Pushing harder

Today I read this.

As I read I kept thinking – being a startup founder is like riding up a climb.

Your legs are busting, you’re pretty much on the limit, others are falling off the back, you are looking around, wondering, are the other cyclists hurting like you?

It’s not the negative kind of pain, it’s the kind of suffering that you can play with, the kind that inspires, the kind that wants to move to the front of the pack, the kind that knows you can take this all day.

And then you just turn the screws, put the hammer down one watt at a time, until all the demons you’ve be racing away are barking in the background as you just push deeper and deeper and ride stronger and harder.


To be a mountain biker

This post was inspired by an article by the same title that was published in a mountain biking magazine that I read in the early nineties. I think it was “Bike” magazine. I can’t find it anywhere online and I will pay good money for a copy of it if someone has it.

I resonated with the list in that article; I guess there are many things about the awesome sport of mountain biking that most mountain bikers will be able to identify with. The thing about mountain biking is that it does become an identity thing. It’s not just something that you do, it’s something you are. I don’t just ride a mountain bike, I am a mountain biker.

I’ve tried to find that article (it was a cover story), but I have been unsuccessful. I wanted to use it as a starting point for this post. Nevertheless, I’ve decided, some twenty years after reading that article, to compile my own list. I plan to add to it again and again as new things come up and as I remember other things that are worthy of being on the list. Individually these things are insignificant, but together they have meaning. Although they are things that one can do, they are much more than mere things that can be done; these things define what it means to be a mountain biker

(These things are not listed in any particular order, chronological or otherwise, and the things which follow the things earlier on the list are not necessarily related to each other).

