New Zealand cycle trek, Chapter 5: New saddle eases ride to Hari Hari

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 15, 2016 12:51

Bateman’s Blog

Journalist Chris Bateman, 69, and son Ben, 28, continue their 500-mile ride across New Zealand, from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Thursday, Feb. 4: Hokitika to Hari Hari

Distance:  45 miles

Elevation gain: 164 feet

Yes, it was easy. Easy because the ride was short and because we climbed only 164 feet.

But easy for me mostly because I had a brand-new saddle.

To the unfamiliar, almost any bike seat looks uncomfortable. Go into a bike shop, and every saddle seems narrow and hard – more like a torture device than a place to sit down for five hours a day or longer.

Look at it this way: If a road-bike seat were perched on a stand in a friend’s living room for a Super Bowl party, would you sit on it? Of course not. Only a masochist would.

These saddles are not good places to enjoy chips, dips, pizza or even sudden-death overtime. In fact, many may see them as instruments of protracted-death by repeated road bumps.

But cyclists who’ve ridden a few miles know some seats are more comfortable than others. And the one on the bike I rented in Christchurch was not at all comfortable.

I knew it within 20 miles. The back of it felt like a concrete slab and the front like a narrow iron beam cutting into my nether regions.

First I figured my butt would get used to it. I hadn’t toured in years, so naturally my rear end would take awhile to conform to the seat.

But after two days, I was up close and way too personal with this saddle. Here I am, riding through some of the most beautiful country on earth, and all I’m thinking about is how much my butt hurts.

I stand on the pedals, move left, move right, shift forward, shift back and repeat – all day long.  I tilt the seat forward and tilt it back to no avail.

Rocks I sit on during pedaling breaks are more comfortable.

So this morning, I bought a new seat at Hokitika Cycles and Sportsworld. Which, admittedly, was something of a gamble.

Bike saddles are, to phrase it delicately, a very personal item for most riders: You really don’t know if one will fit you until you log 20, 30 or even more miles.

But the seat in the store looked nice and had a groove down the middle – aimed at sparing more tender male regions from friction (the rental seat was not similarly groovy).

Read enough yet?  We’re almost done.

Our tour mechanic, Ben, mounted the seat for me. I stuck the old one at the bottom of a pannier, and I will return it to our rental outfit with a recommendation that it be summarily retired.

That done and decided, off we went from Hokitika, winding south on New Zealand’s Highway 6.  And I very quickly hit the comfort zone.

No, I’ll never watch a Super Bowl from my new saddle. But I am good for at least a few hundred more miles here in New Zealand.

The first 17 of those miles got us to Ross, which – although more than 7,000 miles from Columbia – was like coming home. It’s an historic Gold Rush town marked by an old-fashioned hotel, a head frame at the end of Main Street, and tailings piles and shafts at the perimeter.

In the mid-1860s, Ross was home to a rowdy population of 2,500 – including, says one brochure, “even a harpist.”  It is now inhabited by 261 – a few of whom were enjoying morning beers at the Empire’s Bar, and likely none of whom can play the harp.

Benjie, a chunky 9-year-old chocolate lab, lolled on the wooden sidewalk outside the hotel, and the bartender was very friendly, gladly filling our water bottles with ice.

Guests seem to like the Empire. “Room 6 even has a shower,” one commented online.

Nostalgia played out, we hit the road and 18 miles later were in Pukekura, home to the wonderfully named Puke Pub. The proprietors serve up not only great New Zealand beer, but such specialties as Bambi burger (Ben loved his), roadkill sandwich and possum pie. A sign in the pub reads, “Cats – the other white meat,” but we didn’t see it on the menu.


Free speech alive and well at NZ guillotine

And all dishes are seasoned with generous helpings of NZ politics served up by owners Pete and Justine.

They even built a roadside guillotine outside, complete with painted blood.  A sign next to it tells “politicians, overpaid bureaucrats, ripoff merchants and greedy corporate CEOs” to “remember the French Revolution.” It then warns: “Your day is coming.”

It’s great to see that free speech is alive and well in New Zealand.

That the hand-painted diatribe all circled back to possums adds an incredibly bizarre touch – more on those marsupials tomorrow.

We pulled into our day’s destination, the one-block town of Hari Hari (Pop. 348),  at 4. We checked into the Flaxbush motel and I reclined right away in one of the beds in our room.

It was almost as comfortable as my new bike saddle.

Kiwi Notes

Have you noticed that few of the New Zealand towns we’ve stayed in have more than 300 people? These are places, really, that wouldn’t be on a U.S. map.

For perspective, consider this: California, at nearly 156,000 square miles, has a population of nearly 40 million. New Zealand, at about 104,000 square miles, has just over 4 million.

So to approximate what California might be like if it had NZ’s people-per-square-mile-ratio, take any town or city in the state and divide it by 5.4.

Los Angeles would have just 704,000 people (its population in about 1925). Modesto would have 37,000, Angels Camp 710, Sonora 901 and Jackson 861. Chinese Camp would have just 23 people and Tuttletown might not exist.

Key to a good night’s sleep

Highway 6, which runs from the northern to southern end of the South Island, is like Interstate 5 in California, which runs the length of the state. Yet Highway 6 has just two lanes, no stoplights, no interchanges, no exits, no fast-food franchises and no traffic jams.

Most of its bridges are one-lane, meaning northbound traffic must wait for southbound traffic to pass. Or vice versa. And, amazingly, this never seems to create problems or fray tempers.

A sign I pedaled past today read “Allow Extra Time on NZ Roads,” and most everyone does.

The motels here still give you real keys instead of cards and entire towns have no ATMs.  Cell phone service is intermittent, as is wi-fi.

All of which might drive some Californians crazy. But for a couple of Golden State cyclists who aren’t in a hurry anyway, it’s wonderful.

Read earlier chapters, and stay tuned for cycling updates in the coming days, at Bateman’s Blog.

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 15, 2016 12:51
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1 Comment

  1. Wells February 15, 21:52

    I’m inspired…saddle transplant may be on my list when the weather breaks. Enjoy your trip, and keep posting.

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