Mountain bikers are generally a kind and sympathetic lot. Generally. From time to time you come across mountain bikers that will treat other mountain bikers with disdain, criticising them for not be being real mountain bikers. The truth is, everyone is a real mountain biker, we just differ slightly. Here are the 12 types of real South African mountain biker – which one are you?
By Sean Badenhorst
I’ve been riding mountain bikes in South Africa since 1991. A time when mountain biking was so small, you knew almost every mountain biker in your province. Since then, mountain biking has been through all sorts of changes as it’s grown from a niche ‘fad’ to one of the most popular recreational sports in the country.
I’ve personally been through a few mountain biking identities in the past 29 years and have taken note of the various different other identities that have formed over the years. This is the first draft of a compilation the 12 types of South African mountain biker I see today. You should see yourself in one of these, or you may fit into more than one. You’ll definitely see other mountain bikers described here too.
Athlete status: You’re a natural athlete and have done at least 10 different sports in your life. You got into mountain biking because you wanted to see if you could excel at it. It could just be your special talent, right? Turns out it isn’t but you made the commitment and now you’re here. Mostly.
Frequency: You ride far less than your mountain biking friends but manage to stay with them and even ride away from them, when you do join them (the other four sports you do keep you generally fit). Sometimes you ride once a month, sometimes you ride 10 times a month.
Reason: You ride because you have the bike and all the gear now and you’re quite a natural. You go through stages where you find motivation to get fit and fast, but are easily distracted and end up starting all over again when the next urge to ride again kicks in. You generally don’t ride on your own because you like the company – and beating others…
Skill level: Fairly high despite never having attended a skills course. Your friends envy you.
Athlete status: You aren’t an athlete, but you probably did quite well at sport at high school. You got into mountain biking through friends and kept at it because it’s more fun than any other form of exercise.
Frequency: You like to ride your mountain bike as often as you can, which is usually once a week – on average. It’s just too much schlep to try and get out more often than that.
Reason: You ride because it gets you out of the house/flat and into nature. And because you like to feel like you have earned your post-ride food. Food is way more important to you than riding. But you like that you can try different post-ride meals at different trails park restaurants. You enjoy non-technical riding like gravel roads and tame singletrack.
Skill level: You could become a lot more skilled, but don’t see why, you’ll never need it.
Athlete status: You aren’t a natural athlete, but you do train yourself to appear like one when you have the desire. You got into mountain biking because you’re into mechanical stuff and bikes are cool mechanical objects to work on, fiddle with and upgrade.
Frequency: You ride regularly, at least three times a week. You ride alone and with others because you’re the one that can fix anything and that makes them feel secure and you feel needed.
Reason: You love bikes and how they work, so the more you ride, the more stimulated you are by riding. It’s a perpetual um, cycle. Sometimes you train for events because you need a goal to focus on. You have strongly considered getting the RockShox logo as a tattoo. You carry a SRAM B-Gap Measurement Tool in your tool pack.
Skill level: Fairly high. You’re not afraid of much and enjoy how your bike is designed to ride over some crazy terrain and obstacles.
Athlete status: You look like a natural athlete, but you’re not that fast on a mountain bike. Well, you do have a few obscure Strava KOMs and top 10s… You got into mountain biking because it looked cool and you can comfortably afford it. There’s a lot of bling!
Frequency: You ride regularly – at least four times a week – usually in matching kit and not always on the same bike. You don’t ride alone because it’s dangerous and there’s nobody to comment on/compliment your slick gear and take iPhone pics of you for your Instagram posts.
Reason: You ride because you have the time and all the gear, including many helmets in a range of colours. You also love training and have the latest Garmin to record your every move. During lockdown you reached level 13 on Zwift faster than all your friends so that you could unlock the dotted socks.
Skill level: Reasonable. You’re inherently afraid of crashing so ‘reasonable’ is likely how it will remain.
The Weekend Warrior
Athlete status: You were good at ‘ball sports’ at school, but those are games, not real sports and don’t require true athlete status. Nevertheless, your desire to succeed is similar to that of an athlete – and that’s never left you. You got into mountain biking because you got fat, got a fright and were recommended by a doctor to take up exercise to lose weight and improve your circulation if you want to live past 45.
Frequency: You ride on weekends and try to fit in one or two rides on weekdays, but seldom succeed, except when you’re training for Sani.
Reason: You don’t want to die young and believe that mountain biking is helping you keep death at bay. You also enjoy the social side and what’s better than a cold one after a hot Saturday morning ride, right? You enter Sani every year because, well, it’s an escape with buddies and beer.
Skill level: For your size, it’s surprisingly good. Must be the co-ordination you honed in ‘ball sports’.
Athlete status: You were once very athletic, but that was in the late 80s/early 90s, when you finished on the podium at almost every local race. You got into mountain biking because it was new and looked cool and that tusk-coloured Bridgestone MB 0 still holds a special place in your heart. If only you hadn’t sold it to pay for your wedding.
Frequency: You ride at least once a week. Every week. Even in winter. It’s what you do. It’s what you’ve always done, bru.
Reason: You started mountain biking before road cycling even became mainstream. You endured years with no suspension and became a tube-changing expert of sorts. You would have won the Rhodes Classic if you didn’t overcook the sharp left hander on the concrete strip descent and break your collarbone. You were at the 1992 Sedgfield Fat Tyre Festival. You are one of the pioneers. You started riding because you loved the purity of mountain biking. And still do, just on a much, much better bike.
