Winter Solstice Weekend Ride

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Living in Johannesburg certainly has its benefits, one of them is the short winters we have to endure. However, we still do like to complain during winter as to how cold it is. Almost like it surprises us every year. We are quite lucky in the fact that our winters are roughly three months long and normally during the day, it still hits temperatures that some countries count as a summer’s day.

This past weekend, it was the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night. To mark such an occasion, a weekend ride was in order. Obviously this time, setting off at the crack of dawn wasn’t going to happen but a more leisurely time of 9am. It does help going off so late when the “winter” gear is more for autumn but there was no stopping me.

As I am busy trying to train a little for a ride coming up in a month that has a few hills, I thought it best to do just that, hill repeats. The one downside of living in Joburg, we don’t have the biggest climbs around and most of them can be done within 15 minutes. Which means having to do repeats of the same hill to get in a good training ride. Joburg does sit at an elevation of 1,700m (5,750ft) above sea level so we are already quite high, yet it can only offer rolling hills as some people say.

On the particular ride I did this weekend, it was awesome to see so many other riders out doing the same thing as myself but it was also great to see runners, walkers, people taking their dogs for walks, everything. That made the session a lot easier to bare with everyone greeting each other, no matter how deep into their training session they were.

Stopping at the top after the last repeat and taking the view in made all the pain worthwhile. Sitting at the top looking over Jozi while eating an energy bar to get some strength to get me home made the day for me. Being a little too far removed to see the cars properly made it all a little surreal that this was Johannesburg, the hustle and bustle capital of South Africa. The ride home might have been a little slower than expected with the legs not listening to the Jens Voight in me telling them to “Shut up” but that didn’t matter. The ride was over, the goals were achieved, the pleasure was well worth the few hours of pain.

A few things I have taken away from this years winter solstice ride are; get a new jacket, never give up, no matter how old you are still keep pedalling and Johannesburg is world class – its people, the culture, the weather, everything. And that’s why it will always be home to me.

On top of Northcliff, Jhb
On top of Northcliff, Jhb

Guided Winter Ride

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This past weekend, I had the opportunity to ride with Otty and Roland. Otty is a man of many talents, one of them is running his own business at Northern Farm. He rents out bicycles to people wanting to get into the sport, to people that bring their friends along for a ride and everything in between.

During the week, Northern Farm, is an active farm. The land is owned by the government which has allowed farmers in the surrounding area to cultivate the land and make a living for themselves. However, during the weekend, the farm is opened up to the public to ride and enjoy the beauty of the farm, Johannesburg and the awesome single track.

What Otty does which I thought was super impressive, for those people not quite sure on the routes at the farm or wanting to get into the sport but don’t know how to ride a bicycle, he offers guided rides. I decided to take Otty up on this offer so I could chat to him about how the rentals are going at Northern Farm, what he was doing to get more people involved from the Diepsloot Mountain Bike Academy, how far the sport has taken him and where he wants to go with his business.

On the ride, we met up with a fellow DMA rider, Roland, who we welcomed to join us on the ride full of laughs. Roland unfortunately was on a single speed, which put him at a slight disadvantaged on the hills. However, I soon found out he is one of the strongest riders I know around and so wasn’t showing the disadvantage on any of the climbs.

The awesomeness of riding with guys who know the trails and ride it most weeks, they know all the best single tracks. And what awesome single tracks they have, riding through forest sections, open quarries, rock gardens plus jeep tracks for days. Basically anything and everything that you could want with more. What I realised on the route, this is a place where one could easily spend many many MANY hours training for an upcoming race and never get tired of it. The different sections all link up to the main jeep tracks, allowing you to tailor make a route which will best suit what kind of training you currently need to do.

During the ride, Otty went on to explain to me a little bit about the DMA and how that and Northern Farm has changed the lives of so many people growing up in poverty. Its unbelievable how one organisation has changed so many people’s lives in such a short time. What I took away from my ride with the two guys is quite a simple message, be so thankful for what you have.

That, and to keep going back to get some rad riding in.

Ride with Otty and Roland
Ride with Otty and Roland

International Cyclist in Johannesburg

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of riding with Leo, a visitor from Europe.

After a few emails going back and forth, he decided he wanted to take the option of me picking him up from Sandton and then going out to The Big Red Barn for a mountain bike ride together. When the morning finally arrived, I remember looking out of my window to see how warmly I would need to get dressed. Very warm, as it was one of the coldest days we had to experience this year.

When Leo walked out of the hotel, I thought I am either very overdressed or he was completely underdressed. During the car ride to Red Barn, he told me how his last ride, two weeks before coming to SA, the weather was a fantastic 5 degrees. Looking down at my temperature gauge, I felt I was the overdressed one when it showed 13 degrees.

He continued to say how happy he was to be able to ride in Johannesburg and get to see the trails we have on offer with a rental bike as it didn’t make sense for him to bring his bike all the way for a few rides. After arriving on site, he was able to give his bike for the day a good once over and was very impressed with what he saw. His pedals were on in no time and soon after that we were on the trails loving life.

We ended up stopping halfway through for any cyclists’ motion lotion, a cup of good coffee. We headed back onto the trail to redo some of the parts he thoroughly enjoyed for some more smiles and laughter.

Unfortunately, the day did have to end but on the drive home, he was smiling ear to ear, commentating on how great the trails were and how much fun he had on the bike.

I guess being South Africans we can sometimes take for granted how good we do have it, the weather, the friendly people, and the fantastic cycling trails.