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.

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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!

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What is glory?

I’ve decided I want to live my life pursuing glory. What is glory? I think glory is something that touches something eternal. Its something that is out of the ordinary, something that makes us marvel. I do believe glory reveals something of God’s nature. On a personal level, glory often brings tears to my eyes; tears of joy mixed with shouts of encouragement, lots of passion, and often plenty of smiling.

Glory is hard to describe and I think it has to be experienced. Sometimes a picture or a scene is full of glory. Just now I was looking through my top desk drawer in my office and I found a thank you card from my friends’ (Eddy and Kimmi) wedding.Ed & Kim thank you card The signs of glory are all over it; Eddy is a passionate guy and I remember getting a bit choked up when I initially received it seeing the love that flows from this photo. The thing I love about it, is that it reveals the joyful and passionate love that a bridegroom has for his bride. Love that is stoked to the bone! It touches eternity; the endless, passionate and joyful love that Jesus has for us, His Bride – He is stoked to the bone in His love for us. It makes me amped!

The other day I ran into the Checkers in Park n Shop to get my net prophet tickets from Computicket. I must have been in there for about 5 minutes and when I came out I gave R100.00 to the lady who was guarding my car. What she said to me and the way she said it was full of glory. It was in a soft Malawian accent and it was full of humility and grace, it was full of Jesus and yes, it made me cry. She simply said to me, “God bless you”. I thanked her. As I drove off, all the signs of glory were there. I can’t explain it, but I knew God was with that lady and I know that something about that moment struck a chord with the ways of God and His goodness. It was a Heaven meets earth moment. It was a moment that helped me to define glory.

As I drove off I thought to myself that was probably among the top ways to spend R100.00, I cried, laughed and got properly amped! This world and the people in it are full of glory. There are things in life that reveal glory. I figured I want to have more of those moments in every day of my life. I want to be alive and sensitive to these things. Things that may be hidden and things that may speak softly, but I do want to pursue glory. Where you find glory, you find something tangible that we can see, hear and feel that says “this is what God is like”. Glory is all around.

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.

Tribute to Fayaz from Bridge: 1963 – 2012

In September 2012 I received the news that Fayaz from Bridge Cycles had passed away. My brother let me know via a skype IM from Arizona – “Hey. Fayaz passed away”. He passed away from cancer. My dad also passed away from cancer. I hate cancer.

Argus 1993 - Garth Watson

My first Argus with the helmet Fayaz sold my mom and the 200gs groupset!

I started cycling in 1992 after helping my mom crush cans for Bergvliet High recycling at the finish of the 1992 Argus. After that I probably spent more time at Bridge than I did cycling. I would spend hours there looking at the stuff I wanted, the bikes and all the accessories. Fayaz was a legend – I distinctly remember him selling me my first helmet at the back of the shop. Back then Bridge was more of hardware store than a cycle shop. The place was filled with the aroma of samoosas and the airwaves were filled with the sound of an old coke fridge which I think may have run on diesel or something! Fayaz always had time for me and my brother, my mom and dad. He was patient and gentle and generous. He always had time to devote his full attention to us. He always had time to chat and to have a laugh about things – he was always interested in us – he would always ask after my mom and brother. The years flew by. Bridge Cycles has grown into an amazingly successful and professional business, and over the years Fayaz, and Fazal too, were always there – always the same, always dependable. Thank you.

I cried when I found out Fayaz had passed away. Even now as I type this I cry. I cannot adequately express what he meant to me. Death itself is a very unnatural thing. Humans were never created or designed to deal with it. But we do have the ability to remember.

I went round to Bridge one evening in January this year and spent the better part of two hours with Fazal and Aneesa recalling stories from the last 20 years, and remembering Fayaz and who he was as a person. It was probably one of the most meaningful conversations I have had in my life. Fayaz was more than just the owner of my LBS. And apart from being the very special person that he was, he was someone who had shared life with me, my brother and my mom. He is someone who took an interest in me and my cycling before I had even finished one Argus. He was someone who was constantly there, and was constant in “being Fayaz”.

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kitted up

I rode this year’s Argus in memory and honour of Fayaz. I didn’t know how better to honour him and his family. There was a moment of silence before the start. The music stopped and thousands of people stood remembering those in the cycling community that had passed away. I cried again.

Garth Watson - Argus 2013

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I had a good ride. I did my best. Not ideal starting in G – but I posted a respectable 3h07. Fayaz, thank you for everything. Thank you for what you meant to so many people. For being a different kind of person, a unique businessman and cycle shop owner. Thank you for caring and for being genuinely interested in us. Thank you for being a family man and and a friend to the cycling community. I miss you.

What this world needs

I’m off work today, not well, doctor said its sinusitis and stuck me on some antibiotics. It’s a beautiful day in Cape Town and instead of wondering how much longer this is going to last I’d prefer to be getting ready to hit the road and hammer out a high intensity interval session in preparation for the Argus Cycle Tour in just under two weeks time.

In my weakened state, I had the presence of mind to recognise that what I need is God’s Presence, so I sat down, removed myself from my work email inbox and put my earphones in. I happened to click on a Sean Feucht track where he sings the words of Psalm 91. As he repeatedly sang “I will satisfy him with a long life and show him My salvation” I felt the goodness of the Holy Spirit begin to invade my heart and mind. I started to think about some of the things, people and situations that need God’s salvation, His rescue, His redemption. I started to cry, not ugly crying, just gentle tears. I cried because my confidence in God’s goodness and ability to set things straight and to make it all new became tangible.

What we need, what I need, is for God to show us His salvation, we need Him and we need to take shelter in Him. That’s the starting point. I reckon if, one by one, we would all take time, behind closed doors, just to seek the Spirit of God and experience His love and goodness we would be well on the way to receiving what this world needs. This world first and foremost does not need some of the obvious things that we think it may need. What this world needs most is for people to know and experience Jesus and the Father’s love. Love for love sake. That is the start. Actually that is the end as well.