Electric bikes in the Hawkes Bay, 2016
After nearly two years of using our electric bikes almost entirely for commuting, I decided it was time to use them for what I intended them for – riding for fun and pleasure.
We normally take some sort of break around the Winter Solstice (June 21st) and this year we decided to close the shop and travel to the Hawke’s Bay area of New Zealand and have a few days relaxation. We travelled to Napier in February for the Art Deco weekend. We went on a vintage railway excursion by Steam Incorporated. Four hours each way by train, and a few hours in Napier made for a long but great day.
While traveling the Hastings and Napier area on the train, we noticed some great cycle paths along side the railway line, and also along the stop banks of the regions many rivers and streams. In Napier we saw many people enjoying the Marine Esplanade on hire bikes too. We had intended to hire bikes for the day, but we ran out of time after visiting the National Aquarium.
What we did do is get some details of the regions cycle trails and cycle paths, and realised that the Hawke’s Bay has over 200 kms of actual cycle trails, and many more of cycle friendly roads with excellent cycle lanes and/or shared pathways. We also realised we were going to have to come back and explore them.
Saturday morning (19th June) we loaded up the car, strapped the bikes on the back, and enjoyed a great drive to Hastings. We stopped in Greytown in the Wairarapa at the French Baker cafe for coffee and a sandwich. Always an excellent place to stop, wonderful coffee, superb food and great service.
We stayed at the Hastings Top Ten holiday park, in one of their deluxe apartments which was very comfortable and being mid-winter, incredibly quiet most of the time. That evening we went to an Indian restaurant called Bollywood Stars, where the food was much better than the somewhat tacky name suggested it might be!
With three days cycling planned, namely a trip to Napier, a trip to Clifton on the coast, and a trip to Puketapu inland from Napier, it was always going to be a busy three days. It got even busier!
Day one, I prepared the bikes, we put stuff in the panniers, and just before we set off, Lynn’s bike fell over, landed on its right hand pannier (which is solid plastic with 4 kilos of batteries in it) which then proceeded to break the pannier rack mounts! The rack was unrepairable (the rack was already held together with hose clips, 12 gauge wire and sundry bolts and screws) so we tried to find an open bike shop to buy a new rack. A winters Sunday morning in Hastings is not the best time to go shopping for bike parts. So no joy replacing the rack.
Lynn decided she would do the day without the batteries, so I took the remains of the rack off her bike, tied up the loose cables etc, and we set off. In order to make the ride sociable, even though my battery was OK, I switched off the electric power, and joined Lynn in a normal bike ride! Luckily most of the Hawke’s Bay is as flat as a pancake, so 33kg of e-bike rolls quite nicely even under just pedal power.
Our first stop is the Farmers Market which is held every Sunday at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds, just a few kms gentle riding on quiet Sunday roads (Grove Rd and Karamu Rd to be exact). While there was some produce for sale there, most of the stalls seemed to be selling coffee (locally roasted), burgers, paella, and many other hot, aromatic food to tempt Sunday morning shoppers. We had a coffee and a small snack, and bought a baguette loaf, some chilli and apple jelly, some beautiful local Camembert, and a sheep’s milk blue cheese. This was carefully stowed in my panniers to have later as a picnic. We also bought some fresh pasta and a pasta sauce (all locally made) for our evening meal.
Back on the road again, and almost immediately off it onto the Hastings iWay Loop which follows the Hastings Napier Railway line through some scenic and not so scenic areas (industrial areas, dairy processing plants, fruit packing warehouses etc). After a while it leaves the railway line and becomes a shared pathway through Whakato, before joining our first riverside path to take us most of the way to Clive. Clive is on the busy SH2 road, and while there is a shared pathway and a cycle lane, it is not a pleasant place to cycle! However, leaving Clive we crossed the Clive river on a dedicated cycleway bridge along side the main road, at the end of which we ducked under the bridge to join the coastal trails on which we would stay most of the way to Napier. Beautifully smooth, flat limestone sand tracks meander through coastal wetlands, dunes etc, and even with the power switched off, the riding was a bit special.
After a couple of kms, we briefly joined SH2 again to cross the estuary of the Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri rivers, but again on a pathway dedicated to pedestrians and cycles along side the main bridge. More riding through coastal wetlands took us to the Marine Esplanade for the 10km ride to Napier. By the time we got to Napier, after 24km of riding, we were starting to feel it a bit, but felt remarkably good, this was easier than we thought!
We had our picnic lunch, popped into the Ocean Spa cafe for a cup of tea and an icecream, then meandered through Napier looking for an open bike shop – no joy here either! Napier is a lovely place, but major road works through the centre made it difficult to get anywhere on the bikes, so we gave up and started back to Hastings.
