Europe 2016 & Beyond

This year has flown by and I now find myself preparing for my final race of the year. I have been quite busy the past few months between working at a small law firm, training, travelling and racing. It has been great to not have the stress of university hanging over me and I think this has definitely had a positive impact for me.

I have recently returned from a bit of a ‘tour’ to Europe. I went over to gain some racing experience at a few Xterra World Tour races. I raced 3 races in 4 weeks and I was able to spend time with family and friends in-between.

My first races was Xterra Italy, which took place in the mountain village of Scanno in the Abruzzo region. This is known as the one of, if not the toughest Xterra race on the World Tour. With around 1600m of climbing on the 30km bike course and another 500m or so on the run; it was a day for the mountain goats.

I had a great swim, exiting at the front of the chase group. From there my race didn’t go to plan at all. I rode pretty comfortably on the first lap of the bike but in hindsight it was too hard and I ended paying for it later on the bike, on the main climb of the day. I don’t seem to handle long steep climbs too well and this was what was on offer in Italy, so I had grit my teeth and ride as hard as I could. Going onto the run I was already in survival mode and with plenty more climbing on the run the result on the day didn’t reflect the fitness and form I was carrying. I ended 16th, which is not the result I was wanting. All I can ask for is to cross the finish line knowing that I went as fast as I could on the day and that’s what I achieved in Italy. My best on the day just wasn’t good enough. This gave me some good motivation to keeping working hard to get ready for my next race the next weekend.

The weekend after Italy I drove from Vienna to Krakow in Poland with fellow Saffa, Theo Blignaut. It was my first time going to Poland and it ended up being a really cool experience. The race took place at an old quarry, where all the locals gravitate to, to get their daily sun during the summer afternoons. This course was completely different to Italy. It was a lot more technical with short, sharp climbs thrown into winding and flowing singletrack.

Again, I had good swim and exited the water in around 4th but I was soon overtaken by a group that eventually charged to the front of the race before the end of the bike. I kept my effort high and even though I had pretty big crash on the 2nd lap, I went onto the run quite confident I would end with a top 10. My run wasn’t great at all due to my quad taking strain after the crash on the bike. I managed to keep pushing and crossed the line in 8th.

After Poland I headed across to the UK for week where I spent some time with my father and caught-up on some sleep and recovery. I then headed back to my Austrian family in Vienna for a few days. