Chief differences between SA & European trails
09 December 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Where we learn so much about this wonderful sport that gives so many of us great pleasure and enjoyment. As we ride trails and explore our beautiful country on the mountain bikes. Be it over the weekends, be it just for fun or racing, it’s still a great adventure for everyone.
Adventures on a mountain bike can extend overseas and many people are starting to explore Europe, there are plenty of opportunities to explore around Africa as well. But I’m sitting alongside a young woman who has just returned from a two week mountain bike holiday in Europe. She’s biking in the Bosch, as you may have heard our podcast with Joanna Dobinson a short while ago. She runs the training and skills clinic called Biking in the Bosch.
Jo is sitting alongside me now. Jo is in fact just off the plane, just about, not even 24 hours, you’ve done a coaching session already since you got back. How was it? Was it an eye opening experience of a riding experience?
Joanna Dobinson: Yes, Italy was a huge eye opening experience for me. I went with the intention of improving on my mountain biking skills. I went with my brother and some of his friends. I met a friend in Germany, we road tripped from Munich over Switzerland into Italy. It definitely was an eye opener for me in the sense of how technical the trails really are in Europe.
What Europeans know that we don’t
GDK: You relate them to those of us who haven’t been over there and what we ride here in South Africa, how do they differ?
CD: I think mountain biking in South Africa is much more geared towards marathon racing, that’s what our terrain allows for. We’re so fortunate to have that incredible trail network that links all the farms, everywhere. I’m so thankful to the farm owners and the land owners who allow us to go through the endless amount of trail.
Marathon riding is much more prevalent in South Africa because of terrain. Marathon riding, yes, you’ve got to be super fit and fast, but it’s not as technical as say the cross country racing or even trail riding, which is all a different discipline. Over in Italy the difference, the big difference is first of all the steepness, the gradients. We went up to close on 2 000m in Italy and shuttling, for example –
GDK: That helps.
CD: It helped a lot, it’s a concept here in SA that’s almost shunned upon, like oh, you’re so lazy to get a lift up the mountain with a van. But you know what, it’s really changed my life. I’ve only been doing it for this year. I’ve only been shuttling since the first of January of this year.
It started at Helderberg farm where Jan has done an amazing job. He does shuttles often. Basically the gradients and the height, you would go for almost half an hour by car to get to the top of a mountain and then you descend non-stop for up to about 20 minutes to an hour. It’s really, because you’re with a group, you’ve got to stop.
But you actually really need the stop because you get so tired. It’s gradients, that’s made a big difference, we don’t have it to that degree in our country. Because it’s South Africa and obviously the technical, rocky sections, it’s very rocky in Italy.
GDK: We tend to think it can’t be any tougher or rockier or more rough than here in South Africa, but clearly it can be.
CD: Yes definitely Gerald. As I said, it almost made me feel like a beginner again. I’ve got 20 years of experience and technical experience on the bike. The rock drops were insane, some which I couldn’t ride, but I’ve definitely come back a better rider, ready to take on some serious black lines in Jonkershoek which I was actually scared to do before. Bennet’s done an awesome job in Jonkershoek building some technical stuff. But I feel like I can actually go and take those with some confidence now.
Europeans skills levels are impressive
GDK: Did you ride with locals over there, people who ride those trails day in and day out?
CD: Yes. I went with a company called Riviera Bike and AD and Joanna, they hosted us and they took us.
GDK: You’re seeing those people who ride those trails all the time and they are super-skilled?
CD: Yes, definitely, the European riders are skilled, they’re very skilled, because they’re always exposed to gradients. They make it look like child’s play and I really learnt from them, it was awesome.
GDK: Not a lot of lycra on show there?
CD: No, no lycra, I saw not one piece of lycra in two weeks on those trails. In fact, I was fortunate enough to train some ladies on berm, a sort of complimentary training session with them. Not one of those 14 girls pitched up in lycra, they were all in baggies and trail gear, which is great.
GDK: I’m trying to get to the difference between South Africa’s riding culture and the European riding culture. Obviously you tapped into the trail riding culture there, but we’ve got this racing culture here. So of that group, would they do races at all?
CD: Yes, definitely, they’re all very skilled, very fit riders. They would ride, they would ride races on their trail bikes. Trail bikes just being bigger travel bikes and they would also ride the race in baggies. Remember baggies are just there as a protective mechanism, when you fall. The outside layer actually acts as a second skin and the lycra underneath which we’ve all got padded lycra underneath. Just protects you from getting, what you call, I call them roasties but it’s gravel rash.
GDK: Listen, baggies look cooler.
CD: By far, especially on males!
What hardware they tend to use
GDK: We’re ditching the lycra, it’s long gone, I’m pleased to say! The bikes, trail bikes, you touched on it there. But the essential difference between what we’re riding here and what the trail bikes, what we should be riding on the trail?
