring for you tour will need to be versatile. It'll need to be able to pedal uphill well on our longer backcountry rides and allow you to descend confidently over a mix fast, flowing and technical rocky & rooty singletrack. Sure, you could ride a hardtail, but you'll probably also want to bring a personal masseuse then too!
A bike with 110-150mm (4.5-6inches) of travel seems to hit the sweet spot for the mix of trails that we ride whilst on tour. 29ers generally sit at the lower end of the travel spectrum here with them becoming "too much bike" anywhere over the 140mm mark. Bikes with 27.5 or 26 inch wheels tend to ride the terrain better with a little more travel, around the 140-150mm region (5.5-6inches).
Of course you can go for more travel, bikes like the Giant Reign, Santa Cruz Nomad and Specialized Enduro are all popular choices for riders looking to maximize their fun on the descents. These bikes however tend to be a bit more cumbersome and energy sapping on the climbs.
With single ring drivetrains all the rage at the moment, it doesn't mean they're the perfect option for New Zealand's mountainous terrain. Whilst the latest Sram Eagle 12 speed is fantastic and has a huge spread of gears, it doesn't mean it's necessarily any better than a 10 or 11 speed setup with a granny ring.
Consider that on your New Zealand mountain bike tour you'll be riding everyday with anything between 800 to 1500m vertical ascent a day. That may sound fine as a one off, but remember you'll be riding up to 12 days in a row. At the end of a long tour your tired legs may well enjoy having a 2x setup with a granny ring to slowly winch up the hills. Afterall, it's not a race to the top.
Whilst there are some extremely long descents in New Zealand (anything up to 10km) they in general aren't the sort that will see you on the brakes non stop. The level of mountain bike trails you ride will dictate your braking needs - the grade 5 & 6 mtb trails are a lot steeper than the grade 3 & 4 mtb trails.
Whereas you'll be fine with 180mm rotors if you're intending to stick to trails at or below a grade 4 (advanced) level, if you're a rider who likes their trails a little steeper or may spend a bit of time in a bikepark whilst with us, it's worth looking into getting a 203mm rotor for the front at least.
The South Island is particularly rocky in comparison to the North, so a more robust tyre choice is key. We've had great success with the Maxxis EXO range, providing a strong enough sidewall and carcass to get through whole seasons without replacing a tyre or getting a puncture.
During peak summer season (Dec - Feb) a faster rolling pair of tyres will save you some energy on the climbs while still providing ample grip on the descents. Outside of this period, it's worth considering something slightly more aggressive to deal with any potential moisture you may encounter.
Our favourite summer combinations;
Maxxis Minion F, Maxxis Ardent/Agressor R
Maxxis High Roller 2 F, Maxxis Ardent/Agressor R
Schwalbe Hans Dampf F, Schwalbe Nobby Nic R
Our favourite spring & autumn combinations;
Maxxis Minion F&R
Maxxis High Roller 2 F&R
Schwalbe Hans Dampf F&R
Schwalbe Magic Mary F, Schwalbe Hans Dampf R
Aim for a tyre in the 2.3 - 2.5 inches wide category as this will provide plenty of volume to help you float over the rocks and roots. If you can run tubeless tyres, we highly recommend it.
The Perfect Mountain Bike?
While there will always be an argument that there's no such thing as the perfect mountain bike for all occasions, we've ridden a few that are pretty damn close. Bikes such as the Giant Trance, Santa Cruz Bronson & the Kona Process 153. Sure there's a whole heap more bikes out there, but we haven't ridden them so wouldn't like to blindly judge.
There's a common theme in that they all tend to be around 140-150mm travel, pedal well enough to be ridden all day and in-still confidence on fast technical descents due to their refined geometry. That's why our rental fleet is predominantly made up of the Giant Trance range and why they tend to be our guides bike of choice.
After reading all this, if you're still pondering which is the right mountain bike to bring for your New Zealand tour, please contact us and we'll happily give your our suggestions.