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Mugabe brings Bicycle Licenses back into Harare

So Crazy Uncle Bob Mugabe is going to introduce bicycle licenses into the city of Harare ( – September 2016). The Zimbabwean economy is in tatters and this is a great way to kick start things! Tax the poor even more and then deprive them of their only mode of affordable transport. Genius.  But the average Zimbo can’t even afford a loaf of bread (not that he’s clear what currency to use – is it the old Zim Dollar – the one that was designed for Doctor Evil when he ordered a coffee in Harare: “That’ll cost one hundred billion million dollars!“; is it the old United States Dollar – the old filthy and dirty ones that America couldn’t use anymore; or the new Zim Dollar (like a version 2.0) which is based on the US Dollar but printed like the Old Zim Dollar? Capiche?)… Anyway – so back to the desperate Zimbos who can’t afford (or simply don’t know which currency to budget with) a loaf of bread. And the vast majority certainly can’t maintain a car – so let’s tax the bicycle user!  But will the Zimbos be tolerant of such a move? Well, as a start, Uncle Bob says if you don’t pay up, you will have your bike confiscated and face a penalty of up to 12 months in the slammer. Thats nearly as bad as being a homosexual in Uganda. But let me tell you why this will work in Zim: Citizen Preparation.

Its no secret that Bob has sent hordes of policemen running around Harare with large sticks with the sole purpose of beating people. We all saw the clips on Facebook just a few months ago. “Look – there is Blessings polishing shoes. He must be beaten!” says a khaki-clad policemen in a grainy film clearly shot on an old Blackberry. And over they’d walk (at least 8 of them) and then poor Blessings would get a proper hide tanning for what appeared to be no reason. Jokes aside – it was brutal to watch and makes most of us living South of the Limpopo pretty glad we’re not living in a country under the leadership of some crazy leader with an ego problem that the rest of the word laughs at who is robbing the country blind! (Hang on. Oh wait….er…OK. That was awkward). But let me carry on: bicycle licenses will work in Zim because Uncle Bob has already started this campaign of “Street Terror”. And you would simply be too scared NOT to have a license. The streets and the citizens have been prepared for this. I know this works because I was a victim of this phenomenon and I’d like to share that with you:


Grahamstown: fond home to many scholars; drunk Rhodes students; and providing bottle stores for many Eastern Cape pineapple and beef farmers

In 1986, Grahamstown was a vibrant little town. I was 12 and I used to ride my bicycle about 7km across town to school and back each day. Unlike today, I felt safe on the roads and didn’t worry about wearing helmets and all that stuff. The roads were safe because back then we had this thing called Apartheid. And no – I’m not referring to the fact that minibus taxis weren’t allowed to drive through white areas or that “potential muggers” had to be in “their” part of town after a certain time. Not at all. I’m referring to the fact that everyone was scared of law enforcement in those days. When that canary yellow Police van pulled around the corner, you behaved boy. There was no messing around or horseplay. Hell, you didn’t even speak English to these guys. Because as kids we were all told about how a policeman could take you to the station and cane you. Oh yes – even ill-behaved white kids were targets for grumpy rum and coke cops.

Simply put – you obeyed the law because in those days the law didn’t ask permission. And you feared it. And we would see that when the police raced into the townships in their large yellow Samils alongside the SA Army Caspirs into the black clouds of burning rubber…Old South Africa wasn’t for sissies. Its no wonder there are still a lot of pissed off people out there. But it was also tough if you were 12 years old and you owned a bicycle. Because in those days we also needed bicycle licenses! And for those of you who are old enough, you will remember how we would unscrew a bolt off the front fork and reattach it with your coloured licence disc.


An example of classic bicycle license discs

But what good is a license without the fact that it needs to be monitored? Grahamstown had that issue firmly put to bed with the local meter maid: Penny. A diminutive figure who was part human; part dragon, Penny would patrol the Grahamstown pavement beat with the seriousness of an undertaker and the wrath of the grim reaper himself. I’m too afraid to even wander she did at night, but when the covenant let her out in the mornings, she had no problem telling a large pineapple farmer resting on the bonnet of his Isuzu KB250 bakkie that he had better put 10 cents into the meter or he was getting a fine. She had no fear, did Penny.  Remember how we as kids would love to twist that parking meter trigger all the way down and then watch as the needle jumped back up? Every kid loved the feel and sound of twisting a parking meter…. Her other purpose was to monitor any kind of traffic violation on the bustling streets of Grahamstown.


If you remember this, you also remember attaching an old playing card onto your frame with a wooden clothes peg so that the spokes flicked off it, making you sound like a motorbike. So cool….

