There’s limited data available on the South African mountain bike market. Steadily, over the past few years, TREAD has helped give some insight and perspective with a series of surveys. In this the first SA MTB Race Survey, presented by Garmin, we reveal a great deal about the racing preferences of South African mountain bikers. Due to the scale of the survey, we’re publishing the results in three parts.

This is Part 1, which focuses on the racers themselves. Where they live, their age, occupation, race participation frequency, their opinions on various key event/race elements, their favoured racing sports supplement brand and more…

Where do you live?

Region %
Gauteng 48.90%
Western Cape 27.31%
KwaZulu-Natal 8.29%
Eastern Cape 4.93%
Mpumalanga 2.74%
North West 2.50%
Free State 2.03%
Limpopo 1.02%
Northern Cape 0.63%
I live in a neighbouring country 0.94%
I live outside Southern Africa 0.70%

A total of 76.21% of the 1278 that took this 2019 SA MTB Race Survey live in two provinces – Gauteng and the Western Cape. This explains why mountain bike retail and marketing focus is so significant in these two provinces.

How long have you been mountain biking for?

Duration %
One year or less 4.77%
1-2 years 7.75%
2-3 years 8.92%
3-5 years 17.68%
5-10 years 28.09%
10 years or longer 32.79%

This was a pleasing stat. More than 60% have been riding mountain bikes for at least 5 years, with 32.79% riding for 10 years or more. This confirms the mountain bike market is maturing… Crazy to consider that as little as 15 years ago, mountain biking made up less than a sixth of the total South African cycling market! Estimated to be at around 85%, it’s now the dominant discipline – by far.

What level of mountain biker would you say you are?

Level %
Very social 2.50%
Recreational 22.14%
Very keen 51.10%
Highly committed 24.26%

The vast majority (75.36%) of the 1278 respondents are either very keen or highly committed. Makes sense when you consider that this is a Race Survey and races are challenges. Mountain bike races can challenge endurance, power, skill and mental strength. Some of the really long ones can also challenge your ability to function with little or no sleep and your emotional strength.

Which is most applicable to you in terms of your occupation?

Occupation %
I am a learner (still at school) 0.55%
I am a student 2.11%
I am currently unemployed 0.86%
I am a stay-at-home parent/spouse 1.80%
I work part-time in one or more jobs 2.58%
I have a full-time job with a salary 61.50%
I own a business 27.39%
I am retired 3.21%

The one figure that stood out for us here was that 27.39% (more than a quarter), own a business.

What is your age category?

Age category %
12-15 years 0.08%
16-19 years 0.70%
20-24 years 2.19%
25-29 years 4.54%
30-34 years 9.55%
35-39 years 11.89%
40-44 years 17.61%
45-49 years 20.81%
50-54 years 14.87%
55-59 years 9.62%
60-64 years 6.03%
65-69 years 1.49%
70 and older 0.63%

Of the 1278 that answered this question, 38.42% are in their 40s! That’s a significant chunk and confirms that life, or life as we mountain bikers know it, does indeed begin at 40…

Those in their 50s account for 24.49% and 21.44% are in their 30s. The relatively high cost of mountain biking (and mountain bike racing) as well as the life-stage match that it offers (travel, adventure, mid-life crisis, family fun), give this age split some solid perspective.

What is your gender?

Gender %
Female 15.88%
Male 84.12%

Based on previous race surveys we have done, this split is pretty much what we expected with this survey. However, it is estimated that women make up between 20-25% of the total mountain bike market in South Africa, with many preferring to ride socially, rather than compete in races.

How often would you say you participate in a MTB race – on average?

Participation frequency %
As often as I can/more than once a month 7.59%
About once a month 17.92%
About 3-6 times a year 52.74%
Not often – two or fewer times a year 21.75%

An obvious question for a Race Survey… Of the 1278 that answered this question, a quarter (25.51%) race once a month or more frequently; while more than half (52.74%) do 3-6 races a year.

Do you feel safe (from criminal elements) at MTB races?

Feeling %
Yes 63.93%
No 2.43%
Mostly, yes 33.65%

It’s actually ridiculous that we had to even ask this question, but sadly, it’s normal to feel unsafe or at least highly vulnerable on a mountain bike ride in South Africa, particularly close to larger cities. Of the 1278 that answered this question, only a tiny percentage feel unsafe at races, which confirms that races offer a relatively protected environment for participants.

Do you feel that the growth and accessibility of MTB trails parks has reduced your desire/need to enter races/events?

