Otago Professors Cycle for Students

$7,880 of $15,000 goal
Given by 79 generous donors in around 3 months

Cycle challenge to support University of Otago students facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Gerry, David, and I (Richard) are part of a social cycling club (the Phantoms) which undertakes an annual tour around New Zealand.

We start our 1,381 kilometre trip in Dunedin on 5 November and will spend nine days on the road, which includes winding through five passes with a total climb of 17,344 metres.

As professors at the University of Otago we have seen a lot of students struggling to make ends meet due to the financial impacts of COVID-19. So this year's cycle is dedicated to our students, and we are asking for your support to raise funds for the Pūtea Tautoko student support fund. Read more about the fund at https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago735853.html

Whatever you can donate will make a big difference to students who are facing financial hardship. Nearly 2,000 students so far have applied for support, and we expect the need to continue well into 2021.

Your $10 donation will sponsor 1 km of our journey

Your $100 donation will sponsor 1000 metres of elevation for our climbs

Your $1000 donation will sponsor one of the five passes we aim to complete

...and your donation of any other amount will be greatly appreciated by our burning muscles!

This year's tour starts in Dunedin and climbs Mt Cargill, the Pig Route (from coastal Otago into the Maniototo), the Haast Pass (between Central Otago and the East Coast), Arthur’s Pass (West Coast-Canterbury), Weka Pass (Waipara-Culverden), the Lewis Pass (Canterbury-West Coast), Porters Pass (Castle Hill-Canterbury Plains) and the Hope Saddle (in the Hope Range, about 70 kilometres from Nelson).

Who are we?

Richard Blaikie is a professor in physics at the University of Otago who was raised in the rugged hill suburbs of Dunedin. A proud alumnus of KVHS and Otago University, Richard travelled overseas for his PhD at the University of Cambridge. There he studied all kinds of wonderful physics of quantum particles (electrons) at nano scales (really small), working alongside researchers from the Hitachi Cambridge laboratory. Returning to New Zealand in the 1990s he settled in Christchurch with his wife Nicola where they raised three wonderful children. With cycling being a way of life in both Cambridge and Christchurch Richard started venturing out into the Port Hills for regular weekend rides, and continued on the Otago Peninsula after moving to Dunedin on 2011. He joined the Phantom riders soon thereafter, where he aims every week to be the ‘most mediocre’ rider. This will be his third Phantoms Tour, with aspirations for many more.

David Lont is a professor of accounting at the University of Otago. His current research includes the quality and effect of firms’ climate risk disclosures. Disclosure is crucial to track our progress to a lower-carbon world. David’s roots are from Port Chalmers and so the sea is in his blood. A stint fishing, and about 9 years in the merchant navy was a different pathway to academia. He completed his Otago honours degree while at sea, before pursuing an academic career. David is a keen, competitive cyclist, known as a strong time trialist, the race of truth! The Phantom rides are more social and an excellent way for them to stay fit, mentally and physically. As well as a great career at Otago, he also met his wife, Sharon, a well-known local lawyer at Otago there. But with many current students struggling, he want his passion for cycling to do some wider good. So he hopes the hours of training and the challenging ride will inspire others to support our students who have had such a challenging year.

Gerry is currently the head of the Department of Zoology. He started cycling regularly as a teenager in Melbourne, and has never stopped. Moving to Dunedin in 1997, the hills around Dunedin were initially quite challenging, but you soon get used to them, and even come to enjoy them. He loves doing new rides, and the November trip is mostly along roads he hasn’t cycled before.

Please come back to this page for updates throughout our training and tour.

About us

I'm raising funds for Pūtea Tautoko, which translates as financial support, to help vulnerable students facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use of funds

All University of Otago students are eligible to apply for support, whether they are New Zealand or International students, full-time or part-time, undergraduate or postgraduate. Applications are considered by panels which robustly assess hardship.

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Latest update

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The Good, The Bad and The Painful: Final Tour Reflections  18 November 2020

It is two weeks ago tomorrow that we set out on our quest. A simple quest -- cycle from Dunedin to Nelson on a route that tracked the spine of the Southern Alps, crossing five passes alone the way.