So the one day I’m freewheeling on the pavement near Bryan Bands Sports shop by the court houses (transgression #1) and I almost bump into Ms Dracula herself. It must’ve been a full moon celebration with the rest of the black pointed hat and broom brigade the night before because she was certainly in no mood to be tangled with. Penny frowned at me with such venom that the paint nearly peeled from my Raleigh’s frame. I knew I was in trouble. She stashed her parking ticket booklet into the old leather postman satchel strung across her wiry frame and raised her witch-like finger in my direction. “Stop!” she yelled. I did. The blood was draining from my face. “You are not allowed to ride on the pavement.” I tried to look surprised and cute at the same time- but it was quickly evident that a twelve year olds’ charm was lost on the meter maid. “And”, she said as looked down at my front wheel, “it looks like your bicycle license has expired.” (Transgression #2). It was here that I had sudden thoughts of being taken down to the local Grahamstown police station where a beating of royal proportions would have been administered by a Konstabel Du Preez or Van Der Merwe….and thereafter it would have been a sentence in some kind of juvenile detention penitentiary or sent to Boys Town with other criminals like scholar smokers (yes – smoking was that frowned upon at schools back then); and kids who spray painted graffiti (also a big no-no back then). I tried to come up with some form of excuse that would spare me from a teenage rehabilitation. “I…ma’am…”, I remember stuttering. This is it, I thought. I’m joining Mandela and I’m going to prison for a long long time. Shit!

Penny let me off with a warning. But I made sure I got my bicycle license the next day and I sure as hell didn’t ride on the pavement after that! Strict law enforcement clearly worked! So back to the original topic: Uncle Bob is bringing bicycle licenses back in vogue with harsh penalties attached. Well, forget the critics who abolished bicycle licenses in Chicago and Switzerland. Just because developed economies and mature democracies have clearly shown that the entire concept of bicycling licensing is about as nonsensical and unfeasible as SABC TV licences (that’s a fact, by the way) is the exact reason why Uncle Bob would bring it back. “I’ll show those Western pigs that we can make these essentially African models work and create wealth!”, Uncle Bob would say to himself, standing in his golden robe in front of his mirror in the evenings.  And I suppose if Uncle Bob wants peace in his land (i.e. no-one DARE oppose me, or else!) then applying the New York Mayor Giuliani “Broken Windows” theory to stamp out minor crimes (i.e. no bicycle license) to eradicate the major crimes, then he’s onto a good thing. But we all know that’s not the real reason behind this. Hell no. Its because all of the former tobacco farmers have moved into Harare and have started their own “Farmers for Freedom” cycling team. Now that he has their land, he wants their bicycles too.

6 things you’ve already forgotten that you didn’t know when you started cycling

Recently I have been helping a few people get onto bikes for the first time. Its been a real case of going back to basics. This process reminded me of the many intricate details and bits of information that has become second nature to more experienced cyclists.

Here are the Top 6 things that are so obvious to you NOW as a cyclist that you probably forgot that at some point you too didn’t know them:

1. Underpants and Bibs: Thats right. How many experienced cyclists would even ask the question – but for a first time cyclist who’s busy holding up this tangled mankini with a colourful padded chamois the question is right there: “So – do I wear underpants with this?” (Also had to double check which way around and was it inside out or not!)


Its natural for the first-timer to want to slip on a pair of undies before the bib…

For the Newbie: No underwear with bibs. Ever. Or you’re on the road to severe chafing!

2. Wax Lube vs 3-in-1: For many people getting back on a bike after a 20 year absence (since riding to primary school on a 5 speed Raleigh or BMX), the concept of chain lubrication was quite simple: dose it in M40 oil (or the old 3-in-1 tin with the long plastic valve). The new wax-based products come in various forms (wet or dry lube) and can greatly increase the lifespan of your parts. You can often hear a newbie by the lack of lube in their chain and gears – its a big telltale sign.


It worked back in 1986 – why not now?

For the Newbie: No liquid oil. Ever. It gathers muck quicker than holding a moulting white cat against your black woolen tuxedo.

3. Gears: Yep – understanding how to shift gears using your brake levers on a road bike is a very foreign concept to the new cyclist. One minute you’re pulling the brakes; the next you’re pushing them in (shallow or deep) to change gears – and even then its a struggle to understand when and why to change gears!


For the newbie its a lot of clicking and meaningless jumping around of the chain. You’ll need to master this aspect to really get the full benefits of your bike design.

For the Newbie: Get a mate to show and help you.

4. Helmets: For some reason, a newbie loves the feel of a helmet positioned far back off the head. This “large forehead; loose straps” look might give a greater sense of security to the newbie – but its literally an accident waiting to happen!


Ja look – you need to do this part right to be safe.

For the Newbie: This is not the Vietnam war where its cool to have a sliding helmet. You shouldn’t be able to put more than a finger-width between your eyebrow and the front of the helmet. Also, you shouldn’t be able to put more than 2 fingers through the straps around your chin – otherwise the helmet simply gets knocked off your head if you fall. Pointless.

5. Tyre Pressure: Its not like pulling into the petrol station and asking Blessing to “go 2 bar all around”. And its not the old “thumb test” that you did at school i.e. pushing the tyre to feel how hard it is. Nope – tyre pressure is an important thing and many rookies need to be told and taught how to do this properly.


One of the first things you’ll need to buy…

For the Newbie: You need a foot pump with a gauge as one of your first accessory investments. And road tyres are around the 8 to 9 bar mark; with mountain bike tyres between 1.8 and 2.5 bar – dependent upon your weight and the terrain.

6. The Tour De France: To the newbie, this is a really cool race with lots of guys riding over amazing scenery for what seems like a very long time. Things like the various jersey classifications as well as the sprinters who win the stages (but never the overall race) are always quite puzzling to the newbie. And what the hell is “a domestic” doing cycling this thing. Oh – and if your mate is so good at cycling, why hasn’t he entered the Tour De France before?

tdf6Understanding the TdF is no easy feat. You will need a few seasoned cyclists to sit you down over a bottle of wine or two just to understand the overall race concept. But its better than golf….

