For most people, the challenge of racing the Enduro World Series is enough on its own. But Matthew Fairbrother isn't like most people. After arriving at the first round in Scotland with no solid plan on how he would get to the next race or any race that summer, he decided he would bikepack the entire 2022 Enduro World Series. No easy feat, given some races were over 1000km apart. Now back home in New Zealand, we thought we'd sit down and chat about his summer adventure.
Crankbrothers: Alright, who is Matthew Fairbrother?
Matthew Fairbrother: I'm Matthew, I’m 18, and I live on the South Island of New Zealand. Basically, all I do is biking, haha - it’s mostly my whole life. This year I decided to make the jump and head overseas and compete in the Enduro World Series season, and I ended up bikepacking between all the venues.
CB: How on earth did you come up with this idea of bikepacking the series?
MF: So basically, I went overseas with no plan, umm, you know, a young New Zealand kid living on an island, I didn’t know anyone over there, so yea went over with no plan. I think a week before the first EWS in the Tweed Valley, I stumbled upon Wyn Masters, who's a fellow kiwi - I also hadn't met him before. So, we got talking, and I mentioned I didn’t have a way to get to the next EWS in Slovenia, and I think he just mentioned, “you should bike there,” and I was like, “oh yea I'll bike there, I'll do it”. At that point, I had no idea how far away Slovenia was, but I was talking to Wyn Masters, so it was kind of hard to say no. So, yea, at that point, I was kinda committed to it. I had a week to get all my stuff sorted and set off to Slovenia.
CB: So, you had no plan whatsoever? You just rocked up to Europe and decided to do it?
MF: Yep, exactly.
CB: I guess then you didn’t have routes planned or anything like that before leaving New Zealand? You were just winging the whole trip a little bit?
MF: Yep, yea, I winged the whole thing. It wasn’t even a thought back in New Zealand. I hadn’t even bike-packed before this whole thing, haha.
CB: Talk about throwing yourself into the deep end! Have you always enjoyed these weird, type 2 challenges?
MF: Yea, somewhat. Once a year, I kinda like to challenge myself just to see what I’m capable of, so in the past, that’s just been single big-day efforts. Like a 10,000-meter climb challenge in a single day kinda thing. I've done a couple of those on the big bike, descending on single blacks and double blacks just to challenge myself. But yea, just single big days, I’ve never done two big days back-to-back.
CB: Hold on… So you have never done two big days back-to-back? How long were you in Europe?
MF: Nah, never. Umm, 5 months, haha.
CB: That’s a pretty big jump up! I did have a look at your Strava, and there are some huge days on there. What would you say was the longest and toughest stretch of the adventure?
MF: I think the toughest would have been the Switzerland Enduro World Series Race to Loudenvielle, France. I think that was just over 1000km, and essentially, I only had 4 days to do it.
CB: Do you know how much climbing was in that roughly?
MF: Ohhh, at a guess, maybe 6000m.
“The first night, it was going to hit -2, so for that, I decided not to sleep that night and just biked all night until like 4 pm the next day and then slept until 12 pm and then got going again.”
CB: 1000km in 4 days is no small feat. How did you manage those rides? Was it a case of just putting your head down and going, or were you quite methodical about it?
MF: I think mainly just sticking my head down and going. But then, like some of them, I was being a bit tactful. The one I just mentioned in Switzerland, the first night, it was going to hit -2, so for that, I decided not to sleep that night and just biked all night until like 4 pm the next day and then slept until 12 pm and then got going again. Just because the nights were so cold, I knew, I wouldn’t get enough quality sleep to help me push on the next day.
CB: How long was that ride?
MF: So, I competed in the EWS that morning, so I would have woken up at like 7 am that morning, competed in the EWS, then I left the venue at 4 pm, and then stopped the next day at like 4 pm. So that works out like 24 hours, but I think it was like 20 hours of moving time. I had like two 30-minute naps along the way just to keep me attentive. But yea, that was well over 24 hours awake.
