You’ve reached saturation point! You’ve done your favourite stage race six times. Oh, and a few years ago you crept out of your comfort zone and tried a few other multi-day races; but now you’ve done those three times as well. This year – same route, same singletrack, same faces – and so you wonder if perhaps you should do some races in another province. – By Steve Forster
There must be something else? Surely there is another aspect to mountain biking than just racing week after week, finishing amongst the same guys that you saw at the previous event and then, like last year, following a queue of riders into the singletrack – in slow motion.
Ask yourself a few questions, just to make sure you shouldn’t be tempted just one more time to do your favourite event:
- Why am I only doing races?
- Why am I riding with 600 other riders?
- Have I ever had the perfect partner?
- Do I always have to ride as fast as I can whenever I get on a bike?
- Did I take any photos? Did I notice the buck watching as we sped past? Did I stop and smell the roses? What view? What culture? What local delicacy? And no I didn’t take a dip in the dam!
- Did I have a few beers with my mates after Stage 4? What famous local red wine?
- Why were none of my mates here? Would be awesome to ride with some friends for a few days.
- Do I have a bucket list?
Ok, so decision made; now what? Put it out to your mates. How about a tour next year, either to a different part of the country or perhaps overseas. So many places to ride, so little time. Expect the usual questions of course.
It must be really expensive with a small group.
Nope, most local tours are a lot cheaper than stage races, and an overseas trip, especially to less developed counties is often comparable.
How does the accommodation compare?
Well unless you want that cosy two-man tent, usually guest houses, hotels or bed and breakfast. Customised to suit your pocket.
Do they usually include meals on these tours?
That’s part of the experience, the different cuisines one gets to try. No one worries about recovery drinks and whether you are taking in enough carbs – just eat whatever you want to and no need to ditch the cheesecake and ice cream.
Does the group have to be similar strength?
If you ride with mates, there will always be stronger riders and weaker riders – as long as you aren’t poles apart. The thing is, on a tour there is a different mindset – you want to see the waterfall, wait for the mountain reed buck to cross in front of you, take out that camera, joke with the locals, shake their hand and then plunge into that ice-cold mountain pool. There’s time to stop and buy a Coke at a tiny store in the middle of nowhere, a coffee shop or perhaps pop into the local shebeen because you never have. Why? Because you can. Because there’s time to do that. The old cliché, “it’s not about the destination, it is about the journey.”
Are the routes marked?
No, you have a guide or GPS so you get to ride where the locals ride; or where nobody ever rides. Ride through small villages and get lost in a maze of narrow, cobbled streets or dusty roads and then pop out the other side having experienced another culture.
But sometimes I like to ride hard, we South Africans love racing.
When you reach that climb that everyone was anticipating, there are no prizes, no entry fee, in fact nothing is said – but as someone in the group goes off the front, just that little bit harder, the challenge is laid down. The pace increases and before you know it, those in the group that want to, are back in race mode. There is no pre-defined finishing line, but we all know that the summit is what this part of the ride is all about. And let’s face it, thinking back, who were we really racing in that amazing event which is the Sani2c (did it six times and loved it); our mates of course, even if you are on the podium. It is no different on a tour, and then look forward to the banter in the local pub at the end of a good day’s riding, not to mention the inaugural fines meeting for those who were dropped on the wicked descent.
Food for thought? Well, just throwing out a point of view that could change the way you ride, the way you travel, even if it is just for a week. There are spectacular and remote places to ride on our planet. Don’t limit yourself. Go and ride the amazing stage races that South Africa has to offer, but you should also experience the camaraderie a tour has to offer. One day you might take another look at that bucket list and realise it’s too late.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I am off to ride the Inca Trails in Peru next month, with a group who choose a different destination every year. Northern Vietnam in 2011, sailing and riding the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia in 2012 and now Peru and the Amazon. Next year it might be Cuba or Iceland.
Steve Forster used to be a super-competitive mountain bike racer. Now he runs Ride Away Tours and rides for fun. For more, visit: www.rideawaytours.com
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Originally published in TREAD Issue 25, 2013 – All rights reserved