Trails – more than just a riders playground
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we talk all things mountain biking. We meet the personalities, the riders, we visit the races and the events and we find out what happens deep inside this incredible sport that keeps us all on our bikes. Smiling, week in and week out as we enjoy the trails around this country.
Trails are what it’s all about because without trails we wouldn’t be able to ride our bikes and ride events and get out into this beautiful country. In various parts of this country there are trail builders and event organisers and people who have a passion for this sport.
Down in the Western Cape one of those, of many, is a man called Johan Kriegler who has MTB Adventures. He’s involved in a number of events, including the Wines2Whales, the Liberty Winelands Encounter. Johan is sitting alongside me now. Johan, describe where you fit in this mountain biking, events, trails, where do you think you fit?
Passion for Mountain biking and conservation
Johan Kriegler: I’m a jack of all trades. I’m not only building trails and I’m not building it personally. We started off building it personally, but that was 8 years ago, so I’m 8 years older. So I can’t see myself building trails until I’m 80.
But I think it’s, saying I’m a jack of all trades, it’s about the passion, first of all, for mountain biking. I think I’m one of the oldest mountain bikers in the Western Cape and it’s also a passion for nature conservation. I love to be out in the mountains and to see less people in my life. I think that was the passion that started it all.
Then like with any passion that makes sense, you can get carried away. That’s what we’re doing, we’re building trails for mountain biking, for mountain bikers to have fun on their bikes. To just enjoy the nature of the Western Cape.
It’s so diverse, we’ve got mountains, we’ve got ocean, rivers. Like now with the Liberty Winelands Encounter, it’s autumn, so just the colours and stuff, it’s amazing this time of the year. That’s on the trail component, but the other component that is also near to my heart is the fact that by doing that, and I think that’s not only for mountain biking,
I think it’s for all businesses in South Africa, is whatever you do, if you can’t make an impact on community development, then I don’t think it’s sustainable. The biggest issue for this country is the huge discrepancy between rich and poor, and mountain biking is a rich sport. If we can’t create sustainable lives and improve lives of others that’s less fortunate, then I think we’re doomed.
We’re going to get to a point where we’re just going to, more okes are going to be hit off bikes and so forth. That’s where we’ve got Cape Trails, we’ve got a couple of other initiatives. We’ve assisted other okes to start their own businesses. Five year contracts and so forth, we’re looking at housing for these guys and I mean that’s, ja.
Cape Trails helping to create employment
GDK: Let’s go into a little bit more detail about Cape Trails and what that is actually about. How you’re impacting, how they’ve been worked into the trail system and how it’s impacting their lives.
JK: I started off and Martinus was, I think, the first trail builder. Then I assisted Martinus, he got a contract with Arabella Hotel and he started his own business. He’s employing 25 people and he’s got a contract, 3-5 years and now he’s got various contracts, he’s bakkies, logos, –
GDK: Building trails?
JK: No, well trails and mainly clearing alien forest and stuff, a combination of the two. Then Cape Trails, so I said to Martinus, you’re too expensive, let’s rather assist you to set up a proper business, which he now runs. Then Cape Trails, one of his sons is actually part of Cape Trails and that we created six years ago. So the four of them have been with us for six years and ja, sick leave. I think in total they take about three days sick leave in a year and most of the work they do on their own.
It’s also to, we’re also getting involved in assisting them to have better lives, to plan their lives better, to do better financial planning. We’re busy with discussions between, in Grabouw itself, between civic groups, municipality, to start house building. Where rustic homes will assist us with, almost like oblique type of thing. Cape Trails will be the pilot, so they’ll be trained to build the house and they’ll set it up and you can build a house within two days. So those are the kinds of things that ja, that goes further than just trails and mountain bikes.
The trick to building a trail
GDK: I think that a lot of people get exposed to the trails through the events and they come in, they ride the event, they enjoy the trails and they leave. Taking with them memories and great experiences of the riding. Those trails must be maintained but when we look up into the mountains we see, and I know you look at it and you just see opportunity for trails. But you can’t just go, ah, there’s a tree and a nice slope, I’m going to build a trail there. How difficult is it to, from start to finish, get a trail built?
JK: I think first of all, people have asked me, what’s the success recipe for a mountain bike event. Especially multi-stage that we focus on. I said first of all, it must be in the correct area or the right area. To go into a flat ‘verneek pan’ or ‘moerdenaars vlakte’ nothing’s going to happen there. That’s where we’re fortunate with the Western Cape.
