Sprocket & Jack & the impressive Grant Usher
04 January 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, great to have you listening to us. As you know, it’s all about mountain biking; the people, the personalities, the races, the events and the characters that make up this wonderful sport of mountain biking. The passion of mountain biking and I think that’s why you might be listening. Today, I’m sitting alongside a man who has a great passion for the sport and has, like so many others, has turned it into a business as well.
His name is Grant Usher. Now, if I say Grant Usher, many who know mountain biking will think single speed, mad. Well, he’s not so mad, he’s pretty sane and pretty sensible. He’s racing cross countries, he’s racing Old Mutual joBerg2c, he’s done everything there is, I think, in mountain biking. Grant, thanks for chatting to us. We’re actually sitting outside a little business called Sprocket & Jack that you’ve started up. Tell me about that to start with.
The history behind Sprocket & Jack
Grant Usher: Yes, so Sprocket & Jack came about, I’ve got quite a long history in doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Actually got an engineering background and always enjoyed tinkering and fiddling with things and making things work.
I always see things, as there’s no such thing as a problem, only a solution to it. I enjoy finding those, so this is just a combination of all my experience in engineering, fixing things, radio control car racing, but also obviously my passion for riding.
I found that no matter how many times I try to get away from it, or out of the industry, I would always find myself coming back and just a passion for riding. I just really want to try and spread that word with other people and try and get them out on the trails, out on the road, whatever they enjoy doing. Just to see what it’s really about and riding for all the right reasons.
GDK: Just give us in a nutshell what you offer here at Sprocket & Jack.
GU: So, here at Sprocket & Jack we’re mainly service based. Our retail space is quite small and even though it is small, we try and keep it slightly unique. You’ll probably find a few of the oddities that you can’t get at most other places. A few single speed bits and pieces, fat bike pieces, colour coding options, but mainly about the service.
We’ve got a really open space workshop, it’s a public space and we also run it almost like a bicycle kitchen. We offer our tools to the guys to come in and use if they don’t have them at home. They can come in and fix their bikes. Sit around the table with us while we fix their bikes. Teach them how to do it and we also run quite a few events.
We do a lot of service support, particularly Old Mutual joBerg2c, we’re going to be there again this year as we were last year. I’ve done ABSA Cape Epic for the last four years now and we really enjoy that. It’s a continuation of our clients that come in here to keep their bikes up and running. We then like to be at the events and offer them support from a racers point of view. I’ve done quite a few of these myself, so we have a different attention to detail that the guys really enjoy, with myself being a racer in the past.
Just love anything involving a bicycle
GDK: Let’s get back to that, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have this passion for, if I say cycling or mountain biking, you put me right there.
GU: It’s pretty much anything Gerald. I find that it really doesn’t matter what bike the guys enjoy riding, just as long as they’re enjoying it, that’s how I see things. I love my road bike just as much as I love my 140mm Travel Pyga trail bike.
I find that each bike or each experience gives you a very unique, let’s call it an experience. On the road bike, when you’re traveling on the road at 40-50km an hour, no wind, no noise, it’s the epitome of efficiency and what your body can actually do.
Then you get the 140mm trail bike bombing down the trails, picking a vague line and letting the bike and the technology really work for you. Then there’s other things, I mean I also did the Munga last year which again, people think you’re crazy. Are you going to do it again? But it’s just another extreme and just another way to really enjoy a bike.
But also to enjoy an amazing experience as Old Mutual joBerg2c, the Munga, just seeing our country where probably less than 1% of the population gets to go and see and experience this wonderful place that we live in. So, as long as you’re out on your bike, I think it doesn’t matter what it is.
Coming close at The Munga
GDK: The Munga, we chatted to the man who won the Munga in the end, John Ntuli. Just over 1 000km from Bloemfontein to Wellington, non-stop. A couple of support stations along the way, up to you as to whether you want to use them and where you want to sleep. So, you were on track to win that at one stage, what happened?
GU: I was feeling pretty comfortable. I think my strategy of having a very loose strategy and just listening to my body and seeing how it was going was actually the right one to do. I tried to stop more frequently in the beginning, not for long periods of time though. At one point I was feeling really, really comfortable and in control.
Sutherland was going to be my last stop and then go straight through to the finish, but then I came down with quite a bad stomach bug and in the middle of the Karoo, in December. I was having cold shivers, dry heaving, massive bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting.
I don’t know if it was something I ate in Sutherland, I was the only one that was there for breakfast and this, well, at that point in the race, anything looks delicious. But this amazing looking savoury mince and then basically all hell broke loose.
Still dragged myself out of that and managed to finish and the only thing I wanted to get out of the event was basically to see sunset/sunrise through the Karoo, on my bike, by myself. I got that out of the event and I mean I actually couldn’t ask for anything more.
Everyone was saying, oh, you must be so disappointed, you finished second. But it was such an amazing journey that you just take so much from an event like that. That it actually doesn’t matter about placing or positions or prize money or fame, or whatever it is, it’s actually such a personal journey that you do, only for yourself.
GDK: Can you remember the first time you got on a bicycle?
GU: That was a really long time ago! Obviously I used to ride on my little BMX to school and back. I remember the days, obviously its changed a lot now. But riding a little BMX, no helmet, trying to bunny-hop over your friends or building a ramp. You always used to boast how many bricks high it was. Those were sort of the good old days and then eventually in high school I actually dusted my old mountain bike off. I guess the rest is history. On the national team and I just really, really loved riding any bike.
