Natty Newbie episode 14: 13 mountain-biking lessons from the Ride Crater Cruise

Our intrepid newbie mountain biker, Natty, tackled her first event, the Ride Crater Cruise in Parys. This is what she learned.

1. The altitude wasn’t as debilitating as I thought it would be coming from the Cape Swartland, 88 metres above sea level. On every trip to Joburg (1 750 metres), I feel like I’m suffocating. So I thought Parys at 1 380 metres would be hectic too. This was one of the reasons (apart from lacking skill, strength and fitness) I didn’t enter the 56-kilometre race and opted for the 23-kilometre one instead. But it wasn’t too bad. I had one moment where I thought my lungs would collapse from lack of oxygen but a Gu helped me bounce back.

2. Start in your allocated group. It’s okay to bump yourself down, say from A to B, but frowned upon if you try to bump yourself up. In the main events, the racing snakes and pros start in group A and order is allocated according to seeding.

3. Stretching to warm up is a good idea, but don’t expect that your 15-minute yoga routine will be immediately followed by the ride down the chute as the start whistle blows. There can be lots of standing around for those of us (in groups B to Z) who don’t walk on water. Keep your muscles warm by doing a few stretches. It’s amazing how few cyclists do this. You may look like a bit of a tosser but if your body is even slightly ageing and decrepit like mine, it will reward you for the care. Cool off for 15 minutes afterwards, doing gentle stretches and you’ll feel much better. Buy the Yoga for Cyclists DVD from CycleLab for pre and post-race routines. It’s brilliant!

4. Arrows mean something more than just direction markers. This my fiancé Johan and I discovered only at dinner the evening after the race, much to the amusement of race organisers and the owners of Anatomic and Ride magazine, Hannes and Vera Koekemoer. They were horrified when I interpreted two arrows as “Go twice as fast” and three arrows to mean, “Ride three times faster!” And they were in stitches when Johan (with tongue firmly in cheek) added his newbie interpretation: “Twee pyltjies beteken singletrack word twee bane en drie pyltjies beteken singletrack word drie bane.” Definitely not. In fact, the double and triple arrows warn of difficult or dangerous terrain lying ahead with three arrows being more treacherous than two.

5. It’s not a good idea to stop and look at a potentially difficult patch of track. I nearly went flying when a lady in pink dropped anchor to have a closer look at a lump in the single track, which – to her mind – harboured dragons. To stop myself tipping derriere-side up, I grabbed a big boulder and let out a four-letter expletive, which seemed to help with keeping upright.

6. Passing is a big deal and a potential wipeout moment. You might know how to do it, but others possibly don’t. In newbie classes, organisers may advise you to keep left, pass right, but for the rest the rule is pass where it’s safe to do so (on either side). On joy rides, you can be polite and advise nicely, “Coming through” or “Keep left please” and then thank the person who pulled over for you. If someone is trying to pass you, hold your line; it’s rude and dangerous to zigzag in front of other riders.

7. The short routes are great but they are for juniors and, well, newbies. So don’t think the other riders have any more of a clue what they’re doing than you do. Be sure to pack a good sense of humour in your tubby bag and expect that others could trip you up just as easily as you could return the favour. Treat it as a learning experience, not a race. And enjoy watching the natural ease and balance of the 12-year-old pedalling effortlessly in front of you. The kids are too cute.

8. Prize giving in the newbie classes tends to be for kids only, even if you do cross the finish line in a podium position, as I did (very proud of being second female across the line in the 13-kilometre USN Dirt Flirt on Sunday). To the amusement of my Ride magazine colleagues, who didn’t hold back with accusations of “Trophy hunter!” I phoned the race organisers to check that rushing to the airport wouldn’t result in a missed opportunity to wave to adoring fans. No, just the kiddies get the glory. So the 14-year-old who beat me and the 11-year-old, who seemed to weigh just as many kilos, who came in after me got their richly deserved rewards without being muscled out the way by 40-year-old thunder-thighs here. Well done girls!

9. Gu is your friend and pumps instant energy into your system. But if you’re not used to the taste, you could be tempted to vomit up the first gulp. That sickly syrupy sweet stuff catches in your throat. My second shot went down much more smoothly. Perhaps it’s worth doing a pre-race taste test so you aren’t caught retching on the side of the trail. Do not litter – your pockets at the back are for your empty Gu sachets and rubbish.

10. Suck all the Gu out the sachet before putting the wrapper in your back pocket to avoid your shirt sticking to your back.

11. Victor Matfield is taller in real life than he looks on TV! (He’s 6 foot 6½ inches!) He’s also getting to be quite a hot cyclist. He was in the big 106-kilometre race with all the pros on Saturday.

12. Mountain biking is fun. Next ride I want to do is the 2 Keep Abreast Mountain Bike Challenge to help raise money for CANSA. You can enter from the CycleLab website. There’s a 30-kilometre route and a 16,5 one for newbies like me to choose from. If you’re more experienced, there’s a 45-kilometre race.

