Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Jozi Automotive Bling

Up in Joburg at the moment. CAR mag roadshow.... which means I'm shooting the breeze with folk who sell shit like this...
McLaren MP4-12C with full carbon McLaren Special Ops body kit. Better looking than a 650S...

Exile custom chopper

BMEW M4 with Akrapovic exhaust option

Rolls Royce Silver Wraith...R6-million

Cyclocrossing across The Peninsula

Great ride on Sunday with my old mate Robert Vogel. Rob is the driving force behind Table Mountain Bikers, the club/social activist/beer-drinking-club that I have been part of since inception. We've been buddies for 20-odd years and used to form a fearsome doubles combination in the W. Cape tennis leagues. As I recall, we were unbeaten. These days, though, we ride bicycles.

Top of Chappies

And on this day we rode 130km with 3000m of climbing (says Strava). I have never ridden this far on the road. Stuck some slicks on the Cotic cyclocross bike and sucked Rob's wheel for most of it...

Top of Red Hill

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SANI2C 2014... The Cyclocross Diaries

I couldn’t see Matt, but looking at the bicycle-shape hole in the sugar cane, I had a pretty good idea where he was. As usual, Matthew
de Jongh, my race partner and good mate had shot down the hill ahead of me. And I was fine with this. Thanks to his superior bike skills and a total disregard for personal preservation, Matt was easily the quicker of team Subaru CAR’s two riders when it came to descents.
By now we were deep into stage three of the sani2c Race and, by his own admission, Matt had gotten a little cocky. Me too, to be honest. You can’t really blame us. Two-and- a-half days earlier we’d lined up
with our fellow batch H riders at the Underberg Primary School ground. And, frankly, we were kakking ourselves. What lay before was the unknown... the unchartered... virgin territory... I swear you could hear a lone bugler in the background. As far as we knew, no-one had attempted this iconic South African stage race on a cyclocross bike before and we weren’t sure if our equipment or bodies would be up to it.
Day 2: dusty but smooth trails. Ideal for the CX bikes
For the preceding couple of months both of us had been riding our steel- framed Cotic >X< cyclocrossers on the mountain trails of Cape Town (me) and Pretoria (Matt). We’d gradually gotten used to the bikes’ handling characteristics on rough terrain and identified the correct spec we needed for a stage race (see sidebar for that). Remember that cyclocross bikes have their origins in the muddy fields and gravel roads of Belgium and the Netherlands, not the razor-edged shale of Groenkloof and the granite- hard rock on Table Mountain.
Our frames were steel. But what about our arses?
Would the bikes hold up over three days of sani2c? And more importantly, what about our arses? Sure, we’d done the 2013 race on rigid-fork, singlespeed 29er Cotic Simple mountain bikes, which meant that both physically and metaphorically we were already somewhat hard-arsed, but this was a whole other level. At least on those Simples we had large-volume 29 x 2.3 tyres inflated to the pressure of
a party balloon. They were positively plushy compared to the teeth-rattlers we were now sitting on.
We hadn’t told sani2c’s acclaimed race founder and organizer Farmer Glen Haw about our plans either. Afraid he might nix it, we decided instead to pitch up at the start, sneak into our starting batch and (hopefully) once stage one was successfully completed, they couldn’t really boot us off. Yes, this was a mountain bike race but, hey, these were the bikes we regularly rode on the mountains.
Matt grabs a little actual air. Really. Look closely
There was also a performance upside to choosing a cyclocross bike as our Sani weapon of choice. There’s a fair amount of district road on the race route and here the bikes should come into their own. After the lycra-melting cadence employed last year trying to keep up with everyone along the flat bits on our single speeds, the cyclocrossers would allow us to snick it into a big gear, hunker down on the drops and leave those dual sussers bobbing up and down behind us in the fine KZN dust.
Looking good. Sort of
And for those initial two-and-a- half days it all went according to plan and despite being a little slow on the downhill singletrack, we passed plenty of riders on the district roads. Stage one was physically
the roughest, with some corrugated ingletrack descents that really
hurt our arms and wrists. The Hope V-Twin hydraulic disc brakes work well enough but require a lot of pressure to really make them bite. That means all descents must be tackled with hands positioned on the handle bar drops, nose right over the front wheel, and fingers pulling on the levers for all they’re worth. Do that a few times down hard-packed, rutted singletrack and you get the kind of forearm pump Arnie Schwarzenegger would high-five you for.
We were also worried about our skinny tyres. Would they hold up
on the rocky descents and give us enough traction on the steeper,
more technical climbs? Fortunately, experience on a rigid-fork, singlespeed mountain bike proved invaluable here. You get used to constantly moving your body weight fore and aft to maximize front and backend grip and it also teaches you to concentrate all the time. There’s no chillaxing downhill, bombing straight over rocks and ruts – on the singlespeed you have to manage every single centimetre of the trail you’re riding. Miss one obstacle and you’re likely to see that arse you been so busy hardening. On the CX bike this is doubly so. Even though they’re tubeless, with their small volume rubber you still need to pump the tyres rock hard (4 bar) to prevent rim damage. And this makes the bike very, very twitchy over the rough stuff.
The descent into the Umko valley
This concentration added a layer of mental fatigue that was even more taxing than the physical exertion. And sani2c is physically tough, make no mistake – especially the 100km- long stage two with its 60km climb out of the Umkomaas valley. Plus this is an actual race so its balls-to- the-wall most of the way – especially when you’re being chased by a bunch of mountain bikers who can’t quite disguise how miffed off they are at being passed by “a couple of flippin’ roadies”. Now add on to that four to six hours of scanning the trail ahead with laser beam intensity and you cross that stage finish line physically and mentally drained.
So there we were...
Stage three... 230km of the 260km race done and, against all odds,
our bikes, our wrists and arses had held up. Except now one of us had forgotten to turn right and punched a large hole in a sizey field of KZN’s finest sugar cane.
Fortunately two arms appeared from the recesses of the buckled cane cavity... followed by two very wide eyes. Matt was okay. Oh how
I laughed. The cockiness was now gone but a few kilometres later however, so was my smile. Going over a small bump, an audible (and very disconcerting) “crack!” below my butt together with a wobbly saddle signaled a big problem. My carbon seat post had snapped. Luckily it was only a couple of kays to the water point where a local farmer helped me make a splint of two nine-inch nails and swathes of gaffer tape.
Yes. Matt was in front most of the day.

