It’s time once again to dust off the dirt bike, strap on your helmet, grab a few mates and head into the bush.

The 2019 Dirt Guide Cross-Country Series kicks off next weekend (June 1), again promising to be anything the riders want it to be … a serious competition for New Zealand’s elite dirt bike racers, a challenging afternoon’s ride in the bush or just a leisurely cruise along leafy forest pathways. It will appeal to all-comers and nobody should be fooled by the varied skill-level aspect of the series, 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.

Several Dirt Guide race winners from the past, riders such as Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade, Titirangi’s Callan May, Manawatu’s Paul Whibley and Howick’s Liam Draper, to name a few individuals, have all raced internationally and they can each trace their beginnings to dirt bike competitions such as this one. Ararimu’s Richard Sutton was outright winner of the Dirt Guide Cross-country Series last season – sensationally beating the many 450cc campaigners with his 125cc bike – and he will perhaps rank among the favourites again this time around, although he recently injured himself and will be at less than 100 percent at round one.

This three-round series for 2019 kicks off at Ohakuri – about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo – on Saturday, June 1, and it is sure to attract riders from both ends of the aptitude and competitiveness spectrum. Round two is set for the same course just three weeks later, on June 22, and the third and final round of the series on August 24, also at the popular Ohakuri venue. That final round doubles up as round two of five in the parallel-but-separate NZ GNCC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island and set to kick off in the Woodhill Forest on July 28.

The popularity of The Dirt Guide Series has grown steadily since its inception in 2008 and, with separate trails and several different grades incorporated into the day’s racing, catering for all levels of confidence and ability. Each of these events is also an ideal opportunity for the lesser or novice riders to learn from masters such as 2017 Dirt Guide Series winner Whibley, a two-time former champion in the United States.

“We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding,” said Dirt Guide Series promoter Sean Clarke, of Tokoroa. “With riders getting older every year, we are really keen to provide an experience to entice the younger riders to come along and ride. There are classes for riders as young as seven. Only a few people ever win races like this, so it’s not really about the winning, but about participation.”

The talent runs deep at the sharp end of the competition, with riders such as Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna), Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman (KTM), Te Awamutu’s Kevin Archer (KTM), Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM), Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha) and Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha), to name just a few, among those worth watching and learning from over the course of the two-hour senior race.

The central North Island location of the Dirt Guide event virtually guarantees a good-sized entry list. In addition to the expert grade riders, the series caters also for junior riders and for intermediates, veterans and women as well.

The forest venue 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 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.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna TE300), sure to be among the leading riders at Ohakuri, near Tokoroa, next weekend.

Raglan’s Jason Dickey may now be just one race away from clinching the New Zealand cross-country crown for 2019.

The KTM 350XC-F rider has been unbeaten in the series thus far, making it back-to-back wins on Sunday as Mosgiel hosted the second of four rounds for the championship.

With only three of the four rounds are to be counted, riders to discard their worst result of the four, it means Dickey already perhaps has one hand on the trophy.

A top-three result at the next round of the series, in Marlborough on April 14, means he may not even need to line up at the final round, near Taupo on May 25.

Dickey dominated proceedings at the series opener near Norsewood in February, charging through the field to take victory by nearly a minute ahead of fellow KTM rider Sam Brown, from Glen Murray, but it was an even bigger winning margin for Dickey at the course near Outram on Sunday, Dickey this time crossing the finish line nearly two minutes clear of runner-up rider Seth Reardon, from Whanganui.

Another Raglan rider, Brandon Given, claimed the third podium spot on Sunday, finishing just 15 seconds behind Reardon.

Brown had to settle for a sixth place finish at Mosgiel and he has therefore slipped from second to third in the overall championship standings, albeit just three points adrift of Reardon.

The 90-minute junior race, held earlier in the morning, was won by Eltham’s defending national junior champion Adam Loveridge, with the round one winner from Raglan, Coby Rooks, this time forced to accept second place.

Rooks still tops the junior standings, but now just two points ahead of Loveridge.

Dickey was quick to blast of the start line on Sunday and, although he was amongst the traffic exiting turn one, he was into the lead just 400 metres later.

“I pulled a massive gap and just maintained that until the end,” said the 24-year-old dairy farmer. “I had a couple of big crashes on Sunday, one when I hit a clump of tussock grass and was flung off the bike, but I was far enough in front that I could recover myself and not lose my position. It was quite slippery on the short grass sections and hard to stop the bike. I got tangled in some fence wire on another occasion and lost about 20 seconds getting free, but it was nothing major and again I didn’t lose my lead. After that, I was just trying to stay focused and not make any more mistakes. One good result now at the next round should give me the title,” he smiled. “I just have to keep calm and carry on.”

