So Many Mountains To Climb

As the Houw Hoek Tour draws closer, Molly Fitz-Patrick is discovering that there are far more challenges to overcome than simply riding on the mountain, never mind training.

Starting mountain biking is a challenge on its own. Starting it with the pressure of doing a stage race several months later is even more of a challenge. I’m not saying that it’s impossible but it’s harder than I initially thought. I seem to be thwarted at every turn. And I’m not even talking about the actual riding.

One of the first things I learnt about mountain biking, which I’ve already mentioned a couple of times in this column, is that it’s expensive. I’m mentioning it again because it is the biggest and most obvious obstacle. Of course when you take up a hobby you don’t have to buy the top of the range equipment, unless you can afford it. Unfortunately though, with mountain biking, it’s not that easy. You can’t really skimp on stuff; there are things that you simply have to have if you’re going to be doing the sport. You can get lower range bikes at a general sports store, but that’ll set you back at least a couple thousand. Then there’s all the gear, some of which is absolutely essential; helmet, bib shorts/cycling pants, cycling shoes (although I’ve been using my takkies), a multi tool etc. Even cheap helmets are a few hundred Rand, and you don’t really want a cheap one, you want it to be as comfortable and offer as much protection as possible.

A few weeks ago I went out to look for cycling pants. I way prefer over the knee pants as I feel like bib shorts strangle me and I feel much more protected and comfortable. While I was browsing I was simultaneously shocked and unsurprised at the price of the pants I was looking for; all sitting over R500 and mostly around the R800 mark. Luckily for me, with this column and the job that I have, I could reach out to brands to see if they would sponsor me some gear and allow me to review it. Not all brands are as forthcoming as others but I was very pleased when I got a response from Performance Brands. They agreed to send me the First Ascent Ladies Chase Cycle Tights, they’re available in above the knee/shorts version, a below the knee/¾ length version and a full length version. I went for the below the knee ones as I felt it offered the protection and comfort I wanted, but still allowed some air to skin contact – I thought the full length would be too hot riding in the weather we’ve been having lately. But I’d still very much like a pair of those too!

The Chase Tights have been great, I feel far more comfortable while riding and I’m not just referring to the padding that’s preventing my bum from being pummelled – I feel more comfortable in my skin. I know that one isn’t going to look their best when exercising and I’m fine with that. But at the very least it’s nice to feel comfortable, and the ¾ tights gave me that.

Cycling pants only make up a small fraction of the money you’re going to have to invest in this sport; a large chunk of that is going to have to go to the means of transporting your bikes. I say bikes because if you have a car you can almost always pull the back seats down and pop your front wheel off. However, you’re most likely going to need to transport more than one bike. Riding on your own isn’t really an option if you’re a woman – because of safety, but aside from that, you’re going to want company anyway. That means you’re going to need a bike carrier. I was told that I must cycle to the mountain. I’m afraid that is not an option for me, I am not confident enough to cycle on the roads and don’t think I ever will be, no matter how much I practice. This isn’t Amsterdam where the cyclist rules the roads, never mind that they have the infrastructure to support them there. Not only  that, I’m one of those people who are almost completely intolerant of cyclists on the road, especially those arrogant types that cycle slap bang in the middle of the road. Unfortunately our roads were built to accommodate cars and pedestrians, but mainly cars. So that option is out, well, it was actually never an option for me.

You would think acquiring a bike carrier would be a simple task; as it turns out, it’s been one of my biggest obstacles. Most bike carriers require a tow bar; again, you would assume getting a tow bar would be fairly easy – wrong again. Both my car and my mom’s (my cycling partner) have been deemed too old for a tow bar, they’ve stopped making the ones compatible with our car models. We’ve called all over and there’s been no luck. Apparently at some places they just weld a tow bar straight onto your car but we are yet to discover where that happens. Maybe you know?

So now the next option would be to find a non-tow bar bike carrier. Well we tried that too. We first tried to see if the bike carrier would fit on my mom’s car – nope, her spoiler gets in the way. My car? Oh wait, even if it did fit my car it wouldn’t be any help, my bike is too big for the carrier, the top tube is too thick for the rear window mounted bike racks…

Things that are seemingly small, important yes, but easy to accomplish nevertheless, can stop you dead in your tracks. When you think of mountain biking you think about just hopping on a bike and going; cycling to your heart’s content. I’ve learned that it’s not that simple. The main thing is to not let these things put you off. I don’t think that any of these issues would seem so big or exhausting if I had more time and money (although that would always be help). My advice to you would be not to add unnecessary pressure to an activity that should be fun. Take on a stage race when you’re good and ready, take it at your own pace. It could be after a couple months, it could be after a year or so. All I know is that when you think about taking on a challenge like a stage ride, whether competitive or non-competitive, it should fill you with anticipation and excitement and not dread. Unfortunately that’s how I’m starting to feel as the Houw Hoek Tour draws closer and closer. Initially, the thought of not being ready stressed me out, now I’ve realised that that’s completely fine, I may be ready and I may not. We’ll just have to see.

Molly’s Gear

Item Website Price
Full Sus Cycling Top by Enjoy www.enjoyfitness.co.za R575
First Ascent Chase ¾ Tights www.firstascent.co.za R799
Takkies N/A Already owned
Specialized Women’s Airnet Helmet www.specialized.com R1 999
Giant Nylon Pedal www.giant-bicycles.com R100

Read Molly’s review of the Specialized Women’s Airnet Helmet in the April issue of Full Sus.

Thanks to Performance Brands and First Ascent, who have made Molly’s cycling experience far better by making her feel comfortable on the bike, even when she’s struggling to get near a mountain.

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