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23 July 2020

Heli E-bike Touring in New Zealand

Hans Rey takes Shimano STEPS to the Extreme

Words By: Hans Rey

Photos: Carmen Rey 


Hans Rey E-bike trip


In November of 2019, my wife Carmen and I met up with two old friends from the Southern Hemisphere in Queenstown, New Zealand for a backcountry mountain bike trip unlike any other. Local legend, Henry van Asch lives in Queenstown and was one of the first people to popularize bungee jumping, which is now one of New Zealand’s biggest tourist attractions. Henry is also a longtime and passionate mountain biker with one of the most impressive bike collections gathered from over the years. He recently started a Heli Bike company that transports adventurous mountain bikers to the remote backcountry of New Zealand. 


Hans Rey Ebike New Zealand


The other bloke that joined our group was mountain bike hall of famer Glen Jacobs. Hailing from Australia, Glen is one of the most influential people in the world of mountain biking. His trail design company World Trail employs over 60 people and has built and developed some of the best bike destinations in the world, including Blue Derby in Tasmania.


New Zealand Lake


Queenstown is the adventure sports capital of New Zealand. The town sits on the South Island's Lake Wakatipu and is set against the dramatic Southern Alps, surrounded by pure nature and wild mountains. Tourists from around the world flock here every year to experience extreme and adventurous activities. Queenstown also has a renowned bike park and nearby mountain resorts with world-class bike trails. But we’d be heading off the trails for something a little more remote. 


Shimano STEPS


For this rugged backcountry trip, the three of us were equipped with pedal-assist e-bikes. Not so much because we are lazy or old, but because of the fun factor. E-bikes offer a different way of riding, of experiencing adventure. They open new possibilities like riding longer, farther, and steeper terrain that would be too hard or simply impossible on a regular bike. 


Shimano STEPS


The harsh grass in the alpine rock and snowfields of this area would hardly be ridable or fun on a regular bike. But with e-bikes, it was possible to keep our momentum through this rough terrain. We were guaranteed a workout despite the Category 1 electric pedal assist bikes because we tried to conserve battery power along the way. When riding routes that haven't been ridden before, there's a high potential to get lost and have to backtrack, which could deplete valuable battery power. Using up too much power too quickly could leave us in a sticky situation with a battery running out before the trail did.  


Hans Rey Shimano STEPS


Full suspension bikes were also a must for this technical terrain, and big tires allowed for better traction. While the wider tires have a bigger footprint or contact area on the ground, they can also be run with lower air pressure for improved traction. One of the most underrated parts of an e-bike set up is finding the perfect tire pressure, which depends on many factors. One or two psi higher or lower can make all the difference. I encourage every rider to experiment with their tire pressures to find their sweet spot, which will vary from terrain to terrain and riding style. High-speed bike park berms and jumps require more pressure than slow and bumpy backcountry outings. 


Heli bike tours


We also used a helicopter on this e-bike adventure. Why use a helicopter with e-bikes, you may ask? Well, simply because we had the opportunity and invitation. But we also wanted to explore the remote New Zealand backcountry that is hard to access on regular bikes and even on e-bikes unless dropped off. Outings like this would typically require multiple days, which would mean bringing tents, sleeping bags, food, and more. We’ve all done traditional multi-day adventures before, and they are always a lot of fun. But the helicopter could drop us off at pretty much any point we wanted and then we’d pedal back home through the high alpine and overgrown, rocky terrain. 


Heli Cockpit


We went on three different outings with the helicopter during our visit. It was interesting to preview our routes and pick lines as we flew over, and it was helpful to scout unknown areas. We searched the terrain from the air, looking for the best trails while avoiding valleys that would lead us to dead ends or unpassable rivers. 


Shimano STEPS Hans Rey


Our rides were made up of endless ridges with breathtaking views with hardly any signs of civilization. We came across some old mining sites and ghost towns from New Zealand’s gold and copper rush days. Some of these former mining trails made great biking trails some 140 years later. 


Hans Rey Heli Ebike trip New Zealand


One day, we were dropped off on top of an alpine mountain with no trails in sight. We had to navigate and pick our lines through rough rock sections and spree fields, patches of snow, and endless ridges that would eventually join some old dirt roads or trails. 


Shimano STEPS


Another day, Henry called the operators at Coronet Ski Resorts to get permission to fly to the top of the mountain. The bike park and gondola hadn’t opened for the summer season yet, so we landed up there and got to put first tracks on the freshly groomed flow trails. These trails are eye-candy and snake down the mountainside with one roller, jump, or berm after the other.


Henry sitting the the heli


However, my favorite day of the trip was when Henry’s dog Alfi accompanied us for the day. He loved running alongside us as we rode, always minding and respecting the bikes. Needless to say, Alfie was a very tired dog at the end of that day. 


Water Falls


It sure was nice to have a “friend with benefits” with Henry and his private helicopter access at our service without time restraints. We asked to fly over different areas to look at other trail options or arranged to be picked up halfway down a ridge to stop for lunch. We even made a quick detour one day to fly over the famous Milford Sound Fiord. These sure are not regular requests or options on my usual riding trips.


Heli eiken tour New Zealand


This riding trip to Queenstown was definitely a special trip and extravagant experience to be part of. It was the best way to catch up with good old mates and experience new terrain in a pretty spectacular way. Traveling by helicopter and e-bikes opened the door for all kinds of possibilities that I had not experienced before.