Claire Keeton rode the 280km Nedbank Tour de Tuli through remote parts of SA, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Expect lots of game, hundreds of cyclists, and many falls
Photographs: JACQUES MARAIAS/NEDBANK TOUR DE TULI
TIS for Tuli Block: Cycling out of the first camp into the northern Tuli Game Reserve we saw elephant dung. No obstacle on a mountain bike. Next we spotted a giraffe and soon after this about 25 elephants with babies appeared in the dust on our left flank. When you’re on bikes, without rangers, the majestic power of elephants reigns and we veered away. We narrowly avoided riding into the next herd about an hour later as they crossed our path through thick bush. They are one reason the Tuli Block is known as the Land of the Giants; the baobabs are another.
Ois for (Great) Outdoors: On this bike safari we rode through Big Five territory with no markers, following our leader who was following tracks on a GPS. We saw only other riders and support crews, apart from a detour to a rural school. A mountain bike must be the best way to get into the bush, literally. One fall catapulted me into a thorn bush. The tour crosses pristine parts of the Greater Mapungubwe Trans-frontier Conservation Area and we rode with our passports. Botswana, Zimbabwean and South African border officials stamped them at informal posts on the largely dry Limpopo River, where the three countries converge.
Uis for Unique: This annual event offers the ride of a lifetime — wild and demanding yet luxurious. It’s a magic formula which the cyclists enjoyed as much as they did the beers at the end of the day. The terrain was un-manicured and the game unperturbed by the bikes. The riding was brilliant, and frequent refreshment breaks — where cold drinks, snacks and meals were waiting — provided welcome breaks from hours in the saddle.
Ris for Radical Route: This, like everything else, exceeded my expectations. We rode th
rough mopani bush, under baobabs, over steep and undulating rock and across dozens of sandy river beds. The game trails were surprisingly clear of obstacles, allowing for free flowing riding. Except when branches grabbed us and we hit dirt. At times we portaged rocky ridges but overall Tuli is flat. Dropping into river beds with thick sand and fishtailing up the opposite bank remained a challenge, even when we learned to ride sand, a survival skill learned on Day One.
Dis for Donations. This ride is the main fundraising event for Children in the Wilderness. The riders pledged R1-million on the final night and raised millions in sponsorship. This organisation teaches children who live next to conservation areas in six countries to protect their heritage and gives them skills and opportunities. Every year the group reaches 2500 children through Eco-Clubs in schools; as of last year, 5600 children had attended its camps, run by Wilderness Safaris.
Eis for Equipment: Tubeless tyres are compulsory and most of us rode 29-inch wheel bikes. Helmets, gloves, padded shorts and cleated shoes are common. Floyd Dowell from the US rode 280km without padded shorts. My team leader Nathan Billingham fixed my shoe with duct tape and glue when it fell apart. My sunglasses were unfix-able. The list of kit is long but above all, remember duct tape. And ear plugs (see next item).
T is for Tented camps: On the eve of the tour we cycled 2.6km from the South African side of the Pont Drift border post into Botswana to the Limpopo Valley Airfield, where about 500 orange tents had already been pitched. Nights two and three we spent at the gorgeous Amphitheater Bush Camp below a koppie overlooking the Limpopo River, while nights four and five were at Mapungubwe Confluence Camp on a cliff top with views over the dry Limpopo and Shashi rivers. The communal tent had a festive spirit. Women are a minority so the men are real friendly. “You all look the same,” I joked when one complained I hadn’t remembered his name. When the dust was washed off most of the riders were pale, with a few exceptions in the faster batches. In the tented alleys a symphony of snoring (remember the ear plugs?) drowned out the lions roaring but I heard them when I went out stargazing.
Uis for Ultra fun team: I chose the slowest batch, Group 18, who adopted the name “A-team” before we had even turned a pedal. The 18-ers were fit riders who just didn’t want to race through the bush. Our group of 15 included a range of age groups and nationalities. One of the two Americans had dehydration and broken ribs which forced him out. We also had a quiet Australian, who rode expertly, and a bubbly Brit, Juliet Lemon. Between us we had 85 falls over four days.
Lis for Luxury: On Tour de Tuli we got five-star service including exceptional food, cappuccinos, 32Gi recovery drinks and professional sports massages every day. Our final banquet was topped off with a towering pavlova.
Iis for Impalas: We also saw elephants, giraffe, zebras, warthogs, baboons, an eland, duiker and elephant bones and footprints (big and small). One group saw a leopard and there was a kill near our third camp.
Keeton was a guest of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli run by Tour de Wilderness and supported by Wilderness Safaris. The entry fee is R24900, which covers everything on tour except drinks. See tourdewilderness.com/tour-de-tuli/
Peet Correia from BikeBay offers a great service: you can sell your bike through them and get on the bike you want. That’s what I did ahead of Tuli when I found a real gem. Call 0824953314 or see bikebay.co.za.
Sean Lawrence from The Trailhead bike repairs and coffee shop gave me a two-hour skills session and helped me get the bike ready for Tuli. Call 0113261688 or see thetrailhead.co.za.
WHAT KEPT THE WHEELS TURNING
73 hours training over eight weeks, which meant I felt stronger every day
6,000+ coffees and hot chocolates, donated with smiles by Bean There Coffee Company
BMC Racing published photos of the new paint scheme, which sees his power meter and Fizik saddle get some gold accenting as well. The colours of the Olympic rings have also been painted on the side of the top tube. The frame is fitted out with the team issue Shimano Dura-Ace C35 wheels and Di2 groupset.
Van Avermaet will be debuting his newly painted bike at the Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France on Sunday as he makes his first racing appearance since the Olympic Games. “I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike and racing as Olympic champion. I think we've got a strong team so I'm really motivated to do a good race and start the final part of the season," Van Avermaet said when the team was announced earlier this week.