  • Think “as long as I’m able to ride my bike, all will be ok with the world”
  • Dream of flowing single-track
  • If you could only afford one bike, it would be a mountain bike
  • Always be thinking, “I wish I was mountain biking”
  • Ride as often as you can
  • Discover a new trail
  • Say to your friend at the trailhead of a new trail, “follow me.”
  • learn how to bunny-hop
  • bunny-hop up stairs
  • ride down stairs
  • crash riding down stairs (in front of people)
  • Put your foot down in ankle deep mud while trying to ride through it
  • Try to get started again
  • Dab your other foot down in the mud
  • Ride through mud and then grass and for the grass to form a a perfect matrix for the mud to be held together by
  • come home freckled with mud
  • watch a downhill mountain biking DVD
  • Get amped and inspired and all excited and think you can do the same
  • Go riding straight after watching that DVD
  • Crash hard
  • spend all your money on bike stuff
  • own a bike that costs more than your car
  • get a new car that cost more than the bike
  • have a great bike stolen
  • Get the bike back
  • Get sponsored to ride
  • Get old, fat and slow
  • Get in shape again, and have mountain biking to thank
  • read about a new technique in a mountain biking magazine
  • try out the new technique
  • buckle your rim
  • try to straighten your rim with your own spoke spanner
  • decide its better for the bike shop to take a look at it
  • build a new trail and hide it from your friends
  • build a jump
  • crash riding the jump you built
  • start mountain biking with rigid forks, when the only trails on the mountain are hiking trails and horse trails
  • hate horses because they stuff up trails
  • feel indignant because horses are allowed on parts of the mountain which mountain bikers are banned from
  • crash hard
  • check to see if your bike is ok before you check your own injuries (because bodies heal, but bikes don’t)
  • ride the argus cycle tour every year on a mountain bike
  • ride a twenty four hour race
  • break your dropout
  • take your chain off and scoot yourself home
  • ride the whole enchilada and the slick rock of Moab
  • lean forward to see your suspension fork working
  • ride a cross country lap race
  • take part in frenetic start and sprint to the first single-track
  • ride a mountain bike marathon
  • be amazed at the difference riding a full suspension makes
  • ride a section of trail really well
  • go home to see how you did on Strava
  • realise its not a segment
  • make a new segment on Strava
  • think you’ve done well all these years not to have broken your collarbone
  • break your collarbone
  • Go for a wet ride and thoroughly enjoy it
  • Go for the next ride and hate the two clicks up, one click down necessary to shift one gear
  • install Gore ride-on cables
  • Enjoy perfect shifting in all conditions
  • wonder why they don’t come standard on all bikes
  • hit a slippery root at an angle other than 90 degrees
  • crash, narrowly avoiding a nasty looking stump
  • ride a trail you’ve done many times but at the last moment pick a different line for some reason
  • crash hard enough to actually crack your helmet
  • read about an awesome new trail in a blog
  • put it on your “to do” list
  • ride a race, be amazed with the awesomeness of the trail
  • check Strava and realise you can tick riding that trail from your list
  • ride an illegal trail not realising it was illegal
  • get caught and fined and have to get a lawyer to sort it out
  • ride an illegal trail knowing full well its illegal
  • be uncaught to this day
  • have your pedal slam into your shin
  • ride into a tree
  • go for a long ride without taking enough water
  • go for a long ride without taking enough food
  • hit the wall
  • realise you’ve hit the wall by losing concentration and crashing
  • Ride into deep shade from bright sun and, because you are wearing sunglasses, not be able to see a thing, and guess where the trail is
  • Enjoy a great trail through a pine forest
  • Have the trail destroyed when the pine forest is felled
  • Ride in a place for long enough to have see the saplings planted after the felling, grow and be felled themselves
  • Think camelbacks are cool
  • Think camelbacks are not cool
  • Be at work on a Monday, look at the mountain, and wish you were mountain biking
  • Take a Monday off work and go mountain biking
  • Flick a pine cone into your buddy’s spokes with your front wheel
  • Try to flick a rock by mistake and dent your front rim
  • Ride next to a puddle to avoid getting wet and get wet instead by your riding buddy bunny hopping into the puddle and splashing you
  • Try to get him back at the next puddle but wet yourself more in the process
  • Ride on the mountain and have all the mountain bikes wave and greet you with a smile
  • Ride on the road, wave to the roadies, and be ignored most of the time
  • Wake up before dark to ride a trail out of town
  • Start the trail in sub-zero conditions
  • Ride at high altitude, suffer, and understand why it is no wonder that Switzerland produces so many world class mountain bikers
  • Crash, land on your park tool multitool in your back pocket and get a perfectly rectangular bruise
  • Have a chain snap while standing up and hammering the pedals
  • Read a bike magazine and flip through 90% of it because if you’ve read the article “10 tips to make this summer your fastest” once you’ve read it, and others like it, a hundred times
  • Read up on the founders of mountain biking
  • Service your suspension fork
  • Find an internal part from the suspension fork after you’ve re-assembled the fork
  • attempt to true a buckled rim
  • create a flat-spot in the rim while trying to true the rim
  • take the rim in to your local bike shop to get it properly trued by a professional
  • stop while riding next to a river, just to listen to the sound of the river
  • enjoy the smell of decomposing leaves
  • jump and land perfectly on the landing ramp
  • jump and dent your rear wheel on the lip of the landing ramp
  • while climbing, pedal while your rear wheel is going over a slippery root, and lose traction and momentum
  • go for a night ride and be stoked
  • get irritated with red rear lights on the mountain, especially the ones that flash
  • honestly believe that you have a shot at getting a great result at a race
  • suffer incredibly a quarter of the way into the race, face reality and think you’d gladly settle for a dignified finish
  • ride a dusty race, blow your nose afterwards, and see trail coloured snot
  • ride through sand on the mountain
  • ride on the beach, on hard sand and enjoy it
  • ride on the beach, on soft sand, and hate it
  • go camping with friends and leave them by the campsite while you go mountain biking
  • be so accustomed to unclipping your shoes from your peddles that you twist your foot off your accelerator peddle in your car
  • Think John Tomac is cool
  • Know who John Tomac is
  • Lead a race
  • Break a handlebar and crash hard
  • Be collected on route by the medics because your bike is trashed, and so are you
  • Get Northwave mountain bike shoes because Paolo Pezzo is cool
  • Know who Paolo Pezzo is
  • Think “as long as I’m able to ride my bike, all will be ok with the world”

The Argus Cycle Tour: a trip down memory lane

Me in my first Argus on my Hansom Mountain bike.

Deep down I think it’s right to rename the world class race, affectionately known as “the Argus” to “The Cape Town Cycle Tour”. It makes sense to bring its name in line with other world class events named after the cities in which they were hosted such as the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon. The content of the recent press release that Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish will be racing the 2015 Cape Town Cycle Tour bears testimony to this truly world class event.

But, and this is a “big but”, I think for locals, especially locals like me, it will always be known as “the Argus”! There is just so much emotion and memory attached to “the Argus”. To the majority of Capetonians, it’s the only cycle race that counts. You can compete at national championships, but you’ll always get more attention from your result in the Argus, than a great result at a less well known event. It’s the Tour de France of funrides, and for many amateur cyclists its the only race that counts.

Argus Heritage

I had the privilege of being invited to send in some of my memories, anecdotes, photos and memorabilia from the period 1988 to 1997 by the heritage team at the Cycle Tour. This blog is a little trip down memory lane to my first Argus.  I did it when I was 11 years old in 1993, and this year I will be competing in my 21st Argus.

