Husqvarna builds their bikes tough and expects that they’ll last the distance with even the toughest of treatment and over the most daunting of terrain.

And it’s highly likely that one of their riders will prevail too when the 2019 Husqvarna Hard X race plays out in forestry near Atiamuri in just over a week’s time.

This annual four-hour cross-country race, set for December 14, is a unique challenge that will feature some of the same terrain used for the separate Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro events, “but on a more compact 25-kilometre course”.

The event had originally been scheduled to run in March, but the fire risk art that time was too great and so it was postponed until now.

Event organiser Sean Clarke describes the challenge as “mostly Bronze level trails, but with a few Gold and Silver deviations”, meaning there will be something for everyone but also that it will provide a stern test for the elite riders entered.

And this perhaps plays right into the hands of 25-year-old Cambridge diesel mechanic Dylan Yearbury, one of the favourites to win the race after his recent impressive outings at similar events across the country.

Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250) was a stand-out competitor at the Nut Buster Hard Enduro, part of the two-day final round of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series near Christchurch last month, and he also won the three-day Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa last year, so he certainly holds no fears for the four-hour cross-country “sprint” at Atiamuri on December 14.

“I have never raced this event before, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Yearbury.

“This should be nice and technical and that suits me. I have been focussed a lot lately on my riding and I’m getting good results. I am using this event as part of my build-up towards me returning to racing in the United States next year. I head back to my base in South Carolina on January 27.

“I had my first taste of racing the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the US this year and my best result was finishing fifth in a GNCC race in the XC2 (250cc) class. I also finished second at a national enduro event there.

“I have only limited support in the US, but hope that I can attract some attention and gain a little factory support in the future.”

Riders entering the Atiamuri event must nominate themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze grades competitors – depending upon their age, ability and fitness levels – and that’s the course they will be assigned to tackle, with the grades each scored separately.

Clarke said the event, which will run from 11 am until about 3 pm, would have mass appeal.

“This Hard X event is to show riders what a three-day hard enduro is like but in a compact way,” he explained. “It will be a lot easier to enter and ride. Riders don’t need a GPS device on their bikes, they don’t need headlights or taillights and they don’t need to be concerned with the thought of six hours of gruelling riding, like what they might encounter at a hard enduro … this is really just a long cross-country race.

“Everyone is probably thinking it’s going to be a psycho-hard event, but it’s not,” said Clarke.

Another of the elite Gold level riders will be Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, a record eight-time national trials champion, and it will be his fine balance attributes and his skill with precise throttle control that he acquired from that parallel motorcycling code that may give him a slight edge.

Taupo’s Hadleigh Knight is another worth watching out for. He won the three-round Dirt Guide cross-country series which wrapped up near Tokoroa two weeks ago.

The outright winner of the Hard X event last year was Helensville’s Tom Buxton and this is one rider in particular who rivals such as Yearbury, Whitaker and Knight will most be keeping a close eye on this time around too.

The Husqvarna Hard X race is being held in a private forest on Ongaroto Road, about 30 minutes’ drive south of Tokoroa and 30 minutes’ drive north of Taupo, and the venue will be signposted on SH1 near Atiamuri. There is no charge for spectators.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury (Husqvarna FC250), exhibiting hot form at the moment and one of the favourites to win at Atiamuri.

Yearbury is supported by Husqvarna NZ, Fox NZ, Mitas tyres, NV Motorcycles in Morrinsville, Northern Accessories and XRC (Xtreme Race Components).

The Husqvarna Hard X race is sponsored by Husqvarna New Zealand, Forest and Trail Events, Michelin Tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine and Satco NZ Ltd.

Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

As was predicted, this year’s edition of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series went right down to the wire in Canterbury at the weekend.

The fourth and final round of the Yamaha-sponsored competition was wrapped up after two days of brutal riding at two vastly different venues around Christchurch on Friday and Saturday, with the series outcome unsure until the final few moments of race action.

The weekend’s two-dayer began with an enduro-cross at the Christchurch A&P Showgrounds on Friday, followed by the Nut Buster hard enduro at nearby Oxford the following day.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker eventually claimed the glamour Gold Class trophy on Saturday afternoon, although even he wasn’t sure he’d done enough until moments after the final session and he needed all his magical skills from years of winning national trial championships to get him through the demands of the weekend.