A supported Tour, with two vans carrying our gear, motel accommodation along the way, and plenty of supporters cheering us on from home or along the way.

While we were at it, the three @otago professors in the Phantoms decided to raise as much money as we could for the Pūtea Tautoko student support fund. This has been a year where everyone has needed help and support, particularly those of our students whose plans for staying in study have needed a financial boost.


The planning that went into this Tour was immaculate, led largely by Tour leaders Allan (Suds) and David. Hard mahi to plan the route, find and negotiate accommodation for 20 blokes at 9 different towns along the route, and devise a good (and NZTA compliant) safety plan.

The weather was extremely kind to us along most of the route, with only one wet and cold morning from Ranfurly to Omakau. We had our share of headwinds (see 'the bad' and 'the painful'), but more than our fair share of gloriously fine days and tail breezes.

The morning ride from Springfield to Rangiora was a blast, for example, covering 60km in mot much more than 90 mins with a fair wind and nice downhill slopes most of the way.

Through the Gates of Hasst and on up the West Coast to Hokitika was also blessed with perfect riding conditions and very low traffic volumes. Covid-19 had cleared the route of all tour busses, there were very few freight or logging trucks, and the locals and tourists we shared the road with were 100% courteous and friendly.

Further north there were true delights too. Drafting behind a farm vehicle at a steady 42km/h along the Culverden Plains took the tedium out of one of the less interesting sections for a group of us, and the descents through the Shenandoah Valley, down from the Hope Saddle and off the Spooner Range were cycling at speed and 'at one with the road' as good as it gets.

For one of us (Richard) a very special section was the climb from Hanmer Springs up and over the Lewis Pass, which for reasons described below, was undertaken as a solo effort. Being out on the road with the sun on your back and the wind in your face with fresh snow dusting the mountain ranges all around was a special treat.

But the real highlight for us all was to have the privilege of spending time together as a group of like-minded individuals in some of the most stunning (if not THE most stunning) places on Planet Earth!


Very little was bad on this Tour, but I can only imagine the tribulations had the unpredictable spring weather decided to throw storms and rain at us.

The only taste of this was the ride into Omakau, but some hot coffee, pies and scones at the Muddy Creek Cafe soon lifted our spirits. I have to say, though, that getting back onto my bike in 4 degrees after the warmth of the cafe induced a short period of intense teeth chattering (and suspected hypothermia) until the cycling warmed us and the sun started to break through for the day.

Food and service was also amazingly good along the way, but not without exception. One or two 'interesting' interpretations of classic dishes were encountered, and a few mediocre barista coffees, but these are really first world complaints when we were going through some pretty remote places that have suffered business shocks no-one could imagine at the start of the year.

My take-home message is to get out and explore our great country, but don't expect city-grade food and service everywhere...


There was pain, and some quite serious incidents along the way.

Even before we started there was a 'man down' in training, with Martin breaking his femur in a fall three weeks before the tour started. A fine day had turned to rain and a simple (and much repeated) curb crossing transition from the road to a cycle path caused a slip. Sometimes this would result in bruising (of body and ego), but not this time... Martin was kind enough to wave us off from our start in North East Valley, and joined us for the night in Wanaka, and I'm sure will be looking forward to the next Tour.

The most serious incident occurred on the hills between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast. This is a series of three steep ascents and descents we encountered at the end of a long day of riding. The roads are good, but there are occasionally metal gratings crossing the carriageway to over water overflow channels and act as cattle stops.

One of us came awry on one of the descents, with a metal grating on a sharp curve throwing the bike a little off line, and an entry speed that may have been a bit high (lesson: with 1,000 or more curves to negotiate on the Tour, care and discretion is usually the better part of valour...). The result was the bike and rider ending up in the ditch, which unfortunately had a hard concrete lining.

Others were on the scene soon, and the van was able to take the rider and his bent bike to Franz Josef, but it was clear that the Tour was over for him. Cracked or broken ribs were suspected, and the local paramedic was called.

