Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Newbies graduating to true mountain bikers

A new standard for Newbie Mountain bikers was set on Saturday when a few Mountainbike-newbies set out on a 94.7 training ride on their mountain bikes.

The main aim of ride, a joined venture between Cartrack and Momentum, was to introduce newbies to the thrills of mountain biking.

'I wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle', explained Vivek Bhimma, 'but then I allowed myself to get talked into riding the 94.7.

Bhimma was one of the riders who set off from Emmarentia dam early on Saturday morning. The ride started out with very unstable wobbly bicycles, but by the time they came back, they were negotiating roots, rocks, narrow bridges and gnarly drops like it wasn’t even there.

When they reached Republic Hill, a mountain known to have reduced hardcore mountain bikers to tears, they insisted on cycling all the way to the top. The mystery of why everyone wanted to go up, was soon revealed: It seemed like the newbie-riders were all undercover-downhill-riders. ‘That was fun’, Noleen Erlank explained as she reached the bottom of the hill with a silly grin.

The group later insisted on cycling up Delta Park Hill as well, just so that they could come down again. The customary coffee-break later in the day was also cut short so that the riders could go play again, this time through the botanical gardens.

‘I will be back’, Bhimma declared after the ride.

The next training ride will be on Wednesday 2 September at Kyalami.

In the picture: Karen de Vries demonstrating that she would be able to take a gap in a big bunch of cyclists with perfect aim on the bridge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Birth of a MTB-hooligan

During the 2-odd weeks after Ride2Rhodes, while the RASA-guys were still on their way to Diemersfontein, I got very grumpy when there wasn't fresh news and blogs when I arrived at work. Mountain biking was, therefore, pretty much on the radar at the office when entries for the 94.7 (roadie event) opened. Fueled by Tour de France fever, and with the 94.7 route passing right by our offices, it was easy to convince the marketing people that our company simply have to enter a few cyclists and make a big party out of it.

A few fellow IT nerds agreed to ride with.

The team:
- A regular gym-spinning class-chick, who doesn't own a bike (probably never has) - no worries, i have an extra. I even have a roadie bike, so if she could manage that one, then she could ride on it and I'll ride on the hardtail.
- An ex-teacher ('I taught, nothing scares me') that tries anything at least once - he hasn't been on a bike for about 10 years or maybe longer, but no worries, his brother has a mountain bike and a helmet that he could borrow.
- An expectant dad who played BMX-BMX a long time ago, there might be a rusty old bike somewhere in the garage.

All of them smokers, although the expectant dad did give it up when he found out that his expecting.

K, so I kind of knew what they were in for. They probably didn't.

Groenkloof was going to be the first training ride.

So the soon-to-discover-mountainbiking x-teacher-IT-nerd-dude get on the borrowed bike and oh dear! The bike doesn't want to stay upright, it's wobbly and all over the place. On the first piece of single track he entertain us with a very nicely escaped endo, luckily no blood or broken bones. A few more near-endo's follow. He complains that the track is too narrow, and that there's too many rocks, and the track is too twisty, and why does it go uphill. Oh dear, what have i done, what was i thinking.

At the first (minor) obstacle the dude stopped, investigated, hesitated, and - most impressively - cleared it. With the same silly grin on his face that I see so often on mountain bikers' faces. Somewhere in the middle of the ride I saw a photo-opportunity and stopped to get the camera out. But the IT-nerd-dude ride straight-faced straight over the obstacle. 'What could i do, it was in the way', he said matter-of-factly. Oh dear, what have I done!

By the end of the ride there's a huge grin on the dude's face.

The next week Gadget Boy phoned. He's still nursing a sore knee from RASA, and not allowed to cycle. But he's going to Northern Farms, do I come with. Yes, and I bring the newbies with, to slow down the pace and respect that sore knee.

I had to go to a bike shop to get a tube, so invited the newbies with. The IT nerd dude decides that smoking is cheaper than cycling.

But on Sunday morning, he pitches at the ride with a brand new helmet.

The spinning-chickie gets on the bike. Promptly breaks a nail when trying to figure out the gears. The chickie is way too short for the (small) hardtail, but we lower the saddle, and off we go.

The IT nerd dude has a huge silly grin on his face. Downhill, some gravel to ease into cycling, then hit some single track. Both of them are riding with grins now (the expectant dad had to work - some IT nerds have to look after the machines while the others play)

Gadget Boy entertains us nonstop (and I mean NON STOP) with RASA stories. We ride single track and up and down and more singletrack and twists and turns. The grins get bigger.

Towards the end of the ride we approach that little droppie that goes into the tunnel underneath the highway. I know of a few collarbone-incidents there. There's a chicken run to the left, but it's still a rather scary drop. Especially if it's your second ride in 10 years. The IT nerd dude gets off his bike ... checks out the drop, picks a perfect line, gets on his bike ... and clears the freakin' drop!

With a huge grin on his face we ride that very sweet singletrack after the droppie, and then up through the trees - there he gets off, too tired to ride any more ... but on Monday morning the grin was still there.

A new mountainbiker is born.

ps next week's newbie ride is Saturday morning 9:00, starting probably close to the Botanical Gardens. Newbies (or RASA-riders nursing injuries) - let me know if you need details :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Endorphin Overload

If a rider hits a pumptrack in the MTN bikepark
and she does it by the moonlight and the starlight in the dark
and she ride the singletrackies and the droppies and the burms
then the endorphins emitting will be sure to light a spark!

The bikepark is open every tuesday night till about 8. That's about 3 hours of good mid-week riding if you can be there at 5.