But that lasted all of a few kilometres before the saddle slumped off to the side and I was forced to stand up and pedal the remaining 10 km. Still, there’s nothing like shard of carbon fibre aimed at one’s bollocks to keep one’s motivation levels up. Spurred on by the occasional graze of sharp carbon upon thin lycra-covered bollock, we gunned it across the floating bridge and over the finish line.
And that was that.
After months of discussing, strategising and agonizing over our potentially foolish decision, Matt and I had done it. More than that we’d done it without maiming ourselves or forever damaging some of the more delicate parts of our anatomy. Even though – in a somewhat surprising move – we weren’t given a big shiny silver vase for dominating the Men’s Veteran’s Cyclocross category, there was enough satisfaction in proving that you can not only do a mountain bike race on a cyclocross bike, but be fairly quick too. We ended up mid- field in the competitive Race.
The famous floating bridge at the finish. Note broken seat post
At the after party later that evening, we had a drink with Farmer Glen and we finally told him what we’d done. Instead of a reprimand, he hugged us and laughed. “Guys, you should have told us man! That’s exactly what the spirit of Sani is all about. Fantastic!!”
Matt and I agreed that this was a way better than getting a shiny silver vase.
Done. And dusted

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nedbank Sani2C IV: We won! Sort of.

Three hundred and flippin’ eleventh. Granted, to some folk that might not be an impressive placing, but to the two members of Team Cotic it’s right up there with pulling on a yellow lycra jersey and being smooched by a couple of young French lasses.