He had been locked in a fierce battle throughout this year’s extreme series with Helensville’s Tom Buxton and, when they locked horns again on Friday and Saturday, the battle intensified still further.

Christchurch rider Hamish Macdonald, just returned from international duties and making his first appearance in this domestic series, won the enduro-cross on Friday, but most eyes were on the see-saw battle for championship honours between Whitaker and Buxton.

Whitaker finished ahead of Buxton in the enduro-cross and this gave him confidence ahead of the next day’s extreme enduro.

But the racing the next day was perhaps even more intense, with virtually nothing to separate the two men on the hilly course.

Although Buxton did eventually finish ahead of Whitaker on Saturday, that wasn’t quite enough and so Whitaker narrowly took the national Extreme Enduro Championship title ahead of Buxton.

New Plymouth’s Tony Parker, Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder and then Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig rounded out the top five overall for the 2019 championship standings in the premier Gold Class.

Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson said the final round had lived up to all expectations.

“It was certainly challenging,” he said. “The winds were extreme and riders were being blown off their bikes at some places along the ridge lines. Then there was a huge downpour in the afternoon, making it muddy and very slippery too.”

Riders nominated themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze class competitors, depending upon their skill and fitness levels, and the battle for silver and bronze glory was equally fierce.

In the Silver Class, Hastings rider Brett Gunson won the series ahead of  New Plymouth duo Daniel Herbert and Mark Horwell.

The top three in the Bronze Class this year were Whitecliffs’ rider Luke Corson, Rerewhakaaitu’s Zach Sefuiva and then Hastings rider Michael Toulmin.

Best of the Silver Veterans (40-49 years) for the series was Auckland’s Troy Field, with Kaukapakapa’s Lucia Oles topping the Bronze Women’s Class.

Stevenson praised the host Christchurch Off-Road Motorcycle Club.

“They did a tremendous job of running this event,” he said. “So much effort was put in by these people and it was certainly appreciated.”

Only three of the four rounds of the championship were counted towards the final tally, with riders to discard their one worst score from the three North Island rounds.

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Extreme Off-Road Championships were supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Kiwi Rider magazine, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine, Moto Events NZ and NZ Car Parts (Auckland).

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), who won the tight final battle for glory in the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series, which wrapped up near Christchurch at the weekend.

This year’s edition of the New Zealand Extreme Off-Road Championship series will go down to the wire in the South Island this weekend.

The four-round Yamaha-sponsored competition has been a colossal see-saw battle, offering something for everyone with different categories for various skill levels, and it will attract the nation’s elite enduro and cross-country riders to Canterbury for the double-header final round this Friday and Saturday.

Hosted by the Christchurch Off-Road Motorcycle Club, this weekend’s two-dayer will begin with an enduro-cross at the Christchurch A&P Showgrounds, on Friday, while riders head to Trig Road, Oxford (signposted from the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge and Oxford), for the Nut Buster hard enduro the following day.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker won the elite Gold Class at the first round of four in the Yamaha-sponsored series near Whangamata in early September and Helensville’s Tommy Buxton won round two near Porirua two weeks later. Then a third different winner emerged with Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig winning the two-day round three in Hawke’s Bay a fortnight ago.

Hamilton’s Greg De Lautour and New Plymouth’s Tony Parker have also featured among the leaders so far and could be expected to shine again this weekend too, although with Christchurch’s just-crowned World Youth Enduro Champion Hamish Macdonald also entered this weekend, there could easily be a fourth different race winner.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury and Te Awamutu’s Rachael Archer have also just returned from their respective overseas campaigns and they should not be overlooked either.

Motorcycling New Zealand Enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson said the series was proving extremely popular, with good entry numbers at all three rounds so far.

“We have 144 entries in for the Nut Buster alone. It’s a premium, international-level event and ideal to have this as the series finale,” he said.

Riders nominate themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze class competitors, depending upon their skill and fitness levels, and that’s the course they will be assigned to tackle, with the classes each scored separately.

