Trailhead bike shop – on the edge of the Spruit
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we talk all things mountain biking to all people of mountain biking, from every sphere of the incredible sport. It’s a sport that’s driven by passion in many ways. There’s plenty of money swirling about in the sport, of course with big events and sponsored teams and events. But generally if one would boil it down, it’s a sport about passion and passion drives the sport at every level.
Today we’re speaking to, we’re actually sitting at a place called the Trailhead, which is a bicycle shop that’s opened up about two years ago on the Johannesburg famous Spruit on Conrad Drive. It is within 10m of the trail that runs down the Spruit in Johannesburg.
Those of you who live and have been in Johannesburg will know the Spruit very well if you’re a mountain biker. It’s the hallmark and the backbone of all our training in this part of the world. Jason Geldenhuis is with me here. Jason, is in a way one of the men behind the Trailhead. Firstly, tell us about this place and how it all came about?
Jason Geldenhuis: Well, the Trailhead was basically an idea through a few partners and a few like-minded cyclists. All about making our lifestyle choices and getting into mountain biking and just making a good, solid business around it.
Myself being in mechanics for a long time, I just felt like we needed to offer really good service and workshop stuff instead of sending it away. Trying to do as much as we can in-house, but not charge an absolute fortune. Hand in hand goes with a coffee shop too. So get your bike fixed, grab some coffee, grab some chow and off you go on the trail, right in front of you.
GDK: We’re here on a relatively quiet afternoon during the week, but I have been past on my bike during the weekends where the place is absolutely cooking. I suppose that’s when the coffee shop and the workshop are at full blast?
Weekends are manic around the Spruit
JG: Weekends for us are pretty manic. Saturday’s not so much, although pretty busy. But Sunday’s if you can even find a chair sometimes, it’s pretty hectic. Guys always love the coffee, which is great. If the weather is cool, to sit outside on the deck in the sun is also pretty cool. Then winter we normally have like a little bit of a bonfire going as well, just to keep the guys warm and keep them going, so pretty cool outlook.
GDK: In a way I’ve seen you on the Spruit riding trails here for quite a few years, before you got involved with the Trailhead. So it’s a sort of synergy, we’re right on the trail here. Let’s go back to your passion and love for mountain biking, where did that start?
JG: Mountain biking for me kind of started in my early high school career. I had a friend that was very big into road cycling at the time and we used to just commute and ride our bikes everywhere. Just being kids, backpack on the back, ramp down the ramps, streets and that kind of thing, always just good fun.
Then started challenging stuff, like who could do the biggest jump, who could build the longest skinny, who could do a teeter-totter. It became a challenge and became more fun. Through that I got into a bit more event riding, sprog races, northern farms, those kinds of things and from there the passion just kind of took off.
I got into my first stage race event, which was the sani2c, really enjoyed that kind of relaxed, chilled atmosphere and also it was new, not that many guys in it. It was like a really nice introduction to multi-day events and the organisation behind it was pretty cool.
The joy of riding a bike
GDK: If I’m right, you weren’t competitive at the sharp end of it, it was all about challenging yourself and having fun?
JG: Yes, for us it was always about the trail riding element. Although we did do the odd sprogs events and we did the odd 30km events, after about a year it became a bit tired. We weren’t so much into the whole racing thing as we were about just having fun. Getting dirty with mates, stopping and having a beer, falling off, getting up again and repeat.
That’s just how it kind of grew and thankfully it’s been a growing segment of the sport, there’s like a little bit less people going to marathon and a little bit more trail riding. We’re seeing emergence of like enduro event style of racing, which is really rad. Hakahana, Thaba trails, we’ve got some really challenging riding and the guys doing those courses are really putting the effort in.
GDK: You were, in your working life, involved in fixing and motor mechanics, tell us about that and how that came about and how the transition to bikes happened.
JG: Well, cycling I’ve always been involved in. I actually started working part-time in a bicycle shop when I was already 15 and I haven’t stopped since. I only took it on full-time about eight years ago. Straight after high school I did work at Toyota for four years, did my apprenticeship there for a full year and carried on working my way up from there.
Cars have always been a passion, I’ve always liked working with my hands and cycling has always kind of been in the background. Just at the time there really wasn’t much money for me in it to do something proper and solid. I never had something against my name in terms of a career or a kind of qualification.
For me it was a good building block, it was still something I enjoyed doing, but it wasn’t my true passion. Later on, when I started seeing a better picture, I got more opportunities through people in the cycling industry. Which was great and I managed to kind of move on and develop.
Great advantage understanding mechanics
GDK: A lot of mechanic work is obviously hands-on, do you have a qualification or is there a way guys can go?
JG: I believe there are courses at the moment. There’s a shop, I think it’s Talk Zone in Pretoria, they’re offering qualified courses now, which is an international accredited service.
I, myself, am self-taught and I’ve learnt through some very good mechanics and technical people throughout the years. But a lot of it, thankfully, if you’ve got a good mechanic aptitude, the internet is your oyster. You can find whatever you want. Whether it be servicing shocks, building forks, building bikes, building wheels. The sky is the limit of what’s really out there that you can teach yourself.