After 3 days and 270km of brilliant single-track descents, fast flat bits, and murderous climbs we finished the 2013 Nedbank Sani2C Race in 311th place. That’s 311th out of 746 finishers. Top half of the field. Not bad for two old ballies on rigid-fork, single-speed bikes. Frankly I’m a little surprised it wasn’t the lead story in the papers over the weekend.

Yup, the 3rd and final stage was another good one for Matthew de Jongh and I. After one of its members nearly wept and gave up on Day 1, Team Cotic just got stronger and stronger, blitzing the last 84km to finish in a total time of 14h 49 min. Day Three had its challenges mind you – it was still a little muddy from the previous day’s rain and when you come across a climb sign-posted “Work To Be Done Climb” you know you’re about to step back into that private world of hurt you’ver become so well acquainted with over the last few days. Which brings me to what may seem like a gratuitous plug for our sponsors, but is in fact some valuable advice for anyone thinking of doing something similar.  Copy and paste this…

1. Get your nutrition right.  Being properly fuelled throughout an endurance event is some crucial shit. Trust me. Keeping our bottles filled with Isostar’s Long Distance Energy mix, their Hydrate & Perform mix, and popping the odd Energy Gel late in the race hauled our butts up and over some pretty sizey climbs. http://www.isostar.co.za/

2. You need performance eyewear. Even if the sun isn’t shining. Day 2 and 3 were overcast and I could see a bunch of guys riding without their sunnies. Idiots. It was also helluva muddy and without Oakley’s Radar Lock XL eyeshields stopping a continuous spray of mud facewards, it would’ve been an even tougher endeavour. I also got wacked in the face a few time by various pieces of vegetation along the many kays of single-track. Our Oakleys were indispensable.

3. An air of superiority helps too. There’s nothing like knowing ones kit is cooler than everyone else’s to give one that crucial psychological boost. Thanks to African Nature’s soon-to-be-launched range of merino wool performance apparel we had both the warmest and most exclusive base/mid/shell layer tops around. This natural wool wonder fabric is light, naturally wicks away moisture, and was incredibly warm on some chilly KZN Midland nights. Keep an eye on their website.

4. Pick a partner you get on with. Even if he farts a lot. On something like Sani2C – and especially when you do it on a single-speed bike – you not only get to know yourself a lot better, but also the person you’re doing it with.  The two of you really need to get along. Not only will the route test your relationship, but so will the confines of a small two-man tent. Fortunately Matthew De Jongh is a top bloke. Ja. Perhaps a little too fond of the hard-boiled eggs he’d swallow whole at every feeding station on the route (and yes I can confirm the correlation between hard-boiled eggs and flatulence), but his humour and encouragement spoke volumes more than the trumpet in his pants.

5. Get yourself a bullet-proof bicycle. There were those who laughed at our steel-framed, single-speed Cotics. Not for long though. Initially we were on the receiving end of some condescending smiles as the geared brigade breezed past us on the flat stretches when our single gear meant we were spinning along unable to get much past 20-odd km/h. Funnily enough those grins looked a little more forced when Matt and I sailed past them on the climbs. And collapsed altogether when all the mud caused the rear suspension and derailleurs of their fancy carbon dual-sussers to fail. Ha ha effing ha.

All in all a great event then. And one made even more pleasant by the fact that neither Matt or I fell into the sea. It was a close call. The final few hundred metres of the race saw us riding on a floating, wobbly, narrow, winding plastic pontoon bridge up the middle of the Scottburgh lagoon and across the shoreline up to the grassy knoll finish. It was genuinely difficult. Especially after 269km.  And especially when you realise your new iPhone 5 is in your pocket. It’s the kind of situation that tends to focus one’s mind.

Thanks for that Farmer Glen.

You have to give it to the guy and his team though… they organise a brilliant event. This is one race I am definitely doing again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Nedbank Sani2C III: Somewhat surprisingly, I H'd T. F. U..