WOW what a ride!

When you arrive, there may be a few riders, but by the time it gets dark, there's only one other rider with lights. The bikepark-staff put together a braai, and you have the WHOLE bikepark to yourself - all the burms and singletracks, the pumptrack, the jumpies (which you are too scared to jump anyway), the steep twisty climbs and the droppies, this side of the highway, the other side, this green route, that black one - all yours alone!

And an overload of feel-good hormones.

The familiar singletrack were even better at night, the bike picks the lines on the burms to throw you off this one straight into that one .... i can't think of a better way to spend a Tuesday evening.

Gadget - fix that knee of yours so that you can come play with!

Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots

When my adventure-buddy Gerard forwarded the Baron's email about the adventure race in KZN, I knew I was in trouble. It was about a month aftere Ride2Rhodes, and I haven't done much since. But I also don't know how to say no.

I've had some adventures with Pablo and Gerard and they're about the best people to go with on any adventure ... strong, lots of endurance, lots of patience, they both know how to navigate, they never get tired, and an excellent sense of humor - both of them. Gerard found the fourth team mate, a really good mountainbiker and, so i heard, an even better runner.

So Yoshimi was going to battle the pink robots again.

This race was going to be different: we would be our own support crew, with one team member driving the car while the others were racing - the driver would have his own set of control points to collect before meeting the team and swapping being a second, for being a racer again.

Teams would have to blog pictures of the controls. This would
- enable people at home to follow the racers progress
- minimise the need for marshals - if a team had a picture of them at a specific landmark, then the race organiser knew they were there
- force adventure racers to learn how to use technology! Yaaay!

Registered teams had about a week to figure out how on earth to blog their progress on http://arkzn4.blogspot.com/ - most of us used the travel-time down to PMB to figure this out.

At 6:00 on Saturday morning we received an sms telling us that we had to be at the Farmer's Market for the race briefing at 7. Aintree Lodge (where we camped) were very close to the start, so we had enough time to wander around the farmers market and breakfast on hot chocolate and huge vetkoek.

We received the instructions, and then had to go find the start of the race.

I was the second for the first leg - had to go find a shopping centre (car, boat on roof, bicycles on back, with trailer, through Pietermaritzburg without a map, first to the wrong centre, but DID manage to find the right one) to count the fish in the pond, and then drive to the first transition, get the bikes out, lube them, and wait for the team. They arrived in third place. We jumped on the bikes, and finally the race started for me as well. Some excellent navigation decisions by Gerard, some NICE downhills, quite a lot of climbing, and we arrived at the start of the paddle leg. only 2 members had to paddle, so I found myself seconding again ... we had to go take a picture of some or other waterfall somewhere, before driving to the next transition.

Wellll and THAT'S the reason why I’m not a navigator on adventure races! I got totally lost, finally found the waterfall after a whole lot extra kilometers, and arrived at the transition about 15 minutes after the paddlers.

We were still in third place, and while collecting pictures of controls, found Team Xtreme along the way. We teamed up with them and Gerard navigated us to the next transition point. It was about 30 kays, but mostly uphill, lots of Ride2Rhodes type riding often on non-existing or quickly-disappearing tracks, and it took us a very long time to get to the next transition.

Team Xtreme had a quicker transition, but our guys chased them down on the hike, and both teams came in just before dark. The transition to biking took a while, and we left shortly after Team Xtreme. I knew that we wouldn't catch them, or drop them on an uphill, and Gerard was the better navigator, so they wouldn't drop us before we found all the checkpoints, nor would they allow us to get away from them. They were far stronger than our team at this stage, cos their girl was doing the seconding and the previous long cycle-leg took some energy out of me. Some excellent navigation decisions from our navigator, a nice downhill or 2 and we lost them. They caught us again on a long never-ending climb, but luckily for us there was another 9slightly gnarly) downhill and we finally could get rid of them.

It was a toss-up between Gerard and myself about who was going to second the last leg, but I think I convinced him that I was more tired than he was, so I was the second again. It would have been an 8kay trail-run, but it was difficult to find the trails, and they decided to rather do a 21 kay road run. I loaded up the bikes, packed everything in, and then drove to the finish.... as i drove passed team Olympus (who also opted for the roadrun) it was -1° outside!

I pitched the tents (in that weather!) and then waited for team Olympus. Team Yoshimi arrived in second place!

This race format: seconding yourself:
- makes it much easier to enter a race - seconds are hard to find, and even harder to keep
- makes the race slightly cheaper - a dedicated second would probably have meant another vehicle had to go down
- was hard, because of the extra tasks that the seconds had to perform - finding shopping malls in a foreign town!
- changes the adventure into racing. I like adventure racing because of the variety - even though I’m not a strong paddler, I get to spend time on the water - but this time, we had to go with whatever race/second-combination was going to yield the best results for the team. This turned the adventure into a race (together with the much unexpected early lead)
- makes you appreciate dedicated seconds. Seconding is hard work! loading up bikes, unloading them, feeding them ...
- the changing of seconds was also hard - you'd come in from a race, but the next leg you are the second, so although you're hungry and tired, you immediately have to start looking after the other team members to get them out of transition as quickly as possible.

The blogging website couldn't handle all the traffic (the race organiser got warnings from Google saying that he's spamming the website!) but and it was great coming home after the race and experiencing the race through the other team's eyes! And it was great to have to learn how to blog from a cell phone - I'll know how to do this from a cellphone for next year's Ride2Rhodes :)