South African mountain biking has grown remarkably in the past decade, but in the past couple of years there’s been an increasing number of road cyclists making the switch. It’s obviously grown the numbers but it’s also seen the racing at the front of the various categories become more competitive. Mountain biking has become a new lease on bicycle riding and racing for many who have become tired of the same old routine (the road racing calendar hasn’t changed much in over a decade); or who are scared of the high risk of collision with motorists on the roads. If you’ve just switched, or are considering it, welcome!
WHAT TO EXPECT
There’s a sub-cultural shift that’s required when converting from road to mountain biking. For some, it’s quite rapid and seamless; for others, it’s an awkward adjustment that can take ages. Instead of us telling you what to expect, we asked nine high-profile converts some questions about their experience when making the switch.
LISE OLIVIER, Elite category, raced road for five years
What attracted you to mountain biking? My passion to succeed internationally in cycling has always been with road cycling. When our pro road team cut the women’s program at the end of 2012 I knew my chances of further competing internationally were most likely over. Having a full time job I was looking for a fun alternative to staying active. The mountain bike events as well as the National Duathlon series (Momentum Meg-3 series) that we have in South Africa cater for just such a market – fun, family events for active people. Cycling is different to sports like rugby and cricket that have many passionate supporters. Cycling and especially mountain biking in South Africa is participation driven and people passionate about the sport actually go out and compete instead of just being a spectator/fan. It is about the average Joe setting a goal for themselves and going to a race with friends, even if it is to finish a 70km race in 7 hours. I love this about the sport. The vibe is much more social and relaxed compared to road cycling. At a point where I actually wanted to stop cycling completely I found joy in racing (or more lately riding) my mountain bike for just these reasons.
What has been the toughest part of making the transition? Having a strong road cycling background when properly fit, I might be strong enough to compete physically with the top mountain bike ladies but technically I am very far behind. This makes it impossible to compete in single day events. Apart from being slower in technical sections you also spend a lot of energy concentrating in the singletrack where a more seasoned campaigner actually gets to recover slightly. This we proved at joBerg2c where my riding partner, Cherise Stander, picked up my heart rate and had a good laugh at it spiking at the mere sight of something technical.
How have you coped with/managed this? After realising just how much time you can actually lose (and possibly gain if you have better skills), I knew I was going to need some help… I look at the little kids riding their bikes with no fear. Starting to ride at an older age does make it a slower process to learn without fear.
From a bike and gear perspective, what has been the biggest challenge for you? Cycling is an expensive sport. I have been very fortunate in this department. Working for Velo Life which imports BMC and Bergamont bicycles as well as Catlike helmets, I have been given everything that I need and more.
What bike do you currently ride? I am currently riding a BMC Fourstroke FS01. It is a full carbon 29er duel suspension bike. Since I received this bike about five months ago, I (and I still consider myself a ‘roadie’) have only ridden my road bike twice…
One a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being excellent), where do your rate your MTB handling skills? I am very happy I did not get asked this question last week because then I would have said my skills were nonexistent – more like a 0. After my skills lesson with Sean Badenhorst this past weekend, I am at least in the very low single digits. With some practise and through applying, as he refers to it, the ‘3 laws of mountain bike wisdom’ I am now, for the first time, confident that in the not too distant future I will be able to call myself a mountain biker.
Do you have plans to change this?
Going for a proper lesson was the first step. Apart from the great learning curve this had given me a bit of confidence as well. With the encouragement and guidance I did things I would have never tried on my own. Maybe a higher-level lesson in a month or so but apart from that just spending more time in the PwC Bike Park or similar locations applying all that I have learned until it becomes second nature.
Which has been your favourite MTB race so far?
The Old Mutual joBerg2c for sure. There is something really special about that race. Although it is a really tough race there is just something great about riding from Gauteng to the beach in KwaZulu-Natal. The hospitality and community involvement all along the route adds even further to the incredible experience. The organisers have to be given credit for making it such an enjoyable event from pro rider all the way through to the fun rider.
What one piece of advice can you give to roadies thinking of crossing over? Learn to laugh at yourself because it is not a question of IF you will have an embarrassing fall, but WHEN it will happen…
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