My Argus journey started in 1992, when I helped my mom, Lesley Watson, crush cans for recycling at the finish area in Maiden’s Cove. I don’t know what it was, but as a 10 year old who enjoyed riding his BMX and mountain-bike around the neighbourhood, I figured that this race was something that I could do, and wanted to do! It was a beautiful day that day, and I think there was something magical about riders coasting over the finish line, not looking too wrecked, on the one side of the recycling station, and the beatiful views of the Atlantic Ocean on the other. As the cool breeze blowing off the sea refreshed the recyclers (and indeed, the cyclists), I set my heart and mind on doing the Argus the next year.

Starting to train for the Argus and plotting routes

For me, the Argus isn’t just the race on the second Sunday of March. It’s everything else that goes along with it, including the training and the anticipation of the the event as as the big day draws near. Some of my fondest childhood memories have to do with training for the Argus. On one of my first “training rides” (I think it was in the April holidays) I rode until I saw “skyscrapers”. I came home to tell my mom I thought I had ridden all the way to Cape Town. I later realised that the buildings I saw were only the ones you can see in Wynberg from Alphen Road (we lived in Bergvliet). I still vividly remember the plants on the side of the road I now know to be Southern Cross Drive as I stopped to catch my breath. It was there that I first encountered the feeling of the onset of glycogen depletion that, little did I then know, I would become intimately acquainted with on many occasions from that day forward. 

David, Brian (my brother) and me stopping off at my  mom's friends in Fishhoek on the way to Simon's Town.

David, Brian (my brother) and me stopping off at my mom’s friends in Fishhoek on the way to Simon’s Town.


Plotting training routes – great fun for a kid!

My brother and I and other friends would often ride out to Simon’s Town, hang out with the penguins at boulders, buy a Magnum for R5.00, and cruise home when we wanted to. No cell-phones, just freedom.I’d like to thank my parents, and friends’ parents for giving us the freedom to ride our bikes! I think the spirit of adventure that took root then is something that has stood me in good stead for life. Another fun thing was plotting routes and calculating distance using a map-book and a piece of string (those were the days before the internet, and googlemaps and Strava). Oldschool. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Some of the routes we plotted are still some of my favourites, and as I gear up for my 21st Argus I am making a point of training on those routes, and yes, climbing the Strava leaderboards! 

Bridge Cycles

One of the best things about the lead up to the Argus was spending lots and lots of time after school hanging around Bridge Cycles. Fayaz and Fayzal were such legends and always took the best care of me, my brother and my mom. It was great to go into Bridge and plot what our next birthday or Christmas present was going to be.


Funrides were a big part of the build up to the Argus. I did my first funride with David and his dad, Richard in September 1992. It was the 48km UCT Cycle Tour. From what I remember it was relatively easy and it was freezing cold at the end. David won a prize in the lucky draw. As I looked back over my cycling stuff, I was amazed at how many funrides I did before my first Argus. I have such fond memories, in that initial period before my first Argus, and also in the years that ensued, in coming home completely exhausted and lying on the couch pleasantly trashed! There were a few sayings out there. If you could do the Three Passes Cycle Tour 55km, you could do the Argus and the time you got for the Rollercoaster 92km (which was exactly a month before the Argus) was the time you could expect in the Argus. I just finished the Three Passes, and did the Rollercoaster in 4h18. One of my favourite and most inspirational memories of these funrides was being passed by the top groups of cyclists doing the longer route as I rode the same stretch of road while completing the shorter route. I was always amazed at how super fast they could go past me, and how big their calf muscles were.

My first funride

My first funride


This was beast (92km). A big confidence builder ahead of the Argus.

This was beast (92km). A big confidence builder ahead of the Argus.

Entering the Argus

The entry procedure in 1993 was very different to today, but it was a lot of fun. I remember being so stoked to get my hands on my entry form. I was at Pick n Pay with my mom and there was a pile of them at the end of each till counter. It was a magical document that promised loads of awesomeness! I couldn’t wait to get home to complete it. I filled out all the fields, read the entire agreement, and then got my mom to sign on my behalf. This was the deal with all the fun-rides as well, your mom or dad had to sign on your behalf. Then, I went to the post office, bought a postal order to pay the entry fee, slipped it in the envelope and posted it into the big red post box! This was very very different to how I entered this year (I did it off my iPhone in 5 minutes and got the confirmation straight away). I think I preferred the old way though. Then you would wait to get the magazine and find out your seeding. In the early years I remember coming home from school each day and eagerly checking the post box to see if the Argus magazine had arrived and to see what group they had put me in. In 1993 I started in “P” which was the only group for Western Province Pedal Power Association members.