For the newbie: It actually takes quite bit of explaining and research to get to love and fully understand the tactics, intricacies, and workings of this cycling event.

Is the Tour de France the Toughest Sporting event in the world?

If you’re curious as to the physical (and mental) exertion required to cycle in the Tour de France, then read on. This event must surely stack up as the world’s most gruelling endurance event. In fact, it’s no wonder the cyclists need to devise devious means by which to overcome the fatigue and stresses put onto their bodies. But what makes the TdF so tough?


For 103 years the Tour de France has pitted brave cyclists against each other over unforgiving European mountains.

The Distance: Let’s start with the actual distance covered (this is for the 2016 edition). At 3,542km, the TdF would be like cycling from Cape Town to Johannesburg. And then back to Cape Town! Now the daily distances need to be pretty far to make up this distance in the allotted time – so the average day is about 175km. The Cape Town Cycle Tour (or Argus) is 109km. Imagine doing an Argus every day for three weeks? And you’d still be way off the distance covered in the TdF.

The Climbing: In truth, the distance is one thing, but the real pain is actually the climbing (and the steep gradients) that the riders must overcome. The ABSA Cape Epic climbs around 16,000m in its 8 days of mountainbiking racing. Thats going over Mount Everest – twice. The TdF climbs close to 59,000m – that’s nearly 9 Mount Everest summits. On your way to Joburg and Back from Cape Town remember…. In local perspective, imagine cycling up to The Mast (above Constantiaberg) about 70 times over 3 weeks. Thats about 3 times a day…but whilst doing a daily ride of 175km. Starts to add up hey?


Just an example of one mountain stage on the Tour.

The Speeds: So now that you have a better appreciation for the distance and climbing, another factor to consider is how fast these guys actually go over this terrain. Every year at the Cape Town Cycle Tour, about 2% of the 35,000 field manage to ride the 109km route in under 3 hours. Thats quite an achievement as an amateur cyclist. To do that, you need to average around 37kmph. Thats pretty decent on a bicycle! Now the TdF riders can complete a mountain stage at that speed as the average. On a flat course they average around 47kmph…and in 1999, Mario Cippolini won a 195km stage at an average speed of 50.4kmph. In 2015, Rohan Denis clocked an average speed of 55.44kmph for the individual time trial…burning some serious rubber there! The sprinters at the end of a stage manage to generate nearly 1500 watts of power as they cross the 75kmph speed barrier. And downhill, speeds over 130kmph have been recorded.


The sprinters of the Tour are the Ferraris in the stable!

The Riders: Now if all of the above doesn’t make you pinch a rose bud into your bibs’ chamois, consider the genetic physiological traits you need to possess. The average South African male is not a small specimen. Whether it’s African or Afrikaans genes, we have some bulky boys bicycling nowadays and they would look quite out of place in a TdF peloton. The average weight of a TdF rider does vary, but consider the fact that Nairo Quintana is a meagre 59kgs – and still not the lightest rider on the Tour (most South Africans own a dog that is heavier than him). The Italian Domenico Pozzovivo from AG2R Mondiale stacks in at a featherweight 53kg. Winner Chris Froome weighs in at around 72kg – the same weight as the mischievous yet brilliant all rounder Peter Sagan (although their builds are completely different – with Froome being rather awkward and stringy and Sagan being more muscular and defined…as the ladies prefer, so I’m told).


The brilliant and mischievous Peter Sagan – the rock n roll star of cycling nowadays (keep your wives and girlfriends far away!)

So boys – if you’re looking to compete in the world’s most gruelling endurance event, best you first see if you can complete this local Cape Town Route 21 days in a row:

Leave town on the Cape Town Cycle Tour route and sprint to Tokai. Head up to the Mast twice….and then continue around Cape Point. Go to town again and head out towards the Mast again. Now sprint up the mast one last time. ANd hope that your average is around 36kmph. Simple hey? (And you wonder why they need something extra for the endurance). Or you could simply kick back on the couch and watch the Tour de France – the world’s Toughest Sporting event.

Froome goes for a run: Best Internet Reactions

Defending the Yellow Jersey on the Tour de France is possibly one of the most challenging and tactical sporting feats in the world of professional cycling. All eyes are on the wearer of the famed Maillot jaune as he and his team ride cleverly to either maintain or gain time on the would-be challengers in the peloton.
So when the Tour organisers had to move the finish line 6km off the summit of the most feared climb in the race (Mont Ventoux – named after the French word for “windy”) the fans congested around the newly formed finish line.
Mont Ventoux has been the scene of many an epic day on the Tour and with nearly 2000m of ascent over 22 gruelling kilometres, its no wonder that only the worlds best climbers look to this challenge to stamp their authority down on the race.


What we expected to see: A dominant Froome summiting the feared Mont Ventoux

In the 2016 Tour de France, the spectating cycling world was eager to watch Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana do battle on these hostile slopes. But with the 100km wind gusts and a shortened route up the feared slopes of Mont Ventoux, the race for the yellow jersey took a completely different twist.
The crowds on the road were once again lining the narrow climb up towards the finish line when one of the camera motorcycles needed to suddenly stop as the spectators had literally blocked the road in their viewing frenzy. Richie Porte slammed straight into the back of the bike and Chris Froome collided directly into him.