CD: Let’s just make it clear that you’ve got to get a bike that’s appropriate for your area. Marathon riding is so alive in South Africa and it’s amazing. If you’re doing a lot of marathon riding you definitely need to be on a light bike, 29, carbon, hard tail with lycra. Because that’s what you need to do, you need to get from A to B super-fast.
Trail riding, it’s a lot more relaxed in the sense of, there’s very much a social vibe around the whole thing. So you leave with friends, you go up your mountain in your baggies and backpacks and you’ve got a full face helmet on the back of your backpack. You’ve got two helmets with you because you’re exposed to really gnarly trails on the descent.
The trail bikes are essentially a bigger travel, they’re a little bit more heavy, even though you get carbon trail bikes, they’re just a little bit heavier. You actually want the bike to be heavier in a way, on trail bikes because they’re ‘meaty’ bikes to get down the trail. The tyres, anything from 2.3 to 2.5 and you run the suspension quite low on trail bikes. You run the suspension low and you run the tyre pressure low. It just all causes the bike to flow down a trail much more aggressively.
GDK: The tyre pressure thing, that’s something we also in South Africa get carried away with. We’re going at two, two and a half bar, or whatever. What’s ideally what we should be riding?
CD: Everyone has got their opinion about it Gerald, but what’s really good is that you need to remember to have less air pressure in your front tyre. What I do, I run tyre pressure at the back about two bar and at the front 1.8, but you can run it lower.
The professionals tend to run it a lot lower. You run the risk of burping your tyres on berms then, which means your whole front tyre comes off the rim – or back. Tyre pressure, very important, run lower tyre pressure on your front tyre.
The novelty of tubeless tires
GDK: Right, great trails, obviously great espressos as well. But one thing they don’t seem to grasp there is something we take for granted here, is tubeless tyres.
CD: Oh my gosh, I couldn’t believe it. They don’t know about tubeless tyres in Europe, they really don’t. They haven’t been exposed to it yet. We are much further ahead of that in South Africa and it’s brilliant. Tubeless tyres we all know in South Africa are the tyres to run.
In Europe they call this, the stands you put inside, they call it ‘milk’. That milk is much more beneficial for our riding and I was amazed. I picked up a bike in Munich from Specialized headquarters and I rode down an Alp on the first day and I punctured twice.
When I changed the puncture I was very surprised to find there was no tubeless in there. So I converted it when I was over there. I went and got a conversation and it’s so super easy to convert your bike to tubeless. Do it yourself at home.
GDK: There you have it, you’ve been told! You are coaching a lot of women and trail riding is your focus and single track trail riding. Is there a growth there now? Are we seeing more and more people riding trail bikes, are we seeing more and more people looking to ride those?
Is trail over marathon picking up in SA?
CD: Yes, I’d like to say yes to that Gerald. You can definitely see, hello, we’ve been riding for 20 years and we never used to see trail bikes out there. Yet they were always in Europe and they were always in America. So, we’re definitely catching up to them in that sense.
Wherever I go, I see people with knee pads and elbow pads on, with baggies and bigger bikes, wherever we go in South Africa, it’s definitely on the rise. Obviously all those people who are trail biking have been exposed to Europe. That’s why they’re coming back and they’re getting more in touch with shuttle runs and more the trail scene, which is awesome to see.
GDK: Those people who are such good trail riders in Europe, they grew up learning skills before they learnt distance and stamina and fitness, isn’t it?
CD: Definitely, they’ve been doing it since they were kids. What’s funny is I’ve got some European friends who are free riders, trail riders and they could not believe that we don’t even have a gondola or that uplifts or shuttle runs are new in this country. They can’t believe that we ride up mountains!
They’re like what…you ride up mountains? They’ve grown up just getting onto that ski lift, getting to the top of the mountain and getting exposure to that gradient and those jumps and those massive, huge table tops. That’s definitely, they’ve been exposed to it and that’s what makes them so good.
GDK: Right and when next you see her, she’ll be building a ski lift or a bike lift up one of the nearest big mountains. Jo, take the stress off getting up there. Of course, when you come down it, you’re fresh and you’re focused on just coming down, not the worry of going up.
CD: Yes, but at the same time you’re focusing, on each shuttle that you go up, you have to get your mind together again. Get your energy in because it’s incredibly taxing on your body. You need to be incredibly strong and incredibly skilled to do what you need to do on the way down. So, it does take a lot of energy and a lot of say, calorie burning, you’ve got to re-fuel on the way up.
GDK: Jo, it’s fantastic talking to you. Jo Dobinson runs Biking in the Bosch, which is a skills coaching company. It’s based in Stellenbosch, but she’s doing trips around the country courtesy of Specialized, so look her up. Biking in the Bosch, on the website, follow it on Twitter and @joanne_dobinson on Instagram and you’ll get all the details of Jo Dobinson. Thanks for chatting Jo, now you can go and rest.
CD: Thanks so much Gerald, I look forward to that.
GDK: Jo Dobinson, our latest guest right here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, hope you enjoyed that. If you did, then download another of our wonderful mountain bike podcasts in the future. Until then, take care, cheers.