Dr Evil is not what he appears to be
22 July 2016
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Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where we meet all the people, the personalities and the events. I’m Gerald de Kock, thanks for downloading and hope you enjoy the next 10 minutes or so on our mountain bike podcast. Today we’re talking about, well, mountain biking of course, but about perhaps the background, if you like. The beautiful trails we ride and how they’re created and found.
A man who has developed a reputation over the years as one of the best around in finding these trails is Leon Evans. Better known to many in the mountain biking world as Dr Evil. He’s not evil, he’s sitting alongside me on the couch inside his bike shop in Plettenberg Bay. Leon, welcome, thanks for joining me. When did you come to Plettenberg Bay?
Leon Evans: We arrived in Plett about 34 years ago, decided to leave the rat race. As I say, the first, the telling side to move out to Plett was when I saw the first electric fence going up in the suburbs in Johannesburg. That was my cue to move on.
GDK: You didn’t come here with the eye on starting a bike shop then did you?
LE: Not at all. There were no bike shops here, I came down to run a restaurant. I bought a restaurant which was pretty successful and biking came from there.
From restaurant to bike shop
GDK: How did biking come from there, how did that evolve?
LE: Look, when we came to Plett, there were no such things as mountain bikes. We rode, the first mountain bikes were like 10 speed bomber bikes. We rode everywhere, up the hills, down the hills, everywhere they’re riding today, but on that type of bike. In fact, the first Sedgefield Fat Festival, you had one bike. You did your downhill, you did your cross country, you did your trials, you did everything on one bike.
GDK: But you were a rider then?
LE: I was a road rider, predominantly. But as I say, there were no such things as mountain bikes, so we started off on the original steel framed bikes. Never wore out a chain, steel chain, steel cassettes, never wore out in five years. You got a lot of riding.
GDK: Now, things have evolved incredibly over the years, of course. You’re now involved in running The Bike Shop here and mountain biking is very much part of your fabric. The trails around here and in the Western Cape have become something of a playground for you. But also something for you to seek out and map, tell us how all that started?
LE: Trails, look, this area, the Garden Route is a little bit different from the Western Cape. Most of the property is owned by three or four big state companies, Nation Parks, Cape Pine, the Plantations, very difficult to get input from them. Their focus is not on mountain biking.
As opposed to the Western Cape where there’s a lot of private farms, they’re all linked up together. They created trails and they’ve done a wonderful job. We, in the Garden Route are quite lucky because we’ve got permission to ride the trails, although there are no marked routes. But we’re welcome to ride pretty much anywhere, as long as you’ve got a mountain bike permit.
Some great trails but hard to expand
GDK: You’re right, in some areas it is quite difficult to get those permits from the big land owners like MTO or whoever it might be. But you managed to do that here. You might have started quite early here in respect to the rest of the country.
LE: Look, the original trails were the Harkerville Trails, I helped set up the Harkerville Trails with National Parks. Then was Dave Reyner and Robbie Powell, that was the original trail. It’s pretty much since then, they haven’t created much new since then.
GDK: It’s interesting because I was in there yesterday and it’s incredible, it’s without question one of the finest trails in the country, still, all these years later. I was just commenting to my riding partner that they could create more, but that’s it for them.
LE: They could create more. I’ve given them a lot of options, but there’s just too much red tape, there are too many impact studies. They want to know how the bush buck are going to be impacted, if I put a new trail in that’s going to take six years to do a study. I’ve given up with them.
GDK: You also created an enviable reputation as a trail designer and builder, designer I suppose, around the Cape Epic in its time, how did that all come about?
LE: The Cape Epic, look, I was asked by Kevin Vermaak, he came up to ride the Knysna event, he liked the way the route was marked. He liked the actual route and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing the Cape Epic for him and it was a no-brainer. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t say no to.
GDK: What was your philosophy about designing those routes? Initially it was as a Knysna Stellenbosch route, what was your philosophy then?