What followed can only be described as surreal: Froome’s bike had been damaged and he had clearly determined that it was unrideable. So without thinking too much about it, the Kenyan-born Froome took to the hills in his cleats and starting running up the mountain. Eventually he was given a bike by a certified tour mechanic (an appropriately yellow coloured bicycle) but his cleats did not fit into the pedals. Eventually his Team Sky mechanic (Gary Blem) was able to get him a Team issue bike and eventually Chris Froome was able to complete the last few hundred metres on something a bit more familiar…
The Tour organisers reviewed all of the evidence and – despite actually dropping to sixth and based on these “special circumstances” – Froome was reinstated as the wearer of the yellow jersey. The right call in my books.
Now as you can imagine, the fans out there were very quick to get photoshopping and bring on some pretty funny pictures of Froome crossing over to some running scenarios. Here are some select few that surfaced only a few hours later:


Froome shows his versatility and survival instinct as he evades the bull run in Pamplona

50 things

Strava – well, if it wasn’t captured there then it simply never happened!


Run Froome Run! (Lootenant Dan would’ve been very proud)


Kenyans run. Its what they are born to do. Froome is clearly no different!


Africans run from lions!


Kalk Bay harbour can dish up some big waves for a Joburg boytjie!


That’s it Chris – when you see Zombies: you RUN!

See what really happened here:

Some of the best excuses justifying your Cycle Tour time

So the World Amateur Funride Road Racing Champs (aka The Cape Town Cycle Tour) is done and dusted! For the rest of the year your finishing time will peg your riding capability in the eyes of the rest of the cycling community.

Perhaps you didn’t crack the milestone you were after or trained for – and you need to go back to your cycling group and give them a brief explanation about what really happened out there on the 109km course.

If you weren’t happy with your time, here are a list of plausible excuses I have heard over the years:

  • My batch was so lazy! I was really keen to get going but no-one wanted to work.
  • Mechanicals – bloody chain jumped off near UCT.
  • Some idiot half-wheeled me up Edinborough Drive and I nearly fell off – and I burnt my legs staying with the group after that.
  • I did all of the work into the wind – and then the group dashed off after Smitswinkel.
  • Cramps! From nowhere….and I never get cramps.
  • So I gave this poor guy all of my water at Misty Cliffs – and then I bonked on Suikerbossie.
  • My group was so lazy going into Camps Bay! No-one wanted to work…
  • And then all the pro chicks pulled in behind me – and I had to do all the work – I blew at the Sea Point pool and limped home…in a 3:01!
  • My bike is 8 years old dude!
  • I didn’t do any seeding races.
  • Listen – I only got on the bike that morning!
  • I was always going to take it easy – so I’m happy with my 6:34.
  • I rode with my friend from the UK so I just took it easy – I just waited at the top of all of the hills.
  • I only got an entry 3 days before the time!
  • I wasn’t trying for a sub 3 – and I’m more than happy with a 3:02! (Not)
SK Kit

The new Smooth Knobblies kit has attracted much attention and admiration at this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour


Ali doing her sponsor proud

Sub 3 knobs

The Sub 3 crowd

Twakkie start

Twakkie doing a groupie at the start


The results

On that note – special mention to the following Smooth Knobblies:

  • Alison Morton (for a change) who – at 15 and on her first solo ride of The Tour – is already knocking at the sub 3 club. Amazing ride young lady!
  • Twakkie – The little bugger has now tasted what its like to go over 30km/h again and the talk around the water cooler is that he’s on the market for a road bike. Do I sense a comeback year…on the ROAD BIKE?
  • Jello breaks into the sub 3 club for the first time – with CrackMan as his aider and abetter.
  • Shaun continues his record of “a sub 3 in every Argus he’s ridden in” (and Westville pipped Kearsney at the line again!)
  • Well done to Chanan for getting over his Patagonian Herpes to make the ride just in time (and in a respectable time too!).
  • Gav still has that monkey on his back…eish. (Come and ride with us in the mornings Gav…we’ll fix you for sub 3).
  • Charity Award to Moose for riding with Oom Flip – a very respectable ride when most people his age are in wheelchairs….(let me be clear: Oom Flips age – not Mooses)
  • Simon breaks below his desired 3:15 – but we all know what he’s really after…2017 Si?

The Smooth Knobblies Annual Cycling Challenge (aka The SKACC)

The Smooth Knobblies have run an annual cycling challenge over the last 3 years. Here is a brief overview of the results over that time period. This is what the top 5 looked like in 2013:

In 2013, no-one had broken the 10,000km mark (although there is a TV referee decision still pending that Warren Morton did, in fact, break that mark. But you gotta be in it to win it!)
In 2013 we had 20 competitors and the pool managed to pedal their way through 77,726km in that year. So each participant averaged 3,886km that year (which is 10.6km per day). Are we getting any better though? lets see:
In 2014 the Wolves were set free and the front end of the pack gnashed and snarled their way quite successfully through the 10,000km mark – not bad for a bunch of ageing, working, (Simon I didn’t say balding!), family men with a broad base of responsibilities!. Shaun took it to a new level with his 1000km per month average – something we weren’t able to match this year.
As for the group – well, with 25 contestants we pedaled along at 122,334 combined KM for the year – an average of 4893km per rider for the year – that’s 1000km more per rider and brought the average up to 13 km ridden per day.
So how did we fare in 2015? Well, lets see:
The big change for the contest was the rocketing of Dr Phall up to the top of the leader board. From relative obscurity, Phil obviously turned the mental corner and kept on pedaling until he had reached the top rung of the ladder….
All the other usual suspects are in the mix – and even though he suffered a fractured pelvis AND a skiing holiday in December, Rocky still managed to end 5th (and I only moved past him on the last ride of the year because some of the riding party that day took a 8km detour).
But what about the average of the group? We didn’t spike into the 12000km mark – but maybe the overall performance of the group improved:
Well – with 24 contestants, we managed to ride 133,570 combined km – which means a rider average of 5,565km per year…a ride average of 15,2km per day…every day…for the year! Thats a 50% increase since the first combined challenge in 2013.
2016 has started off steadily and the miles are already trickling in….at a rate of hopefully more than 15km per day!
In conclusion then, we can proudly say that we are a group of cyclists who are steadily improving their average riding distances per day. Keep it up!
So the expectation is set and the benchmark has been established – you should set a target to average between 16-18km of cycling per day – every day – for 2016. Now you know.
So get our there and cycle safely!
Remember to #smoothknobblies your ride pics on social media so we can keep a virtual repository of all the great things we see and great people we meet whilst out on the bike.

A reply to Tokai Mountain

Dear Tokai Mountain

Thank you so much for your letter – and you’re right: it has been far too long since we last saw each other. I’m so sorry I haven’t been to visit – but the so-called doctors and nursing staff have been very protective about gaining access to you since the fire. I mean, how are you feeling after that? We all watched in horror as the flames crept down your beautiful face…eish – so sad! I know you now said that you’re feeling fine and you want people to come and visit again – but we get different reports sent to us (if any!).
I share your frustration that the doctors are not telling you how you are progressing. They tell us nothing either and – without dismissing them as a bunch of palookas who appear (on the surface) to be quite lazy – we do think their diagnosis might be a little Over The Top!

I have some friends who are trying their best to get you out of hospital so that we can come and ride our bikes over you again – but the medical staff are having none of it! Even in the places that weren’t  burnt so badly are proving very difficult to gain access to. We’re all pretty sure that the Ou Wa-Pad and the Peaks should be fine to ride….
You must feel like a real leper the way you have been told that no-one can come and see you. You’re like the new Area 51 or wherever they keep the UFO’s in America…. What I found strange was that the bureaucrats in charge were almost condemning you before the fire had even smouldered to its last embers! How on earth did they arrive at the fact that you’d need to remain in hospital for two years when no-one had even checked how you were after the fire? And from what I can see, you’re actually looking really good. (I think Mother Nature looks after her own in a very good way!)

Whilst you were busy with your healing process, the bureaucrats also told us that the activity card prices were going up – again! And guess how much of that money is going to be spent on getting you back to your former glory? None. I’m told it all goes to Pretoria to pay some fat cat salary…its a disgrace, I know. I do think that you have a good case to take the matter further…ironically – despite the increase in fees we’re even prepared to pay extra and help bring in some private doctors and nurses to patch you up – but again we’re being told not now. I do find it odd and I share your concern that this is all taking a bit too long!

Its very frustrating to see you and not be able to come over and play like we used to…remember when we didn’t even need to pay to come over? Everyone got along just fine – runners; horseriders; cyclists…the more regulations and cost that was put on us as a “user group” the more issues we had! Suddenly it wasn’t safe anymore; we had areas restricted to us…and here we thought we were paying so that you’d be a better recreational facility for all of us!

Don’t worry Tokai…we’re going to get our very own hashtag (#Permitsmustfall, #OpenTokai) and get people to start asking questions….

Not long now Tokai, not long now.