CB: How do you fuel for that kinda ride? I’ve seen in other interviews you like to just eat on the go rather than stop and hang out.
MF: So, for me, doing these big single days back home, I kind of understand how quickly time can add up, especially if you are stopping to eat all the time. Like when I'm at home doing those single days, I’m just doing laps of something, so it’s quite easy to stop at the bottom of each lap and take 5 minutes to have a snack. But like quickly, that time accumulates up to hours, and you’ve wasted so much time. So, yea, when I was overseas, I’d never stop to eat, I’d just always eat on the bike, just to save time. Just multi-task, you know.
CB: What was your go-to on-the-bike snack?
MF: I was just basically eating candy, fizzy, and potato chips. That was just because I had an expensive bike with me, and all my belongings, and I was by myself, so I couldn’t just go into a city or town and leave my bike outside a shop and go and find actual food. I was kinda limited to all these gas stations that were in the middle of nowhere.
CB: So you were eating on the go, trying to save time. What about bike setup. Were you changing things between races at all? Switching tires, or anything?
MF: Basically, I was switching my chain and cassette. I had a chain and cassette I’d use for the commutes and just wear to bits, and then a good chain and cassette for all the events. Then for tires, I swapped over to slicks for the commutes, except for USA and Canada, because I didn’t have enough weight to take them on the plane with me, so I just used my normal tires there.
When I was in Sugarloaf, I decided to cut the knobs off so I could turn them into slicks before biking to the airport, and I ended up slipping with the knife I was using to cut the knobs and cut into my hand and sliced a vein.
CB: Damn! How did that end up?
MF: So, basically, Slawomir Lukasik and the Canyon team were staying next door to me, I think I shouted out to them, then I passed out on their balcony, like on the deck just outside their door. So they came out, and I was just passed out on the floor. It wasn’t even that bad, but I was tired, and I don't know, it just got to that. I came to, and I’m just there, they are holding my hand in the air, and I’m all patched up. Yea, they kinda saved me. That was cool.
“The hallucinations are never that bad like I know what they are, and I’m kinda fine with them, haha”
CB: Ok, I’ve seen in other interviews you had a few interesting stories from, for example, your Canada - US border crossing, what would you say is the one you remember most? The craziest run-in with animals or people?
MF: I could say one for animals and people, I think, haha. So, it was maybe like the second or third day I’d started this whole journey, I’d just made it into Germany. This is after the EWS Tweed Valley. I made it into Germany, I was maybe 20 hours in, so I was getting tired, it was about sunset kinda time, so I guess the shadows were kinda long, and yea. I basically started getting hallucinations. I always get them at that time of day. The hallucinations are never that bad like I know what they are, and I’m kinda fine with them, haha. But basically, they are just like animals that are jogging along beside me, all nice animals though, no gnarly animals, haha, but that was happening, and then I got hit in the face by a bird. At first, I didn’t think anything of it because I knew I was hallucinating, like completely aware, so I just passed it off, and it wasn’t until the next morning when I was looking at my phone and looking at my face it was just covered in blood. Turns out I did get hit by a bird, haha.
CB: That’s absolutely crazy. I assume you were all good though?
MF: Yep, yea, I was all good. My face was a bit sore, but I was fine.
CB: And you had a bit of a run-in with some people too?
MF: Yea, this was in the USA, heading to the Sugarloaf EWS. There were some workers painting white lines on the highway. Now I’m not too sure if there was a sign out or if I missed it, but I ended up biking all over their white lines. The paint was wet, and I kinda got paint all over the place with my tires, and yea, haha. One of the guys wasn’t that stoked and ended up chasing after me and forced me off the highway. I got pushed off the highway and kinda like into this park, so I just went into this park and like escape, haha. I didn’t want anything to do with that guy, and then I was biking next to this like swampy pond. It was pretty swampy, so I had to get off my bike and walk because it was too hard to pedal, but then these two Canadian geese came out and started squawking at me and coming after me. So, I got attacked by one of the Canadian geese, that was quite exciting, haha. Those things are gnarly. I was a bit scared after that one. Kinda like each block I had a bird accident.