You’ve already spent a pretty penny on your bike, so why not squeeze every ounce of pure blissful joy out of it? Regular preventive maintenance will keep your mountain bike rolling safely for longer. Doing your own bike maintenance also saves you labour costs, and proves an invaluable skill to have in your back pocket in case a mechanical threatens to ruin your ride. It's quite easy to take care of your own bike, and can mean the difference between riding all day or walking home.
Without further ado, we present to you:
THE TOP 7 MOUNTAIN BIKE MAINTENANCE TIPS
#1: Clean your bike.
Want to extend the life of your ride? Keeping it clean on a consistent basis is a sure-fire way of doing so.
What to do: Use a basic biodegradable cleaner such as Simple Green, a sponge, a towel and an old toothbrush to clean everything: the frame, chain, chain rings, cassette, derailleurs, pedals, brakes, and seat. No need to use bucket-loads of water or (especially) strong jets; a gentle rain-like spray or mist will do just fine to rinse away any soap residue. Also, remove the seat post for a thorough clean, and add a small amount of bike grease before reinstalling it. Your local bike shop's mechanic will thank you!
#2: Inspect your brakes.
Brakes are a vital part of your bike, and ensuring they are in good working condition and properly adjusted can mean the difference between a flawlessly-maneuvered corner and losing control, which could lead to serious injuries. Keep these puppies running smoothly and they’ll pay you back in spades.
What to do: Check the brake pads, the small rectangular metallic and/or rubberized surface that actually rubs against the disk (or wheel rim). These wear down over time and need to be replaced. Use a flashlight to assess whether the pads are wearing evenly and replace them if they show excessive wear.
#3: Watch your wheels.
Wheels (rims) hold your tires in place and provide stability and smoothness while riding. Properly tuned and trued wheels (that don’t wobble or rub against the brakes) mean consistent contact between tires and dirt.
What to do: Elevate your bike and spin the wheels; both should move smoothly, without wobbling. A wobbly rim can be adjusted with a spoke wrench - a simple fix a bike mechanic should take on if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Replace your wheels if denting or other damage is excessive.
#4: Inspect the drivetrain.
A bike’s drivetrain includes the pedals, chain, chainring, derailleur (the ingenious little device that moves the chain to make riding easier or harder) and rear-wheel cassette (the set of teeth attached to your rear wheel). The drivetrain is important because it transfers the power generated by your legs to the rear wheel, which moves the bike.
What to do: You’ll likely need a partner or bike stand to assist with this part of the tune-up. Raise the rear wheel and spin as you did when checking the wheels (task #3 above). This time, shift through all the gears. Shifting should be smooth and easy to perform. Inspect the chain, chainrings, derailleur and cassette for damage (excessive wear, missing teeth, dents, scrapes, etc.). Note that small chainrings wear out sooner than large chainrings, and that the chain is the most frequently replaced component of the drivetrain (should be done every 2,000-3,000 miles). Replacement cost is generally between $20 and $50. Waiting too long to replace a chain will wear down the other drivetrain components faster. If shifting is not smooth, it’s best to take your bike to a repair shop to have it looked at by a professional.
#5: Check both tires.
Mountain bike tires offer traction with the ground, allowing travel over a variety of unlikely surfaces, like mud, rocks, roots and ladder bridges. In addition, they form a flexible cushion which helps smooth out bumps and thumps along the way, making for a more comfortable ride.
What to do: First, check your tire pressure. The ideal pressure will vary according to the terrain you’re riding, but as a general rule, you’ll want to keep your tire pressure between 30-45 psi. Lower psi will provide more traction (grip) on technical and loose terrain, but is more prone to flats. Air will escape naturally from your tires, so be sure to invest in a good floor pump with gauge, and check tire pressure often. Second, check your tires for splits, cracks or tears, especially along the side-walls (where the tire doesn’t touch the ground). You’ll also want to check the tread for uneven or excessive wear, in which case you’ll want to have it replaced. Damaged tires are prone to burst, causing a sudden loss of control—a potentially dangerous situation. Changing tubes and tires is a simple fix that requires tire levers and a pump to re-inflate the inner tube.
#6: Check the cables.
Cables are either made of tightly coiled metal wire or oil caged in a plastic housing. Cables connect the shifters and brakes on the handlebars to the derailleur and brake pads. Those connected to the shifters assist with moving the chain from one gear to another via the derailleur, while those connected to the brakes aid in stopping the bike when the lever on the handlebars is pulled.
What to do: Inspect the cable and surrounding rubber housing for cracks, crimps, rust, dirt and looseness. New cables and/or oil make shifting and braking smooth, which increases bike performance. If braking/shifting is not optimal, get your cables replaced or oil changed at your local bike shop. Unless you're well trained in this task, changing cables/oil can be tricky and time consuming. Schedule replacement every 2-5 years based on use. If you ride your bike year-round, consider replacing your cables/oil yearly.
#7: Add lubricant.
Oil lubricant coats the chain and other components of the drivetrain, helping them last longer and work more efficiently. Lube also reduces accumulation of dirt and grime, which helps increase performance of the moving parts.
What to do: Apply lubricant evenly to the chain while slowly rotating the pedals in a counter-clockwise direction. Also, remember to lube moving parts on the derailleur, the pivot point on the brake levers and any exposed cable wire. Remember to wipe off any excess oil with a clean, dry rag, especially on the chain. A properly lubricated bike makes shifting and braking smooth, thereby increasing performance. You can fix minor rust spots by rubbing them with steel wool. You may want to wear work gloves to protect your hands as steel wool can cause splinters in your skin. It is usually too difficult to remove rust from certain components (e.g., the chain), which should be simply be replaced.