NZ Cross Country Championships calendar 2019:

Round One: Sunday, February 10 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC
Round Two: Sunday, March 24 – Mosgiel District MCC
Round Three: Sunday, April 14 – Marlborough MCC
Round Four: Saturday May 25 – Taupo MCC

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM 350XC-F), now with back-to-back wins to his credit in the 2019 New Zealand Cross-country Championships.

Twice as much race time on his bike is translating into multiple successes for Whanganui Yamaha ace Seth Reardon.

The just-turned 21-year-old is currently running with the leaders in two very different bike disciplines and, with races still to be run in both the separate competitions, he fancies his chances of tasting even more glory before the year is out. 

Reardon took his 2019-model Yamaha YZ250FX to finish overall runner-up at the second round of four in this year’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Mosgiel on Sunday and that result, added to his fourth placing at the series opener near Norsewood in February, has boosted him into the No.2 spot in the title chase.

And, riding the same bike, the apprentice engineer is a also running fifth overall in the New Zealand Enduro Championships after the first of seven rounds in Whangamata just over a week ago, that series sponsored by Yamaha.

But it is Raglan’s Jason Dickey who leads the cross-country nationals and, with only three of the four rounds to be counted – riders to discard their one worst result – it means there is really only a slim chance that Reardon can snatch then title.

All the same, Reardon reckons he’d be thrilled with an overall runner-up finish in the cross-country nationals – it would be a career-best result for him.

He attributes his recent successes to hard work.

“It’s been looking good for me this season,” said Reardon. “I have been training very hard this year and it’s paying off. I’m in the gym every day and spend lots of time on the bike, riding Wednesdays and at the weekends. I don’t know why I’ve been going so well… I’ve had no problems; the bike is awesome, so reliable; my fitness is the best it’s ever been; I’ve been practicing my starts a lot … it all helps. I got a good start at Mosgiel on Sunday. I was in about third position into turn one, but then eight riders cut me off at the third marker peg, cutting the course, and that dropped me back. It was a bit of karma just after that because a bunch of them got stuck in a mud bog and I just chose a better line and scooted back past them again and was up to third place. I had a great battle with (Raglan’s) Brandon Given throughout the race as we fought over the runner-up spot… Jason Dickey was long gone by then. Dickey is on fire at the moment, but I was happy to finish second. That’s my best result at the nationals.”

The 90-minute junior race at Mosgiel on Sunday was won by Eltham’s defending national junior champion Adam Loveridge, with the round one winner from Raglan, Coby Rooks, this time accepting second place.

Taupo Yamaha rider Wil Yeoman completed the junior podium at Mosgiel.

There will be little rest now for Reardon especially, the double championship campaigner preparing now for round two of the enduro nationals on the Kapiti Coast on Saturday, April 6, and then round three of the cross-country nationals in Marlborough on Sunday, April 14.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha YZ250FX), on fire in two separate bike codes this season.

It could be time for a shake-up as the 2019 New Zealand Cross Country Championships race towards the halfway stage in the South Island this weekend.

Hosted by the Mosgiel District Motorcycle Club, the second round of four in this season’s New Zealand Cross Country Championships will see the nation’s dirt bike elite converge on Scorgie’s property, Lee Stream, on Sunday. The venue will be signposted from Outram. 

After a close and exciting series opener near Norsewood in February, riders have had time to recoup and recover, prepare their bikes and plan their attack for Mosgiel and the championship is still wide open.

Outright senior grade winner at Norsewood was Raglan’s Jason Dickey, with Glen Murray rider Sam’ Charlie’ Brown finishing runner-up that day.

Taupo’s Defending national cross country champion Brad Groombridge made a thrilling charge through the field at Norsewood to claim third overall, but he has since been consigned to the sideline with injury and not expected to make the trip to Mosgiel on Sunday.

That leaves the way clear for riders such as Whanganui’s Seth Reardon, Raglan’s Brandon Given, Rotorua’s Ethan Harris, Cambridge’s Callum Paterson or Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson to take advantage, not to mention the many South Island stars of the sport who will no doubt plan to make the most of racing on home turf, riders such as Jesse Wight, James Dickson or Ryan Crawford, to name a few.

Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar was in hot form at Norsewood and he too could be a feature in the main race this Sunday and so should Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright, third overall in the nationals last year and making his return from injury this weekend.

