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

Any one of more than half a dozen riders could be expected to clinch the coveted Dirt Bike Series title when the competition wraps up near Tokoroa on Saturday.

The three-round cross-country racing series has again proven extremely popular this season, with Motorcycling New Zealand Hall of Fame inductee Sean Clarke renowned for setting courses that are both challenging and enjoyable, and many of New Zealand’s elite riders are again expected to tackle this weekend’s event.

The racing will be at the same venue that was used for both the first two rounds, at Ohakuri, south of Tokoroa, so there should really be no surprises in store for the athletes and perhaps average speeds might even be a little higher.

“The course features a bit of everything … it’s supposed to be a challenge, but, at the same time, not overwhelming. We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding,” said Tokoroa’s Clarke.

There will be plenty of top-level riders entered, with individuals such as Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins (Husqvarna), Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha), Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman (KTM), Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha) and Tauranga’s Reece Burgess (KTM), to name just a few, among those worth watching out for on the day.

Former Kiwi international Callan May, from Titirangi, won the two-hour senior race at round one in early June, closely followed across the finish line by Reporoa’s Hadleigh Knight, just back from racing in Japan, and then Manawatu’s two-time former United States cross-country champion Paul Whibley.

Knight had his revenge at round two three weeks later, winning the day ahead of Grey and Wilkins.

The racing will be intense in the junior ranks this weekend too, with top riders to watch for on Saturday including Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (Yamaha), Oparau’s Hunter Scott (KTM), Rotorua’s Hunter Steens (Yamaha), Putaruru’s Jacob Dover (Yamaha) and Eketahuna’s Luke Brown (Yamaha).

The central North Island location of the Dirt Guide event virtually guarantees a good-sized entry list, with more than 180 riders showing up to the first round and a similar number expected this Saturday.

The competition has wide appeal, attracting a diverse range of talents, suiting novice riders but also enticing the cream of New Zealand’s dirt biking community to turn up in large numbers.

It is events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.

In addition to the expert grade riders, the series caters also for junior riders and for intermediates, veterans and women as well.

The venue at Ohakuri is signposted from Atiamuri on SH1, midway between Tokoroa and Taupo, with the 90-minute junior race set to kick off at 9.30am, while the two-hour senior race will start just after midday.

Saturday’s race doubles up also as round two of the parallel-but-separate NZ GNCC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island.

Whibley won the opening round of the NZ GNCC series, at Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, last month, finishing ahead of Reardon and Wightman that day.

The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.

Manawatu’s Paul Whibley (Yamaha YZ450FX), third overall at round one of the Dirt Guide Series and likely to be among the leading riders at Ohakuri this weekend too.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

The motorbikes have been cleaned and refuelled and it’s time now to go hard again, with round two of the popular Dirt Guide Cross-Country Series set to blast off near Tokoroa on Saturday.

The riders have had just three weeks to rest, recover and freshen their bikes after the competition opener on June 1, and they’ll need to be at their best again as the three-round series edges past the halfway stage this coming weekend.

The racing will be at the same venue that was used for round one, at Ohakuri, south of Tokoroa, so there should really be no surprises in store for the athletes and perhaps average speeds might even be a little higher.

“The course features a bit of everything… it’s supposed to be a challenge, but, at the same time, not overwhelming. We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding,” said Dirt Guide Series promoter Sean Clarke, of Tokoroa.

There will be plenty of top-level riders entered, with individuals such as Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins (Husqvarna), Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha), Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman (KTM), Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha) and Tauranga’s Reece Burgess (KTM), to name just a few, among those worth watching out for on the day.

Former Kiwi international Callan May, from Titirangi, won the two-hour senior race at round one, closely followed across the finish line by Reporoa’s Hadleigh Knight, just back from racing in Japan, and then Manawatu’s two-time former United States cross-country champion Paul Whibley.

Top junior riders to watch for this Saturday include Taupo’s Wil Yeoman (Yamaha), Oparau’s Hunter Scott (KTM), Rotorua’s Hunter Steens (Yamaha), Putaruru’s Jacob Dover (Yamaha) and Eketahuna’s Luke Brown (Yamaha).

The central North Island location of the Dirt Guide event virtually guarantees a good-sized entry list, with more than 180 riders showing up to the first round and a similar number expected this Saturday.

The competition has wide appeal, attracting a diverse range of talents, suiting novice riders but also enticing the cream of New Zealand’s dirt biking community to turn up in large numbers.

It is events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.

In addition to the expert grade riders, the series caters also for junior riders and for intermediates, veterans and women as well.

The venue at Ohakuri is signposted from Atiamuri on SH1, midway between Tokoroa and Taupo, with the 90-minute junior race set to kick off at 9.30am, while the two-hour senior race will start just after midday.

The third and final round of the series is set for August 24, also at Ohakuri.

The final round doubles up also as round two of the parallel-but-separate NZ GNCC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island.

