Conrad Stoltz – a new found MTBing passion
09 September 2016
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, all matters mountain biking. You know how much there is to talk about this great sport. How many times have you sat at the end of a race or a ride over a cup of coffee or a beer and shot the breeze with fellow riders? People with like-minded interests and shared thoughts and ideas and great rides with these people.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to get together with people and talk about mountain biking, which is what this Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast is all about. Today we’re talking to a former elite athlete. A former World Champion, an Olympian in the triathlon, a multi-sport superstar, his name is Conrad Stoltz. Based in Stellenbosch, now retired.
He runs the Caveman Café, he owns that at the Specialized shop in Stellenbosch. That is one of his arrows in his quiver if you like. Because Conrad, thanks for joining us, you ride mountain bikes of course, which is a great passion for you. But you’re also branching out into something a little different now and that’s trail building. Tell us about that.
Conrad Stoltz the trail builder
Conrad Stoltz: Thanks Gerald. I’ve always been quite excited about trail building and I’m a very hands-on manual labour kind of guy. I think with all the travelling I’ve done and the fantastic races I’ve done all around the world; I’ve been able to experience some of the best trails in the world and learn a lot from the way those trails are built. Especially in places where there’s a lot of traffic, like high volume trails and so on. I learnt so much about trail building and it really fascinates me.
I started digging more and more into it and learning more and more about it. I had the opportunity build a pump track a year or two ago. Then that led me to study pump tracks more and more and more and more into trail building. It’s a passion of mine and then I started getting requests. People started calling and said: Hey, I would like a trail on my farm or I would like a pump track for our community. It basically just led, one thing to the next.
GDK: Let’s get back to this hands-on business. It started quite a while ago on your farm up-country, tell us about that.
CS: My parents farmed near Lydenburg, Mpumalanga. When I was a professional triathlete, obviously swimming is part of the game and I had to swim a number of times a week. The nearest swimming pool was literally in Sabie, which is more than an hour and a half ride away.
I started swimming in nearby dams but it was still a 45-minute commute to get to the dam. Ao I thought, why not just dig a swimming pool on the farm. I started and I made a 25m swimming pool, it’s one lane wide and it was just about hip deep so I could tumble turn. I made it with sand bags, filled at least 3 000 sand bags with sand and piled them up and lined the pool with a really thick vinyl sheet that I ordered.
On the farm there’s no electricity, so I needed to solve the problem of keeping water clean. So I built the swimming pool just below an old irrigation furrow that carried water. If the water is dirty, I run the old water out and I’ll run new water in. I think at the conclusion I have to say that digging a swimming pool makes you fitter than actual swimming does!
GDK: That sounds like to me the basic ingredients for trail building as well. Because you’ve got the design and the hands-on digging and of course drainage, which is so important for trail building. Your approach now to trail building is quite different because a lot of the trail builders around at the moment.
Have equipped myself as much as possible
Started just fiddling around and doing bits and pieces. They’ve sort of evolved over the years and there’s no real, formal training. Some things work, some things don’t. But you’re starting almost from scratch quite late, in the middle of your life. But you’ve gone into it in quite some detail?
CS: Yes, actually I did quite a lot of studying on trail building. There’s a lot of research out there, especially over in America. They’ve done good books and there’s some of the trails, they’re very well built. By the International Mountain Biking Association, they have very strict standards as to how trails are built.
Basic things like drainage and grade reversals and slopes. Not more than 10% drops and so on to combat erosion. Natural throttles to control speed by natural means. Like placing bushes or rocks in certain places to avoid skidding in turns, avoiding breaking bumps.
So, if a trail is well-designed, you wouldn’t have problems like braking bumps and excessive erosion and excessive maintenance and so on. I think designing and planning a route according to the terrain and the kind of riders and the soil that you have, all needs to be taken in consideration. Everyone talks about the flow, if there’s one thing a trail needs, is good flow. It’s a science and that really fascinates me.