We’ve got the mountains and stuff, but it’s also a nature conservation issue. If you look at these mountains, they’re beautiful mountains, you don’t want to go and build, for instance, a downhill. Down a mountain and screw the whole face of the mountain. That’s one of the reasons why, in terms of building and it’s also part of our signature on our events, is to find contour trails.
Not only is it fun to ride, but it’s also easier to maintain. In terms of water erosion and so forth, that’s much easier.
I’ll normally look at an area and then decide, ja, one can build something from down A to B and to C and then you sit with Google and have a look and the same as Glenn does with the Sani2c and the same as they did with joBerg2c. What you do is you just go to local mountain bikers.
Wellington here is Pieter van Wyk, Kim in Banhoek and Hartie in Franschhoek, so with the Liberty Winelands Encounter, I just got them involved. They tell me, okay, there’s the potential for a trail and we’ll discuss it and agree and then you get them to build it and then you pay them.
Mountain biking has come a long way
GDK: There’s plenty of work that goes into it, but let’s go back to you. You mentioned briefly earlier, you said you were one of the oldest mountain bikers in the Western Cape. In fact you’re one of the original mountain bikers, there’s still a few of your own, aren’t there?
JK: What we’ve also started, which is unique to our events is that we’ve got sweeps of guides. Most of them are old buddies that we all started together. Basically it was because our children went to school together, that’s how we got connected.
I mean the first bikes that we had were the bombers, the old bombers. It’s almost like an over-sized chopper, with the big wheels with the knobby wheels. All they had was ‘dik wiele met knobbies’ and there wasn’t any shocks or anything.
We used to go with those, okay, then we were 30, we used to go down the mountain with those things. Then with the first shock that came in, it was only the elastic inside the shock and the thing just jumped up and down and we thought, eish, this is heaven.
GDK: It’s come a way since then! So did the events, you seem so close to the soil, you seem to be at home. When we see you standing on the trail in the middle of the mountain somewhere, you seem to belong there. Which sometimes is, for me, if I look at that, stands at odds with the corporate identity that the events have. But somehow you marry the two.
JK: I think, somebody said to me, I won’t mention names, but also a very important mountain bike organiser once phoned me. He mentioned his name and I couldn’t hear and I said ‘who are you’ and he mentioned his name and I just laughed. I said, ‘sorry, I didn’t hear you properly the first time’ and he said, and he laughed and he said, ‘I must say you’re quite polite’. That’s the way you have to take me.
I haven’t got a lot of scruples around me, so I sort of like to live a basic life. But on the other hand I’m also not stupid or unsophisticated. So what I also know is that for an event to be successful, especially multi-stage, you have to find the perfect combination between trails, area and venues.
I think with the Liberty, that’s what we got right here. We’ve got the stunning venues of Lanzerac, Le Franschhoek Hotel and then Kleine Valleij. I mean that combination, cause the rider is on the trail and where he finishes, that’s part of the whole experience. Then obviously off the mountain into these larney venues, but I’m coming out of a corporate life, so I understand how it works.
Originality will keep MTB racing strong
GDK: Is there a limit, firstly to trails and secondly to events in this country?
JK: I think there is, I think there is if everybody does the same thing. But I think there’s a market to differentiate and to have a more specific market. Let’s say like Wines2Whales is similar to Sani, although we’ve got differences in terms of how we do race villages and so forth.
But with the Liberty, for instance, I think there’s a market where if you allow spouses to come with and enjoy dinner with the riders, there’s a market for that. Obviously if you do that, then you can’t go 1 200 riders, but that’s the other thing. So you go let’s say max 500 riders, with their spouses and families and that’s what’s starting to happen here.
We’ve got companies inviting their clients with their families, come down from Jo’burg, the wife gets treated, spa, massages. Whilst the oke is up in the mountain and down. So I think there’s still a market for that. But if we all do the same thing, it’s like any business, then there’s not enough space for that any longer.
GDK: You get to ride much now?
JK: Not enough, but I’m busy working on that and I’m going to get it right. I must say, I was impressed with Kevin that he did the Epic himself. I think it’s a good example to follow and I will follow it.
GDK: Johan Kriegler, as you’ve heard, one of the great characters and a very important member of the mountain biking community here in South Africa, not just in the Western Cape. Because riders come from all over the country to ride the trails and the events that he’s involved in.
So thanks very much for talking to us. Johan Kriegler from MTB Adventures and at the moment involved, it’s wonderful, Liberty Winelands Encounter. As you’ve heard, a family event like very few others, it really is a special event. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, hope you enjoyed it, download again and you’ll hear more about this great sport of mountain biking. For now, cheers.