The EXPO and the GIRO

In 1993 the registration was held in a big shed at the V&A Waterfront.  Back then the Argus was the final stage of the Giro del Capo. Those were the days of Andrew Maclean and Willie Engelbrecht! The place was humming with excitement about the race on Sunday and talk of the Giro. Watching the 5.5km individual time trial up signal hill was awesome.

Everybody say HOOPLA

Some time after I entered, my dad decided to enter the Argus to support me. We were in different groups, but it was rad having him along for the ride. We packed the bikes on the back of his car and cruised through to town for my first Argus. What a vibe! It’s the only morning of the year where everybody going to town is transporting bicycles. It was very exciting for an 11 year old. At that time there were about 15 000 cyclists who lined up for the big ride. I shouted HOOPLA for the first time and hit the road to try and do the Argus as quickly as possible. The thing about the Argus is that you will never know how awesome it is unless you do it. From before the start, to after the finish is is just insanely amazing! Some special memories from my first Argus stand out.

  • We FLEW down the Blue Route in a massive bunch. Yoh! What a vibe, looking at my computer (Cateye Vectra) and going 50km/h and hardly pedalling.
  • Getting to Jubilee Square and thinking that I got the first 40km for free thanks to the massive bunches.
  • I distinctly remember taking a big gulp of breakthrough corn syrup (my supplement of choice back then) just before Smitswinkel.
  • I got LOADS of attention from spectators all along the course (I think because I was so small and was riding a mountain bike). I specifically remember a number of spectators shouting “go bokkie” as we passed the Soetwater refreshment station.
  • On that, I remember not stopping at a single refreshment station.
  • I cruised along Misty Cliffs while chatting to an older guy that I had met at the funrides. He thought a sub4 was on the cards; it hadn’t even crossed my mind up until that point.
  • I crested chappies thinking, “I am doing this thing!”
  • Near the top of Suikerbossie, I stopped briefly to catch my breath and have a drink. Unfortunately a big man who obviously was not used to unclipping his cleats slowed down next to me, stopped, stayed clipped in, and took me down with him into the fynbos. I was fine, but my computer no longer was working. I was so obsessed with an accurate average speed reading that I spent some time trying to fix it, before cutting my losses and carrying on.
  • I crossed the finish line in 4h02 and handed my finish card in as soon as possible (because, you know, you’ve crossed the line and the race is over but, surely the sooner you get to the finish card people the better, right?).
  • Waited for my dad. He started after me, but he also took a little longer out on the route.
  • Maidens Cove was as awesome as it was in 1992.
  • I was so chuffed with having done my first Argus!!!
  • I found out that Wimpie van der Merwe had SMASHED the course record in a time of 2h16 in a special aerodynamic supine recumbent. The highlights package was awesome! The guys just overtook Willie and Andrew and the lads in the Giro. The looks on their faces was priceless.

    In those days you got a badge. One day I will sew this on to a tracksuit top.

    In those days you got a badge. One day I will sew this on to a tracksuit top.

My first Argus certificate. I remember thinking. 6th! Who are these other guys?!

My first Argus certificate. I remember thinking. 6th! Who are these other guys?!

As I prepare for the Argus this year, it is these, and other awesome memories that come to mind. I am very very grateful to the Argus organisers, the Rotary Clubs, and the PPA for all they have done to contribute significantly to my life, and to the lives of many other cyclists! Thank you.

The Trans Baviaans, a rookie who will be back for more.

This was initially posted on crank.co.za on 22 August 2013.

What’s it like to be a Trans Baviaans Rookie?

We picked one of the last sunny spots on the top of what they call the MAC (the mother of all climbs), fitted our lights and descended down to the next checkpoint, where we would see our support crew for the first time. By now it was properly dark and in my mind we had already cycled Trans Baviaans! “How far have we ridden?” I asked my wife, as we were about to set off for the final little stretch (or so I thought!). “170km” she said. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “wow that is a long way!” Then I did some maths, and I realised that we still had 60km to go. Before this, the longest mountain bike race I had done was the 75km Wellington Gravel Travel. It was a sobering moment and we set off to attempt to finish what they claim is the toughest single stage mountain bike event in the world!


The day had started a few hours earlier in a little town in the Karoo, Willowmore. It was freezing cold and the wind was picking up. Some 1600 riders each loaded their three carefully packed containers into trucks to be taken to the checkpoints at 109km, 129km and 150km. The night before I had tried my best to guess what I would feel like at each of these checkpoints, and it was good to have my mate Roland, who was doing his 4th Trans Baviaans, guide us through the process of packing the containers. I ended up going largely with a “hedge my bets, buffet style, have enough of every kind of food” strategy.