13. Don’t expect to lose weight over the race weekend. I went all out calorie loading the day before the race (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) and then after the race got so hungry I could have eaten a blesbuck if they weren’t protected by the Vredefort Dome being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I finished the weekend three kilos heavier.

The competition to win your own start-up mountain-bike kit is still open (closing date is 31 October), so send your entries in. The prize is awesome and worth more than R22 000 and includes everything you’ll need to get into mountain biking, including a Merida Big Nine TFS 300 29er mountain bike, Thule bike rack, Oakley sunglasses, Bryton bike computer and heart-rate monitor, Ride-branded cycling shirts and much more!


Do you have anything to add to my list?

In the meantime, I’ll be dieting and continuing to ride


Pedal on


Fatty (Natty) Newbie

Contact CycleLab for a great selection of products in the online store, advice, tours, online race entries and details of the stores round the country.



Natty Newbie gets into mountain biking

Natty Newbie starts mountain biking episode two: Bike set-up

Natty Newbie episode three: Six things Natty learned about mountain biking   

Natty Newbie episode four: Mountain biking first spills 

Natty Newbie episode five: Weight watching techniques

Natty Newbie episode six: Stretching her limits in a yoga class for cyclists

Natty Newbie episode seven: How to fix a puncture

Natty Newbie episode eight: Expanding the mountain biking family

Natty Newbie episode nine: 15 things to love and hate about mountain biking 

Natty Newbie episode 10: Prima donna mountain bike race jitters

Natty Newbie episode 11: What to pack for race day

Natty Newbie episode 12: Hi ho it’s off to the Crater Cruise we go

Natty Newbie episode 13: MTN Ride Crater Cruise race day

WIN RideSanlam Reality and CycleLab are giving one lucky reader the chance to win the full starter kit as described in this blog. All you have to do is follow the series and answer the question below.

Click here to enter the competition. Closing Date is 31 October 2012. The items on the prize equipment list may be exchanged for similar goods of thesame or lesser value to cater for individual fit. Click here for the full prize equipment list.

  • Neal

    Well done, Newbie! You rode really well and you finished strong. And you stayed on your bike for 23kms. Just goes to show you can go for zero to hero in just a matter of weeks.

    • Natty Newbie

      Thanks Neal. It was lots of fun!!
      Luv Natty

  • Well done Natty, I have read every single report since you started out cycling at about the same time as me. Congratulations on finishing the race, and coming 2nd nogal! I do have a few more tips to add: 1. The guy cycling very close behind you for many kilometres is not there because he is admiring your cycling shorts, but rather because of the large amount of wind resistance you are providing. Try to get behind him as soon as you notice him, or else after about 5km he will gallantly offer to “shield you for a while” and then cycle off into the distance, only to be seen again lying on the massage table. 2. Close your mouth when going through mud puddles (and your eyes too if you are not wearing your Oakleys). 3. What looks flat on google earth is not necessarily flat in reality, as google earth does not happen to notice 100m “undulations”. 4. Giraffes are scared of cyclists and make huge piles of dung when scared (which are very squishy to ride over). I haven’t tested other animals yet. 5. If you get off and walk up a hill, you have to walk all the way to the top as it is impossible to get started again on a slope. 6. If you are prone to falling a lot (like me), line your top and cycling shorts with bubble wrap. (Ok I haven’t actually tried that one yet but it seems like a good idea?)

    • Natty Newbie

      Oh Janine this is too funny. You definitely learned by experience. And very interesting and varied experiences. I like the bubble wrap idea … also fall a lot. And yes, keep you mouth shut in mud and puddles – I think I have swallowed many puddles.
      Happy cycling

      • Natty Newbie

        Janine – I am still giggling over your comments – and everyone in the Ride office has had a chuckle. So for brightening a raining Friday morning in Cape Town, I’d like to send you a Ride branded gift – just something small. Please will you email me your contact details. Luv Natty

  • Pierre.H.Scholtz

    Hi Natty I really wish I could of read an article like yours before my first race a number of years ago, your advice is really sound (although not sure what the reference to Victor is all about – I think you just wanted to make your girlfriends jealous 🙂 ) Cheers

    • Natty Newbie

      Oh dear Pierre – you have found me out. I had to name drop – it was too good to pass up. And yes, lots of my friends were jealous! Ha ha!

  • Raine Barter

    Haha congrats on the race and for yet another entertaining blog article. You really do manage to capture every trial, tribulation and celebration extremely well in your writing. Keep it up!

  • Chantal

    Congratulations! I also started mountain biking this year and as said below, i wish i had read your stories before i started, but i have also had a great laugh as i went through the same things. Unfortunately, i don’t have the amazing bike & kit that you have, but still, I absolutely love it, it’s exhilarating and i hope you continue to do so well.

    • Natty Newbie

      That’s great to hear Chantal. And you CAN get my nice kit – an exact replica (so you don’t have to rid ein my shorts!). Today is the last chance to enter the competition sponsored by CycleLab, Ride and Sanlam Reality. Enter here

      Good luck