Workers Day workout: Cape Peninsula

Today Cape Town was lucky to enjoy beautiful autum weather – mild 23  degrees, no wind and blue skies. Ideal to go for a bike ride and as Brett Roux and I are both training for some sort of endurance event (Sani 2 c in his case, Vatternrundan in my case) we grab the bull by the horn (or the bike by the bars) and left Mouille Point on the Atlantic Coast shortly after sunrise.

Chapmans Peak / Cape Town (by @BrettRoux)

Chapmans Peak

After making our way through the Cape Town CBD (fine on a public holiday) and through Woodstock (supposedly still up and coming, like it has been for the last 10 years…), Main Road takes us all the way South to Steenberg. A fairly uneventful first 30 kilometers, before we hit the highest climb of the day, Ou Kaapse Weg, a 4 km  -400 metre ascent with stunning views over the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. A fast 10 kilometres later we are at Cafe Roux (apparently not related to Brett’s family) in Noordhoek, enjoying cappuchino before the next big climb of the day:

Chapmans Peak is probably the most spectacular coastal road in Africa and must be my favourite climb in Cape Town, especially on a day like this with light cloud cover, the sun beaming through every now and then and the rocky shore hiding in the mist. We flew up this 300m ascent and rolled into Hout Bay, where my nemesis awaits: Suikerbossie is the most painful climb at the end of any Cape Argus Cycletour, but today no cramps were in sight. A fast ride along the Atlantic, via Kommetje and Camps Bay took us back to Seapoint in a bit less than 3 hours, including the coffee stop.

Local bike shop: service made me smile

The other day I packed my bike to fly to a race in Johannesburg, arrived the afternoon before the race – a Saturday. After checking into the hotel and unpacking my bike, I realized that my bike’s headset bearing had disintegrated, with balls falling all over the (very plush) hotel room carpet.

Panic – my starting time was somewhere around 06:45 AM, no time to sort anything out. Bike shops all closed. But there was the Cycling Expo, which is  the registration event where all local bike shops have stands to sell anything the last minute semi-pro might still need for the race. Equipped with iPhone pictures of the bearing in question (and in pieces) I ran across and showed it to some of the sales people, who all felt really sorry, but couldn’t do much.

Until I met a gentleman at one of the biggest shops, who told me immediately to get the bike there, they would take me to their workshop. Two hours later his mechanic was still calling around trying to locate the bearing which didn’t work out. All this on a Saturday afternoon, during his off time. Eventually they told me that there was nothing they could do to fix the bike, as the bearing is not available anywhere on the day and everythign they had didn’t fit. I was bleak, saw my participation in the race disappear and the wasted money for the flight and the hotel accommodation I should have rather used on a weekend away with my wife.

They must have sensed my disappointment despite the lack of tears – and suggested I take a brand new bike, with better components, off the show floor and ride the race on it. I was speechless – they didn’t accept any payment, and drove me back to the hotel, with my borrowed bike. Wished me good luck, arranged the meeting for the next day after the race (they had to open their shop again, on a Sunday, to take of my pedals and other items) – and still refused to take any money.

The race went well, but at that point I was so impressed with the friendliness of Johannesburg and the no-questions-asked service by this bike shop, that I must have smiled all the way on my race. Thanks again, Joburg!

PS: If you need a really friendly bike shop in Johannesburg, let us know – we might have found one!

Chain maintenance – how much is enough?

Punctureking doesn’t have an awful lot of time to spend on maintaining bicycles. In fact, since returning from our dusty Karoo farm MTB holiday (here) my bike sits in our garage with a broken suspension lock out cable, and a drivetrain that is so dirty it doesn’t even shift properly. Here is the problem – how much time should one spend on maintaining the chains and cassettes? I used to be meticulous and after every single ride degrease the chain, cassette, front dérailleur, rear dérailleur, then lube and so on. With all thise brushes that come with cleaning sets, this took forever and rarely looked great. Yes, to this day a clean and polished bike excites me, but so does coming home, dump the bike in the garage and spend the rest of the day with my family after having hot chocolate with my son, who has just woken up. I believe he is more excited about that too rather than watching dad fiddle with greasy bike cleaning tools for the rest of the morning.

Give up on bike maintenance? No, not an option, unless you want to spend a small fortune on new chains, cassettes etc much more frequently than needed. I have instead tried those “chain cleaning machines” which you fill with degreaser of your choice, hold and spin the chain through it. They work, sort of, but are a messy affair: spillage, what to do with the left over liquid etc. That wasn’t ideal, especially considering that they don’t manage to clean the chain spotlessly.

I have since changed my system a little. Each chain has got a quick link. I remove the chain, and drop it into a paraffin bath in some old Tupperware. While it’s soaking in there, I spray paraffin or degreaser on the cassette and hose clean. Dry chain, reinstall. Run through an old cloth to get excess paraffin off, et voila. Put a lid on the paraffin bucket and keep for next time. Ready to lube. And you need lots of it, as apparently paraffin removes all lubricant that is in the chain’s rollers. I am not sure how true that is and how standard degreaser doesn’t. I have never had any shorter-lasting chains or break downs because of chain issues caused by paraffin. And yes, I hardly clean the rest of my bike, just wipe down with the same old paraffin cloth, a few drops of oil in the important places (shifters, cables, etc) and off I am to make that hot chocolate…

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Mountain Biking in the Karoo: Slanghoek Retreat

Long weekends with the family and the in-laws can actually be fun: choose your destination so that everyone can do what they love or call their hobby. In our case grandpa wants to read a book and not see anyone else (my kid also calls him “grump pa”), my wife wants to relax and sit on the stoep and the kids want to catch frogs and feed Springbok. 45 minutes of gravel road from Touwsrivier is the wonderful farm called Slanghoek Karoo Mountain Retreat, in between mountain ranges, and far away from luxuries like cell phone reception or electricity.
Your water comes from boreholes (and landed me a colitis), solar panels power your lights and forget about calling the office. But both bedrooms are en-suite and gas geysers guarantee warm inside or outside showers. Best of all – there is a vast network of farm jeep track – and ideal for an hour a two of seriously fast gravel road riding, plus some porterage over rocky hills, some dry river bed crossings and some sandy sections.

I found it ideal for quick intense training rides without hours in the saddle – and all in springbok covered mountain landscapes. What was also great, that the road network is perfect to learn to ride – my wife enjoyed the easy yet breathtakingly beautiful riding and my little brother in law finally managed to ride a bicycle himself. If your are looking for a mountain retreat for the whole family, Slanghoek Retreat is a great option which is less than 3 hours out of Cape Town.

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