Dave Donaldson is a pillar of the mountain bike community in Rotorua. He wears many hats, but his mountain bike helmet is by far his favourite. He is the Deputy Mayor of Rotorua, a past Master’s World Championship competitor, an instrumental character in bringing large-scale MTB events to New Zealand and a dedicated rider. Dave is involved in mountain biking from policy, governance and events right through to track design and building. We sent former World DH Champion, Scarlett Hagen, out to chat with this inspiring man.
In the early morning, before most of us get out of bed for work, Dave Donaldson can be found out riding under tree cover looping one of his favourite trail combinations in Whakarewarewa Forest: Gunna Gotta and Paddy’s Run, then Tickler and up Direct Road to Frontal Lobotomy, then down Eagle vs Shark, back around Red Tank Road across Lynmore Link and down Tank to Town. It's not a bad way to start your day.
And Dave’s days are busy. Now into his sixties, Dave leads a community full of passionate mountain bikers, together with a supportive local government, landowners and businesses. Mountain biking in Rotorua never sleeps – the climate allows for year-round riding and the volcanic soils suck up rain like blotting paper. With Whakarewarewa Forest on one side of town, Mount Ngonotaha on the other – complete with a gondola capable of carrying 3-4 bikes, and a thick schedule of events, Dave is kept on his toes.
When I caught up with the ever-enthusiastic man who is largely credited with the expansion of the Rotorua’s mountain bike scene, I wondered how he still finds the time to ride his bike on a weekly basis.
“I get cranky if I cannot get out at least three times a week for at least 90 minutes at a time," he smiles through his thick white beard. "Time pressures sometimes conspire against me, but with singletrack just 100 metres from my gate I can generally manage to fit in a fix."
I get cranky if I cannot get out at least three times a week for at least 90 minutes at a time.Dave Donaldson, Rotorua Deputy Mayor Share
Dave told me that he rode whenever he could for enjoyment and fitness, and increasingly to host visiting media, tourism chiefs, or athletes looking for a quick familiarisation with a race course.
He doesn't follow a training regime, but does consciously test himself regularly on a couple of tough technical climbs to make sure he is not going backwards.
“My favorite uphill tester is As You Do in the beautiful Tokorangi block," he offers. "I clean it about 50% of the time – more in the drier weather. And it’s about 90 seconds' ride from my house to the trailhead."
"I get my biggest flow buzz going on down Eagle vs Shark, but the rooty native gnarliness of Tihi o Tawa is hard to beat for an old-timer’s delight," he chuckles.
While we shouldn’t give away all of Dave’s ride secrets, he did mention a lesser-known trail, Te Ranga, which is a lovely hidden trail on Rainbow Mountain.
“I generally ride from the Waiotapu Tavern and the whole loop with the climb to the summit, the thermal stuff going on, the views and the downhill to Kerosene Creek – it's uniquely Rotorua.”
Dave's certainly a great figurehead for mountain biking in Rotorua, make sure you say hello when you see him out on the trails – that's if you can catch him.