Gavin’s 30 Years of No DNFs

A Huge Accomplishment.

Today we’re proud to celebrate a huge milestone for our head Wheel Builder, Gavin.

He has accomplished a career achievement very few can claim: after hundreds of events over 30 years of bike racing he’s finished every single race he started without a single DNF (did not finish).

Yes that’s right, 30 years of racing a bicycle, with no DNF’s. On top of an already impressive resume of podium finishes in events of all types and disciplines of cycling.

Just in case the gravity of such an achievement is not immediately obvious we’re turning it over to Gav to share some of the high and lows of what it takes to show up to every race entered, and get across the finish line: no matter what. 

-Tristan

Before I share some stories and photos during this time, just remember that what is trendy and cool now, may not be so in a few years time! Haha… I was so proud of what I had back in the day and worked hard for every cent I spent on cycling.

Where do I start…. My first race was a local XC race on my local hill, Cannon Point in Upper Hutt, back in 1992. I would have only owned a bike for a year or less, but was keen as and had mates that had been racing for a few years. I raced the short course and all I can remember was that I finished in-between 2 adults, adults that I figured should be faster. I was so happy with my results, no idea where I came placing wise.

I have been racing bicycles ever since, mostly locally, then North Island, then NZ wide, then a bit in Australia, and once lucky enough in Canada just 4 years ago. All this time without ever having any down time / time off / getting distracted by stuff like chasing girls, cars, uni, family, parties, all the things that I’ve seen others “skip some years”. In my peak (before Covid delays) I raced around 35 races a year. You can do the math on that… safe to say I don’t have beginner’s luck anymore!!

Having no DNF’s has never been something I have tried to do, it kinda just came easy. There has never been an option, I have always wanted to ride.

Sure there have been some hard days. Some would say I’ve been silly, and some may say “why?”. So here are some stories of the hard days between the tape…

The time I broke my arm at a PNP XC race up Makara was a stand out: I had never broken a bone before. I crashed on Sally Alley (yes the uphill trail, before it was smoothed out). It was on the last lap and I was easily top 3 in grade – next minute, I’m on the ground sore. Sat down for many minutes thinking, but reality was: I could pedal and hold the bar. So I carried on up to the top; Jason McCarty wasn’t having a good day and rode with me once he caught up. Going uphill was fine, but boy did it hurt on the way down – I was screaming! I finished the race, asked my doctor at the time (who was also racing) what she thought and she said, “Nar you can’t have broken it… you still beat me!”. So I went home, showered up and went to hospital – yup, broken.

On a multi short lap winter race up Tunnel Gully, I crashed on lap 4 with 1 lap to go. I hit the ground so hard it bent my left crank, so much it couldn’t go past my chainstay!  It was so muddy that it didn’t matter, I walked up the hills and rolled down and still no one overtook me for the last lap! That was a classic 90’s winter race: when you walked up, wheels clogged up, fighting chainsuck and then slide the best you could on the way down.

I have raced the Karapoti Classic some 23 times now, landing me a life membership which is cool. I have had some rough days out there. 

One year, I broke my rear gear cable before the rock garden and had to use the 3 rings on the front only – which sucked. 

One time, I ripped a tyre at the bottom of the warm up climb. I recall walking back to the deadwood / dopper intersection against traffic when there were 800 riders coming towards me. I borrowed a tyre off a mate, Andy Gilbert, who was watching at that area. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t borrow a wheel and just borrowed the tyre. Also, have no idea how he got back to the car 5 Kms away… Anyways, I was last, I even managed to convince the tail-end charlies to carry on without me knowing I would catch up rather quickly. Overtook a few 100 people that day, safe to say I went over the magic 3hr mark haha.

Another time, I dropped my electrolyte drink bottle on the start line river, leaving me with just a Monster energy drink. So, instead of popping back to grab a bottle from the car, I carried on not drinking until the 2 hour mark, in case the caffeine and sugar made me bonk having it too soon.

Of course there have been heaps of punctures racing the Karapoti, but I have managed to fix them with no problems.

On one of the Napier rounds of the New Zealand Mountain Bike Series I was coming down a hill, at a rather good clip of speed and kneed a post going around a corner – you know, left hand corner, right foot down, left knee sticking out a bit… Well, I clipped my knee on a post hidden in the long grass. Did not crash, but in a high amount of pain. I dribbled to the feed zone yelling, “I kneed a post!”. Miles was like, “Why do you need a post?”. After laying down a while, I got up and continued on. I figured, if I could pedal from the incident area to the feed zone, then I can pedal the next 2 laps. Don’t think I ever went to get that checked out, just gave it time for the swelling to go down.

I had a rough day racing BCBR – the world’s best MTB week-long stage race, in BC, Canada. 

About 3 days in, about 30th place, in the first 3k still on a 4WD road, I clipped a stick while over-taking and broke my tubeless valve not-so-clean-off! Damn! Problem was, I couldn’t get the lockring off the broken valve to fit a tube!! After some time, I had the roaming moto stop to help… then the tailend charlie moto helped also!  5 minute wave starts, meaning I was last with about 500 riders in front after just a few minutes of racing that day. BCBR is known for the awesome singletrack, it’s fair to say there was a heap of following slower riders that day. I was in tears that night – so pissed I went from 8th in grade to 20th.
Clawed my way back to 10th in grade over the rest of the weeks racing, which was my goal when leaving NZ; a bit of a “what if” though.

Once I ripped my rear derailleur off at a local cyclocross race early-on. I stopped and then just single speeded the bike and carried on… probably should have called it and started the clean up.


Part of having no DNFs also means there have been a lot of races I have entered and maybe should have DNS-ed (did not start).

I smashed my face up in Makara, (again on Sally Alley!) some 6 days before racing the Oceania Champs at Thredbo, Australia. Fully knocked out, smashed teeth, stitches in upper lip, eating creamed rice and fruit salad for the week. Anyway, I was off to Australia, lip stitches out the night before the race and lined up with no expectations. I didn’t get laped out, was not last, and had one lap that was faster than the current NZ champion, Stu. Can’t complain about that.

At one Karapoti Classic, I had extremely bad sciatica; It hurt just to walk to the letter box. Still raced that one.

Once, with 3 days of build-up, I had a stomach bug. Such an upset stomach: like toilet 5 times the morning of the race – I ended up skipping breakfast… Here’s a tip: toilet paper in the back pocket of your race jersey is not ideal when you’re above your waist in the start line river.

With all this, some might say it’s stupidity. But, I have to say, I’m rather proud to have gone 30 years with no DNF’s to my name.

Picking good, fast parts for all my bikes, looking after the bike before and during the race, not caring if on paper you sucked that day, all have given me some huge highs. Ultimately, I’ve come away with meeting a lot of awesome people through racing a bike.

I’m sure one day a DNF will come, but from now on I’m not counting! haha.

I’d love to hear your stories! How have you gotten on with DNF-ing? Not everything is in our control, but pushing on makes for some great stories!

Gavin McCarthy
Head Wheelbuilder
Gavin@Wheelworks.co.nz