The Maximum is Not the Optimum: Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

The Maximum is Not the Optimum: Kelly and Mal in New Zealand
Words by Kelly Nowels, photos by Kelly and Mallory Nowels

“The maximum is not the optimum.” My buddy Chip likes to quote this Fabien Barel interview where the French downhill world champ waxes poetic about racing and life. Of course it’s all over my head, I mean this guy is a world champion, but it got me thinking and wanting to explore how optimum applies to bike touring.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand-2

Mal and I have been drooling at the thought of a New Zealand trip for years. With winter approaching and knowing that we weren’t getting any younger (we totally are though), we started saving our vacation days and our pennies to make it happen.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

We sought the path of the optimum. We resisted the urge to maximize – to pack in more miles, more sightseeing, a faster pace, etc. etc. Instead we optimized for fun factor and quality time together. Keep it simple, unplug, ride bikes, and start the new year off right. Mal would get those base miles for road season and we could both take advantage of that whole summer in January thing, which turns out is pretty great.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

One of the special things about the southern island of New Zealand is the diversity of climates and topography that you can ride through on a relatively short tour. Alpine mountain passes, fjiords, glaciers, rainforests, and tropical coastlines were all on the menu and we would often finish a day’s ride and find ourselves in a totally different world than the one we had started in.

Instax Photo by Mallory

This was Mal’s first real bike tour of this kind and it was a blast introducing her to the lifestyle. Camp coffee in the morning, ride bikes every day, look for a grocery store in the afternoon, and find a place to sleep at night. We rode most days but weren’t opposed to occasionally booking a bus, train, or ferry to connect parts of the route that we found most interesting.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

All in all, we rode about 750 miles over mountains, through tunnels, on remote dirt roads and across plenty of Frodo-esque landscapes. It was a party – especially with the wine Mal was usually stashing in her panniers! We drank from the most crystal clear streams I’ve ever seen, swam in the lakes and rivers, made new friends, and accumulated more stories and memories than I have the time to tell here. Our spirits were indeed optimized and we’ve been scheming about how to get back there ever since.


Follow Kelly Nowels on Instagram and at his Website and follow Mallory on Instagram.

  • PNT

    love it!

  • Mark Hespenheide

    Any day that begins or ends with coffee or hot chocolate out of a jetboil is a good day.

    • Frank

      Ahhh … I’m a trangia fan myself. Loving pictures #14 and #38 … that’s sun sun summertime! Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  • AdamBike99

    Such good photos Kelly- I just took a mini-vacay from my work desk!
    I’d like to know more about your “optimized” gear selection/bikes/equipment. Will you have those deets up on your Banditcamp site? Thanks again for sharing!

    • Kellyburger

      Thanks! I think the optimized approach is to “run what ya brung!” But a couple of my favorite things would be our bikes which were made by 333fab in Seattle, Swift Industries bags (also in seattle) and Seagull bags straps and organizers. Cheers!

      • AdamBike99

        Right on Kelly- I live in Seattle too (we met at a Madrona #coffeeoutside about a year ago), rock Swift Ind products and know 333Max. I was looking for more granular details because I want to get my wife interested in touring again after a “not the best honeymoon tour” from a number of years ago. Fortunately, we can go for a ride sometime. Coffee’s on me!

  • Love the front pannier setup. My favorite way to tour. Great handling!

    • boomforeal

      works great as long as you’re touring with someone who’s less image-conscious and willing to carry some of your $hit

      • Brian Sims

        How do you figure? Agreed with Max, 60/40 split with mostly front bags is ideal. I love seeing the wheelie riders with shit stacked a mile high on rear racks. Can’t imagine how terrible the handling is on those rigs.

        • Keris

          Been there, done it, stand up to pedal and feel the wiggle! Rear loading just feels weird.

      • Oh you…. It has nothing to do with image dude. Quit being a sour-puss about different loading types!

      • trololo

        or if you tour with less shit

      • Nobody carries my shit when I’m touring solo

  • Michael Ott

    What brand handlebar bag is that? Thanks!

    • Kellyburger

      Swift Industries!

  • boomforeal

    rear pannier sighting on the radavist!

    looks like a great trip. that barel interview is gold

  • Chris Cumming

    nice, that looks amazing

  • Brian Sims

    NZ south island is an amazing place. So awesome you got to ride there. Milford is ridiculous. I loved the Fox Glacier area. Ferns and palms abutting a glacier, good food and coffee in town, shoot down a dirt road and camp by a beach. Insane! Monteith’s Black Beer is a nice way to end the day.

  • Jack Cannon

    How far south did you go?

    • Michael Crowley

      The first photo is is Dunedin, so a long way south by the looks!

    • Jack Cannon

      Did you go as far as Invercargill?

  • JLN

    Love the Polaroids.

  • Area45

    Great set!

  • Hugh Smitham

    Awesome. Need to start planning.

  • kasual

    These bikes, these shots…. when is it warm again?

  • Adam Brownfield

    One thing I’ve learned about touring is that there is a lot of optimum in carrying the maximum amount of your wife’s gear.

  • Logan N. Everly

    The stream their drinking from, looks like a kool-aid river!

  • Dale

    That shot riding through the mountains though…

  • SenojNad

    Inspiring trip. How long were you guys out there for?