As the start time neared, the riders who were assembled in the start chutes grew restless as it began to rain. At 10am we all started the 230km journey together. Fortunately there was a tail wind, and we covered the first 100km through the rugged fold mountains and dry river beds of the Baviaanskloof in 3h38. I had been properly sick the week leading up to the Trans Baviaans and rode the first 100km with that “I can tell I have been ill” weak feeling and so I was relieved to reach checkpoint 2 in a decent time. Thanks must go to my very patient teammates who eased off whenever I let them know that my heart rate had entered the 170s while I coughed and spluttered.


After the fairly quick start, we hit the climbing sections. A decent climb, the Baviaans Back, was followed by checkpoint 3 and two further climbs, the Fangs. At this point in the ride, Dale, my other teammate, really stepped up to the plate. Clearly the strongest rider of the three of us, he alternated between pushing Roland and me up Baviaans Back, and then said that Roland and I should each decide which of the fangs we would like to be pushed up! To be honest I was amazed by the difference it made. Roland and Dale passed Garth, and then Garth and Dale passed Roland, and so it went!

We were riding for Team Gunstons Attorneys and the banter among mountain bikers was very entertaining as we passed and, in turn, were passed by other teams. One rider intended to start a class action lawsuit against us (I couldn’t think what his cause of action would be though, maybe Dale’s pushing of his teammates) while some others shared their best lawyer jokes.

Before long we were ascending the MAC, an 8km climb with an average gradient, Strava says, of 5.7%. By this point my joints were starting to hurt. I couldn’t stand and pedal because the pain from my knees was too much, which meant that I had to wait for downhills to give my butt some respite, and stretch out my calf muscles. However, we were ascending the MAC so instead I just had to suffer. It was a beautiful part of the world to suffer though, and as the soft evening light settled on the beautiful mountainside I took heart in the fact that we were not ascending (and would not be descending) in the dark.


After this checkpoint we were off, dry after a change of clothes. However, there is only so much comfort that a dry pair of socks can bring, when they are put into shoes that have endured a number of river crossings throughout the day! But down from Bergplaas we flew, and as we did so I used my best skills to peel a boiled egg that I had selected from my own buffet at the top of the mountain. It hit the spot!

Shortly after the realisation that we still had 60km to ride, and after saying goodbye to our support crew who had waited all day to see us, we started the Never-ender. As its name implies, it is a climb that never, ever, seems to end. I think this is partly because it is 14km long and starts 187km into the race, and partly because it is dark and you can only see a few metres ahead of you, and certainly not into the distance. We eventually arrived at the summit, at the unmanned checkpoint with flashing lights, where you grab a sticker and continue to ride.


Our goal was to finish the Trans Baviaans in fewer than twelve hours (before 22h00). We knew we had our work cut out for us because we would need to complete the last 25km after check point 7 in just over an hour. We checked out as quickly as we could and set out for the finish in Jeffrey’s Bay. No sooner had we done so, than the heavens opened and a spectacularly strong crosswind raged. Each raindrop was lit up by my headlight and the rain stinging my face as we raced against the clock was actually a pretty awesome experience. We ascended the mini-MAC and before long we were on the tar road at 21h46. I thought we had it in the bag, but the finish was at the mall on the OTHER side of Jeffrey’s. And in order to get there we had to ride uphill and into that wind!

At 22h06 we crossed the line in the wind and rain to the shouts and cheers of our awesome wives and support crew. I was stoked to have finished it, and thoroughly enjoyed most of it. Having had a few days to recover (I couldn’t walk up steps without pain the day after the race) I think I’ll be back to do it again next year! The human spirit has an amazing ability to forget the pain and only remember the awesomeness – The Trans Baviaans certainly is full of that!


Garth & Brian ride the Whole Enchilada, Moab

The Whole Enchilada, Moab – Slickrock and More

“Ja, so we’ll stay in Moab for a few nights and we can do Arches and Canyonlands from there”. “Sorry what? Did you just say Moab?!” I got off the Skype from my brother in the States, and Googled “Slickrock trail Moab”. As a kid in the 90’s I had read about the Slickrock trail in a mountain biking magazine in CNA, when mountain biking as a sport was just gaining some momentum. I can still remember the cover photo of two riders bombing the Slickrock Trail. So when my search led me to read about The Whole Enchilada, which incorporates slickrock and more, it had to be done.

