Natty Newbie gets into mountain biking


Join Natty Newbie as she tries mountain biking for the first time. In our pilot episode, Natty gets kitted out. This is what she’ll be using and you can win an identical kit too.

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle. But what happens when, after 20 years out the saddle, you think you really have forgotten? In the last two decades, since trading in my road bike for four wheels with an engine, I’ve sat on a bicycle once – in Swaziland. I promptly fell off in a mud puddle in front of a herd of zebra. They swished their tails and shook their manes – zebra language for scorn and derision. And that was the last of it. Until the Ride magazine editors in our office cajoled me into signing up for the Nissan Ride Crater Cruise half marathon (56 kilometres) in the Vredefort Dome in Parys. Team building, they called it.

Agreeing to it was an uninformed decision, based on ego and the thrill of a challenge and absolutely no idea what it will involve. I am still clueless, but join me on this journey of discovery and we’ll find out together. Or if you know already, you can just giggle at my trials and tribulations. D-day is 13 October, leaving me with just shy of eight weeks to get kitted, learn how to do it and get fit enough.

Zero to hero is my motto… Gulp.

The first step was to head off to the local bike shop, in this case CycleLab in Cape Town. Steve Bowman greeted me with enthusiasm and steered me toward a matte black Merida Big 9 TFS 300 (R8 499) with a 17-inch frame for my 170-centimetre height. “For a beginner, a 29er is your best bet,” said Steve. “It’s so much easier to ride.” The 29 refers to the diameter of the wheels. Traditionally, mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels, but the bigger size apparently gives more traction uphill, more stability downhill and helps newbies negotiate tricky terrain as the bigger wheel connects more tyre to the surface of the bumps, moderating their impact. Incidentally, the men’s mountain bike race at the London Olympics was won on a 29er, so I’m in good company. Brazil 2016 here we come!

But before that could happen my bike was whisked downstairs for a tubeless conversion in the workshop, involving removing the tubes, changing the valves and inserting slime, all of which will help to prevent punctures.


In the meantime, Steve steered me towards the helmets and shoes. We slapped a couple of lids onto my tiny noggin. “This one fits, but it doesn’t match the Ride colours,” I protested at a purple and white number.

“You Capetonians are all the same – it’s not how you ride but how you look,” Steve chirped with a grin.

It’s good to know I have the right mindset!

A red and silver Cratoni Zethos (R915) fitted best, but was nothing as cushioned as a horse-riding helmet to which I’m accustomed. “Don’t expect plush comfort,” said Steve, thinly stifling a giggle as I shook my head upside-down to see if the fit was tight enough. “And if your head moves round that much on a mountain bike, you’re going to crash. The rest of the time it’s static.” He tweaked the side-retention straps: “You want even tension on front and back to prevent the helmet tipping backwards or forwards. And don’t tighten it too much; your head swells when you exercise. You can always tweak it as you ride.”



















Cinderella’s slippers were a pair of Giro Reva Mountain Bike Shoes (R1 419). Behaving more like the ugly stepsisters, I started getting picky about the fit, “My toes feel crunched!”

Steve patiently explained, “You’re not looking for a running-shoe fit with room at the toes to absorb the shock and movement of your feet with each footfall. For cycling you need a snug fit. Walk around a bit and see how they feel after a while. They’ll settle to your feet.” And indeed they did. After five minutes they felt like a second sock, comfortable enough to sleep in.


In all honesty, to start mountain biking you really need only a bike, helmet and shoes. But given that plans involved more than a doddle up and down the driveway and a weekend tour of the park, we figured I’d need a few more serious items.

Enter dedicated cycling shorts (Craft at R649), which are far more flattering to 40-year-old knees and thighs as three-quarter-length pants. Steve reassured me that many women like the longer cut. The bulky padding was going to provide welcome cushioning to my uninitiated nether parts.

Also added to the list was a pair of First Ascent Asphalt socks (thin ones on Steve’s recommendation), full fingered mountain biking gloves, Bryton Ryder 20 bike computer to keep track of training progress, a basic tool kit comprising a whole bunch of things I’ll soon learn how to use (a bomb, adaptors, tubeless repair kit, spare tube, spare chain link and a multi-tool), all packed neatly in a little saddlebag to be stowed under the saddle. Water bottle and carrier bracket were added to the pile, as was a Ryder Hydration Pack (R415) with two-litre carrying capacity.

“Right, now you’ve got basically everything you need,” said Steve, slipping a Yoga for Cyclists DVD into the bag for good measure, “Let’s get you on the bike.”

And for that thrilling – and slightly humiliating – moment, dear friends, you’ll have to wait for my next instalment.

In the meantime, send in your entries to win my full kit worth around R19 000, compliments of CycleLab, Ride magazine and Sanlam Reality.

Pedal on…
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.


Ride, Sanlam 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 the same or lesser value to cater for individual fit. Click here for the full equipment list for the prize.


  • Neal

    You go girl! I’m looking forward to our first singletrack ride in the Tokai Forest next Wednesday!

  • Nice, I’m trying to get my lady mountain biking… she’s willing, but shaky… We will get there.

  • Kirsten

    I’m about to start mountain biking but am totally flawed as to where to go/what to buy etc. Never knew it was such a complicated sport to get started in!