(former) Tokai Mountainbiker

Transbaviaans 2015

Let’s start by admitting that the Transbaviaans (TB) is always going to be a big day
out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional mountain biker or a weekend
plodder with great dreams: the route is still 230km of challenging terrain. So
to come unprepared for this event is seriously not a good idea. And as with any
big cycling event, be prepared to have more than just one plan B. Make sure you
have plan C and D on close standby.
The Karoo has its own charm and treasures littered about the landscape.
This contingency planning should start very early – like when you’re deciding who
the actual team is going to be for the TB. Apart from the usual selection
criteria (teamwork and compatibility; fitness level; experience; and riding
speed & strength) one should also consider having a reserve. Just that
reliable super-sub that can be called upon at the last minute should a regular
team member be unable to make it – work commitments; family crisis; or – as was
the case with us – illness 2 days before the event. Rocky, my 3-time Epic
partner, was given his cancellation papers by means of a doctors script that
read “upper respiratory tract infection”. Apparently that’s not such a good
thing to have 2 days before tackling one of the toughest single stage MTB events
on the planet. Who knew? So it was to our trusty reserve we turned –  the
Epic John “Kwagga” Gale. With every single Epic underthe belt (yes – he’s done
all 12) we knew we had an experienced and hardened replacement (although Rocky
had 5 Epic notches on his bedpost – so it was like for like really!)
The sticker on your bike that guides your efforts….
And off we went. Make no mistake – the road trip is part of the event. I’m not sure
how many Willowmore locals ride the TB, but my guess is that the vast majority
of participants come from all over the country. And with the Willowmore
International Airport being…well…non-existent, you’re going to be driving
there. And that is where the event starts. Shaun, Kwagga, and I hit the road
from Cape Town and by the time we had arrived in Willowmore a good 7 hours later
we had bonded well….Shaun and I were well versed in Kwagga’s music taste of
Weird Alyankavic and Johnny Cash (an odd pairing admittedly) and Shaun had told
us of his various stories of having to mark Jonah Lomu on the wing in rugby
matches (Shaun played nearly 100 games for the Sharks in the 1990’s and then
another 100 or so for Munster in Ireland – I was surrounded by hardcore
But to the start we go! 2015 Weekend 1 had great weather. If the weather goes
wrong, you’re going to have a tough day (and night..and morning). SO the warm
Berg wind was a welcome change to the last time I tackled this 5 years ago. In
2011 it was minus 2; the Baviaanskloof was flooded; and we were redirected on
the LangsBaviaanskloof ride. And that was a long day…and night…
The start is festive and low-key. The Willowmore main street is probably busier
than it ever is at any other time of the year and the locals all participate to
give this great event a solid North-Eastern Cape flavour. Ja boet….
Start line freshness…
The race itself is made up of two distinct parts – the first fast and furious half.
With the aid of a gentle tailwind (characteristic for this time of year – but
not to be completely relied upon) we crossed the 100km mark in a time of 3:15.
That’s not a bad Cape Town Cycle Tour pace. But then as you head into the
afternoon the shadows start drawing out as the cliffs and ravines loom on
either side. And so the route begins to crumple and spike on the profile map
and your impressive average speed that you’ve managed to post in the first half
stops to slide backwards as your front wheel rises up the rough gradients
thrown before you. 

You’ll be met with climbs with such names as “The Fangs” –
well named because apart from their double-spiked sharpness, they can also hook
into any weakening calves and spring an uncomfortable cramp on you… And then
what must have caused some heartbreak in past years is the M.A.C…the Mother of
All Climbs. 

Look down theeere  at the bottom – you’ll be coming up from there…and this photo was taken some way from the summit.
No matter how capable you are – this climb will take a chunk out of
you. If you’re untrained, unfit, or overweight, I’m afraid that it’s here you
will be making some severe life-changing decisions. Through your tears, of
course. So best to remain chipper up this climb of you might find yourself in a
dark place (and if you’re the weakest member of a team – be sure to tell your
team if you’re dropping off otherwise you will burn whatever reserves you have
trying to keep up). BUT (yes – there’s always light at the end of the tunnel!)
the soup and bread at the top of the climb (Bergplaas – 140km in) is just reward
for your efforts as you dry your eyes and prepare for the night stretch.
You want to hope that you climb this baby when its still daylight…
From here you can look forward to speeding up again (well, that is a relative
statement I guess). If you’ve trained properly and have your endurance legs on,
you can start pushing that average speed up again as you head out of the
Baviaanskloof and towards the home stretch. We managed to hook into some good
teams and the peloton- style riding made our progress fast and efficient. We
were still fortunate in that it was still light and the lights we had strapped
on atop Bergplaas remained cold and off until we hit the Never-Ender: an aptly
named climb with enough of a gradient to slow any overly ambitious climbing
speeds. But this was more my territory (I’m a 90kg plus rider, so gentle
gradients; rollers; and flats work for me…and I just freewheel past people on
the downhills!). It was here that we made good progress and I found myself with
a toasted jaffle in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other at the final
checkpoint before I was even fully aware that we were over the climb! I guess
after so many hours of riding certain sections tend to blur and evaporate in a
state of cycling hypnosis (that’s hypnosis – not happiness
because all of this was hard work by now!)
Gravel grinding – a big part of the day!
The last 10km follow a tricky path along the railway line en route to Jeffreys Bay.
That was tough going for me. I felt like I was really pushing the effort but
that the progress made was slow…perhaps 10 hours of spinning the legs does
Find a strong group and then stick with them!


We were eventually spat off the line at the main mall of Jeffreys Bay where we
crossed the line in a time of 10 hours 33 minutes – good enough for 45th spot
overall. Of course we were more than happy with that! A fine effort from the
Enervit Endurance Team. We dedicated this ride to my friend from years ago,
Ronald Louw, who is fighting the battle against testicular cancer. We met some
of his supporters on the route and it was great to chat to them. And thanks to
the event organisers who made special mention of our dedication to Ronald as we
crossed the finish line (still not sure who 
arranged that!). Our 10 hour battle
is over – but he still has a long journey ahead and we all pray and wish him
and his family well as they fight this. Our thoughts are with you and were very
much with you when we #RideForRon. 
The Enervit Endurance Team – done and dusted!

Cycling the Maratona Dles Dolomites – Italy

So when I used to race in Italy….

I’ve always wanted to say that. And technically speaking, now I can!
Two months ago I entered a competition via the Bicycling SA Facebook page.
Was I aware of what I was entering? No.
Did I have any idea what the Maratona Dles Dolomites even was? No.
Did I have a clue about the natural beauty of the northern part of Italy. No….
Did I expect to win the competition? Like the lottery – not really (but the hope it gives is a wonderful feeling!)
Am I glad I won? Ummmm – read on and I’ll let you decide.

