Farmer Glen’s impressive MTB story
17 February 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of the Old Mutual mountain bike podcast as we reflect on this great sport of ours that I think we all love passionately, otherwise you wouldn’t be listening to us. Thanks for tuning in. With me now, for this edition is a man I think many in mountain biking know very well. He’s known as Farmer Glen, he is a farmer, he farms in the Ixopo region.
He is, of course, the man known as Glen Haw who originated the Sani2c and is very much involved in, one of the partners in the joBerg2c. he’s involved in Imana Wild Ride and many others, Dusi2c is another. Glen is with me now and we’re going to chat about stage races Glen, you’ve seen it evolve over the years. Let’s go right back to where you started, the trigger for you to get Sani2c going, what was the trigger for you there?
It all started with the Imana Wild Ride
Glen Haw: Thanks Gerald, I think it was really just to make money for a school, so that’s how it all started. I never had any aspirations of having the biggest stage race in the world. In fact, probably when I started, if I’d known that’s where it was going to go to, but ja, it’s evolved over the last 18 years. I suppose, stage racing started. Imana Wild Ride is now 18 years old.
That also started just as a fun thing to go and do. Mountain biking was in its infancy, it wasn’t even really a sport at that stage. It was bikes that people rode sort of, recreationally and we started taking them onto the Wild Coast.
Then friends wanted to join and it got bigger and bigger and eventually we said, look, now we’ve got to get organised because we need to get people to places. We felt that we needed to put something back into an area that had given us so much pleasure and we started Imana Wild Ride.
It’s built 28 classrooms, so it’s just amazing what can be done on a win-win way. Everyone is benefitting. The riders are having a great time, they’re contributing money, which they’ve got and they’re wanting to help. I think all these events have just helped so many other people that would otherwise not even know about mountain biking.
The riding has got to be for good
GDK: That’s a model that clearly works, evidence to your events, those ones you’re talking about and many others, but do you sense that there are two quite different types of events, like the business and like the community style event?
GH: I think for an event to be sustainable, it’s got to be run on a business model and you’re attracting big sponsors, so you’ve got to run it professionally. Each event is a bit unique and there’s a place for all of them. There’s guys that don’t want to go to a big event and they want to have more an exclusive type, smaller type event, they seem to be doing really well.
Then you go to the other end where the ABSA Cape Epic is just pure racing and the top racers come from all around the world to ride. You’ll go to the Imana Wild Ride where weekend warriors are there, flat-out riding and just having a great time. There’s a huge cross-section of mountain bikers, but I think they all do well is, the bottom line is, the riding has got to be good.
It’s all about riding your bike
GDK: That’s an interesting balance isn’t it, getting the ride right and people come away from events, we tend to sort of compare events all the time. What was that like compared to this one, what was that like compared to this one. What, for you, you as a rider, is the most important thing?
GH: Well, I think you’re 95% of the way there, if guys come into the finish line smiling; they’re basically riders and they want to ride their bike, actually. Bottom line, they’re not interested in how much Wi-Fi there is and how much everything else is. That all adds to it and adds to the experience, but if you don’t have a good ride, you’re going to have grumpy guys.
They’re really coming out to ride, so first of all, that’s non-negotiable. The route has got to be spot-on and there are so many good routes around that the guys are quite picky about routes. The ride has got to be good and there’s got to be good ablutions, I think that’s like number two. Obviously showers and the accommodation really, as long as it’s comfortable, the guys are generally happy.
But you get exclusive events too where the guys will stay in hotels and it’s actually a lot easier, if you can do that. But then they’re small and it’s a numbers game too, for it to be viable. You’ve got to have the numbers really, unless you’ve got a massive sponsor and they are quite hard to find now.
Sponsors are just that
GDK: How do you feel about how sponsors should be involved in mountain bike races and stage races?
GH: I think they mustn’t come and try and change the face of the event. Each event must retain its uniqueness. So, they must be attracted to the event because of what it is, they mustn’t come there with other ideas of trying to change it. I think it’s really important that every event shouldn’t be the same.
