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Never too old to learn

At 82 years young, Malcolm is constantly progressing his bike skills...

Flat Top Hill, Alexandra
Geoff Marks

Trail Hub caught up with Malcolm for a coffee in Alexandra and a spin around Flat Top Hill’s tracks to understand how he has progressed his riding and to get some advice for those looking to get into cycling again after a break of a few decades…. because Malcolm Honeychurch is proof that you're never too old to improve your mountain bike skills.

“As a kid I lived on my bike but didn't ride as an adult until aged 60”, explains Malcolm. “I’d been a competitive road runner for a number of years until a persistent back problem forced me to stop running. At 60 I was feeling unfit, putting on weight and it was then that I was encouraged to start riding by a mate”, he explains.

“Well, of course I got hooked immediately and started competing in every event I could over the next 10 years or so. But unfortunately, I came to cycling with an innate sense of invincibility. In hindsight I was completely over confident with virtually no bike skills to support me. I can see that now”, says Malcolm as we carefully survey a tricky line through some rocks at Flat Top Hill.

“My competitive nature and a desire for speed was my undoing, and it’s where my problems began”, he continues. “I had loads of accidents - 3 concussions; numerous sutures; even one hospitalisation, not to mention the countless crashes which didn't result in any significant injury”.

Following significant back surgery, coupled with his wife wisely forbidding Malcolm from riding competitively, he developed a whole different attitude to mountain biking, focusing on fitness, fun and abandoning his “ridiculous need for speed”. And, as a former psychotherapist, he’s the first to advocate for the mental health and wellbeing benefits of bike riding.

At 82 years old, Malcolm is still progressing his single-track riding skills. Riding with Trail Hub's resident coach, Chris Foggin at Flat Top Hill.

“Over time I concentrated on improving my actual bike skills”, he says.

However, time does catch up eventually, even for the perennial Mr. Honeychurch.

“At 81 I was starting to lose some of the enjoyment I’d previously had riding my bike. The style of riding which I liked meant I was often becoming anaerobic [getting puffed], and it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. So, I swallowed my pride and my previous disdain for E-bikes and I converted just over a year ago…. And I haven’t looked back! Wow, what a difference! The E-bike has put all the fun back into my riding again”, enthuses the born-again-biker.

“The heavier bike (I only weigh 60kgs), together with the general geometry of the bike, has allowed me to improve my skills over much more technical terrain. I have especially enjoyed developing more technical climbing skills which the power assistance enables”.

Backcountry rides like Queenstown's Coronet Loop require skill and experience, says Malcolm.

And do not underestimate the challenges of the Lake Dunstan Trail.

However, Malcolm is keen to point out that the new E-bike has not made him an instantly better rider and he has had to re-learn many aspects of his mountain biking and adapt to riding the E-bike.

Over a post ride coffee, Malcolm explains that he considers his learning curve to be continuous one, “I now enjoy riding on the single track of Matangi Station and Flat Top Hill in Alexandra or the Coronet Loop in Queenstown. I can clearly measure ongoing improvements. However, these days I'm more than comfortable to walk over sections if I don't feel confident, and I know my limits”.

“Whilst the E-bike has been transformative for me, I do see some worrying scenarios where inexperienced people are getting themselves into trouble”, warns Malcolm. “A bit like me back in the day, there seems to be a sense that by hiring an E-bike for a day trip on a ride like the Lake Dunstan Trail can make people invincible. This is not the case and over confidence can quickly lead to accidents”, advises Malcolm.

“People should realise that an e-Bike doesn’t make you a better cyclist, in fact in many cases it makes you a worse one”!


Check out Trail Hub’s 12 Essential Tips for Safe & Enjoyable E-Bike Riding… because it’s not just like riding a bike! Or check out this useful guide about transitioning from conventional bikes to E-bikes.

“It’s easy to see how E-bikes can lull people into a false sense of security and create the issue of over estimating ability and under estimating what is required to ride within a secure range”, he cautions.

“Do I have any advice for people getting into bike riding in later life? Absolutely”, laughs Malcolm.

“Learn from my mistakes”, he says with a wry smile…. “Take your time to learn new skills, you’re never too old to progress, and importantly plan your rides and understand your limits. There’s plenty of information out there and friendly social groups of cyclists which you can join to help build your skills and experience”.

From steps... single track, you're never too old to keep learning and progressing!


  1. Plan and research your ride. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Understanding trail grades is essential. Begin with the easier grade 1 trails to hone your skills, and don’t expect to master a grade 3 trail on your first outing as it’s likely to end in tears, or worse stitches!
  2. Be self-sufficient. Know what to pack and understand how to undertake basic repairs – to both yourself and your bike – and be prepared with the right clothing, food and water, toolkit and simple first aid kit.
  3. Get help and advice. You don’t learn to drive a car without an instructor or mentoring from a more experienced driver, it’s the same with cycling, and especially riding E-bikes. Ride with a social group of more experienced cyclists who can help you progress and learn, consider taking a course or at the least check out some of the great tutorials and guides available online.

For more information check out the Trail Tips & Coaching section on Trail Hub or the Recreational Cycling NZ Facebook page for more skills videos and how to ride safely and have fun riding.

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