Helping people get more technically savvy
09 February 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello, thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where this great sport of mountain biking is the focus of attention for the next 10 minutes or so. The reason you’ve downloaded, no doubt, I hope, is to gain a little bit more insight into this wonderful sport. It’s the reason I’m involved in it as well because it’s a sport with so much to offer, to learn about, off and on the bike.
Today we’re going to learn, I think, an enormous amount about the sport from a man who is steeped in the sport for many years. Spook Groenewald who is part of the www.daisyway.co.za coaching setup here in Somerset West. Spook, mountain biking, if I look at you I see a mountain bike, where did it start for you?
Spook Groenewald: It was quite classic, I used to race road and not mountain biking and there’s a small shop in Stellenbosch called Floundria. The owner Danny, I walked into the shop one day and he said: Here’s a bike for you.
I said: What’s that? He said: That’s a mountain and I was like: What must I do with this? He said: You’re going to ride in the mountains with this. Like, no ways, I’m a roadie. He said: No, you don’t understand, you’re going to ride it because I’m going to make my money from this. So that’s how it started.
GDK: When was that, when are we talking?
SG: Oh my word, I want to say 1989/90, roundabout there. That it started, so that’s way back.
GDK: He had the right idea then, clearly, but it took a while to get the traction it has now.
SG: Indeed, it’s like you go on a weekend and you go ride in Jonkershoek and you go to the local coffee shop, Julian’s. Then you sit there and you see, ah, I saw you were training and the guys are like, how do you know? It’s like, I saw your tyre marks because in those days there was about seven people that had bike and each one had a different tyre. So you can see, okay, that person went training that day or whatever.
GDK: That bug clearly bit you quite badly as well?
SG: It hasn’t left me. I’m still going, there was a little bit of a lull when we had children, we spent a lot of time with the kids. Then Erica was riding quite well and she was doing all the Epics and I was the one looking after the kids. I sat back for a bit, didn’t ride my bike, got a little bit overweight, picked up about 30kg, but I’m riding again.
Have always enjoyed the coaching
GDK: You referred to Erica, Erica Green, a double Olympian at Atlanta and Sydney, Atlanta on the road and the mountain biking. The mountain bike at Sydney, I don’t think the road at Sydney? You were coaching with her, working with her through that period, it must have been an exciting time in your lives?
SG: It was absolutely awesome. It’s like when you were a kid and you were watching the Olympic Games, just sitting there, I never had the thought of wanting to compete and that’s quite weird. I had the thought of, I wish I can coach someone to go to the Olympic Games and true as Bob, it happened. It was hard, you get to all the places, sometimes you can’t eat for days on end, there’s no money, there’s no food. You miss the train, there’s always issues, but you just keep on going and eventually we got there.
GDK: Coaching, riding is your business, if you like, here in Somerset West. But a lot of people come to you specifically to be set up on their bikes and just emphasize to us or tell us how that evolved and how important it is.
SG: The bike setup thing, what happened is every time you go ride with a client then suddenly you see, oh my word, it’s like it was screaming out it’s incorrect. Then you ask the guy: Aren’t you in pain? He’s like: Yes, I am in pain and it’s like you shouldn’t be. You should be able to sit on your bike and ride and have fun and not sitting there trying to push through your pain threshold.
Then you started fiddling and even when we had the bike shops in the beginning, the guy will come in, you put the saddle on the right height and that was about it and off the guy goes. You sell him the right sized frame but it setup change so dramatically and it doesn’t stop, it just keeps on changing.
Every year we make a total effort. Firstly, I go to America to the Serotta Classique and you go see what’s the latest, what’s happening. Who are the new teams, what do they ride, why do they ride it, why do they suddenly do this. You keep on asking the question.
Then Erica will go to Switzerland to UCI in Aigle and once again, the same story, you keep on asking the questions. It’s like what’s the latest and why are they doing it and how we were riding and how we were setting up bikes 20 years ago versus now, it’s totally the opposite. You cannot believe it.
Today’s youth have so many options
GDK: Obviously the passion for the sport is there, Erica and you ride and now this year your son has decided that cycling is quite an option. But not the type of cycling that makes a parent that excited, he’s chosen downhill.
SG: Yes, that’s a little bit a train smash, I must admit, his dad loves to keep both wheels on the ground. Now I’ve got a son that wants both wheels in the air. You go and drop them at the top of the hill and you drive down and you wait for them, I promise you, I think I drink more whiskey currently than I ever had before!
GDK: I suppose it’s exciting times, as you said, our generation, we wouldn’t dream of doing what these kids of 10, 12, 15 are doing, just pretty easily.
