Hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts descended on Blenheim on Friday for the start of the TT2000 endurance rally which will see them cover thousands of miles across the South Island in just 48 hours.
Nearly 300 bikers from across Aotearoa have gathered at Brayshaw Park to begin the two-day challenge which ends in Otago on Sunday.
Unlike its namesake, the Isle of Mann TT, the TT2000 is not classified as a race, but as a competitive endurance challenge where riders are tasked with collecting points at checkpoints scattered across Te Waipounamu.
Each participant must collect at least 2000 points and travel at least 2000 km heading south to the finish point in Milton, Otago.
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Each year, the TT2000 adopts a different theme for the challenge which determines where the checkpoints are along the way. This year, all checkpoints will be in schools and each school checkpoint will be worth a varying number of points.
Schools that are relatively easy to get to are only worth 30 points, while kura in remote locations can earn the intrepid rider up to 250 merit points for reaching it.
Competitors must take a photograph of their motorcycle’s odometer before the rally begins as proof of distance traveled and must also take photographs of their motorcycle with this year’s TT2000 rally t-shirt draped over it at each checkpoint to verify arrival.
For Blenheim biker Mark Wiseman, rallying was the perfect excuse to get back on two wheels after hanging up his helmet years ago in exchange for a family station wagon.
“I started riding motorbikes when I was 16 but gave up 20 years ago to settle down with my family and kids, then this popped up on Facebook and I thought” it’s not to be missed”. So a few months ago I rented a bike for the day and realized it was [riding motorbikes] it’s always been in my blood,” Wiseman said.
Each rider is allowed to chart their own course south, with some preferring to descend along the wet West Coast, while others prefer to sail along the East Coast with its drier climate.
Wiseman said plotting his route had totally consumed him over the past few weeks.
“The best is planning. I’ve been totally obsessed with planning my trip for over a month now,” he said.
For many, the main goal is to hit the 2000 points and 2000km to ensure they are classified as having completed the challenge. However, there are a few die-hards, including Wiseman, who want to test themselves to the limit.
“I plan to do 2500 km and collect 5000 points in 48 hours. From there I will ride to Tākaka and back, then I will cross the west coast before crossing the pass to the east coast, before returning to the coast west and through the Catlins before ending at Tokoiti School in Milton, Otago,” Wiseman said.
TT2000 organizer Mark Waterson says the number of riders taking part is increasing every year as more and more people are swapping four wheels for two.
Motorcycle sales have soared since the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, according to the Motor Industry Association, as “buyers seem to be spending their holiday money overseas on adventures closer to home”.
“I think we are one of the few events that can still go on these days because of the Covid restrictions. Also more and more people want to go out on the road and more and more people are going up on the bike, and that’s great,” said Waterson.
Keith Murphy took a week off and traveled down from Tauranga to take part in the event and stressed that safety was paramount.
“It’s not a race, and we really have to stress that. It’s about physically testing yourself. It’s all about endurance. Over the 48 hours I would say that the average speed was 60kmh, it’s a question of pleasure and endurance.
“We’re not 18 and we’re not making noise,” Murphy said.