With medical attention there was concern that mattes were more serious, as breathing was becoming more laboured and other internal injuries were suspected. So a rescue chopper was required to take our friend and colleague across the Alps to Christchurch hospital where a punctured lung was identified, along with 8 broken ribs. Fortunately no other serious internal injuries were identified, so our second 'man down' is now home and on the path to a full recovery.

If that were not enough, there was another 'man down' on the penultimate day. To make a long story short, a bull-meets-bike incident occurred just 2-3km out of Murchison on our longest day (yes, that is BULL-meets-bike, as in a 1,000kg piece of bovine solidity meeting a 80kg human travelling at 40km/h). The bull was the irresistible object in this collision, leaving the bike bent and the rider thrown onto the road. Fortunately there were no cars passing in either direction at the time, but the bruises and contusions will take some time to heal, with the third 'man down' having to sit out the final ride from Murchison to Nelson.

With all these incidents, and some near misses along the way, we reflect that were did not set out to be reckless in any of our endeavours. We work with a safety-first mentality and had a robust road safety plan for the Tour. But accidents and incidents can occur in any setting at any time, and none of the injured parties regrets their decision to join this adventure.


With 17 riders setting out to ride form Dunedin to Nelson, that's a total of more than 24,000 person-km to be covered. With bums on bike seats most of that way, and legs pedalling furiously or tiredly for more than 6 hours a day most days, it can be painful.

Sore bums and tired legs are the 'regular' pain we all expect. For some it got more serious...

The climbs up the Pigroot in 30 degree heat on day one was a shock to us all, with cramps taking out a few brave soldiers on some of the steep ascents. With strong headwinds on the final 20km slog into Ranfurly too there were certainly some aching bodies that night.

Painful too for most was the Otira Gorge to Arthur's Pass on Day 6. This is the steepest ascent on the Tour with a 2-3km stretch with gradients of between 12% and 25% (yes TWENTY FIVE PERCENT) the whole way. What made this really challenging and painful was the fact that there was a strong and gusty headwind coming down the gorge to greet us! This added what seemed to be another 5% to the gradient, making us all crave for the mystical 'gear god' to add another, larger sprocket to our rear cluster... to no avail, but with some painful 'crawling' (rotating the crank as minimum revs without going so slow that the bike falls over) and some walking their bikes, we all make it over the pass.

These hard days also took their toll on our bodies, and our resident physio (Jeff) had some aching bones and muscles to straighten out at the end of each day.

One of us (Richard) developed some particularly painful tendinitis and shin splints on about day 5 that lasted until the end of the Tour. This was so painful that, once riding was done for the day, the simple act of walking two blocks to a restaurant for a meal became like climbing Mt Everest (i.e. impossible).

The sane response would have been to take a rest day (or two) in the van and enjoy the scenery that way, but some of us are wired differently. That's why, for Richard, the spectacular Day 7 ride over the Lewis Pass became a personal and solo painful mission. In the knowledge that there was a van following that could 'pick up the pieces' if necessary, but that riding at others' pace was not a good approach, he set out to conquer the 907m Pass alone. When warmed up and into a rhythm the pain subsided, and this became one of the most beautiful and memorable days... with the beer at the end of the day never tasting as good.

Final thoughts? Yeah, nah. Take from these ramblings what you will. We all did this for our own reasons, and one of our reasons was to support a great cause. So if you have got to this part of our story, and have have not contributed to the GiveaLittle, please donate if you are able.

And huge, huge, huge thanks to those that have and those that provided great support for us along the way.

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Guest Donor
Guest Donor on 04 Dec 2020
Jeff on 04 Dec 2020
Yoojin on 01 Dec 2020
Great work for a good cause 👍
Bronwen on 29 Nov 2020
Excellent effort, Professors! And a very worthy cause!
Daryl and Fee
Daryl and Fee on 26 Nov 2020
Awesome effort

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This page was created on 28 Sep 2020 and closed on 31 Dec 2020.