Perhaps local motocross hero Sam Cuthbertson will take the opportunity for snatch some national cross-country glory with an appearance on Sunday.

The three-hour senior race will be preceded by a 90-minute junior race on Sunday and riders to watch out for here include round one winner Coby Rooks, from Raglan, his nearest rival Bryn Codd, from Napier, and Eltham’s defending national junior champion Adam Loveridge, along with South Island hotshots Katie Henery, Alex Gilchrist and Leo Clarke. 

Motorcycling New Zealand cross country commissioner Chris Smyth said the venue had been used before and should be “reasonably fast and open”.

“There may be some swampy patches to watch out for and plenty of tussock too. It should be a great track. Everybody seemed to enjoy it last year. With Brad Groombridge, and (Wairoa’s) Reece Lister too, dropping out with injury, it opens it up a bit for some of the other riders. I expect the points table will look quite different after this weekend. There are a lot of strong riders lining up on Sunday and anything can still happen.”

Only three of the four rounds are to be counted, with riders to discard their worst result of the four, making sure the championship will be tight until the finish.

The series is supported by The Dirt Guide, Oakley goggles, Bel Ray oils and Michelin tyres.

NZ Cross Country Championships calendar 2019:

Round One: Sunday, February 10 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC
Round Two: Sunday, March 24 – Mosgiel District MCC
Round Three: Sunday, April 14 – Marlborough MCC
Round Four: Saturday May 25 – Taupo MCC

Glen Murray’s Sam ‘Charlie’ Brown (KTM), runner-up at round one and expected to again be among the front-runners on Sunday.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

There are a couple of new gunslingers in town and they mean business.

Raglan motorcyclist Jason Dickey has been tearing up the countryside in recent major cross-country events and his impressive win on steep farmland at Flemington, near Norsewood, on Sunday has set him up now for a potential national title win, with Dickey’s victory at this first of four rounds in the 2019 New Zealand Cross-Country Championship perhaps a forecast of what’s to come.

Despite being a little slow to get off the start line on Sunday, the 24-year-old dairy farmer soon had his 2018-model KTM 350XC-F bike humming.

Dickey quickly moved through the traffic to put himself in a three-way battle for the lead, banging handlebars with fellow KTM rider Sam Brown, from Glen Murray, and Husqvarna rider Reece Lister, from Wairoa.

It was a gruelling battle, the three-hour race taking its toll on several key of the more than 50 riders entered, including Lister, who was forced to withdraw when the pain from an earlier ankle injury became too great.

This left the way clear for Dickey and Brown to engage in a one-on-one battle for the win, Dickey eventually prevailing and crossing the finish line nearly a minute ahead of Brown.

Taupo’s defending national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge had problems too, a long way back in the field after he’d crashed on the opening lap, although he did manage to work his way back up to finish third overall.

This result has shown that Dickey and Brown are both ready to step forward and challenge Groombridge for his title.

“I caught up to the leaders after my bad start but then I went off the track and dropped back a few places again,” Dickey said. “When the leaders pitted I snatched the lead and managed to hold it from there. I didn’t have any real problems, just a couple of lappers holding me up at times. Visibility in the dust wasn’t too much of a problem for me.”

Moving dirt is something that Brown is particularly skilled at, the 28-year-old Brown working as a digger driver during the week, and he was doing that with his KTM 450XC-F at a terrific pace on Sunday:

“I had a pretty good start and was leading the race inside the first lap. But halfway around that first lap I suffered ‘arm pump’ and just had to let Jason (Dickey) and Reece (Lister) go by me. I had a bit of a surge after that and got back into a battle with those guys again. I was in front until I pitted. I nearly ran out of gas. I didn’t think I was going to last the lap. I had a large enough tank that I only needed one fuel stop (for the three-hour race), but it was pretty risky. I caught back up to Jason but then he looked back at me and pulled away again.”

The 90-minute junior race, held earlier in the day, was won by Raglan’s Cody Rooks, followed by Napier’s Bryn Codd and Eltham’s defending junior champion Adam Loveridge.

It is now six weeks until round two of the series, set for Mosgiel on March 24.

NZ Cross Country Championships calendar 2019:
Round One: Sunday, February 10 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC
Round Two: Sunday, March 24 – Mosgiel District MCC
Round Three: Sunday, April 14 – Marlborough MCC
Round Four: Saturday, May 25 – Taupo MCC

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM 350XC-F), outright winner of the senior race on Sunday.