Bronze class riders are expected to be “competent trail riders”. Course difficulty will be similar to an enduro, but “with some slightly harder sections”.

The competition will be slightly tougher for the Silver class riders, with a good skill level and fitness required to get them to the finish.

“They must be confident with log crossings, rocky stream beds, hill climbs and bull-dogging the bikes may be required on down-hills,” said Stevenson.

He said the Gold class course would severely test the nation’s elite.

“The course is designed to be cruel but fair. The course will not be impossible, but definitely difficult. Ropes are recommended for the long hill climbs and extreme down-hills.”

In the Silver Class, Hastings rider Brett Gunson leads after three rounds, just ahead of New Plymouth duo Daniel Herbert and Mark Horwell.

Rerewhakaaitu’s Zach Sefuiva and Kaukapakapa’s Lucia Oles share the lead in the Bronze Class after three rounds, with Whitecliffs’ rider Luke Corson third overall.

Only three of the four rounds of the Yamaha NZ Extreme Off-road Championship are to be counted, with riders to discard their one worst score from the three North Island rounds, making this weekend’s contest in Canterbury a hugely significant one in the overall scheme of things.

The 2019 Yamaha NZ Extreme Off-Road Championships are supported by Mitas tyres, Macaulay Metals, Best Build Construction, Silver-bullet, Kiwi Rider magazine, Dirt Rider Downunder magazine, Moto Events NZ and NZ Car Parts (Auckland). 

The 2019 NZ Extreme Off-Road Championship calendar:

Round one: September 7, Taungatara Forest, Whangamata.
Round two: September 22, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua.
Round three: November 2-3, Over The Top, Hawke’s Bay.
Round four: November 15-16, Nut Buster, Oxford, Christchurch.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Te Awamutu’s Rachael Archer (Yamaha), now back in New Zealand after her successful cross-country campaign in the United States and worth looking out for in Canterbury this weekend.

2019 New Zealand Supercross Championships

It is going to be the start of a jam-packed, rip-fire three weeks of intensity when the New Zealand Supercross Championships kick off in the South Island this weekend.

The Brent Scammell Honda-sponsored opening round of three in the Transdiesel eni Lubricants-sponsored national series is set for Winton, just north of Invercargill, this Saturday.

This high-profile event at Winton, at the VetSouth Super-X Track in Ryan Road, is billed as “the world’s southern-most supercross”. It is always an extremely popular venue and sure to draw a large crowd.

Following a week later is round two – but for the SX2 (250cc) class riders only – sharing the programme with the fourth round of five in the Australian Supercross Championships, and this will be staged at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.

The New Zealand Supercross Championships will wrap up with round three at the Amisfield circuit, on the outskirts of Tokoroa, a week after that on November 23.

The entry list for round one is jammed with talent, with Bay of Plenty riders Cody Cooper, Ben Townley and Tyler Steiner among the fancied riders in the premier SX1 (open) class, with Rangiora’s Cody Murphy also with a chance of finishing on the podium.

The SX2 (250cc) class could be particularly hot, with former national supercross champion and former GP motocross star Josh Coppins perhaps the favourite, although it’s certain he’ll be challenged by strong performances from fellow Kiwis with international experience, young men such as Mount Maunganui’s defending national SX2 champion Josiah Natzke and Taupo’s Wyatt Chase, while riders such as Nelson’s Liam Hutton, Balclutha’s Madison Latta and the 250cc junior supercross from last season, Rangiora’s Korban Paget, could also feature.

The programme also includes races for Junior 125/250 and Junior Lites (85cc) class riders, as well as having races for mini 4-8 years’ 50cc class riders and mini 7-11 years’ 65cc class riders in a support role.

Motorcycling New Zealand supercross commissioner Jim Cooper said the series opener would be “an awesome spectacle”.

“There are some big names there among the entries. Supercross is great because it puts the sport in front of the public like no other. It’s great also to have the Australians involved at Mt Smart Stadium for round two and we’ll see a few more international stars there. We are trying to grow the junior aspect of the sport and so the mini support classes will be popular I’m sure.”

