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.
YOLANDI DU TOIT, Elite category, raced road for 10 years
What attracted you to mountain biking? A sponsor approached me and asked me to do a couple of mountain bike races for the team, as they noticed the growing exposure that mountain biking was getting. After 10 years of racing on the road, which included three years of racing on the European road circuit, I was also seeking a fresh challenge and mountain biking offered me just that. Although I could carry my fitness over from the road, there was still plenty left to learn about racing on fat tyres.
What has been the toughest part of making the transition? I achieved what I set out for myself to achieve on the road so when I came across to mountain biking, I was eager to learn and get better. So I guess I saw all the challenges more as opportunities to improve rather than seeing them as real obstacles.
How have you managed this? It helps when you want to learn and want to better yourself. Nobody can teach or help you if you don’t want it for yourself. I’ve been on the dirt for five years now and I am still eager to learn and improve in several aspects of the sport. In fact, that is part of my motivation to continue with my MTB career.
From a bike and gear perspective, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
Getting comfortable on new equipment. Every year our team gets new equipment and it normally takes me a couple of months to feel comfortable with my new bike’s setup. Changing from a full suspension bike back to a hardtail was also quite a challenge for me as the full-suss bike was much more forgiving and comfortable to ride.
What bike do you currently ride? Rocky Mountain Vertex, hardtail 29er.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being excellent), where do you rate your MTB handling skills? Comparing to the international XC riders, I would say a six.
Do you have plans to change this? Yes! It’s important to keep challenging yourself on technical terrain and my plan is to take part in more XC races in the future as it forces you out of your comfort zone when it comes to technical riding.
Which has been your favourite MTB race so far? In South Africa we are blessed with great weather, beautiful surroundings and passionate people building trails and hosting events for our enjoyment, so it feels unfair to rate one event above the other. Every race also has a different character, focussing on different aspects of the racing experience, making them each unique in their own way.
What one piece of advice can you give to roadies thinking of crossing over? It’s like learning to walk; you first had to crawl and stumble a few times before you took your first steps. I think it is important not to be too hard on yourself when you can’t ride something. Just go outside and enjoy riding your bike. Once you get used to the feel of loose gravel under your tyres, you will want to challenge yourself even more. Take baby steps!
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