LE: Initially, the first year was actually designed by Meurant Botha and it was a destination trip and all the trails were pretty much on provincial roads. There was very little off road, very little single track and it progressed from there.
GDK: Interesting, were you able to explore, there you had to get a lot of permission, a lot of red tape. But perhaps more personal red tape, meeting people and discussing with farmers and land owners?
LE: Land owners were always a problem, I wouldn’t say a problem, they were most accommodating, but always a problem to get hold of the land owner at the right time, at the right place. So there were challenges and land owners, they were great. I’ve met a lot of great people out there. I think I pretty much know every land owner between Knysna and Cape Town.
What makes a good marathon route?
GDK: We rode the Knysna Marathon, the Oyster Festival Marathon and it’s a fantastic ride. It’s a mix of the forest roads and some district jeep track and district road and then that wonderful single track. What, for you, makes a really good marathon route?
LE: Personally, for me, sjoe, I don’t like anything very technical and that difficult to ride. I’m in it for the enjoyment and the pleasure and more for the exercise. But I also like a challenge and I think the Knysna route in that respect is a pretty well balanced route. It’s not too technical, it’s doable by most serious riders.
GDK: In this part of the world there seems to be a growth of new trails, farms are putting up trails. So it seems that farmers/land owners are now seeing the advantage of having mountain bike trails.
LE: There’s a definite swing towards mountain bike parks as such. But based here in the Garden Route, our population is pretty small. It’s not like the cities where you’ve got two or three million cyclists.
GDK: Don’t think you’re going to get rich out of it, in other words…
LE: Exactly, you do it because you want to do it.
GDK: There are still trails out there that are seldom ridden, that are an opportunity to ride.
LE: There’s a lot out there that hasn’t been ridden, but to get the correct permissions is not easy.
GDK: You’re in the business here and as you’ve suggested it’s a small, seasonal area, the beach in Plettenberg Bay being attractive in the summer. But you run a bike shop here and obviously it also goes through its seasonal highs and lows?
LE: Everything, pretty much the whole Garden Route is extremely seasonal.
GDK: Mountain bike still predominates here?
The appeal of Plett
LE: Absolutely. If you stood at the entrance to Plett when the holiday makers arrive, you see every single car has got at least two or three bikes attached to it.
GDK: And they come here?
LE: As you know, bikes don’t last forever, they all break. They all need maintenance and washing and loving care.
GDK: You’ve seen a lot of change. When you first arrived here in terms of the numbers, in terms of the quality of the bikes and in terms of the trails as well here over the years.
LE: There’s been huge changes. I came to Plett, I think there was 4000 residents in Plett, today there are probably in the area maybe 60 000 people, everything has changed. The technology, as you know technology is one step ahead of us all the time.
GDK: If someone is going to come down here and they’ve never been to this part of the world, they ride mountain bikes, what’s the one trail you’d say to them you cannot leave here without riding that?
LE: The Red Route at Harkerville, that’s the icon of all trails. That’s the original and it’s probably still one of the finest trails you’ll ever ride.
GDK: What makes it so magical?
LE: It’s just a combination of coastal route, scenic ocean views, indigenous forest, single track, it’s just a phenomenal ride.
GDK: Your son is not riding fulltime any longer, he’s finished that, he’s retired. You’re in the shop here, I thought there was an opportunity for you to be less in the shop now that he’s here?
LE: I’m working on that, we’re getting to that stage. Now that he’s here fulltime I’m taking more and more time off. I plan to, my next ambition is to do maybe a few more private tours or a few more tours. I enjoy that kind of riding. Taking groups out, three, four or five days at a time and also, I’ve done my time I need my time off.
GDK: It’s good to hear you’re still on the bike. Leon Evans, Dr Evil as you might know him. As I said, he’s a mellow gentleman who has got a wealth of information and knowledge about this wonderful sport, thanks for chatting to us.
LE: It’s a pleasure, thanks for the opportunity.
GDK: And thank you for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Do so again, until then, cheers.