The Whole Enchilada, Moab

The Whole Enchilada, Moab

Feeling like a bit of a novice

We hired a Yeti trail bike from Poison Spider Bicycles, and we set off in the direction of the La Sal Mountains in the distance. After my wife, Lauren dropped Brian and me off, we hit the Burro Pass. The air is thin up there. I thought to myself, “no wonder Switzerland produces so many world class mountain bikers with all that training at high altitude!” This climb made me feel like a complete novice, and I was mildly concerned since I had been training for the 230km Trans Baviaans mountain bike marathon.

A 7000 foot altitude drop through extremely varied terrain!

Fortunately, we soon reached the tree-line at 11 200 feet, wished the other riders at the trail-head well, pointed our front wheels downhill and started the most epic 26 mile descent to the Colorado River just outside Moab. That is over 7000 feet of downhill mountain biking through the alpine forests, tight switchbacks, river-crossings and aspen groves of Burro, the fast flowy sections of Hazzard County, the super-quick, wide open fire roads of Kokopelli, the slickrock patches, ledges and roll-ins of UPS and LPS, the  rocky roads of Porcupine Rim, with awesome views of mesas in the distance,  and the exposed and narrow Porcupine Singletrack with views of the Colorado River.

The Whole Enchilada Moab

It took a little while to get used to the bike, but after I had figured it out, I felt a lot less like a novice, and a lot more at home bombing down a seemingly never ending downhill.  The trail does flatten out in parts, and you do need to work quite a bit, but fortunately the air is less thin lower down, and the views are absolutely spectacular. The Whole Enchilada is a sensory overload – its hard to explain, but hopefully the video does it justice.

Why buying a super light bike is almost always irrational

I’ve been talked into doing the Trans Baviaans. It is the world’s longest single stage team mountain bike event. It starts in Willowmore in the Karoo and finishes on the other side of the Baviaanskloof in Jeffrey’s Bay 230km later. It’s on 17 August 2013 and it involves training through the winter.

Naturally, I’d like to do well with my teammates. And I know that in order to achieve a good result, and not to be the weakest link, I have to work on my numbers. What I mean by this, and I’m no professional, but power (the power you can generate, measured in Watts, over a long period of time, i.e. sustainable power) and weight. The lighter you are and the more power you can sustainably hammer out, the faster you will go, and in the case before us, the less time I will spend with my teammates riding at night.


So, it is project “power up and lose weight” that I am undertaking. I need to get my power to weight ratio (measured in Watts per kilogram) up. I don’t have a power meter, but I can tell when I’m strong, and there is a scale at gym that I’ve started hopping onto. And because for most amateur riders, weight is more measurable, I’m going to focus on that. And I’m also going to cut to the chase and get to the thing that inspired this blog.

Here we go. Obviously it’s not just one’s own body weight that one has to haul around. The weight of your equipment is factored in as well. The heavier your bike, in particular, the slower you will go. Bottom line. So most people who are mildly serious about cycling want to have a lighter bike.

Off I went to look at new bikes. I thought to myself, “I reckon I deserve a top of the range carbon fibre racing bike with the lightest components”. I checked out the bikes- there was one that had a claimed weight of 10.5kg and another, the top of the range one, which had a claimed weight of 9.8kg. That is very light for a mountain bike!

Now, how much would you expect to pay for the 700g advantage? Think calmly about that before you answer.

The 10.5kg bike was going for R30 000.00 and the 9.8kg bike was going for, drumroll please, R54 000,00.

Now, friends and fellow amateur mountain bikers, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise that you will pay more than R20 000.00 for under a kilogram of weight saving.

I can fully understand this kind of expenditure if you have no more weight to lose. But, you do, and the chances are that you are overweight. Please don’t let your lack of discipline in not training and in over eating spill over into an irrationally motivated, ill financially disciplined purchase of a super light bike. Out of principle I don’t think people who could lose some weight should be shelling out for super light bikes. Rather drop that extra kilogram around your belly than drop R20 000.00 on an undeserved bike. Yes I did say that.

Fortunately I’ve dropped most of the extra weight you see in that photo from 2008, but I’ve got at least 700g to go. So I’m hanging on to my current bike… for now! It’s gonna be a good one!

Mandela, the mountain & a movement of pioneers

I clearly remember the 10th of May 1994. It was the day when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa after the demise of apartheid. The results of the first free and fair elections held on 27 April 1994 were out. The day before I had had the honour of raising the new South African flag at my primary school; Sweet Valley. I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what the event symbolised, but I knew it was a big deal. I also remember the new R5 coins, the Nelson Mandela inaugural coins. People were saying that they would be worth a lot in the future. And, perhaps insignificantly, I remember the weather. It was overcast and rainy in Cape Town. The perfect type of weather to go mountain biking!