Transdiesel (eni Lubricants) spokesman Jason Steele said he was thrilled to be involved in the series once again.

“This is the third year that Transdiesel has supported the New Zealand Supercross Champs and we are really pleased to see the championship develop in the way it has, to now be included at Mt Smart Monster Energy event. Transdiesel is full of very passionate people and we all enjoy being involved in all types of motorsport and this year we look forward to our eni Kawasaki team winning a second supercross championship.”

The Winton event, hosted by the Southland Motorcycle Club, is sponsored by Brent Scammell Honda, Monster Energy supports the Mt Smart Stadium event and the final round in Tokoroa is sponsored by Craig Stevens Yamaha.

2019 New Zealand Supercross Championships calendar:

Round one: 242 Ryan Road, Oreti Plains, Winton, November 9, 2019
Round two: Mt Smart Stadium, Penrose, Auckland, November 16, 2019 (SX2 class only)
Round three: Moffat Road, Amisfield, Tokoroa, November 23, 2019

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper (Honda CRF450), expected to feature among the leaders in the glamour SX1 class on Saturday.

It was an orange crush as KTM bikes caused a traffic jam of sorts at the finish line of the weekend’s annual Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa.

Indeed, the finish line was dominated by the distinctive orange-coloured motorcycles as Thames rider Chris Birch rode to victory on his KTM 300EXC, leading KTM 1-2-3-4 past the chequered flag.

Runner-up, finishing nearly three minutes behind Birch, was Helensville’s Tom Buxton (KTM 300EXC), with Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker (KTM 300EXC) completing the podium, while New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (KTM 300EXC) crossed the line in fourth, actually missing out on a podium placement by a whopping 25 minutes.

This was the fourth annual running of the event, again attracting the country’s elite dirt bike riders to the Central North Island venue, and it featured three days of gruelling race action, starting with a prologue event in the SATCO logging attachments yard in Tokoroa on Friday afternoon.

Here riders were challenged by a man-made obstacle course, the results from this preliminary tussle determining the starting order for the racing in nearby forestry land the following day.

Birch won the prologue, although he said he “was very lucky to do so”.

“I nearly went over the handlebars at the first obstacle,” said the 39-year-old father-of-one. “I made my way through the course and ended up beating Jake (Whitaker) by just a wheel width at the end.”

Bronze, silver and gold level courses were offered, designed to cater for all the various skill levels, and Kiwi international Birch was in his element as he led the 18-rider gold level contingent into action on Saturday.

The Kiwi international – who has remarkably recorded major wins in dozens of different countries over the past few years, including at the notorious Romaniacs Hard Enduro in Romania – ended day two with a massive 16-minute lead over runner-up Buxton and the rest of the chasing pack.

“Day two went really well. It was a big day, with probably 170 kilometres of riding, and fortunately, I didn’t make any mistakes,” said Birch.

“But then I stuffed up day three,” he laughed. “My plan for day three was just to take it easy and ride along with the other guys. I got to the top of a big hill-climb and then chose the wrong track, got lost and ended up circling around to end up back at the bottom of the hill.

“I had to go pretty crazy after that to catch up again. Then I had a stick go through my radiator and I could feel my boot getting really wet with hot water. I used some cable ties to stem the leak and I thankfully made it to the finish.”

Birch ended up winning by two minutes 40 seconds over Buxton, an uncomfortably tight margin after racing for more than 12 hours.

“I was really impressed with the KTM 300EXC. It has different suspension and chassis to the previous model and it really suited the tough conditions.”

Resilience and reliability were key and all but one of the gold grade riders were on either KTM or Husqvarna motorcycles, testimony to the trust that riders place in these bikes.

Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna TE300) rounded out the top five in the gold grade.

The top three riders in the silver grade were Te Puke’s Paul Singleton, followed by Reporoa’s Brad Kilgour and Tokoroa’s Warwick Batley. In the bronze grade, the top three were Auckland’s Claude Sabatier, Okere Falls rider Lance Roozendaal and Christchurch’s Luke Corson.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Thames rider Chris Birch (KTM 300EXC), top dog at the stand-alone extreme enduro event near Tokoroa over the long Labour Weekend.