At one point I was coming stone last. It's never a great feeling, coming stone last. It does tend to motivate one... "once you've hit rock bottom, there's only one way to go from there" etc.

It happened within the first few kilometres of the start of Stage 2 and it immediately put me on the back foot. It was a foot I spent most of Stage 1 on and naturally I was very keen to change this circumstance. Stage 2, for those who know a little about the 3-day Nedbank Sani2C mountainbike race, is The Big Day. It's 100km long and is a bit of a ying and yang affair. The first 40km is a spectacular descent into the Umkomaas  River valley - easily the best piece of riding in SA. Then, to put the "mountain" back into "mountainbiking", for the next 60km you ascend back out the valley up some sizey climbs.

I was very worried about The Big Day. After my piss-poor showing on the previous stage where my partner Matthew De Jongh pretty much dragged me through the flat-ish 85km route, The Big Day was looking like one mountain too far for me. Last night, before I fell asleep, I had to give myself a stern talking to. Manly motivational phrases like "HTFU", "Time to put on your game face, boy", and "You need to man-up Stevo" paraded through my head as I fell into a fitful sleep in our tent alongside my peacefully-snoring race partner.

The morning started at 5:30am, in the pitch dark, with a gentle rain blanketing the race village. It was a morning that saw my relationship with Matthew reach a new and altogether more personal level as the rain required we both change into our tight-fitting race lycra at the same time within the confines of a small two-man tent. We have agreed to keep the details to ourselves.

Our race kicked off at 7:20am when our group went under starter's orders. And for once I actually felt okay. The first few kilometres started relatively slowly and Matthew and I were pretty much mid-pack. Then one of my water bottles fell out its cage. Given the race distance I still had to cover, I had to stop, turn around, and retrieve it. Needless to say the pack disappeared off into the distance. And so I was stone last. So was Matthew, who stopped to wait.

Not the way I planned to start The Big Day.

Fortunately it got better from there. The descent into the Umko valley was sublime.We started in misty single track on the escarpment and broke through the clouds as the trail wound its way down. And then it got even better.

The mountainbiking gods that had been so cruel the day before looked down upon me with mercy. Somehow I got my climbing legs back and repaid my debt to Matthew. I was strong and led the way up the big climbs. It felt good. Redemption was at hand. Cue the violins.

A strong team effort over the final 20km saw us finish in 6h24min. Not a bad time for a team on rigid-fork single-speeders in wet and muddy conditions. We improved our race postion by 77 positions. We're now coming 299th and clear leaders of the 40-something Single-Speeders With Assorted Tattoos class.

Tomorrow's final stage is 80-odd kilometres down to Scottburgh. I'll let you know if I fall in the sea. It's a real possibility. Seriously.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nedbank Sani2C II: Basically it's one big whinge.

Day 1

Matthew de Jongh. What a sneaky mofo. For the last two months my race partner has been telling me how badly his training has been going. A steady stream of phrases like "Dude, you're going to klap me on the climbs", "Just remember to wait for me", and my personal favourite, "Ag man, we're just going to have a chilled ride and enjoy ourselves" have come out his mouth.

The lying bastard.

The starter gun for the 2013 Nedbank Sani2C hadn't even finished echoing through the mountains of Underberg before Matthew took off like a rocket. Naturally, this being a team race and everything, I had to keep up with him. And that meant for the first 20km had rode with a heart rate you could add a synth to and call speed electro. Not ideal.

"No matter," I thought, "I've always been crap on the flat bits. When we start climbing, I'll come my own."

Got to love the optimism..

Turns out Matthew is even better at climbing then he is on the flat bits. I managed to hang on, though to be honest I strongly suspect he let me catch up.

No matter. I scrunched my pride up and stuck it in one of those convenient little pockets our Team Cotic race tops  have at the back. Besides, there was always the single-track descents and everyone knows how fast I am down the single-track descents. Great. Turns out there is a guy who's faster than me down single-track descents... and annoyingly he was wearing the same black-with-orange-stripe-and-the-word-COTIC-in-big-across-the-front racing top as me. 