Now we understood why it had seemed to easy on the way to Napier – we had had a very slight tail wind from the south and west all the way! So going back down the coast was against the wind all the way. In solidarity with battery-less Lynn, I avoided using power all the way down to the estuary crossing. Here we decided on a different route home, and turned west up the south bank of the Ngaruroro river, mostly on stop banks which headed, you got it, south and west straight into the headwind. With 6 or 7 kms of this to do, I persisted until the 33kgs of bike really started to irritate me, and decided to use the power.
However, being the gentleman, Lynn and I learned about “drafting” as used by Peleton riders in cycle racing. I kept my speed down, and Lynn positioned herself behind and to one side to find the sweet spot where wind resistance was minimal. In this way we did about 3kms until the path dropped down into the lee of the stop bank, where we reverted to unassisted riding.
At Pakowhai reserve we turned off the riverside path and headed south on Ruahapia Road back to the railway line path at Otene Rd, and cycled the last few kms back to the Holiday park.
Total kms about 47, in Lynn’s case all unassisted, in my case with about 4kms of assistance (but my bike weighed another 8 kgs more than Lynn’s because of the batteries!).
Lovely pasta and sauce for tea, a trip to the supermarket to shop a bit, and back to the apartment to sleep the sleep of the just!
Day 2 started a bit colder, so we spent the first part of the day looking for a bike rack for Lynn. As well documented in previous posts, Lynn’s bike is a particularly awkward shape, and we have tried two racks on it so far, neither of which fitted without major modification. We tried Bike Barn and Avanti Plus shops, but while the staff were friendly and helpful, we knew the sort of stock they held, and were fairly certain that they would have nothing we could use. I had a limited tool kit in the car, so major modifications were not an option. Our third call was to The Hub Cycle Centre in Heretaunga Street, which looked a little more independent. They only had two racks available, the first was cheap, basic, steel, and completely unsuitable. The second was light alloy with some very unusual dimensions and fittings, the Streamliner Disc DLX from a brand called Axiom. The fittings meant that it would fit a bike with disk brakes (which we don’t have) but this was done by moving the racks vertical bars back 50mm or so from the wheel centre, rather than outwards which most disk brake mounts for racks do. Along with some very long front mount bars, it gave some flexibilty which meant we could possibly make it work on the bike.
Back at the campsite, I struggled with my available tools, and I could not make it fit straight out of the packaging. By using some of the fittings from the modified broken rack which were already tailored to the bike, I was able to cobble together a rack that fitted and worked. A bit of adjustment of mudguards in the first few kms, and a slightly short bolt coming out a few kms before the end of the day were the only problems we had. Since getting the bike home, I have fitted the rack correctly, sort of. I used all the provided parts, I just had to turn a couple around 180 degrees, and the plates that attach to the drop outs had to be filed very slightly so they didn’t interfere with the oversize wheel nuts used on the electric motor axle.
So we set out on our second day a couple of hours late, with a little trepidation given the new set up. We decided that we would ride “mixed mode” – using power on any roads, and any hills, but cycling unassisted on shared pathways and cycle paths. So we headed off south this time, down Ada St and onto Crosses Rd to take us down to Havelock North. This once sleepy little country town (25 years ago when we first visited) is now a bustling suburb, with shops, many new housing areas, roundabouts, bypasses and all sorts. Fortunately it is also a cycling haven with dedicated pathways, bridges and cycle lanes where needed. We went around the north of the town and headed past the honey shop on Arataki Rd, and then headed east towards the Tuki Tuki River on Te Mata Rd and then River Rd. On the way we stopped at Te Mata Vineyards Cafe, for a cheese scone and a coffee.
At the end of River Rd, we turned north onto a rather scenic riverbank trail, which meanders through woodland for a while, then climbs onto the stop bank for the next 6 or 7 kms. We turned the power off here and enjoyed the scenery, between the river and the many orchards along the river side.
Our next decision point was Black Bridge on Mill Rd. Our original plan was to cycle to Clifton, but this was another 18-20kms round trip, mostly on roads. As we had started our day late, we decided to give it a miss, and instead headed for Clive again, continuing on the riverside trail across the road. This took us through the East Clive Wetlands. On one small clump of reeds we saw a Royal Spoonbill (Kotuku Ngapapa?), a Shag and some nondescript duck like water fowl resting between feeding, with many other water birds in the wetland around them. We stopped for some photographs of the wetlands and Cape Kidnappers beyond, and had a snack too!
The rest of the trail into Clive was a great coastland track, well made and easy to ride. At Clive we stopped for a pot of tea at the Clive Bakery Cafe. Basic but adequate fare! The straightforward way back was along the river and rail side trail we used the day before, but we decided to ride down Mill Road to Black Bridge, and from there go back using the same route we had used in the morning. So power on for the road section, going the length of Mill Rd in a few minutes!
