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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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!