Basically then I spent most of the day trying to keep on Matthew's wheel. It wasn't easy. Copious amounts of Isostar drink and gels managed to herd me over the finish. Matthew, of course, was as gracious as ever and remains convinced my lack of pace has more to do with the fact that I'd never done Sani2C before, whereas he'd done it 3 of 4 times. Total bollocks of course. He's very definitley stronger than me and thanks to his efforts, our single-speed, rigid-forked team managed the undulating 85km route in 4h10min. A reasonably decent time.

But that was nothing.

Tomorrow is the biggie with the Day 2 route covering 100km with 1 705m of climbing. Expect another update after that... no doubt one that will be a lot whingy'er than this one.

I'm off to eat several kilograms of food. Until tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nedbank Sani2C 1: this time it’s about bicycles

The cycling gods have not been smiling upon me. And it turns out my teammate has a knife.

I’ll leave the knife bit until last and kick off with my tragic loss of my quality Italian lycra. Right. So up until last week, my training for my inaugural multi-stage mountainbike race was going rather well. I was, as they say, well chuffed. Things have changed…

For the preceeding 3 months I had mastered what’s regarded in mountainbiking circles as an utterly daft bicycle. My Cotic Simple… here it is…

… is the anti-thesis of the what the modern mountainbike is supposed to be. It’s mostly defined by what it is not. It is not, for example, made of carbon-fibre. It’s made of steel. It doesn’t have 21 gears. It has one. It doesn’t have a rear suspension – hell, it doesn’t even have a front suspension. Nope it’s a rigid-forked bastion of all things old skool. Interestingly, just like me .

All in all it’s a very cool bike in a niched and, dare I say it, hipster kind of way. It’s the kind of bike that requires one to wear cycling clothing made of merino wool and one of those little cycling caps with the small peaks that flip upwards. All of which I have.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a thoroughly modern machine – a 10.5kg wonder of modern geometry, 29er wheels, and disc brakes all held together by the kind of bespoke mastercraftsman welding we barista-brewed, coffee-quaffing cyclo-snobs worship.

There’s an added benefit too. The satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like dropping your training partners and their R50 000 carbon-fibre dual-sussers on the way up the steepest climb.  Like this...

But enough smugness.  As I said it was all going well until the Sunday before last. Then I crashed.

Within the last 5 km of our weekly 85km training ride, on the scenic ocean-side road between Llandudno and Camps Bay, our little peloton managed to trip over itself. Three of us went down pretty hard. Ricky was the most serious. His wrist looked like it was broken and his stomach pain turned out to be some concerning internal bleeding. Mike’s fall looked the most serious – as I hit the ground I remember him cartwheeling over all of us – but he was relatively unscathed. I was somewhere in the middle. Once the initial shock of seeing the very expensive Italian lycra I had purchased only days earlier flapping in the wind, I began to feel my knee.  Okay, first I felt this…

… and then this…

…and then the bit on my arse which you don’t want to see, trust me.

For the next few days I suspected serious knee tendon damage. It looked like my Nedbank Sani2C aspirations were finished. All the months of training, the help from our sponsors, Oakley, Isostar and African Nature Company, would all come to nought.

But no.

Thanks to the outright wizadry of my physio/doctor Lawrence Van Lingen, what was just a badly bruised tendon was nursed back to health. I had my last treatment yesterday afternoon. Looked like I was good to go...

Then my Sabi2C race partner and teammate Matthew do Jongh slashed my tyre. It’s a long story. “Unpacking your bike… something something… bubble wrap something something… Stanley knife… something… cut the sidewall ‘by mistake’ something something”.

During Sani I’ll be spending two nights in a small tent with Matt. It’s going to be  long race. And it starts on Thursday. I'll keep you posted. Hopefully.