Back onto the riverbank for another 6km without power, and then back onto River Rd and Te Mata Rd for the trip under power back to Havelock North. As we needed to visit a bicycle shop again (to buy a second floor pump to keep at the shop) we went back through Havelock North town centre. This was not a pleasant experience, it was school finishing time, and the town was full of four wheel drives parking and turning randomly! As quick as we could be got out of there, and back onto cycle ways and quiet roads, and arrived back at the Holiday Park at about 4 p.m. Total kilometers about 48 again, but about 15 to 20 of these were assisted, making the day much easier. Total recharge time about an hour, so less than 1/4 charge used in the batteries.
Day 3 – nothing to stop us starting early today, except our lazy lie in! A big day planned today, all the way up the Tutaekuri river to Puketapu. First we retraced our route to Pakowhai Country Park along the railside path and then on the Ruahapia Road. Once again we had decided on mixed mode, so the road sections were quick and easy. At Pakowhai Country Park we had to join Pakowhai Rd to cross the Ngaruroro river. Unlike almost every other bridge and road in the Hawke’s Bay, this is a long, narrow bridge with no footpaths, cycleways, passing places or anything to make you feel safe. So we upped the power settings to maximum, pedaled like crazy and crossed the bridge at 35kph! Hawke’s Bay drivers are amazingly good though, for the most part they seem to be courteous, careful and safe around cyclists, and on the bridge was no exception.
Immediately over the bridge, we turned right onto Gilbertson Rd, and then after a few kms right again onto Brookfield Rd, where we came to a long single lane bridge across the Tutaekuri river. We timed our crossing carefully, raised the power to max and safely crossed the river. Somewhere on Gilbertson Rd, my Odometer clicked over to 6000km, so a photo stop was necessary. About 2kms later my cycle computer failed!
We rode along the north side (true left) of the Tutaekuri River, on stop banks through Taradale, and then more varied riverside trails to Puketapu. We thought it was quite scenic at the time, but we hadn’t seen the other side of the river! Puketapu has a pub and restaurant called imaginatively the Puketapu Tavern, or “The Puketapu” for short. Lynn had a vegetarian burger (haloumi cheese and avocado with a variety of other nice ingredients) while I had an Alpaca burger with blue cheese sauce. Nice pub fare, coffee was hot and tasty if not particularly special.
We headed out of Puketapu via Vicarage Rd, crossed a one lane bridge, and turned south onto the true right bank of the river. At this point we rode into the most scenic cycle paths we had seen for quite a while. The trees were in full autumn colours, the limesand cycle path was almost invisible under the leaves as it meandered between the trees on the river bank, with low cliffs on the right.
Unfortunately it only lasted like this for a kilometer or so, and soon we were back on farmland cycle paths, stop banks and views of vineyards and orchards. This took us back to the Gloucester St bridge, where we crossed back onto the north side of the river (on a shared path – a bit narrow but it kept us off the road). We rode back down the north side of the river until the Brookfields Rd bridge, but instead of riding back on the roads and the narrow bridge, we carried on and cycled down to the Awatoto area on the coast. We were getting a bit tired by now, and as this was a virtual cycling motorway along the top of a stop bank, we used power for a few kms to get down to the coast a bit sooner. At the coast, we turned south, and crossed the estuary and continued down the coastal track to Clive. This time we tried the Zeppelin cafe (which had been closed on Monday when we tried). I was intrigued by the name expecting something aviation themed, but it was plastered with album covers and vinyl discs by Led Zeppelin. Despite being the right age to appreciate Led Zeppelin, I am afraid I don’t. However, the tea was very nice leaf tea, and the Cinnamon Pinwheel we shared was deliciously gooey and satisfying!
Our final run back was along the Clive River and Otene Rd rail side trails, mostly with power assist, so after 58kms of riding we arrived back at the holiday park feeling quite good. Interestingly while riding back we crossed Elwood road for the 4th time on our Giant Elwood bikes!
The next day, we packed up, and drove home again via the same route, stopping at Norsewood for a coffee and a brunch, and at Greytown for tea and a sandwich!
So altogether we did over 150kms on our bikes, and we used less than 1/2 of a battery charge to do so. My intention for the weekend was to test how the electric bikes performed over longer distances, so the trip failed miserably in this aim, but otherwise it could not have been better really.
Breaking Lynn’s bike rack was a bit of a bonus, the Axiom Streamliner Disc DLX rack we found at The Hub Cycle Centre has since been fitted properly, and is a perfect fit on Lynn’s bike, improving her bike significantly. I am not sure I would have found that rack at any of our LBSs (Local Bike Shops).
Here is a PDF of the trails with our routes added.