Enervit, one of Europe’s leading sports nutrition companies, is expanding into South Africa under the guidance of Tess Mcloughlin. Together with Bicycling SA, they ran a competition to take “a lucky reader” to one of Italy’s most prestigious events, the Maratona Dles Dolomites. As the primary sponsor of this Gran Fondo race, Enervit opted to take me (the lucky winner) and a representative from Bicycling magazine – none other than the well known and magnetic Oli Munnik. I had met Oli a few times prior to this occasion, so when we met up at Cape Town international we weren’t complete strangers. Which does help – especially if we were to hang out for 5 days together!

Although I have traveled to various countries – primarily on business – I can now say that Italy is a special place. Its usually HOT in the summer – and we were caught up in a heatwave that was sweeping Europe, so the temperature was maxing out at 35-40 degrees (the mercury topped off at 41 degrees in Milan on our last day!). The antiquity and natural beauty of Italy are enough for any tourist to go all wobbly-kneed over…but for someone who loves cycling…well, therein lies the true beauty of the country. It is steeped in cycling history and the country and its people are knowledgeable about all things road cycling. Bianchi; Pinarello; Cappuccino; Nibali; Fabiano; Gucci; Fettucine alfredo; Coppi; Linguine; Bartali….the list goes on (make sure you read the list again – but this time pinch your thumb and forefinger; raise your wrist and repeat the list in your best Italian accent whilst you shake the hand…go on – it gets you into the whole Italian vibe! Also, I threw in the food and coffee names for some familiarity…)

The Maratona Dles Dolomites is a grueling event. This is not a fun ride through some idyllic Italian countryside. Save those images for when you have a steel bike and you’re pedaling under a Tuscan sky with a baguette and bottle of red wine in the front basket. This is not that movie. Rather turn away from the flowing fields and vineyards and cast your eyes northwards to the mountains. Big mountains. Start imagining images of snow-capped peaks; endless switchbacks; treacherous descents; and most importantly – the torturous climbs that summit on rocky outposts. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

The mountain ranges of the Dolomites are primarily known for skiing – but the breathtaking scenery and steep roads are too inviting for cyclists to ignore.

The Maratona as a race is not for sissies. The profile itself demands respect as its 138km distance is thrown into a jagged crocodile-smile profile with the 4300m ascent thrown in. That’s the real challenge. Due to the nature of the beast, there’s no such thing as peloton riding on this event  – you’re either climbing or descending – nothing in between. So to think that its “like the Argus (Cycle Tour) with some hills” would do this race a great injustice. From the loud cannon that sets you off, you’re climbing. For ages. And then you’re screaming down the other side of the slope – with white knuckles on the brakes as you approach one of the hundreds of switchbacks you swoop into. Six category 1 climbs mark the landscape of the battle.

Trek bikes once again looked after me. They offer a concept called Trek Travel (see here for detail: which in principle allows you to choose a global destination and Trek will have bikes waiting for you. No hassle of flying with bikes! Utterly brilliant! In this case, the lads from Dark Horse Trading (read Trek Bikes SA) organised me with a PROPER machine on the Italian side: a Trek Damone 58 with Shimano D.I.2 electronic shifting and disc brakes! As a larger rider, I could not have asked for a more appropriate weapon in the artillery. Light, responsive, smooth – it ticked all the boxes – and how about that matt-black finish? It was my first interaction with the electronic gear shifting capability on the Shimano D.I.2 system and I can only comment on how smooth and almost intuitive it is. Its literally a tap-and-click mechanism that is very user friendly. So its official – I want it. The whole bike! (When the bike and I parted ways in Milan, I was almost tearful. We had shared so much together…the hard times; the crazy climbs; the ridiculous speeds; the angled turns…I think a small part of me may well be imbedded in that particular bike 🙂 )

The Trek Damone Disc with Shimano D.I.2 Dura Ace components. Cycling brute force meets cycling poetry.

So the riding in the Dolomites was absurd. Its like The Sound of Music meets Transformers in a National Geographic magazine (I’m aware its hard to imagine that – but that’s the challenge of describing picturesque classic awesomeness). We know that the scenery is postcard pretty. I’ve established that the terrain is steep – both up and down. And now for the race:

The Maratona Dles Dolomites is an Italian Gran Fondo race with Enervit being one of the main sponsors. With 3 race courses to choose from (short; medium; long) the 9000 entries are very hard to come by. Hens teeth would be an apt description. Over 62 countries were represented this year – but I can confidently say that there were less than 5 South Africans in the mix of 9000.

Its either up or down over the course of the Maratona Dles Dolomites

Oli had decided that he was going to give the race a bash and pit himself against the best Italian amateurs in the country (as well as Dutch; German; Swiss; Spanish; French; and English riders too – no easy task). Oli will tell you how the climbing was endless and that a minimum of a compact crank was needed just to get up the climbs – never mind compete!

Some of these pics will tell the story:

The start is a 9000 mass participant start – that is surprisingly calm and organised – no “hold your line” yelling and all that angst.


The summit of the Giau (pronounced “Shi – yow”) – a 10km ascent at just under 10% average. Its a long, dark hour in the mind….the Enervit tent at the top beckons like a small piece of heaven, offering a chance to reload on supplies and briefly rest your battered legs…before the next climb, that is.


