How skilled are you really? And how much does it matter in South Africa? We did a recent survey with participants at the 2017 KAP Sani2c and one of the questions asked participants to rate their skill level on scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being Norman Novice and 10 being Greg Minnaar. We were very surprised at the answers…
By Sean Badenhorst
Now either a great deal of respondents aren’t familiar with Greg Minnaar https://www.gregminnaar.com and just how incredibly skilled he is; or they are confusing fitness with skill. An amazing 53.81% rated themselves at a 7 or 8 out of 10. Here are the full survey results: Rider Stats, Sani2C.
I rode this year’s edition of Sani2c (The Race). I’d rate the winners, Philip Buys (8) and Matthys Beukes (7) up there in terms of skill; but would put most of the riders I saw at between 2 and 5. I’d put myself at about 6.5. Basically, everyone I saw had room to improve, including me.
Riding in a straight line on a gravel road requires no real skill. Add in a descent and a corner at Sani2c you have a ‘brakefest’ with riders creating tension and killing the momentum gravity so freely offers. Add in a couple of nervous shouts, someone over-braking and skidding and you have a perfect platform for a possible crash.
In singletrack, the situation is magnified as there’s limited room for lateral movement, trees, roots, ruts and sometimes loose sand. Add in a steep climb or descent and some switchbacks and you have a recipe for over-braking and under-utilisation of ‘always-on’ favourable physics.
In general, having ridden many, many trails and participated in many, many races over the past 26 years, it’s very evident that there’s a high focus on general fitness and endurance and a low focus on skill in South Africa. This is one of the reasons why gravel road races like Transbaviaans, Karoo 2 Coast, The 36ONE and others, are so popular.
Let’s face it, a crash on a mountain bike can range from ego-bruising to life-altering. And even death. Very few want to risk any of that, but everyone loves the feeling of being fit and pedalling a bicycle in the South African bush/forest/desert.
South Africans aren’t afraid of a challenge. And over many decades we’ve developed a sports endurance culture that’s created national heroes out of sportsmen and women that can endure. Add the word Ultra as a prefix and you immediately get significantly higher interest in your event. It makes complete sense. We have great weather and a great variety of landscapes to offer fresh challenges. We also have 19km of gravel road to every 1km of tar road in this country…
Yes, South Africans are inherently eager to tackle endurance challenges. But – and it’s a big but – South Africans are also naturally competitive. And in mountain biking, especially on routes that include rough/loose terrain, singletrack and even jeep track, one way to get an edge over your competitors is to increase your skill level.
Nobody HAS TO become more skilled, but it sure helps to know how to handle most common trail obstacles when you encounter them. It’s also quite a good feeling to be able thread your way smoothly and swiftly along twisty singletrack, gaining an advantage over lesser skilled rivals.
The great thing is that everyone CAN become more skilled. You can watch youtube how-to videos and teach yourself; you can ride with more skilled riders and learn from them; or you can attend a skills clinic and learn in a structured, progressional manner.
I’ve watched mountain biking grow in South Africa from a ‘fad’, where every mountain biker in each region knew each other personally, to one of the most popular participation sports/forms of exercise. Hundreds of events each year have added a great range of challenges and the proliferation of mountain bike trails parks in the past five years has added significant depth to riding options.
Yes, it’s important to develop endurance, fitness and strength. All of these are essential if you want to ride or race relatively non-technical mountain bike routes. But if you want to really enjoy mountain biking completely, improving your confidence and/or speed over more challenging routes is where you need to focus some time and attention. Most skills clinics cost between R500–R1500 and most mountain bikers don’t need more than one or two clinics to make big improvements.
The money/time investment to improve your skill is relatively low to achieve mountain bike confidence and/or speed for every ride you ever do thereafter…
To book a TREAD Skills Clinic near you, head here: www.treadskills.co.za
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