Skill level: You’ve got finesse on a bike, built over three decades, and that’s enough for you.
Athlete status: You’re genetically gifted and probably could have competed at the Olympics had you taken up mountain biking 20 years ago. You don’t know this but your new mountain biking friends wish they had your long, lean limbs and natural suppleness. You got into mountain biking because the government implemented a flippen Coronavirus lockdown and you got a knee injury jogging laps around your garden.
Frequency: You ride every ride you possibly can. Both days on the weekends and some week days. You change all your plans to fit in rides which you only find out about the night before. It’s a new trail that you haven’t ridden yet, why wouldn’t you do the ride tomorrow morning?
Reason: You ride because it’s so much fun and so cool and so exciting. It makes you feel free. Life is good. If only you started mountain biking years ago…
Skill level: It’s quite low, but you’re improving with every ride! You’re doing a skills clinic next month and that’s going to take you to a new level.
Athlete status: You’ve got the physique of an athlete, but not the mind. You live in a constant state of defence and the inability to convince yourself that you can take control of any situation on a bicycle. You got into mountain biking because you love exercise and the outdoors, but you crash more often than the average mountain biker. You perpetuate this trait by making it part of who you are. “I crash a lot.” “I’m okay, I’m used to crashing.”
Frequency: You ride regularly on your mountain bike – when you’re not recovering from an injury. You also ride regularly on an indoor bike or smart trainer because, well, it’s safer.
Reason: You fell in love with mountain biking on your first ride, but also fell off your bike and got hurt, making it a complicated relationship from the outset. You want to ride, but you don’t want to crash. You have broken collar bones and ribs more than once and had a few cuts stitched up. Your local ER staff greet you by your first name.
Skill level: Unfortunately, quite low. Still. Despite attending a number of skills clinics, you just can’t seem to move up to a level where you are able to control your bike and not let your bike control you… So, you choose to ride trails that aren’t very challenging. You keep at it because you do get through rides without a fall and those are just awesome.
Athlete status: It’s a mixture. Some of you are athletes well past your athletic prime; others aren’t an athlete’s arse. The former: you got into eMountain biking to keep riding after you lost the strength and endurance to keep riding regular bikes at a level you considered to be enjoyable. Aging is a bitch! The latter: you got into eMountain biking to lose weight, get healthy or spend more time with your more athletic partner. Better late than never. Good for you!
Frequency: You ride often because your eBike gives you all the fun of riding without the suffering. You also don’t take days to recover from a long or hard ride, so can be ready to ride every day if you want to. Assuming you remember to recharge your battery.
Reason: You ride because it gives you a chance to get outside in the fresh air and appreciate your health and mobility, all of which you took for granted when you were young. As did we all.
Skill level: It varies and requires an eBike skills lesson or two. eBikes are actually even more fun if you understand how to handle them properly.
The Endurance Freak
Athlete status: Mentally, you’re stronger than most professional athletes. Physically, you’re using what you have, but consistently find yourself fatigued because your mind outguns your body. But that’s okay, because as long as you’re riding, you’re happy, even if you do take your immune system to the edge.
Frequency: It’s not so much a question of how much you ride as how much you don’t ride. Most people count riding days, some of your rides take a whole day, or two, or more!
Reason: The journey. It’s all about the journey for you. Doesn’t matter how fast or slow or where you are riding, as long as you are riding. Forrest Gump is one of your favourite movies. You feel superior to all other cyclists but you’re humble, so you just allow your incredible Instagram pics and videos to do the talking…
Skill level: You don’t need skills to ride for hours or days. You just need time and commitment. And a very understanding family.
Athlete status: You’re a born athlete. You just never got into traditional sport from young because you were always riding bikes at the skatepark or BMX track. You got into mountain biking because, well, what’s not to love about downhill, enduro, big suspension, big jumps?
Frequency: You ride almost every weekend at the local jump lines and/or gravity lines and do the odd road trip with your buds to ride Giba and Cascades. Or ‘Jonkers’s and Hellsend, if you live in the Cape.
Reason: You don’t ride, you send. You learned how to jump from a young age with flat pedals and that’s your vibe, bru. To you, mountain biking is a soul sport, like surfing, only more risky. You love the thrill of challenging yourself, the bike and physics, even if it does mean you use up your medical aid savings by May. You don’t have rivals, you’re all one big community.
Skill level: Ridiculously high. You’re considering learning how to backflip. You’d teach skills if you only know how to explain, step by step, how you ace those big gap jumps.
Athlete status: You were born with a VO2 Max of 80, low body fat, perfect limb proportions and an insatiable desire to win at everything you ever do – even board games. You’re the epitome of an athlete. You got into mountain biking because you were a provincial road cyclist and everyone migrated to mountain biking, so you followed.
Frequency: Six days a week you ride. Every week, even in winter. Monday is rest day. You follow a structured training plan that includes intervals and core strength from your coach, who you’ve actually never met in person but are Facebook friends with…
Reason: You didn’t really find mountain biking, mountain biking found you. You don’t necessarily love riding bikes, you love competing. And you just happen to be fast on bicycles – so here you are. You need racing to give you purpose and define who you are. You’re still single (or divorced) because nobody really understands you. But that’s fine. You’ve got your riding group for company. And your Strava followers… Your married friends secretly admire you.
Skill level: You’re well above average. You have to be. You ride a short-travel 29er over gnarly terrain at speed!
This is just the start. If you think I have missed any ‘types’, let me know via email@example.com and I’ll update the list.