SG: That’s correct and the nice thing is, with here, we go to the local guy, Johan. He’s building the most amazing trails for us that the kids can go and play on safely. Because how he builds it, if you make a mistake, you can still land. So you go over the first table top, it’s a meter and then it becomes 2m. Later you can end up with 60m table top, it’s all there. As I said, if you make a mistake, you can still manage it and you don’t land up in the hospital.
Then the other thing, what we tend to forget is, the kids, the bikes that they’re riding; firstly, they’re riding full face helmets, they’re riding neck braces, they’re riding elbow and knee guards. They’ve got cycling pants with an over layer of another loose cycling pants. They’ve got long tops on, it’s like full goggles. The thing is, they do not go down a hill with all that equipment on.
Then the bike, of course, the travel that they have on the bike, it’s sickening. My kid is weighing 38km, his bike weighs 24kg. So you go down a hill, it’s quite stable, it’s very stable. Then the poor cross country guys, we’re going down a hill, nearly the same speed and if we fall, we’ve got lycra, there’s nothing. No helmet guards, no nothing.
Being involved as a Commissaire
GDK: And dare you even wear baggy pants in cross country and you get the skeef looks. Let’s get to that cross country and you’re a Commissaire as well. In fact just come back from the nationals here, is there a feeling that cross country courses are becoming almost too technical and almost like those downhill courses?
SG: Yes, it does become too technical, that in essence is not the issue for me. The only problem that me and Eric would have is that we are just scared that we will hamper the growth of the sport in the sense. That we have a youngster coming into it and then he sees, I can’t do this. What we’re trying to encourage all people and builders and course designers is, you have a B line. The B line, make it longer, but make it so that the youngsters can ride.
You’ll go off there, you’ll do the SA Championships or the National series that is running, he’ll finish way off the pace. But he’s happy, he’s done it, he’s done it with his body, he achieved something. Now what are you going to do, is like instead of the 20 B lines that he took, the next season he’s going to take maybe 15. So he’ll safely and happily progress and that’s what we’re offer. To make the sport grow and everybody get to the other side safely.
GDK: The Cape Epic is a major part of your year in terms of coaching and you work as a mechanic on it and other issues there. This last Cape Epic in 2016 seemed to be perhaps the most technically challenging of all. Do you think the race is going to evolve there as more riders get more technically proficient?
Getting more people technically proficient
SG: It’s slowly getting there. In the beginning it was just open road, jeep track. The people, I mean I love riding single track and in the beginning, if you ask me the question 20 years, single track? What’s that? You understand?
So now it progresses, I mean it’s just amazing. Beautiful to go out in the mountain and you’re riding just the single track. Last year I took my kids with to Switzerland and we just went up the hiking trail and he’s like: Dad are there any roads here? I’m like: Don’t worry, five minutes later we were in the single track and it was raining for two hours non-stop.
We got home I said: Sorry for the weather and that. He said: Dad, this was the most amazing time and it was single track upon single track, upon single track. It is amazing. As I say, as long as we can make it that we can get to the other side safely. A little spill here and there, it’s all good. We always laugh and talk about it afterwards, but we just want to be there safely on the other side.
GDK: You and Erica, there are bikes in your garage here where you do your bike setup, there’s bikes all over the place, do you ride together often?
SG: We try to ride together, we normally try three times a week that we go out together and currently our son can join us now, he’s now 12 years of age. Our daughter, if we do a very short sting, she’ll join us, but that happens once every two weeks because she’s still 10 years old. We’re very firm believers in trying to do more skills based stuff than doing distance with them. So when we go out with our daughter, it’s just play time, absolutely play time, just having fun.
Once a racer always a racer
GDK: Tell me, your wife, I get the sense that the red mist might be coming back again, she wants to get back into racing shape?
SG: Yes, I think it’s more a fear, it’s like leaving your son alone going down a hill and it’s wanting to join him. Now suddenly it’s like, I have to start looking for another downhill bike again in this household! I don’t know, anyway, yes indeed, there’s a few events coming up. By the sounds of it she’s going to participate.
I think the first one is going to be an enduro event at the end of this month, they’re going two together. So I’m going to have to go down to the cellar and find an old dual suspension bike that’s still hiding there from 2000 and clean it up and we’ll see. I think my son, the 12-year-old is going to give his mom stick.
GDK: Spook Groenewald, one of the great characters and you’d battle to find a more knowledgeable man about this great sport of mountain biking than Spook. We’ll catch up with him again, but thanks for chatting to us this time Spook.
SG: Thank you very much and see you soon.
GDK: Spook is a man you’ll want to go and visit, if you’re in the Western Cape, if you want to have your bike setup. Just contact them through www.daisyway.co.za, they’ll put you on your bike as the best possible way that you can fit on it. Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, download once more, until then, cheers.