GDK: If someone says: I want you to come and build a trial, do you say to them: What sort of riding do you want, or do you first look at the terrain that they’ve got, how do you plan the trail?
What questions do you ask before beginning?
CS: You definitely start with what kind of riding they want, who the trail is for. Typically, the best, if it’s public land, then you obviously want to cater for everyone. Then you need to create A, B or C lines, or you need to create trails that are rated different difficulties. Always try and build safe trails that doesn’t have gap jumps, that you can sight lines. The trails need to be properly market and so on.
When I build a trail, I always try and find out what the rider is looking for. If it’s a private person, maybe go and ride with them to see what their skill levels are. Then go hike the property and see what the land is like and if there’s special features. Always want to include the views, if there’s good views or special places you want to incorporate. It makes the ride so much more special.
I’m a big fan of natural terrain and not so much the bike park. Bike parks can be built anywhere, but we’ve got, especially here in the Western Cape, we’ve got such fantastic natural terrain. So rock rides and drop offs and stuff like that, it’s all good.
GDK: You’ve ridden trails all over the world and had great experience at those. In your mind, if you go back to those rides and races you did in the States. Name a trail or two, we might or might not know, but that you look back and say: That’s what I like.
America has some seriously good trails
CS: Yes, Truckee in Tahoe, it’s actually part of California, it’s on Lake Tahoe. Is probably one of the best trail areas I’ve ever ridden. I haven’t been there in about 5-6 years, but back then there was a trail called Sore Tooth that was just absolutely fantastic. A very big network of trails and they’re graded and fantastically built.
GDK: We like to think here in South Africa, we’ve got some great trails. We’re the best and all that sort of thing. But I get the feeling that the States have got the trails coming out of their ears. They’ve got a lot of really good trails, is that right?
CS: Yes, there’s a lot of places in the States and most of Utah, the East Coast also has fantastic trails. California has great trails and I think it’s just a matter of educating trail builders. There’s a ranking system, a rating system. Trail builders, they make a living, they’re professional trail builders. Communities, city councils and regions will employ these trail builders to build trails.
GDK: Do you think we’re getting there?
CS: Definitely, I think in South Africa trail building at the moment is booming, it’s growing in leaps and bounds. Just around Stellenbosch here I can see how there’s Bennet Nel and there’s Meurant and Jan van Schalkwyk and Trail Troops, Shaun Havenga. There’s so many people who are starting to make a living from trail building.
More and more property owners would like trails on their properties. South Africa has a lot of private property and it’s fantastic to see these private property owners getting trails on their farm or their land and possibly opening it to the public.
Best trails in South Africa
GDK: So, what is your favourite trail, Western Cape or South Africa?
CS: I was going to say the Plumber in Jonkershoek, which I crashed on Saturday, it is a fantastic trail. It’s the black line or the Plumber in Jonkershoek, it’s challenging. It’s deep, it’s all mountain, Jonkershoek is fantastic. There’s a lot of different trails ranked different difficulties and very well built.
GDK: We ride a signature Conrad Stoltz trail, in 10 years’ time would you like to see a lot of those around? is that the plan, to have them like golf courses around the country?
CS: Definitely, that’s what we’re busy with at the moment, is designing a trail in Waldewe. Which is basically golf course style, signature trail. 1 000 hectares, so there’s a lot of trail to be built. I think different terrain, different trails.
For a place like Waldewe which is a very high end estate, you obviously need a trail that goes with that. So it takes special designing and we’re working with an architect who specialises in motocross tracks. Working with him to help make sure that this trail is one of the best there is.
GDK: Conrad, that’s exciting news and new adventures for you as a retired professional athlete, good luck with it.
CS: Thank you very much Gerald.
GDK: Conrad Stoltz, trail builder, coffee shop owner, father, husband and former triathlon superstar talking to us here on our Old Mutual Mountain Bike Live podcast. I bet you didn’t know that he was a trail builder and now you do. Hopefully be able to ride one of his trails either here in the Western Cape or around the country in some years to come. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. If you did, download it again and catch up with us. Until then, cheers.