How mountain biking helps Olympian Rod Dixon keep his mojo flowing
When 67-year-old Kiwi Olympian Rod Dixon used to visit Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua, it was to run laps on foot, often with the great Jack Foster. These days mountain bikes have taken over the forest … and that is a good thing according to Dixon.
Credit: RideNZ.co/Derek Morrison
“We used to love running here with Jack through the forest,” Dixon offers. “The energy that Jack shared with us was very defining.”
Dixon was recently in Rotorua to find out what all the fuss was about these “hero dirt” trails, tales of which had filtered back to him in his home in Los Angeles. It didn’t take the 1972 Olympic 1500m bronze medalist long to discover why they are held in such high regard.
“I was riding along and all of a sudden I had this euphoric feeling,” he explains with arms gesturing wide. “This wave of enthusiasm – I recognised it instantly. This is how I used to feel when I was running freely through the forest. Now I’m experiencing it as a mountain biker.”
He’s describing Yellow Brick Road, an aptly named short flowing trail and a perfect warm-up at the base of the hill. But, for Dixon, it was more than that.
“If I can get this feeling then other people will be able to get this feeling,” he considers. “As people get older they become concerned that they’re not able to do some of the things that they used to do, but mountain biking is something that you can do at any age. That has been proven for me today – we have already seen six- and seven-year-olds riding with their parents and I saw some guys that had to be older than me … and that’s very old,” he laughs.
We climb to a trig on a hilltop recently stripped of trees. Groups of riders buzz and a gaggle of Taranaki girls giggle and pose for photos. Dixon is in his element and immediately strikes up conversation.
Twenty minutes later, with arms pumped and breathing heavily from the seemingly endless descent we exit the trail.
“These trails are phenomenal,” blurts Dixon rubbing some dirt away from his face with the back of his hand. “I can see why Rotorua is the lead in developing mountain bike trails and infrastructure. I visit other areas like Nelson and it’s exciting to see that they are also learning from what Rotorua is doing with the development of trails that benefit communities and change the culture of people as far as recreation and wellness goes. That really is exciting.”
“The trails themselves are just beautiful. It’s not about how fast you can go, it’s how much energy you can draw from the power of the forest and the experience.”
Swapping his running shoes for cycling shoes has been a natural progression for Dixon, who applauds the lower impact of mountain biking.
“I do running about 35-45 minutes every other day and try to get at least three runs in every week because I know that it helps me with my muscle and bone density,” he explains. “I know that it helps my cardiovascular, but that’s about all you need to do. With mountain biking there is no stress, no impact – I can go out for four or five hours and still go out the next day for three or four hours.”
And he said reconnecting with long distance adventures into the wilderness had rejuvenated him.
“Mountain biking allows me to go out into the wilds – way into the mountains and do some of these amazing trails that I used to run 40 years ago. That’s the exciting part for me – a couple of sandwiches and some water and away you go for the day. I certainly can’t do that as a runner anymore.”
Dixon said the spectrum of people out enjoying the trails was something to behold.
“That’s the real slogan for this: you can do this – anybody can do this. Change your life, change your wellness and the health of your family – get out there and be active and participate in life. Rotorua has these incredible facilities that the trail builders are creating for future generations.”
Dixon said he had had just a taste of the trails on offer in the region, but vowed he'd be back for more.
Want to discover these trails for yourself?
RideNZ.co has an interactive map with all these trails on it and all the trails in the Central North Island. Save them to your itinerary and share your plans with friends.