There’s little doubt that mountain biking has become one of the most popular forms of sport or exercise for South Africans. A fun form of outdoor activity that appeals to all ages and both genders in a country with diverse landscapes and excellent year-round weather is the perfect formula for mountain biking success. Very few South African brands can claim to have played a key role in mountain biking through both its biggest growth phase and its more recent transformation period; but this brand can.
While mountain biking is still relatively young – early racing began in the mid-1970s in the USA and in the late 1980s in South Africa – the growth curve has been steep. The introduction of the Absa Cape Epic in 2004 launched a stage-race culture in South Africa that’s globally unique. This grew in tandem with a year-round marathon racing calendar to deliver a foundation of endurance racing for mountain biking in South Africa.
And for most of the 2000s, if you wanted to do a mountain bike ride of decent distance, you’d have to enter a race, where routes were cut and marked, refreshment points were added and medical back-up was supplied.
Around 2009 dedicated mountain bike trails venues began to emerge, offering mountain bikers relatively safe, maintained, marked routes to ride, mostly to train for the big events.
In the early years of South African mountain bike events, sponsors were hard to come by and event organisers were reliant on rider entry fees to cover costs. Some sponsors contributed product, which helped give organisers some financial leeway to either make some profit or plough funds back into other areas of their events.
Two products that are essential for every mountain bike event are energy and recovery drinks. Riders that toil in the hot, dry conditions become reliant on energy-drink pause points to quench their thirst and top up their energy stores for the remainder of the event. Post-race nourishment also became essential, confirming the importance of quality recovery drinks.
In the early days, it was only energy drinks at each refreshment stop (usually 2-4 in each event or stage), but in recent years, events have added a range of snacks, fruit, sweets and more.
Back in 2004, Biogen, a new South African sports supplement brand, was introduced to the endurance sports market. It was immediately inundated with proposals from event organisers seeking an energy supplement brand sponsor. The folks at Biogen didn’t hang around and before too long had made a significant investment in the mountain bike events market, mainly as a product sponsor.
But as mountain biking matured, Biogen began to expand its investment in mountain biking. It wasn’t only mountain biking’s evolution though, it was also the evolution of Biogen, a brand that’s always been more people-centric than product-centric.
“People’s needs change over time. And we saw that over the past half a decade, where there’s been a shift from a consumer reliance on supplements to a greater focus on whole foods. Ultimately, Biogen isn’t a whole foods brand, but we are a brand that’s highly focussed on health and wellness and identify with those that don’t rely entirely on processed foods,” says Brandon Fairweather, Biogen General Manager.
“With Biogen, in the early days, we saw mountain biking as a great platform to showcase our range of pre-, during- and post-exercise supplements and we aggressively invested in the sport across a number of levels, including events and professional teams.”
If you’ve been a mountain biker that participates in events over the past decade, you will have experienced Biogen’s presence at some point. Biogen has been the official supplement partner to many events over the years, including the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series, the Nissan Trailseeker Series (Gauteng and Western Cape) and the Old Mutual joBerg2c.
Biogen has also been the official supplement sponsor of a number of racing teams over the years too, fuelling some of the most successful past and current male and female racers to podium finishes at most significant events.
But the sport of mountain biking has matured over the past few years, with trails parks making it possible to do a ride without entering a race. There’s also been an increasing shift in consumer awareness of the importance of daily diet for health and fitness. Biogen continues to make a proactive transformation from being focussed on producing sports supplements and vitamins to investing in delivering healthier and more natural-based products that have greater long-term nutritional value.
“We are very busy behind the scenes as we continue to explore ways to improve our offering with products that can be associated more with long-term health, such as including real fruit in bars and gels and less refinement where possible in other existing and new powdered products,” explains Fairweather.
As it currently stands, Biogen has invested significantly into Dryland Event Management, one of South Africa’s leading mountain bike event organising companies, to be an official partner of high-profile international events like the Cape Pioneer Trek, Tankwa Trek, Attakwas Extreme, The 36ONE MTB Challenge; and lower-profile events like the Cradle Traverse, Storms River Traverse and 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge.
Biogen has also seen the value in supporting trails parks, which deliver year-round value to mountain bikers and trail runners. Two such parks are the popular Biogen Sports Park @ Avianto – in Gauteng and more recently, Holla Trails in KwaZulu-Natal, albeit in a slightly smaller capacity. Biogen’s support helps improve the park facilities as well as upgrade the trails and the trail signage.
Biogen has supported many professional mountain biking ambassadors over the years, currently including the likes of Andrew McLean, Joel Stransky and Amy Beth McDougall, whilst also offering influential athletes or personalities race entries to high profile events.
“We’ve always positioned Biogen as a people-centric brand, geared to improve their overall health and wellness as first priority,” reaffirms Fairweather. “By giving top riders or personalities the opportunity to complete events with Biogen’s support, including the use of our latest products, we’re able to carry the Biogen message even further.”