An interview with Jonathan Kennett

Where do you start when writing the first book about the history of New Zealand-made bicycles? What kind of stories do you uncover along the way?

In this interview, Jonathan Kennett discusses his travels across Aotearoa to research the history of New Zealand-made bicycles and the fascinating people and stories he encountered.

When he first dreamed of writing this book, his brother thought he’d be lucky to find 35 New Zealand-made bikes. After a year of digging around in archives, factories and backyard sheds, Jonathan found over 100 examples.

Listen to Jonathan’s remarkable insights about bike-making in Aotearoa and his journey of writing The Bikes We Built.

MTB Hall of Fame

Paul, Simon and Jonathan are happy to announce we’re going to be inducted into the Marin MTB Hall of Fame on 23rd September 2018 along with Steve Peat, Ken Chlouber and Josh Bender.

We’d like to thank the Hall of Fame selection committee and Jim Hasenauer for nominating us, plus all those who voted for us. And all our friends and family who have supported us in our various cycling ventures over the years.

Simon and Paul first visited the Hall of Fame way back in 1989 when it was still in Crested Butte. We were on a cycling and racing pilgrimage to pay homage to the pioneering people and events that gave birth to the sport of mountain biking. It is an honour to be acknowledged within the same MTB museum that pays tribute to our heroes.

Rather than ramble on about ourselves we encourage you to pop over to the MTB Hall of Fame website and read up about all the amazing inductees that are featured there.

An internship on the mountain

20171025_120809 (Large)The three musketeers: Dean, Alex, and I (Orion)

The first grubber swing was through entrenched and seemingly hostile gorse, not the smoothest of introductions but an accurate one. “Orion’s Belt” is the new track on Makara peak to connect the main body of the park to its more advanced southern extension. At roughly one kilometre in length it cuts into the steep hillside shooting through Manuka groves, sun sheltered glens and more than a comfortable share of rocky sections.

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Alex focusing on not sliding off the track instead of the view

That initial swing through the gorse was my first introduction to trail building. While hard work, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time here in New Zealand. My friend Alex and I are from America, and as part of our study abroad program we had the good fortune to land an internship with the Kennett Brothers. We have classes on Mondays and Fridays leaving Tuesday through Thursday for our internships. So while our classmates toiled away in an office or on a beach cleaning up trash we were out in the bush sculpting clay, rock and roots into a track to be enjoyed for years to come.

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Alex racing through the shaded glen

IMG_5019 (Large) IMG_5032 (Large) Test riding after a couple hours work was the best way to understand the shape of the trail and what should be done the next day to improve it.

Growing up in Colorado with the Rocky Mountains as my backyard, mountain biking has been a part of my life since before I can remember. My dad taught my brother and I, and I can still remember the day he picked us up from kindergarten with a face covered in blood from the crash he’d had on the way down the mountain to pick us up. He told the other parents that his wheel locked up but I think he was just trying to save what was left of his face (he was actually fine it was just a surprising amount of blood for a 8 year old).

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I quickly test out the first perfected section

I’m getting off track, but the reason I bring it up is because although I’ve been biking most of my life I’ve never given back and created a track for others to enjoy. That is why this internship has been so enjoyable; building trails for others to enjoy is something all mountain bikers should experience because it roots us to the sport we love deeper than the action of bicycling itself.

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Pilot tracks are exciting tracks

I will remember for years to come the exhaustion felt throughout my body and mind during the third week of track building. I remember my coworker Tor warning me the first day we started, “Don’t go to hard, you’ll burn yourself out,” but there was so much to do and it didn’t feel too backbreaking in the moment… but that moment passed and then came another and another and another, hour after hour, day after day. Then the weekend arrived, and by Tuesday when we started again on the third week I was starting to feel strong and ready to break rocks and dig up barberry stumps all day. That Tuesday, the 6th of November, Alex, Dean and I pushed through 150 metres of track, the most we’d ever done by far. The next day we were quite tired but still managed to cut through 120 metres of bush with the pilot track. I arrived home that Wednesday and fell face first onto my bed and stayed there half an hour without moving. I eventually stumbled into the shower and afterwards wolfed down an entire bag of pasta and a number of sausages.The next morning I woke stiffly but managed to eat four eggs and some toast before gracelessly running down to catch the train.

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Jothanan in awe of the pure skill I possess

That day was hard. Luckily Jonathan and Dean could see we were nearing the edge and we spent the morning in the office and got some new work pants (my jeans had a number of fresh rips, one specifically was not in a flattering place, although on the hot days the draft was appreciated).  When we got up to the trail Alex and I worked like zombies, but we still managed to shape about 70 metres of track. Those three days we created 340 metres of track, about a third of the entire distance, but our bodies had been left along the way. Lessons in restraint and of physical ability have to be learned this way, otherwise they don’t stick and the same mistakes are made again. Therefore, memories like this aren’t negative ones. I always enjoyed the work and the people I was working with, learning hard but important lessons along the way. What more could I ask for!

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Alex zooming along the boardwalk and retaining wall

The sculpting of this track couldn’t have been possible without the tireless efforts of our brilliant, humble and level headed track supervisor Dean Johansson, the man who is strong as a bull Tor Meulpmgracht-Nadsen, Reece Wollen who works hard and keeps us all in good spirits, John (Podge) Rosemergy who cut through all the big troublesome trees with his lovely chainsaw and built the sturdy retaining wall and boardwalk with the help of Mike Barker, and of course we can’t forget the man behind the mission who often came out to help us even though he probably had better things to do, Jonathan Kennett. A corporate group work-party from Datacom was lucky enough to punch through the last connecting section and for that I am also quite thankful.

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A strong corperate Aussie

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Start ’em young!

The Kennett Brothers have supported Bikes in Schools since day one, by designing and building the first Skills Track in 2010. Since then we’ve helped with several others, and are now over the moon to see that schools around the country are adopting the Bikes in Schools programme. There are so many benefits. Rather than list them here, we are putting up this great little video which explains what it is all about.

West Coast Wilderness Trail Opening

The West Coast Wilderness Trail, going from Hokitika to Kumara, opened on 23 of November and it was AWESOME. From 6.30am, riders started from both ends and met in Kumara for festivities. Jonathan joined 30 others from Hokitika who rode two legs (70 km) through scenic country, and via Cowboy Paradise.

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It was so good that he and a new friend Kevin O’Donnell decided to ride back to Hokitika. Crazy, yet, but also “…more fun than pissing on an electric fence” as they say on the Coast. Only just made it before the Takeaways shop closed!

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Just be aware that there are several sections still under construction, although you can ride on roads to avoid them.

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We were also lucky enough to have a tour of the tracks on Blue Spur, just out of Hokitika. The locals have done an awesome job up there, and although the tracks are rough they are also mega fun to ride.

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Thanks to John, Jonno and Neil for the tour, and not breaking me (they way they have so many others!). It was a real buzz.

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Round Taupo
& Mt Pureora

Round Taupo was just as much of a buzz as ever. Great to meet so many cyclists in such a short space of time.

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The following day we teamed up with mountain bike guide Ted Webb and did a circumnavigation of Mt Pureora.

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Beautiful scenery, tricky navigation and a mix of riding = a classic mtb adventure. One for the next edition of Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides.

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We recommend Tread Routes – NZ Mountain Biking Expeditions for any group looking for an awesome biking holiday.

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Rimutaka Cycle Trail Opening

The Rimutaka Cycle Trail had its official opening on 23 of October.

It stood out as special because of meeting an old man that used to live at the Rimutaka Rail Trail summit. Ron Mitchell had to catch the mail train to school at Cross Creek and has vivid memories of life on the trail when steam was king.

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Here is Jonathan having a look at Ron’s photo album, and the PM opening the latest cycle trail.

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The great thing about local cycling holidays is that you can be flexible and take advantage of fine weather with a group of friends. We decided to head around the Rimutaka Cycle Trail and had tailwinds most of the way.


The trail is in brilliant condition for 99% of the route from Petone to Ocean Beach, which is where we camped at DOC’s Corner Creek campsite. The last section around to Orongorongo Station will be officially opened soon, but be warned, there hasn’t been any upgrading work done yet. We will let you know when they start.

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Bike Taupo: Waihaha

Bike Taupo does it again!

In May, we finally had a chance to ride the new 14 km Waihaha section of the Great Lake Trail. Brilliant fun, and great scenery, although you need to keep your speed in check… in places the damp leaf litter is very slippery. You can end up wrapped around a tree before you know it.


It starts at the Waihaha River Bridge on the western side of Lake Taupo and goes for 14 km to a dead end near the lake. Then you ride back the same way. There isn’t much altitude gain or loss, so that’s not a problem.

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Bike Taupo trail building crews are now working from a bay only accessable by boat, back to this point. They hope to be finished by Christmas and rumours are that it is the best yet. Go BikeTaupo!