Wainuiomata motorcyclist Jake Whitaker is used to combating and overcoming the most treacherous of terrain.
And now, competing in an entirely different motorbike code, he’s doing the same thing, but this time at eye-watering speeds.
The record eight-time New Zealand moto trials champion has long ruled the roost in the battle of balance and fine throttle control that epitomises trials bike riding – where bike control over daunting obstacles is more of a factor than outright speed – but he switched his sporting focus to cross-country and enduro racing a few seasons ago and now it seems he’s mastering that too.
The 27-year-old furniture polisher took his KTM 300XC bike to finish a close runner-up in the first of six rounds in the NZXC cross-country series near Tokoroa last month, chasing former Kiwi international Callan May to the chequered flag.
Round two of that series was held at the Taikorea Motorcycle Park, on the outskirts of Palmerston North, on Sunday and again Whitaker was challenging for the win, although forced in the end to settle for third overall in the two-hour race, behind May and Masterton’s Adam Easton.
However, those two results have earned Whitaker the outright lead in the battle-within-a-battle for class honours, Whitaker so far unbeaten in the XC1 class (for riders on over-250cc two-stroke bikes or over-300cc four-stroke bikes).
“This is the best I’ve done at cross-country racing,” said Whitaker. “Speed events like this have never been my strength, but I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable with it.
“I’m so happy to be up the front and, at Tokoroa, I was actually leading the race for a long time too.
“The bike is awesome to ride, so light and nimble. Taikorea was a fast track and very rough too, completely different to what I excel at (trials riding or extreme enduro events) and I guess I just need to race more of these types of events.
“I’m getting quicker all the time and this was the best result I’ve ever achieved at Taikorea. My hands were pretty messed up at the end … lots of blisters … but I was able to finish and that’s the main thing.”
Now at the two-thirds stage of this competition, Whitaker finds himself in second position overall in the NZXC Series standings, just a handful of points behind May, and he’s looking forward to applying more heat on his main rival over the coming months.
The NZXC Series continues at Muriwai on September 2; hits Matata on October 13; then heads to the Woodhill Forest, on November 10, before it finally wraps up at Waimiha, in the King Country, on December 8.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan