Former England cyclist and coast-to-coaster heading off to Budapest

ON YA BIKE: Eighty four-year-old Eric Hunter is heading off to do a two week cycling tour of Budapest.

For most 84-year-olds, clocking up 100km a day on a bike would be a tough ask, especially after two knee replacements and a hip pin.

Not so for Sandy Bay’s Eric Hunter.

Age is no barrier for this former Liverpudlian, and he’s delighted to be amongst a group of 17 mostly-kiwis taking a 13-day bike tour of Budapest in July.

“You have to bear in mind it’s not a race,” he says. “You’ve got all day to do 100km so you can stop for coffee and lunch and afternoon tea and then arrive at the day’s destination by 4pm usually.”

He’s already pretty fit, clocking up around 250km a week on his trusty yellow Carrerra road bike.

These days the steep uphill climb from Governors Bay to Summit Rd gets a pass.

Instead, he prefers to drive over to Princess Margaret Hospital and ride out from there with a couple of pals.

“My racing days are over so I don’t have to do those steep rides anymore.”

Eric Hunter was born in Liverpool and rode for England in the early 1950s, including the multi-stage Tour of Ireland and the Isle of Man International Road Race.

He was also a non-travelling reserve for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Though he started riding for England at around age 19, it turned out to be only a three-year stint when his work as an apprentice chef demanded he make a choice.

SPEED: Eric Hunter racing in Liverpool in 1956, aged about 22.

“I was told I needed to make my mind up whether I wanted to be a chef or a cyclist.”

Knowing cycling wouldn’t last forever, he eased back and concentrated on a career in the kitchen.

Back in those days, you had to do an apprenticeship before going into hotel management.

In 1962 he married cycling enthusiast Maureen, a loyal supporter of the Merseyside Wheelers Cycling Club.

Eric himself rode for the Melling Wheelers, which later became the Kirkby Rd Cycling Club.

The pair came to New Zealand in 1964 to manage hotels.

But it was a culture shock for Eric, who’d been used to England’s residential hotels.

“New Zealand hotels were more like pubs back then – and they were drinking pubs. Remember the days of six o’clock closing? I’d never had anything to do with that (sort of thing.) And I was surprised to find the Tourist Hotel Corporation were the only ones allowed to build hotels but they could only do so in national parks.”

Eric and Maureen worked at the Chateau Tongariro on Mt Ruapehu and newly-opened Avon Motor Lodge in Christchurch, before returning to England in 1966.

“Then I had a call from Maurice Carter, the father of David Carter. I’d been very close to that family and they asked me if I’d be interested in coming back. So I did and I managed the Avon and the following year (the family) built the George Hotel, in about 1968.”

When the Avon was sold, he and David Carter bought the historic Coachman Inn on Gloucester St.

There was always the cycling though, and running too.

He started that because it took up less time than cycling.

In 1983, Mr Hunter won the teams section in the first ever Coast-to-Coast and went on to complete the teams event a further 10 times, gaining another first and two seconds.

“It was a lot harder in those days,” he says. “In 1983 the run over the Mingha-Deception (Goat Pass) route didn’t have the boardwalks so you had to go over the gullies on your backside.”

The last time he raced was about four years ago aged 79.

Race founder Robin Judkins confirmed he was the oldest person ever to complete the 243km event.

He said he wasn’t at all alarmed by Eric’s age.

“The oldest guy before him was 77 and his partner was 75 so having really old people in the event, when they’re doing it in a team (wasn’t a problem.) He did the things which he’s very good at, the mountain run and the bike ride . . . he’ll go on doing these things until he’s 100. He’s extremely fit and very determined,” said Mr Judkins.

Eric himself is more circumspect as far as hanging up the lycra goes: “I don’t know. I still go canoeing because I live in Sandy Bay and my driveway goes down to the beach. And apart from going on the bike five times a week I also play golf on a Thursday. So I don’t know – when the good Lord decides enough’s enough.”

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