A list of frequently asked (and answered) questions about the Great Southern Brevet Bikepacking Adventure held every 2 years in New Zealand.

This will be added to, and updated regularly, so please check back for the most recent info.

What is it?

The Great Southern Brevet is a self-supported bikepacking event held in the South Island of New Zealand every 2 years. This means you carry what you need for the duration of the ride with you, or you purchase any additional needs (eg. food, etc.) at public locations along the way. Outside assistance such as forward travel by vehicle on the course, or food re-stocking from friends, is discouraged. Part of the adventure is seeking out food and places to stay along the way (and meeting the locals!).

What is bikepacking?

Bikepacking is a development of cycle touring. Think of it as cycle touring for the more adventurous. It typically gets a bit more off the beaten track and involves carrying not just food for the journey but your own accommodation (think camping). There are many resources on the web (check out: http://www.bikepacking.com/bikepacking-101/, http://www.bikepacking.net/, etc.) chronicling the rise of this niche of cycling. Even your local bike shop will probably be able to help as the mainstream manufacturers have been jumping on the bandwagon in recent years with both bikes and gear designed for multi-day off road cycle touring.

Who can do it?

Anyone, yes that includes you. Obviously it helps if you have a bike ;-) but it is open to all. It would also help if you have some experience of cycle touring and back country travel/navigation experience (tramping, hiking, that sort of thing). Having said that we have had novice riders complete the ride on their first attempt (and some not so novice riders not complete). Success is very much dependent on your attitude and your approach.

How much does it cost?

Nothing! The Great Southern Brevet is the only free event of it's kind in New Zealand. You do not have to make and record a mandatory donation to a charity or to buy a book to find out the course. We are sure you support those charities that mean something to you throughout the year and thus we do not require you to fund one you have no connection with. You also do not have to buy a book to get details of the course. The internet is still a great free source of information and we use it to openly distribute our ride information. You are free to read all about the ride and the course without first having to pay and then only be sent the information or links. Do your planning, ask questions, all without having to pay.

Is it a competition?

No. It is however a significant challenge over a long distance and rugged countryside. Inevitably with any challenge their will be those that wish to push themselves to test their limits and capabilities. There will also be those that understand their limits and capabilities already and know how to enjoy the ride and take in the environment around them. You are free to choose which fits you best, ride hard and fast or slower and enjoy the scenery and company.

What is the time commitment?

The Great Southern Brevet is typically 1100kms of back country riding. With a sensible approach it is easily achievable. The time allowed to complete the route is 8 days so you will be covering over 100kms a day. This may sound like a lot but many days are cruising on well graded cycle trails or gravel grinding on back country roads so progress is usually good. Combined with the long summer days (light until ~10 pm in the evening), the pace is hardly frantic. In fact riders often only average 12-14km/hr which isn't too demanding, however 10 hours quickly adds up to 120-140kms in a day! There is plenty of opportunity for a morning or afternoon tea break and a long lunch and still not use all the daylight hours ;-)

What sort of bike should I ride?

This is really up to personal preference but a skinny tyre road bike would be a liability over the remote gravel roads and tracks. Most ride some form of mountain bike but the ride has be done on a cross bike (Hamish the mad man from Whangarei). Basically it needs to be sturdy and comfortable for many, many, many, did I mention many, hours in the saddle. In fact your saddle is probably more important than the bike! That said, the most common bike is a big wheel (29") hardtail with front suspension (adds a little comfort over those bumpy tracks). Your contact points are the ones to focus on, a good comfortable saddle and handlebars that allow you several positions to prevent any overuse injuries developing.

What mandatory gear am I required to take?

There is no required minimum list of gear to take with you on the ride other than you must carry a SPOT Tracker (a backcountry emergency location device) with you. Obviously spares for your bike, clothing for the weather, food, etc. are the basics. There are countless bikepacking websites these days with suggestions/recommendation of what to carry so please do some research and get out there and try out your gear if you can before the ride. Remember it is self-supported, so you need to carry as much as you would need to keep you alive in an emergency situation.

What about safety?

The self-supported ethos is based on the fact you should be prepared for most eventualities. That can mean something as mundane as a puncture or a derailleur torn off by a wayward tree branch, it can also mean rain and snow. Yes, it snows in mid-summer in Central Otago! Common sense should apply here and you would wait somewhere safe until conditions improve (and take all opportunities to catch up on the latest weather forecasts when passing through towns). That said, your SPOT Tracker is your final backup. It will transmit your location to rescuers. You will still need to make yourself safe until they arrive though, so carry the appropriate clothing and/or gear (tent/bivvy bag/etc.).  It is important you make sensible decisions whether to proceed if conditions are deteriorating.

What are Txt Check ins?

Although riders carry a tracking device (a SPOT Tracker) it is important to know their progress through various sections of the ride. Private landowners in particular are keen to confirm all riders have been through their land before moving stock, etc. Should you forget to turn on your tracker or the batteries run down the Txt Check ins are an absolute way to confirm your progress. They are also your opportunity to relay your experience to those less fortunate than you who may not get to enjoy the GSB2019!

How does the GSB compare to other bikepacking events?

The big difference with the Great Southern Brevet is geography. It takes places in a mountainous region which is subject to varied weather conditions (extremes) even in mid summer. So the mountains mean you will have to ride (and occasionally push) uphill and you will also be exposed to the weather a bit more than cruising down in the valleys. You will also experience some spectacular views, so it is not all downside. The other big difference is the GSB is an off-road event. It is not long stretches of the black stuff (tarmac/pavement) but winding, climbing, descending on gravel and tracks. Progress will not be as quick as spending day after day on paved roads, however the variety of landscape and places you visit will be your reward.

I heard it is a lot of bike pushing?

Before the days of gondolas and lift serviced bike parks people rode their bikes on back country tracks and trails. These trails may have been used for moving stock, 4WD access or even walking. As such they may have sections that prove challenging even for the modern geared mountain bike. The odd bike push exists, the Great Southern Brevet follows many of these original pioneer routes. Realistically you may push a couple of kilometers over a total course of 1100 kilometers so it is less than 0.01%! But if you are expecting paved roads and groomed trails all the way then the GSB may not be your thing. If however your attitude is to take on what ever comes and enjoy the 'back to basics' riding then we have the ride for you.

How do I know where to go?

For over 100 years Brevets have used Cue Sheets. These are directions on where and when to turn along the route. Each turn is itemised with the distance from the start of the leg. Of course modern technology means GPS devices are also common for bikepacking trips. A GPX file itemises the route for the ride and can be loaded onto a suitable portable GPS device. Both Cue Sheets and a GPX file will be available for the Great Southern Brevet route. You can choose to use traditional maps and the Cue Sheet, or electronic maps (on a GPS device) and the GPX file. Obviously a modern GPS requires less stopping and checking of the route than maps but the choice is yours.

What happens if the weather is bad?

By definition an adventure requires some uncertainty. A track you have never ridden before or a mountain pass you haven't crossed before. It also includes the weather. Central Otago is one of New Zealands top holiday destinations during summer. It can be spectacular on a brilliant sunny day but also a bit unpredictable in and around the mountains. They tend to make their own weather at times. If the weather is too bad for high country travel then there are plenty of alternatives in the sheltered valleys. The organisers have numerous alternative routes which can be used to get around the worst of the weather. A little patience and details of your new route options are usually posted on the website by the next morning allowing you to plan your day effectively. A couple of hours delay is normally all that is experienced to ensure your safety. The upside of Central Otago severe summer weather is it usually is over in 24-48 hours.

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