Feeling %
Yes 16.04%
No 54.93%
To an extent yes 27.54%

There was a time, not too long ago, when you’d have to enter a race to do a ride that was safe, marked and measured. Mountain bike trails parks have only been around for about 10 years, with a significant growth in the past five years. Of the 1278 that answered this question, 45.07% feel that growth and accessibility of MTB trails parks has impacted – at least to an extent – on their desire/need to enter races.

Do you feel that the depressed South African economy in the past couple of years has reduced your ability to enter races/events?

Feeling %
Yes 34.98%
No 32.24%
To an extent yes 32.79%

If event organisers and retailers ever wanted some kind of confirmation of the impact of the strained economy, this stat is telling. A significant 67.76% confirm that times are tough and affecting their ability, at least to an extent, to enter races.

Do you normally take an annual Cycling South Africa (CSA) membership?

CSA Membership %
Yes 40.30%
No 35.68%
Only if I have to 24.02%

For those that are highly committed to racing, it can become costly to keep paying for a CSA day licence (R35 per day) at races. An annual licence at R250 just makes sense (R150 for 16-and-unders). A full racing licence – for those intent on racing at provincial, national and international level, costs R450 per year. Essentially, CSA should be using these licence fees to build and manage the sport, and apparently does, but not to everyone’s satisfaction.

How important is a finisher medal to you at a MTB/event race?

Importance level %
Extremely important 11.43%
Very important 15.97%
Somewhat important 23.49%
Not so important 24.51%
Not at all important 24.59%

Of the 1277 that answered this question, it’s a fairly event split, with 49.16% not holding a finisher medal in high regard. Seasoned racers generally don’t value finisher medals because finishing is seldom a challenge, speed of finishing is the challenge. But for many, especially those just starting out, a finisher medal can mean the world. A few years ago, Advendurance, one of the biggest MTB race organisers, started to give entrants the option to choose a finisher medal or to donate the money value of the medal to charity. Smart because then everyone wins. So to speak…

How important is a goodie bag to you at a MTB race/event?

Importance level %
Extremely important 13.48%
Very important 20.69%
Somewhat important 36.39%
Not so important 18.34%
Not at all important 11.21%

To be fair, we should have separated stage races and one-day races here. Some stage races have incredibly high-value items in their goodie bags/boxes, which include jackets and riding jerseys and other very useful, momento-style items. But we didn’t and this is the breakdown. Of the 1276 that answered this question, a total of 70.45% feel a goodie bag is at least somewhat important.

Do you have a Strava account?

Strava account %
Yes 89.96%
No 10.04%

If it’s not on Strava…

Are you a member of an established/official cycling club?

Cycling club member %
Yes 45.15%
No 54.85%

There was a time when cycling clubs were your connection to your sport. But that’s changed in the digital era, with locals forming informal riding groups via WhatsApp and making use of easy-to-find information via Google…

Cycling clubs range in what they offer these days, but for most, belonging to a cycling club usually means a guarantee of regular organised ‘safe rides’ (it’s still South Africa); and having interaction with a like-minded community.

If you use sports supplements, which brand do you prefer?

Sports supplement brand %
Biogen 18.09%
USN 15.40%
32GI 10.97%
Cadence 6.18%
Hammer 5.83%
Hi5 5.48%
GU 4.78%
Powerbar 4.55%
Enduren 2.80%
SISS 2.68%
PVM 2.57%
Herbalife 1.75%
RaceFood 1.63%
Cytomax 1.40%
Sponser 1.40%
Others 14.49%

There was a total of 857 who answered this question, with a total of 51 brands listed. We have featured the top 15 here.

Interesting to note that the two most popular brands invest in mountain bike event sponsorship. Biogen is heavily invested in all of Dryland’s MTB events (Attawkas, Cape Pioneer Trek and others); and USN is a partner of the Absa Cape Epic and has a popular Gauteng marathon/half-marathon series.

Look out for Part 2 of the 2019 SA MTB Race Survey, presented by Garmin, which will be published here soon. Part 2 covers the races themselves, including survey opinions on value for money, entry fee pricing and what makes one want to return to a particular race. Also revealed are the 2019 participant favourites in Half/Full Marathon, Ultra-marathon, Ultra-endurance, Short Stage Race and Long Stage Race.

A total of 1278 participated in the 2019 SA MTB Race Survey, presented by Garmin. We ran the survey for 4 weeks, promoted it aggressively via our social media channels as well as two editions of our mailer, TREAD Bulletin. It was also shared by Garmin SA on its social media accounts. We invited the bigger SA MTB race organisers to assist us with questions for the survey and asked them to invited their participants to take the survey, either via their mailers or social media accounts.