Okay, some of them are far from secret, but they’re all weapons I recommend for any mountain biker. I was fortunate to have access to some incredible kit and expertise during the #CountryCyclist campaign. Here are some of my favourites.
This is the most useful bit of nutrition I’ve encountered in my 20-plus years of endurance sport. It tastes good – and not just for the first week, I’m still not tired of it – and fills you up for hours. I’m still a total novice when it comes to the science of sports nutrition, but it seems experts agree it covers all your bases.
Perhaps the strongest endorsement came from trail runner Ryno Griesel – who emphasises that he is not sponsored by the brand in any way. “I’ll often have three or four bowls of FutureLife a day,” he said when I interviewed him in March. “It’s so simple and gives you all the nutrition you need. When we’re out running, it’s our staple diet. You carry packets of it and mix it into a shake when you get to a water point. Then you can bite off a corner of the packet and drink it down.”
I found the chocolate flavour the perfect breakfast as well as mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. The bars were also excellent fuel to tuck into the shirt pockets when out on long rides.
2. Amie Collins
I promised I’d get the physio element right. But failed. It really should not be a repair tool. These days certainly, physiotheraphy is a performance enhancer and injury prevention tool long before it’s a simple remedy for pain. In other words, if your alignment and form are correct, and your core and other muscles properly conditioned, you’re going to be faster and stronger, and far less likely to get injured.
I only got round to seeing Amie, a specialist sports physio at Barrow Physiotherapy in the Netcare Waterfall Hospital, about a month before joBerg2c. That wasn’t quite enough time to achieve our goals, but I have continued with her program. And I’m a convert. I’ve been flabbergasted by the impact of stretching and strengthening muscles you’d otherwise have no idea how to find, let alone exercise.
More on Amie’s contribution in a later post.
3. Guided by Garmin
Organisers innovated this year with GPS navigation. Not only is this greener than marking the entire route, it turned out to be hugely convenient. Maps for all 9 days were ready for download prior to the race. Then was as simple as firing up the Garmin each morning, pressing start and following the arrow. Famer Gary assisted with his environmentally friendly orange spray paint wherever rain or construction had altered the route.
Admittedly, I got lost once. But that came down to the rare coincidence of my lack of focus and a route marshal’s comfort break. The system works brilliantly and looks to be a no brainer for the future.
4. Evil Eyes
I had struggled with various optometry arrangements during training. Contact lenses with aviators worked well (and looked imposing), but you don’t want to fuss with sticking fingers in eyes when out camping on joBerg2c. Reading glasses are a mediocre option. Eventually I settled on a set of adidas Evil Eyes sunnies. They come with a nifty insert for your prescription. Take this to your optometrist and they’ll sort it out in no time. Strongly recommended. [For more info: www.moscon.co.za]
It’s hard to know if you’ve done enough training. FitTrack does a very good job of fixing that. You start by meeting with a coach who specialises in your discipline. In my case it was Kim Rose-Gershow, a former national age-group champ. I explained my goals and she went off to determine a training programme. That gets loaded online. It’s then up to you to put in the miles, cataloguing every session with your Garmin and uploading it to the FitTrack site. As you go, the system graphs your progress against what your coach has determined to be the ideal.
The comfort of knowing you’re hitting targets and consistently getting better was brand new to me and hugely useful.
6. Cycle Lab
I’ve been raving about these guys, but they really are exceptional. Having chanced my arms and legs at just about every sport over the years, I’ve become accustomed to buying kit from minimally knowledgeable sales staff who hover disconcertingly until they can scribble their employee code on your goodies and disappear. That ruins what should be a ritual for the sporting soul.
Cycle Lab is genuinely different. Everyone knows their stuff, and if they don’t, Andrew McLean can usually be found at Pedals Café for a consult. They’ve got everything you might need, right from bike setup stations to a pump track to test your prospective wheels. I’m also yet to meet a salesman who doesn’t love cycling.
The point is, mountain biking kit is far too complex for most of us to understand, and the wrong advice will kill the fun.
I love that these guys make quality cycling kit in our very own Parys. They probably made a quarter of all the kit I spotted on the way to Scottburgh (although I’d argue the #CountryCyclist design was the handsomest!). Right from socks to windbreakers, bib shorts to ear warmers, everything was top notch. I might have been grinding away with the rest of the novices, but I felt like a pro.
Imagine the logistical nightmare: 800 weary mountain bikers, all camping outside a village in the farmlands, all needing a charge for a GPS, a phone and a camera. In fact, it was dead simple. Each of us was issued with one of these neat little devices. About the size of an iPhone, the Amped packs enough punch to charge three handheld devices on the move. Then you just plug it into a power source and charge it up for the next time. For riders that meant handing it over to the specially fitted truck that followed us for all nine days. Nothing could have been simpler.
9. The Scott Spark
This machine immediately reminded me of a poster of a Pitts Special trick plane that hung on my wall as a nipper. And I knew roughly as much about the mechanics of each. I could hardly believe the engineering involved. I’ve picked up lots since then, but the gearing, shock absorption and even the brakes continue to impress me.
Scotty (as my Spark 910 became known) was also bulletproof on the trails. I had not one problem with this beast for 900km. In fact, its only weakness was the bony, heavy breathing fellow perched on the saddle!