Feature Feb / March 2020: Have we all gone mad?

Words by: Shayne Dowling | Images: Supplied

Have we lost the plot? When did our favourite pastime become one big race? Shayne Dowling wants coffee at all water tables, re-evaluates what his riding is all about and looks forward to embracing a go-slow!

ARRABELLA, ROBERTSON 25 March 2014 – Barti Bucher after stage 2 of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Arabella Wines in Robertson, South Africa on the 25 March 2014
Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

When did we go from “it’s so cool to be in the middle of nowhere or out in nature either on our own or with good mates” to “did you check his Strava time? Ja, blitzed the _ _ _ _ (place your last stage race here), 3 hours china, klapped those okes!” Really? We are so lucky to have access to the most amazing places to ride our bikes, we are exceptionally spoilt to have the largest (marathon) stage race calendar in the world and we go to all these insanely beautiful places and we “blitz” through them! WTF?

I completely get the sharp end of the field and to a lesser extent batch B, but after that – folks we are riding not racing. Yes, I also get the folks who challenge themselves and want to beat their previous times etc. BUT let me paint you what I am sure is an all too familiar picture:

We have the most well-organized stage race events available to amateurs on the planet. The organisers continually try and outdo themselves, they compete with each other to offer the best routes, a smorgasbord of treats at every watering hole and the most luxurious and well catered race village possible. We as competitors (I prefer to call most of us riders) have to save our hard earned cash to enter these “not so cheap” events, train for months, ensure our bikes are the best we can afford and maintain them, juggle work and family to keep all happy – even if it means getting up before the birds, sneaking around the house like a ninja, riding in the dark even in summer and pretending for the rest of the day we are 100s when all we want to do is go and sleep.

Oh and then we try every possible diet (riding is a weight game you know), eating plan, shake, smoothie, supplement, juice and “secret” concoction – – to eke out that extra minute or to make those damn climbs seem easier. And then there are the massages, coaches, nutritionists, dieticians, surgeons (yes you will fall, pull or break something), physiotherapists, biokineticists and your next best friend, anti-inflammatories! Oh and of course your bike accessories: bombs, tubeless tyres, sealant, plugs, lights, bells, helmets, shoes and anything carbon! Oh and you have to look cool! Lekker kit, preferably custom designed with you and your
missus’ name on it, best chamois (and lube!), bibs, socks that breath, wet weather gear and then we
haven’t even started with electronics: GPS, power meters, heart rate monitors, watches and now bicycles with batteries. Phew!

Oh and my point? We go through all of this so that we can go to the best places in the country, to the most remote, the most beautiful, well manicured, maintained and unbelievably created tracks to go as fast as possible, see nothing, never chat, kak on or get kakked on by your partner, arrive back at the race village completely shattered and sleep in a two-man tent for most of the day! HAVE WE GONE MAD?

A really good cyclist mate of mine, whom is really fit and to who exercise is an integral part of his life and so as a matter of course rides much faster than I will ever do, admittedly has a decent bike and good gear but doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or even a bike computer, has a simple philosophy: “I start at the start and stop when I get to the finish.” Always enjoying himself, always with a smile and always looking up!

I would like to suggest that perhaps the races put up coffee machines at the water tables. Don’t be silly I hear you race snakes saying – nope I am serious. Grab a coffee in the magnificent bushveld, along a
serene river bank or in the desolate Karoo (ok we may need iced coffee) smell the aroma and if that’s what
it takes to make you appreciate your surroundings, bring on the Joe!

My concern (point) is that we quickly forget why we started this magnificent sport to start with – the fun, the jol, the amazing sights, the soul therapy, the mates and of course – the coffee! Yes we all have to train, we have to do the long rides and we have to watch our waist – it all makes the rides more fun. BUT don’t forget to have fun, dammit. You will quickly appreciate things when you can’t ride – another mate recently broke his foot and went into an immediate grey funk but once he realized that his mates weren’t going to drop him, that he would recover and that we would continue to harass him with pics of all our rides, he quickly cheered up and is now chomping at the bit to get back onto the bike.

Event organisers must also consider that potentially their most important section of the race is in fact not the sharp end. How many times have I heard that there is not a thing left at the waterholes for the last groups of riders, or that they are packing up – that’s frankly a crock! Most of the fast folk don’t stop at the tables and carry their own nutrition so what’s the rush? I really think that this should be the year of making every event you enter an LSD! What I hear you ask again. An LSD or Long Slow Distance is an integral part of most training routines and is touted as being the best ride for losing weight as well as getting endurance fit (stamina) – if ever you needed an excuse to do your next event slowly, there you have it. Chill out, all of you! Take it easy, take selfies, pics, make a tic-toc for your kids, kick back at the viewpoints and celebrate your SPB (Slowest Personal Best)! In fact first team home buys the drinks!

While of course there is an element of facetiousness in my suggestions, what I am completely serious about is that we all make a concerted effort to enjoy our riding, that we can get fit and enjoy a race without being completely blown when we reach the beer reward! That training is fun, that weekend rides are social affairs and not just a head down chase around the most arduous loop you can find. That you get to enjoy the coffee stop! Have that toasted banana bread dammit and chat about how close you came to bailing, how awesome the trails are and how magnificent that new bike looks! There are times of course that you just need to shut up – forget about everything else and get some soul therapy – that mix of nature and endorphins – that, as my wife says “ makes you a better person!” We all have different goals for riding BUT don’t forget to smile, smell the coffee (Def: you are telling someone to be more realistic and more aware of what is happening around them – Collins Dictionary) but of course, stop and smell the roses! Def: (idiomatic) To relax; to take time out of one’s busy schedule to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life – Cambridge Dictionary).


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