Bicycling (South Africa)



South Africa is the cross-country marathon epicentre of the world – our stage races attract riders from all over.

But those races are struggling. Numbers are down and prices are up, as organisers try to work out how they can offer a new experience to a rider who’s done everything from Sani2c to W2W, often two or three times each. And that was before the pandemic upended the industry…

“Stage races aren’t happening right now, but we still have a strong XC culture,” says Robbie Luis, managing director of Titan Racing. “We’ve seen it in the sales of our Cypher dual-suspension marathon bike – both the 100mm and 120mm versions sold out.

“But we’re also seeing lots of riders use those bikes for other kinds of riding, especially the 120mm version. South Africans are discoverin­g how cool it is to ride trails for fun, without seeing it as just ‘training’ for a particular event.”

Nick Barr from Omnico – importers of brands such as Cannondale and Fox suspension – concurs: “There’s definitely been more interest in longertrav­el suspension, even in the cross-country category. The Fox 34 is hitting the right spot for a lot of riders, especially the lightweigh­t Stepcast version for riders who are still interested in racing.”

We’re seeing this progressio­n in the design of hardtail mountain bikes, too. The so-called ‘UK hardtail’ – a do-anything 29er with long, slack geometry and 120mm-plus of front travel – used to be a seriously niche bike; but now, global manufactur­ers such as Silverback and Merida are turning them out in droves. The Silverback Slade Trail is a popular no-nonsense bike for South African trail riding, and it will soon be joined by the aggressive­ly designed Merida BIG.TRAIL, which has a 65.5° head-tube angle, a 140mm travel fork, and clearance for 29x2.5” tyres.

Speaking of tyres, the move from fast to fun is happening there too. Oli Munnik from Rush Sports, importers of Maxxis tyres, is excited about the new Rekon Race and Aspen models, both of which are now offered in a 29x2.4” width. Both are designed for speed, but the extra volume hints at a more playful edge, which is exactly what more riders are looking for when they’re messing around at Red Barn or Tokai.

“Clearance might be an issue for some frames, but high volume is definitely where it’s at,” says Munnik. “There’s a small weight penalty, but the greater volume gives you better traction and a cushier ride.”

And while we’re lucky to have more trails than ever before, many of them are multi-use, shared by dog-walkers, hikers and other mountain bikers of varying skill levels. “Everybody should have a bell,” says Jason Lind from Olympic Cycles. “No excuses. Put one on your bike.” – Jon Minster

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