Fast forward 19 years from the day when Mandela cast his ballot, and today the car park, make that the car parks, at Tokai are full of cars with bike racks on the back. One cannot easily find a place to park and today there are certainly far more mountain bikers enjoying the mountains than hikers and horses. The sport of mountain biking has exploded over the last 19 years. The mountain is accessible to all and there is something for everyone – from jeep track for beginners to road gaps over those jeep tracks for those whose bikes come equipped with take off and landing gear.

Over the years trails of all types at Tokai have come and gone. Even whole sections of forest have been cleared, regrown and cleared again!

I often think back to the 10th of May 1994. That day I was the only one out there. My bike was a Hansom hardtail, with steel Reynolds tubing. It had Shimano biopace chainrings, a 200GS groupset, rigid front forks and awesome brahma bull bars with with pink grips!

I enjoyed the solitude, the mountain, the pine trees, being close to nature, the great feeling of grinding up the mountain, breathing heavily as my breath condensed immediately upon being exhaled. I loved hammering downhill, staying on around sections when I should have crashed (you can’t beat the feeling), losing control over rooted sections that my bike couldn’t really handle, and crashing hard, knowing that no-one would hear any cry for help. I remember the moments after crashing, checking the bike before the body, knowing that my body would heal, but my bike would cost money to fix. I loved doing something that I knew hardly anyone else was doing. I wondered why no-one else was riding when it was so awesome. I couldn’t figure it out. After all, the mountain was there, and mountain bikes were available.

Obviously I wasn’t the only mountain biker on the planet, but at Tokai that day, a public holiday, I never saw anyone else. I guess that is life, and it’s something I draw inspiration from. I think most worthwhile things are started by a movement of pioneers. I’ll try to explain…

Before there was the N2 through the garden route, there was a rough road, and before that, there was no road and before that, there were some pioneering types who went on a journey, over mountains and through forests.

The journey was hard at times, but they persevered through the slow progress of felling trees. They cut a path through the forest; a path that others could follow later and a road that we can travel in a small fraction of the time by car today.

That is the role of those that do it first, they pave the way and make it easier for others down the line. I’m not saying I pioneered mountain biking, or riding at Tokai, it was a people movement and a whole industry. But when I’m doing something that I believe in and where it feels like I’m the only one, I do draw inspiration from the difference between the car park at Tokai today and 19 years ago. The fact that the day I remember was Mandela’s inauguration makes it incredibly special, the long walk to freedom is always worth it. Pioneers, keep pioneering.

I love horses, especially with tasty gravy

While at work today I received a whatsapp from my mate Renay. “I just rode horse trails.they were muddy, the roots were wet, and it was awesome.”

Fortunately I had my bike at work, as well as my kit, including my headlamp, in my car. So, then and there it was decided; my commute home would involve a detour via the horse trails.

Growing up, my brother Brian and I, as young mountain bikers, did not get on well with horses. This was for good reason; they rode on mountain bike trails, some of which we had laboured to build, they made these previously nice trails into a sandy mess, and to top it all off, they were allowed access to parts of the mountain that mountain bikers were banned from because, so we were told, mountain biking is destructive and causes erosion.

The last time I checked a large heavy horse, with hooves that are small relative to the size of the beast, exerts far more pressure on terrain than any group of mountain bikers could ever dream of. Remember; pressure equals force divided by area. I digress.

Back then life was simple; eat, go to school, eat, go home, eat, ride, search for new trails, find new trails, build new trails, eat, sleep, repeat. There were no enemies except for horses. However, Lindsay, if you read this, you are ok and we like your horses. We know you don’t ride your horses on mountain bike trails.

Getting back to this evening… there is this trail that has been attributed to horses. However, it is a perfect mountain bike trail, and I think it was always destined to be such. Horses have not ridden there in ages. I know this because the trail was smooth and not full of hoof holes.

As I found the trailhead I turned my light on. The trail was perfectly illuminated as far as I needed to see. Beyond that the trees of the forest were silhouetted by the city lights. I was the only one there and it felt like 20 years ago, when just about every time my brother and I went mountain biking we were the only ones there. Light rain started to fall as I descended the mountain through the refreshing chill of the autumn air. The trail, although muddy was strangely grippy and I realised that I had some margin to speed up a little even though it was dark. Importantly, I obeyed one of mountain biking’s many golden rules: do not hit slippery roots at any angle other than a right angle. This helped me keep things rubber side down and ensured that I had a lot of fun!

As the smile broadened across my face I thought, although subconsciously at the time, this is one thing to add to the list, that every mountain biker knows and understands, of what it means to be a mountain biker!