CB: Those geese don't like to be messed with, haha. You escaped the bears in Canada?
MF: Well yea, kind of, haha. When I was in Whistler, I was talking to someone about the East Coast, asking if there were any animals up there that I needed to be concerned about, and they were like, “nah you're sweet as, don't even think about it”. So, the first night I got over there, I’d set up camp, and my bike was maybe like 15 meters beside where I was sleeping, so there was a bit of space. But then I woke up to a bear that had gotten into my bags and was eating all my food. So, turns out there were animals I should have been concerned about, haha.
CB: I bet that was a bit of a shock, haha. Did you have a tent or anything, or did you just find a spot and sleep?
MF: I was just sleeping in a bivy.
CB: Ok, I’m curious if there was anything that really caught you off guard with this adventure. Like anything you hadn't considered at all but was a challenge?
MF: Umm, yea, I think like stuff like this (editor's note: media and interviews). I could never have expected the amount the whole thing blew up and the attention it got, and the support I got out of it. It kinda wasn’t a thought at the time.
CB: I'd say it’s probably the biggest and most interesting story that came out of this year's EWS.
MF: Yea for me it was something that was quite hard to handle along the way, because, like, I was super fatigued, and I’ve never done social media or media stuff to this extent. Definitely starting to get the hang of it, but not knowing any of it and then getting chucked in the deep end immediately was definitely hard, and under immense fatigue, it was a tough time, haha.
CB: I can imagine the planning behind the scenes while you were over there was pretty crazy.
MF: I think I kinda just like gave myself a name of, like, just sending it, or going with the flow, but yea, there's an insane amount of organizing that goes on behind the scenes before I even set off.
CB: Let’s chat a little about the racing. Going into a race weekend, did you find you were able to really focus on the racing, or did you find you were always thinking ahead a bit?
MF: I think a bit of both. Like the goal was always to focus on the EWS, but I guess at the same time, immediately after, I had to set off to the next venue, so quite often, on the liaisons, I’d have my phone out, and I was doing all this planning. So, yea, my full focus wasn’t on the EWS, which was quite tough; that’s like mainly why I’m there. I think at some of the EWS races, you can kinda see that from how I finished up position-wise, just depending on the pedal I had afterward. I think it kinda shows at some of them.
CB: I’d say you had some very impressive, and solid results, especially given the fatigue, but are you pretty happy with how the season went race-wise?
MF: Yea, for sure. Like, even at Tweed Valley, before I’d done any of this stuff, I wasn’t expecting to be at that level. I got 11th there with a mechanical, so I was pretty happy with that, and then I followed that up with 10th in Slovenia after biking 1500km. So yea, like it’s a big highlight. It’s quite cool to see I’m up there with it, and I’ve still got two more years in U21, so yea, hopefully, I can start to push that number even further down over the next couple of years.
CB: What do you think next year will bring? Are you wanting to head over again next year and do a similar thing or want to focus more on the racing?
MF: Yea, next year, I’ll be doing the same thing again. I don't think it’s that often in mountain biking you find something unique that no one else is doing, so I think it would be a waste if I didn’t take hold of that and see how far I can take it.
“I’m kind of a believer you can push your body to do anything you want”
CB: So, the trip in general, did you find it more mentally hard or physically hard?
MF: I’d say mentally because I’m kind of a believer you can push your body to do anything you want, you just, yea, you have to have the mental side of it. But yea mental side was harder.
CB: Ok, so final question, and I’m sure this is what everyone wants to know, haha, but how far did you ride?
MF: Uh, I think it was just shy of 4 thousand kilometers.
CB: That’s honestly hard to grasp, just how far that it is! Thank you so much for your time this morning. It’s been a pleasure listening to your stories and what you have achieved. I’m already looking forward to seeing what you do next year.
MF: No worries, too easy!
A huge thank you to Matthew for taking the time to chat. Make sure you keep up to date with his 2023 adventure over on his Instagram and give him a wave if you see him out pedaling.
Images // Sven Martin