You’re going to attract different types of people to different events and ja, I think it can be difficult because the marketing people have got their agenda. They’re trying to sort things out, but at the end of the day, even a big sponsor, in the bigger scheme of things, actually is not contributing that much to the whole, overall cost of the event.
The events are really paid for by the riders and the entry fees. Although someone might be the title sponsor, at the end of the day, they’re barely covering the clothing that they get given at the event. They shouldn’t really have a say in how you run your event and I think people have got to be careful of that.
There are some events that gel really well with the sponsors and there are other events where the sponsors are starting to dictate what needs to be done and looking after clients and not the other riders that are all paying to basically fund the event. Ja, you’ve got to be really careful of that, I think.
Important to support elite riders
GDK: And the racing side of it, if you look at all the stage races, predominantly they’re recreational riders, as you say, weekend warriors, people who go out there and just ride because they love riding and they love the trails. But we’ve got a very small group of elite riders who, some of them have sponsors, some of them don’t. It does, sometimes bring a different element, a different edge to the event, but somehow we have to accommodate them.
GH: For sure. I mean I think everyone wants a hero. If you can get some great mountain bikers that can sit down at the dinner table at night and chat to the sponsors, that might be a weekend warrior, it’s good for them and it’s good for the sport.
I think it’s important that the more pros and the more people that are wanting to make a career out of mountain biking. It’s important for them to be seen, that they are also just normal people that actually are trying to make a living out of the sport and they’re going to attract sponsors that way you know.
GDK: And you put up prize money, quite decent prize money for these guys in some of your events, don’t you?
GH: We do and we’ve tried it often, but it’s not really to attract, it’s to try and give something back to them because they really do battle. A lot of them don’t have sponsors and it’s getting tighter all the time, so it’s got its pros and cons, the prize money side of it.
Why organisers should ride
GDK: It’s a fantastic sport, we just look at the people you meet, the cross-section of people and you’re still doing new events, you’re still out there riding and taking part. Is that the essence of it? You ride along people you’ve never met before and you get to know different styles, different people?
GH: For sure, that’s the interesting part of it and I think it’s such an advantage, for me, to be able to go to other events and ride. You pre-empt issues and you know what the market is looking for and it’s changing all the time and you understand it.
You can react on things long before they, so you’re making decisions, making changes. Which you have to be, if you want to keep ahead, you have to be innovative in what you’re doing. You don’t have to really try things, if you’re out there riding, you’ll understand why you need to do certain things.
Every event is doing something wonderful and benefitting so many people. Mountain biking as a sport, I think is probably doing more than any other sport in the country, as far as uplifting communities and offering opportunities to people.
Need to remember why we do this
GDK: You said the market is changing, how do you see it changing? You’ve seen it over the years, is that the market of riders who are coming to the sport?
GH: I think we’ve got to be careful of that, that you don’t lose the old school value of mountain biking and why people were attracted to it. So, you’ve got to keep a few guys in line and you get some pretentious people that come and think they’ve paid their entry fee and they can start throwing their weight around, so it is an issue that we’ve noticed cropping up.
But I think once they understand the sport and they see the passion that people put into the event and all the effort land owners go into, to stopping operations and building trail and allowing access to their farms. I think then they realise that it’s sometimes more about community than themselves. It’s something that we’re going to try and push home a little bit, quietly, by making sure people understand the bigger picture of the sport.
GDK: Farming, mountain biking, events, I know you get up incredibly early to farm as well, what’s the divide there?
GH: I’m a farmer really, on my day job. I love farming and I’m happiest on my motorbike out farming, but I can get huge pleasure out of going to different areas and riding as well. It’s a bit of a mix somehow. I wonder, when I look at all the pictures at the end of the year on my phone, I wonder how I’ve fitted it all in, but it’s definitely given us a lot of pleasure.
GDK: Glen Haw, farmer and a mountain bike race owner, a passionate father, husband and looking after thousands of cattle as well, it’s all very much in his blood. Glen Haw of Sani2c, Dusi2c, joBerg2c, Imana Wild Ride and of mountain biking in South Africa, thanks for chatting to us on our Old Mutual mountain bike podcast and you’ll be able to hear more from us very shortly.