The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.

Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (Husqvarna FX350), on the hunt for competition points this weekend.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight is back after a couple of successful seasons of racing motocross in Japan, but he’s not home just to rest and relax. After achieving top-10 results in the motocross nationals in Japan in 2017 and again in 2018, it hasn’t taken the Yamaha ace long to switch over to endurance racing mode and he has just scored two podium finishes on the New Zealand cross-country scene in as many weeks.

He took his 2019-model Yamaha YZ450F to finish runner-up to fellow Bay of Plenty man Ben Townley (Yamaha WR450F) at the fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Taumarunui a fortnight ago. Third overall that day was Whanganui’s rising star Seth Reardon (Yamaha YZ250FX), making it a Yamaha 1-2-3 for the event.

Knight then backed that up with another runner-up finish, this time behind Titirangi’s Callan May, at the first of three rounds of the popular Dirt Guide Cross-country Series near Tokoroa a week ago, leading home former national cross-country champion Paul Whibley. His finishing ahead of Manawatu’ man Whibley was remarkable in itself, with Yamaha hero Whibley also a two-time former cross-country champion in the United States.

“I’m pretty happy with my results, but obviously I’d prefer to win,” said the 22-year-old Knight. “Racing cross-country events has been a bit of a shock to the system after racing motocross – it’s different racing at such speeds through the bush – but I do plan on racing a few more cross-country and enduro events now that I’m back home for good. I will do all the rounds of the Dirt Guide Series now and hopefully, I can win that. It’s a series that’s close to home, so that suits me. As well as that series, I will race in the MX1 motocross class to represent the Taupo Motorcycle Club at the upcoming Battle of the Clubs (BOTC) Motocross.”

The BOTC, set for Taupo’s Digger McEwen Motorcycle Park on Saturday, June 29, is a fundraiser event to assist in New Zealand sending a three-rider team to the big annual Motocross of Nations, the “Olympic Games of Motocross” that will be held in The Netherlands in late September.

Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight racing towards a podium finish on his Yamaha YZ450F.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Armed with a brand new KTM bike, Auckland’s Callan May was determined he would lead from the beginning of this year’s edition of the three-round Dirt Guide Cross-country Series.

That’s exactly what the 27-year-old did last Saturday when a shotgun blast signalled the start to the two-hour senior race, in forestry at Ohakuri, about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo.

May took his new 2019-model KTM 350EXC-F to exit turn one with three or four other fast starters for company, but the Titirangi man was on his own and out front just five minutes after that and he “never looked back from there”.

“The conditions were difficult (after heavy rain had drenched the forest), but it was not impossible,” said May, “I have only raced about four times since last December and all of those rides happening in just the last few weeks. Also, I’m on a new bike now, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’m loving the new KTM 350EXC-F. It’s a stock standard bike and giving me a fresh outlook on my racing. It is very easy to ride and go fast on it. I had built up such a good lead (over the pursuing riders) that, when I entered the timing zone with just a couple of minutes left before the two hours had elapsed, I decided to just sit there and wait for the clock to tick over the two hours. I couldn’t see anybody in sight behind me.”

May was eventually credited with a 26-second win over runner-up rider Hadleigh Knight, of Atiamuri, with Manawatu’s Paul Whibley, also a former Dirt Guide champion, claiming third overall, finishing a further minute behind.

“My fitness was pretty good, despite me having not raced much lately,” May confessed afterwards. “I have been mountain-biking a lot though.”

The popular three-round Dirt Guide Series has wide appeal, attracting a diverse range of talents, but it also entices the cream of New Zealand’s dirt biking community to turn up in large numbers.

This is something that should surprise nobody because it is precisely events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.

First equal in the Dirt Guide Series in 2013, May is one of several Dirt Guide champions from the past who have progressed to race overseas, each of them able to trace their careers back to popular Kiwi dirt bike competitions such as this one.

Other former Dirt Guide race winners who have gone on to greater things overseas include individuals such as Whibley, Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade and Howick’s Liam Draper.

Draper is currently racing for a KTM team in the United States and waving the Kiwi flag high at the Grand National cross-country Championships there.

Meanwhile, the winner of the 90-minute junior race on Saturday was Taupo’s Wil Yeoman, with Oparau’s Hunter Scott and Rotorua’s Hunter Steens completing the podium.

Round two of the series is set for the same course at Ohakuri, in just three weeks time, on June 22, and the third and final round of the series on August 24, also at the popular Ohakuri venue.

Saturday’s main race winner May is supported by O’Neal, Oakley, Michelin, TCX Boots, Renthal, Kiwi Rider magazine, BikesportNZ.com, Mac Media, Arai, City Electrix and Motomuck.

The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.

Titirangi’s Callan May (KTM 350EXC-F), with the Dirt Guide Series round one win in the bag for 2019.

Words by Andy McGechan