Second Twice - Hardtailing the Coppermine

With a new-found love for hardtails - having reviewed the Marin San Quentin for this magazine - I wanted to see what it was like racing one. The 2019 Coppermine, presented by Gravity Nelson and Santa Cruz, was coming up, so I got my dad’s 100mm 29er Marin Nail Trail out of retirement. The seat doesn’t go all the way down, my foot sometimes rubs against the front wheel and there are plenty of other issues with it, including a mystery rattle. Fortunately, I had a social ride a few days before the race, with our former editor, Carl, and he pointed out that the noise was coming from a loose cassette. He also said, “I don’t like hardtails.”

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The Coppermine has two main categories, the Epic and the Classic. Both are 40 kilometre loops, but the Epic is harder and over rougher terrain, taking you from Nelson’s Maitai Valley up 4 Corners to the top of Fringe Hill, and over Black Diamond before rejoining the Classic at Third House. The Classic is the Coppermine circuit - and I reckon, one of the most scenic day-rides in New Zealand. There are a few other sub-categories in the Classic: single speed, ebike and teams, but nothing for hardtails - unless you count the main spot prize, a Santa Cruz Chameleon.

Looking at the other riders, I knew my results would not be amazing. The majority were mad fit, and I’d only ridden the Coppermine twice - the first time being with my dad when I was a wee lad on my mum’s basic Merida hardtail. It took us seven hours, which gave me plenty of time to wonder why I agreed to do such a huge ride on such an uncomfortable bike, plus a lot of time to complain the whole way up (I was too tired to complain on the way down). The second time, earlier this year with a mate, took almost four hours on my Reign, but we had a few breaks.

The beginning of the race was a mass start, with 51 riders in the Classic all scrambling to get in front. Some for that ‘first for three seconds’ photo and some that were just… speedy. I’m not an aggressive dude and ended up in the middle of the pack, right in the centre of the bike jam on the first hill. I had to walk with other plodders in front and behind. Although it’s easier walking a hardtail than my relatively heavy Reign, it wasn’t like I could overtake anyone. What a pain - I just wanted to get to the track.

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A short section of the Coppermine track has slipped away, with a smooth and wide deviation on the Brook Sanctuary fence-line track. I was counting on this to get me ahead. I could boost it without having to worry about getting bounced by roots and rocks (one of the small downsides of hardtails);but everyone else had the same advantage, and I was still pushing to stay with the bunch - or not have too many overtake me.

Being on the cold side of the hill made my nose run so I tried some snot rockets, but as always it ended up draped across my face, making a mess of me and my bike. I’ve suggested to the editor that instead of more articles on ‘how to corner’ etc, how about one on tidy snot rocketing?

I reckon I was still at an advantage on the Nail Trail. The 29er wheels rolled nicely and I had a good cadence going. I was happy with my choice. The easy peddling meant I could spend some time wondering what my ideal hardtail would be. My options are limited - mainly because I only work one day a week, washing dishes at a local cafe on the minimum wage - so carbon is out. It would be fun building one up. I’d start with a 29er or 27.5+ frame for good rolling, with a slack head angle, preferably one where the seat can go all the way down, for my lank. It would need to have nice indoor-outdoor flow and, of course, flat pedals. I would steal the brakes from my dad’s hardtail and replace them with some cheaper ones more suited to riding round town. Actually, I’d take all of the XT components off of his bike and replace them with some lower spec gear. I doubt he’d notice. He can keep his forks though, they’re too short - I’d want 140 or 150. I’d keep my Reign for rainy days, of course.

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The climb took one hour and 46 minutes, and at the Coppermine Saddle I was second in my age group,the under-19s. It took me 21 minutes to get down: 21 minutes of arm-pump on the 100mm forks, keeping my legs from catching on the seat, and definitely not looking at the scenery. I took a half-minute breather at one stage to recover. My legs were cramping, and the race organisers had slipped in an extra uphill near the end that almost everyone seemed to be walking. I joined them.

At the finish, I was still in second place in my age group at 2:45:15. It was easy to spot the winner. Tayne Birss was the only other under-19 competitor and was just 40 minutes ahead of me. Still, second is second. Wahoo! Otherwise, I was in the middle of the pack - 27th in the Classic.

At the end of the day the winning woman on the Classic was Carys Coleman with a time of 2:42:28, and for the Epic, Lyndsey Smith got in at 3:20:46. For the men, Sarnim Dean won the  Classic at 1:58:02, and Nic Smith took out the Epic with a time of 2:21:52.

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After prizegiving and a feed from the Sprig and Fern, there was the Santa Cruz Chameleon to be won. How great would that have been for me? I reckon the Chameleon frame would be ideal, and I’m sure dad’s various components would fit nicely too. A coin toss decided the winner. I chose heads, heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails, and was one of the last two standing. It was just me and some old guy - he looked at least 30. I was going for heads, but he chose first. Heads it was. And second is second. Bugger.

I reckon I’d do the Coppermine on a hardtail again next time. I won’t come first, but I’m really enjoying the extra challenge and the focus required - having to pick the lines carefully - and the extra reward when you survive the descent with no busted ankles (I’m not worrying about any effects on my reproductive capacity at this stage). It’s good fun - back to basics. Maybe the future is hardtails rather than wireless shifting and bamboo toothbrushes. I could still do with a sponsor though. I wonder if I’m more likely to get one on a hardtail?


Words: Jack Greenaway
Images: Henry Jaine & Adrian Secker

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