Hey Renay, you were so right, it was awesome- thanks for the heads up!

Hey Brian, get your ass over here- I miss riding with you!

You don’t get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest

Seasons are wonderful. The first rains in autumn are so refreshing. It feels good as the days shorten and the air gets a bit chilly in the evenings. The same is true in spring; we cannot wait for the hot weather and the long days that go on and on. We need the change. We need the seasons.

In life, as in nature, we go through seasons. I believe in seasons of trial and seasons of rest. As with a lot of my thinking, this thought is rooted in a cycling analogy. It goes something like this. You do not get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest, assuming of course, that you have trained. Simply put, athletes who train all the time will burn out. They will not get stronger if they train all the time. Recovery drinks, Mondays off after hard riding on the weekends and chugging some L-glutamine before at least 8 hours’ sleep is where strength comes from! Rest days, rest weeks, rest seasons; you cannot hammer hard all the time. Contrary to making gains in strength, you will actually regress.

It’s important to know what season you are in. Training or racing when you should be resting will lead to reduced performance and a lack of joy. Resting when you should be training, or racing, will make you sluggish and fat. Most of us, in life, I think, do not recognise when we should be resting. We need to understand when life has been hard, when we have gone through some sort of trial, that just “carrying on” is not what we need.

After a season of trial there will always be a season of rest in the same way that summer follows winter. “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” – Psalm 30 v 5. Just “carrying on” when you should be resting is like going to the beach in summer dressed with a scarf. It sounds crazy, but we are a lot better at discerning the natural seasons than the other seasons in life. You need to recognise the change in the season, change the way you think, and change the way you act. You will need the strength you gain in season of rest for the next season of labour and trial so that you can overcome it, and be victorious through it.

Trees have growth rings, they show the seasons of rapid growth and the seasons of slower growth. We must live in the seasons of life, the seasons of trial and the seasons of rest, the seasons of slow growth and the seasons of faster growth. This is necessary so that when each season draws to a close, we will enjoy the change in season, having gained what that season had to offer us. After resting well we will relish a trial, and after a season of fighting hard we can put the weapons down and rest. We will expect and love the change as much as we long for the refreshing rains after a long dry summer, or the warm summer nights after a freezing winter.

Suffering got me thinking good thoughts

A week or two ago I participated in the ninety niner cycle race. I started in E group, which started out far too slowly for a race, so I decided to hammer hard from the start and see how far an all out effort would take me. It was raining and quite windy in sections. The out of season rain had dissolved what I thought to be fertiliser and other chemical which had been spilt on the road by farm trucks and the water that sprayed up from other riders’ wheels left a funny taste in my mouth. I was enjoying the race though.

Towards the end of the ride, after bridging the gap from group to group, and riding among C and D group my legs had given just about all that they could. As I was approaching Vissershok, which has a decent 1.1km stretch at 9% gradient, I had a flashback to one of the last times I can remember riding out in the Northern Suburbs. It was the 1992 Falke Funride, my second ever funride. I was 11 years old and I was inexperienced. You cannot buy experience. I was suffering out somewhere in the farmlands, when I decided it was time for some nutrition. I hauled out the energy supplement of that era, corn syrup! I can remember riding along on my “outeniqua” mountain bike fussing with the sachet and really battling to open it. I decided that I needed two hands and promptly slammed on brakes! No sooner had I done this, a big fat dude slammed into the back of me and we both crashed. I landed on his lap. I remember him being very upset and I also remember that he was riding a very nice bike – and that the seat tore in the incident.

I rode off, a bit shaken, and wondering why such a big guy was drafting an 11 year old!

As I ground up Vissershok in the ninety niner I thought about that crash, and I thought about how long I have been cycling for and how so much has changed in the interim, from sports nutrition, to the bikes we ride these-days and to how much harder it is for me to climb these days because I am so much heavier. I thought about how in those days I would hit the wall hard, often with more than 50km to go in a ride and how I could ride a serious distance in a hypoglycemic state. I thought about how in that state of suffering, quick strong riders doing the “long route”, with massive calf muscles and with A, B, C, D and E numbers on their backs would fly past me as I limped to the finish line. I thought about how I would lie on the couch broken for the rest of the day. They were all good, pleasant thoughts that I look back on with massive fondness now. And I figured that often the key to enduring suffering is the awesome memories that emerge and the experiences that you cherish. Because of the memories of my early cycling days, I have got to say that I enjoyed the ninety niner a whole lot more than I would have otherwise, and Vissershok became a special reminder of awesome memories, and not just an incredibly difficult climb ending an otherwise pretty miserable race.