Tess and I tackle the climbs on our Treks


Assume the position – just keep on climbing…


Oli “Pinner” Munnik put his racing legs to the test on the Maratona. Even the experienced and highly competent Bicycling Gear writer was humbled by the sheer profile of the event.


Much of the scenery on the big climbs was lost on me as the stinging sweat just seeped into my eyes!

The last two climbs were morale-sapping brutes. The Gaiu managed to put a pin-hole into my climbing confidence balloon and the altitude and gradient slowly seeped the strength from my legs. I think at about the 38 minute mark of climbing I was comfortably inside my dark place, trying not to look up. Every time I did, it was just another steep climb littered with cyclists way above me with no end in sight. The 10 km of climbing took forever…

Some of the stats of the Giau pass
The summit of the Giau Pass – 2236m. This was also the KOM climb for the front runners.

In a kind of Epic-design mode, the organisers threw in a nasty surprise 5km from the finish – the “Wall of The Cat” (or “walladacat” as the locals pronounce it). This little bastard is just like the Boyes Drive climb from the Kalk Bay side. Now imagine it being straight up, packed with frenzied locals in costumes; and at that gradient (19%)…after 133km of pain in your legs?
Did we ride it? Did we…? We made a pact (Oli, Tess and I) that we would MURDER the bloody CAT when we got there. And we did. No Foot Down was adhered to by the Enervit South African Riders – even though it was painful and tempting to do so. Cat murdered? Tick!

The official statistics of the Wall of the Cat (so named because you need your claws to scramble up the hill!)
Team Enervit SA – Rens, Tess, Oli, and our Italian host Vittorio on the first training ride down the Compolongo pass

Oli rode a highly respectable 5hrs40 – placing him in the top 140 riders. Tess and I rode together and spilled over the line just over 7 hours – with Tess placed as the 31st women overall – and plenty of ladies took part! We were well impressed with our efforts and came in 1,2,3 in the entire Enervit Maratona Team….
It certainly ranks as the toughest road race I have ever competed in. With 5 One Tonners and 6 DC’s under the belt on the road riding side, I think I have a good comparative reference on the road riding races on offer here in South Africa (the last DC being a 6-hour ride with Team Fat Bob). Even with 3 Epics done, this would be a long day for ANY rider…the mental and physical requirements were exceptionally demanding

Before the Race:
Enervit were the perfect hosts/ As a successful company that sponsored the event, Oli and I were invited into full and busy itinerary. We were exposed to some revolutionary new products that will be released large-scale into the market shortly and wined and dined like movie stars. I cannot express enough thanks to Tess and Vittorio from Enervit SA and Italy respectively for the experience. I’m still getting my head around it.
Oli was the most relaxed roommate – although the chap certainly did enjoy getting prone on his hotel bed whenever he could (which, in fairness, was not often.) Looks like a gentle case of love-sickness can do that….but enough about Oli.

My first time riding in the Dolomites – Salute!!!
Oli decided to take us off piste (off the beaten track) and we rode some of the local MTB trails…on our ride bikes. Note to Chad from Trek – none of the bikes photographed here were hurt or injured during this photo shoot! Here Tess gets to the top of a long gravel climb through the valley.
The Italian landscape is truly magnificent


One of the mountain passes we drove through to get to Corvara


Gabriele Mugnaini – a former cycling professional and veteran Soigneur – with 42 Giro d’Italias and 23 Tour de Frances under his hands… I was very privileged to have those mits massage me before the race. He has worked with the likes of cycling greats Chippolini and Ulrich
The entire Enervit racing crew – from Italy, Spain, Columbia. and South Africa (only 6 of us were crazy enough to enter the long version of the race!)
In an almost surreal environment, the hotel pool room (empty) housed our bikes
The Treks took to the mountains like Italians to pasta…..
One evening Enervit took us out for dinner…to a James Bond-like setting…at the top of one magnificent mountain…by cable car (who needs uber taxis?)
Enervit SA’s Tess Mcloughlin and Enervit Italy’s Vittorio Mazzola (aka Steam Cat!) – the best hosts we could’ve wished for.


Meeting with Enervit ambassador and former Italian cycling champion Davide Cassani – a former Tour de France rider and winner of 2 Giro D’Italia stages…. we’re close now. Tight. Big Chinas!!
Some more off-road work as navigated by Oli Munnik (“Ja we can ride here….its not that far to the top….look out for the cow shit! Oops…”)
Going real-retro with some original cycling jerseys from the 1950’s – 1970’s…As expected, not many fitted me. Looks like pro cyclists have always been a small breed!


This pic will end up in a magazine – because its awesome. Simple really….

This event was truly amazing. Thank you once again to Enervit for the opportunity to ride in such a prestigious (and tough!) event. Thanks to Tess from Enervit SA and Vittorio from Enervit Italy for being such generous hosts. It was great to get to know Oli “Pinner” Munnik even better – a great cyclist and genuine guy all around.

To Chad and the team at Trek for arranging a training bike here in SA and then upgrading it on the Italian side – I could not have asked for a more superb creation to ride this event on. The Classique shoes and Bontrager helmet were a perfect match for the matt black bike…and in Italy, style is EVERYTHING!! I think us South Africans have a bit of a way to go in that department…

I sign off now as a slightly more experienced rider but definitely a more humbled and honoured person to have been invited to this race.

But that’s what its like racing in Italy….