We have already reported on Macdonald’s achievements, but let’s take as trip back in time to recognise fellow New Zealand enduro greats Stefan Merriman, Chris Birch and Paul Whibley.
Tauranga born and bred off-road motorcycle rider Stefan Merriman (pictured here in 2006) perhaps paved the way for so many Kiwis who followed him onto the elite dirt bike scene overseas.
Merriman (born in Tauranga on March 24, 1973, but the now 46-year-old is resident in Australia) contested the World Enduro Championships for many years with great success in the early 2000s, winning four world titles and two International Six Days Enduro crowns outright.
He started out his international racing career as a moto trials exponent and won the New Zealand, Australian and then the world youth (under-17) moto trials championships in 1989.
The 1993 season was a pretty good one too for the then rising star, as he won the New Zealand triple challenge super motard race, the New Zealand Supercross Championships (in the experts grade) and both the New Zealand and Australian national moto trials championships.
He tried his hand at road-racing in 1995, finishing runner-up in the Formula Two championship, as well as winning the New Zealand supersport championships, then swapped back to his “rock hopper” to again win the Australian moto trials title.
Merriman then made the transition to fulltime enduro racing and continued to carve up there, winning the Australian enduro Championships in the 250cc two-stroke class in 1996.
His career continued to gather momentum and he claimed another national enduro title in Australia in 1998, before taking his career to Europe.
Merriman won the senior enduro world championships in 2000 (in the 250cc class), 2001 (400cc), 2003 (250cc) and 2004 (Enduro 1) and he also finished third, fourth and fifth overall in other seasons.
Merriman also won the ISDE overall when it was staged in Spain in 2000, won his 250cc two-stroke class when the ISDE was staged in Brazil in 2003 and then won the ISDE outright again when it was held in Poland in 2004, along the way also winning the national enduro championship titles outright in Italy in 2000, 2001 and 2003.
Merriman is usually listed as an Australian in the results, but he is fiercely proud of his Kiwi roots.
“Yes, I’m a New Zealander, of course but it’s just that most of the reports done about me are by people who don’t know,” he said during an interview with BikesportNZ.com in 2006.
“I raced under an Italian licence over there because that was the only way I could be eligible for the Italian nationals. Some know me as Australian because I lived there for many years, have Australian citizenship and an Australian passport, in addition to my New Zealand one, and I have represented Australia at the ISDE.
“The Australians have been very good to me and they are serious about sending teams to the ISDE. New Zealand is not so organised.
“If New Zealand would commit to sending a team to the ISDE every year, then I would have raced for them, but they don’t. I’ve been adopted by Australia.”
He was inducted into the Australian Motorcycling Hall of Fame this year.
Merriman remains active these days racing mountain-bikes and has twice won the over-40s title in Australia.
His father, Warrick, speaking from Tauranga, said: “He rides about 700 kilometres every week. He’s crazy.”
It makes you dizzy just thinking about what Stefan Merriman has achieved and he was obviously an inspiration to fellow Kiwis such as Chris Birch and Paul Whibley who have trodden many of the same pathways.
Aucklander Birch (although he now lives in Thames) has multiple New Zealand enduro championship titles to his credit, as well as winning the enduro nationals in South Africa in 2011.
He celebrated a remarkable three consecutive wins at the stand-alone Roof of Africa extreme enduro in Lesotho, although perhaps his winning of the Red Bull Romaniacs in Romania in 2010 would stand as his greatest achievement.
He has competed successfully in the world’s biggest enduro races, event such as Erzberg, Red Bull Last Man Standing, Hells Gate and the Dakar Rally.
He has won also gold and silver medals at the ISDE (in Brazil, New Zealand and Greece) and the 38-year-old Birch now spends his time focussed on extreme enduro racing or conducting his popular training schools at venues all around the world.
Pahiatua’s Whibley (who now lives near Himatangi) made his debut in the enduro world championships (WEC) in 2003, finishing the season eighth overall, and he backed that up by finishing sixth overall in the WEC the following season.
He was based in the UK and riding for a Gas Gas team in the WEC in 2005 and experienced mixed results.
“The team struck financial difficulties and I was forced to skip the final few rounds that year,” Whibley explained.
He shifted to the United States in 2006 to race the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) and, riding a Honda, finished an impressive fifth overall on debut.
He finished sixth the following year and then runner-up on a Suzuki in 2008, before finally breaking through to win the title outright (on a Kawasaki) in 2009.
He switched to Yamaha in 2010, finishing third that year, and ended the 2011 season in runner-up position, before winning outright again in 2012 (with fellow Kiwi Rory Mead claiming third overall that season).
Whibley finished fifth overall in 2013 and seventh overall in his swansong 2014 season in the US.
Whibley’s nine years in the US also saw him become a record six-time winner of the parallel-but-separate Off-road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series.
Whibley was named New Zealand’s Off-road Rider of the Year in 2008.
Whibley returned home permanently to New Zealand at the end of the 2014 GNCC season and then won the New Zealand Cross-country Championships the following year.
He also set up his own cross-country series – initially labelled the NZXC Series but now rebranded as the NZ GNCC series – and he now dedicates his time to running that, although often also competing in it and winning races too.
Whibley – the former forestry worker they call “The Axeman” – is about as sharp as they come and, now aged 41, he continues to race at the top level of the sport in New Zealand, even indicating that he will contest the cross-country and enduro nationals again in 2020.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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