GDK: By the way, that was just the early after Hadeda peloton heading on their little ride down the Spruit as you heard, which tells you we really are right on the Spruit trail here. There’s the trust and people hear about who is good mechanics, you’re always looking for the right guy and the right person to fix your bike. Word of mouth and obviously quality of work is critical in your business?
JG: That’s very true. I’d rather have someone be honest with me and say, listen, this is going to take a bit longer, but we’ll get the job done properly. Than try and force your hand and say listen, when can it be done. Like there is nothing worse for a mechanic than being pressured when he just wants to do a good service on a bike. I hate to have someone have a catastrophic failure on a ride because a wheel wasn’t balanced properly or a suspension part wasn’t serviced correctly. That is a terrible thing in any workshop environment or running.
GDK: How many bikes do you get through here, there are peak seasons and peak times during the year, obviously, around the big races, the Epic and Sani and the like, but what generally is your busiest time and how busy are you?
JG: We can get pretty busy. Thankfully at the moment it’s not too hectic, but there are some big jobs that come through. I’d probably say on average we’re running between 35-50 bikes a week, which considering what we’re doing on the bikes, is pretty substantial. Considering we also only have like two full-time mechanics. It’s good, it’s a good challenge, you get to really take your time on a bike and do them properly.
Bikes – a fine piece of technology
GDK: What is it about a bike? What’s the essence of it for you? They’re not all the same are they?
JG: Some bikes present unique challenges, I won’t lie! Some of the brands have got really unique products and parts on their bikes too. I think the challenge for me comes in when a customer comes in and says, listen, I’ve had it at such-and-such bike shop or my mate really tried to fix something and he just couldn’t get it right.
I kind of almost take it on as a challenge, I want to try and get that bike right. Make the oke happy and get him out there. Sometimes it’s not really possible with what they give you or what the limits are. But it’s a good challenge, to try and make a bike work the way someone else envisions it to work.
GDK: The business obviously is affected, I suppose retail business and so on, by the import costs and the failing rand, are you seeing that in your business?
JG: Off the current increases and that, we’ve definitely noticed a decline in retail sales. Thankfully workshop has been ticking over, although even there you do pick up that guys are not spending or replacing the parts with the same calibre of parts as they had before.
So, whereas guys would have a top-end bike running top-end spares, they now drop down one or two levels, just to keep the bike going. But not necessarily spend the same kind of money. Retail for us has definitely dropped. Sales have become much harder. It is a very competitive market because we have so many shops in Jo’burg, but thankfully everyone does try and offer their own unique product ranges.
We’re lucky, we kind of choose one or two brands for each product range that we offer and thankfully for us that’s kind of paid off and it’s worked. We’re not really competing with other shops on the same products.
GDK: As a rider, are you still getting out there and riding as often as you can?
Do you still get out on the trails as much?
JG: This is a classic question. Most shops or most guys will always say they never ride often enough. I’d like to say I don’t ride often enough. At the moment I’d probably say I’m getting about 2-3 rides a week, which is not bad.
I guess the biggest bonus is I’m right on the Spruit, so get up, roll out of bed, roll onto the trail, off you go. Spruit being awesome, you can do up to like 70km of track riding on this trail, but ja, three good solid rides a week for me, I’m not going to complain.
GDK: It’s not a bad place to ride a bike actually and people forget, people who live in Natal and the Cape and things, say where do you ride in Jo’burg? As you say, this is not bad at all, and it’s improving all the time.
JG: Continuously growing, I mean with the weather, trails change a bit, which is a good and a bad thing, I wish we could build more sustainable trails on it. but the variety of trail on the Spruit is absolutely astounding. If you want to do jumping, you can jump. If you want to just get some distance in, there’s that.
There’s sharp little nasty climbs that can really take your legs to another level if you really want to push it that hard and there are some very cool viewing spots. The Spruit’s got a lot of variety and it’s definitely worthwhile checking out if you haven’t been before.
GDK: Describe yourself as a rider, where would you put yourself?
JG: I’d like to think I’m more of a fun, laid back kind of trail rider. Like to hammer the downhills, chill a little bit on the up hills, although some of my mates would disagree about that last section. Ja, just good, having fun, send a little fun downhill section, chill with your mates to the next piece, climb it again and repeat, nothing wrong with that.
GDK: If you had to look back and say, is this where you’d want to be in your life and your business at the moment?
JG: I think from a lifestyle perspective, damn straight, very cool. We all want more money at the end of the day, I won’t lie, I mean we could always be a bit better off with a few extra bowlers in our pocket, that would be great. But from a lifestyle perspective, it’s pretty good, I can’t complain.
GDK: Jason, it’s wonderful talking to you, good luck with the Trailhead. You’ve got some wonderful products in here, some special bikes that are lined up here. Come and have a look, if you’re on the Spruit, passing past here in Johannesburg, or visiting Johannesburg, it’s really special.
Speak to a man who knows everything about a bike and more, Jason will sort you out. Thanks very much for talking to us. You have been listening, thanks for downloading, it’s another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. We’ll be back with plenty more characters from this wonderful world of mountain biking, cheers.