Give my all no matter what I’m riding
GDK: You have a competitive element to you, very definitely. You recently won your age category in a national cross country series. You very nearly beat all the pros in a stage on the Old Mutual joBerg2c a couple of years ago on a single speed. So there’s that in you, there’s fire.
GU: Absolutely! It’s not, I don’t know, it’s not really a competitive edge. Just to be competitive and try and beat somebody. Again, I just find that I actually do it for myself. I try and be the best that I can be and push myself as hard as I can. I just really enjoy that.
To see how far you can go, how fast you can go. Always trying to just, almost like the old Japanese saying of which there’s no English translation, Kaizen. It’s just that forever improvement in small increments, just to make yourself better. I just enjoy doing that and I enjoy the competitive side of it.
GDK: What about the single speed thing? You’ve garnered quite a bit of fame or notoriety as a single speed racer. How and why did that transpire?
GU: I just found it was a really pure form of riding. It’s just an amazing thing in that it also almost accentuates the terrain that you’re riding on. It’s a very simple, pure way of doing things. If you have to get off and walk, so be it. But otherwise you just get on your bike. You’ve selected a gear before the event and you kind of just surrender to whatever is going to happen out there.
You just have to deal with it and again, it puts you in that situation where you just go out there and enjoy riding your bike. The best part is that there’s no white noise while you’re riding. There’s no, okay, coming up to a short, steep section, do I change in the front or the back. I’ve got to soft pedal now while I’m changing, front, rear, where am I going to change and that kind of thing. You basically just deal with it and ride as you go along.
GDK: The sport is evolving, incredibly we’ve got single speed. We’ve got enduro, we’ve got the marathons and stages, cross country, where do you see it going? Even from your perspective as a man in the business, on the retail side?
Enduro to me is the way to go
GU: I find it’s quite strange where you see the newcomers coming into the sport and they get very caught up in the event side of things. Going out to events, what race are you doing? Are you doing Argus? What was your time? And that kind of thing.
The enduro thing is quite refreshing, I’ve done a couple of those events as well. That I find is quite a nice way, especially off-road, you find you go out with your mates, you do the transition parts of the event together. You ride up together, have quite a lot of banter. But then the best part is that you get to do the best bits of trail with no one else in front of you.
Whereas a lot of these events, as they grow in popularity, they tend to shy away from the best bits of the trail in that area due to congestion issues or worrying about back markers getting in the way if the front guys are coming around again. That kind of thing, which is actually pretty sad and quite a pity that they do that.
Enduro gives you a really nice, clean track of the best bits of trail in the area. But also I find that people are now, once they’ve done an event, you know, notches in the bedpost. They tend to go away for a weekend with a bunch of mates.
It’s almost quite sad to see some guys going and spending so much money on the latest and greatest equipment, wanting the latest stage winning bike. As opposed to spending money on experiences. I think that’s what your bike is made to do. It’s made to take you places and send you on these amazing adventures and experiences. Picking up these little pockets of happiness along the way.
I find that a lot of people are starting to do that now. So instead of going out for an event where you end up riding once a day in an area, they’ll go away for a weekend or a week with a bunch of mates. They’ll get to ride in that area once, twice, maybe even three times a day. Really sit back, relax and have these amazing pockets of interaction with nature, their friends and of course their bike.
GDK: Ride your bike for what it’s there for, riding it and enjoying it, and not winning or racing. You live in Jo’burg, do you have a favourite trail anywhere?
Where I love to ride
GU: Favourite trails in immediate Jo’burg, there’s probably, well a couple around here. Obviously the Spruit is quite easy to get onto and just enjoy. I really enjoy Thaba Trails down south, working on skills and then also the one out near Hartbeespoort, I can’t remember what it’s called.
GDK: Van Gaalens?
GU: No, not Van Gaalens, Hakahana, I really enjoy Hakahana as well, really nice elevation gain and ja, very, very –
GDK: Enduro area that as well.
GU: Yes, great enduro and just very engaging, almost like raw bits of trail. Like you find sort of berg and bush, joBerg2c, Sani, that kind of thing.
GDK: And elsewhere around the country, anything that says: I just love riding that.
GU: Yes, actually there’s a bit of an unknown, hopefully not top secret gem. But it’s a little place called Holla Trails which is run by the Swamp Dogs. It’s a little farm between Ficksburg and Clarens, which is just amazing sandstone, great gradient.
It’s run by a bunch of super passionate mountain bikers as well and they always sort of equate their trails to surfing and it’s exactly what they do. There’s just amazing flow, great scenery, it’s at the dead end of a dirt road, so there’s some pretty awesome evenings that happen there as well.
GDK: Grant, thanks very much for chatting to us. The passion you’ve got for the sport is amazing and long may it infuse everyone who comes into your space here at Sprocket & Jack.
GU: Great, thank you very much Gerald and I just hope everybody is out there riding their bikes for the right reason. That reason is basically just to put a big smile on your face and give you that warm, fuzzy feeling in your soul.
GDK: Grant Usher, a man, who as you heard, has done just about everything there is to do in mountain biking. He’s still a young man and a lot more to do, I’m sure, over the next many years. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, thanks for downloading, do so again, cheers.