Meet Duncan Wilson – the first person to circumnavigate NZ’s coastline by bike! #WhyWeRide

Being the first individual to circumnavigate New Zealand on a bike Duncan Wilson has cycled through many incredible lanscapes however he can’t wait for the chance to add Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands to his pretty extensive list! In this blog post Duncan tells us all about the journey and how much he is looking forward to racing in the 42K MTB at this years Partners Life DUAL (hopefully Duncan won’t be finishing this in a pair of jandles!)

How did you get into cycling/mountain biking?

I guess my siblings and I just grew up on bikes. My parents bought my younger bro and I our first bikes one Christmas: as a toddler, he got a red and yellow BMX with stabilisers (training wheels), while I had to learn to balance my larger white and blue BMX the hard way. By the time my little sis got her first bike, they were more like mini mountain bikes, with gears.

Mountain biking was huge by the time we were teenagers and we’d spend almost every summer evening zipping about our local woods, building jumps, jumping them badly and making videos.

Summer holidays only ever involved going off camping, with the bikes on the back of the car. At 17, I told my economics teacher I wanted to be a professional downhill rider, but in reality, I was off to uni.

Keeping fit at uni was hard: there were always these anti-fitness parties tempting you in and never any bikes there, but moving to Auckland and not wanting to waste any precious life choking in traffic soon reinvigorated my love of riding.


Tell us about your amazing achievement of being the first individual to circumnavigate New Zealand? How did the decision come about? Did you raise funds for a charity?

At some point in 2014, I had the idea to cycle the entire New Zealand coastline. That August, 19-year-old Brando Yelavich completed his walk of the coast. I began poring over maps, fascinated by his route, while googling phrases like “easier adventure to have than walking the coast”. My journey had to be self-powered: I didn’t want to be the guy ‘bravely jet-skiing past NZ’s most popular beaches’ or ‘valiantly travelling from Cape Reinga to Bluff on a Segway’. I also knew my good mate Scoot had managed to cycle up some of our beaches without sinking, so the two just clicked together.

Cycling on sand went against everything I’d ever learnt about bike maintenance, a sentiment echoed by another friend Jonny when approached with my idea: “Aye, sand wrecks bikes.” Fortunately, Bike Barn were prepared to let me take one of their bikes out there and test this theory.

What would 11,000 kilometres of beaches, tracks, metal roads (and highways!) do to the brand-new Merida Big-NINE 500 they’d put up for the task? On 2nd January 2015, I set off clockwise from Mission Bay to find out. The whole adventure lasted eight months, as I scrambled along my course, following ‘the closest available route to the coastline’. Some days were a dream, pedalling along flat, pohutukawa-lined coast roads in summer, while wetter and colder days along more rugged stretches of coast were akin to a nightmare.

The first major struggle came in Waipiro Bay, near East Cape. I’d been riding in heavy rain all day and was soaked through. Just as darkness fell, I was climbing out of the bay to head to Tokomaru and my tyre deflated. I fixed it up and carried on, but minutes later it was flat again. Frustrated, I unloaded everything off the bike and set about another repair. As I worked, my head-torch drifted up and a flash reflected from inside the adjacent forest. I looked again and saw the eyes of several possums, all gathered to watch the unusual spectacle of a soggy man, swearing and prising glass from the inner depths of his tyre with pliers.

It was not if parts would wear out, but when; chains were regular, plus I got through three rear tyres. However, the pinnacle of my mechanical woes came when I had to ride the Heaphy Track, uphill, with a split rear rim. I discovered it in Karamea, just as I was setting off. Desperate to avoid a 100km ride the wrong way back to Westport, I reached for my cable ties and tightly wrapped ten of them around the wheel and the tyre. Incredibly, it held right through until Collingwood and Bike Barn sent parts to build a new wheel to their Nelson shop.

Amid the mechanical challenges and navigation logistics there were so many magical experiences. Cycling up Northland’s Ripiro Beach, the country’s longest, was an incredible and isolated encounter; and the reward for your hard work climbing up the Milford Highway when you emerge from the Homer Tunnel: nearly 20km of tar-sealed and downhill bliss!

To get through such an epic and dangerous cycle mission around this fine country, I needed an ally. What better ally to choose than the people who are there when you need them: St John? Our national ambulance provider and first-aid educators were my chosen charity for this expedition.

Ironically, I didn’t get to call them when I slipped and fell down the bank on the Queen CharlotteTrack, but that’s a story for the book.

After 240 days, 4.8 million wheel revolutions and a lot of crazy yarns, I returned to Mission Bay from the other direction I’d set off to; I’d tasted the air in every coastal corner of NZ and become one of a few who can first-hand confirm these islands are shaped the way the maps say they are. The bike had mostly survived, but two pairs of shoes hadn’t, so in the most Kiwi finale ever, I rode those last 90km in a pair of $10 jandals.

What has been your favourite event you’ve completed? Have you competed in any other of the Total Sport events?

My favourite races often happen on a Sunday morning. I’ll be on the cycleway in jean shorts on my commuter bike and the game is keep-up-with or overtake the group in Lycra on the road bikes. Why train in skin-tight gear on your fastest bike?

The best Total Sport event I’ve competed in has been the Coastal Challenge. I’ve been part of a team a couple of times and always agree to be lumbered with that first section: the run, swim, run, swim, run section. Love it! Dad and I also ran in the Volcanoes Challenge back in 2009 when that was a thing – a brilliant thing. Bring back the Volcanoes Challenge! I like anything that bucks the trend.

How do you feel your training is going for this year’s Partners Life Dual?

Averagely. I’m a breakfast TV and radio producer with a 2.30am alarm, so lunchtime feels like bedtime, but occasionally I manage to force myself out for a sleep-pedal. Ahem, I mean, training is kicking-ass this year, thanks!

Any big goals or crazy challenges you’ve set yourself for this year or for the future?

Since the big ride, I’ve needed a regular fix of adventure to feed the addiction. I’ve been on some insane tramps, up mountains, marathon walks, coastal traverses and a few big days out on the bike – micro adventures.

Obviously, The Dual is coming up, which is pretty exciting to me as I get to fill in two more islands on my already quite-full NZ cycle map. Scoot and Jonny will be with me that day as well, so expecting the same pace and exhilaration they brought to the final stage of the Big Bike Ride!

I’m also quietly plotting the next Big One, which is about filling in a huge gap in my knowledge and experience. If you look at my bike ride map, you might guess what it is!

What motivates you to continue cycling and keeping fit?

The pinnacle of human progress will not be measured by how many smoking metal coffins we can line up on the motorway, each with a trapped and frustrated soul inside, going nowhere and coagulating internal fats. We are constantly looking for greater efficiency, although in transport that already exists: the bicycle. I can get from the edge of the city to Henderson in a little over 30 minutes and keep fit while doing it. Tell me again why I’d pay for a less-healthy method of getting there?

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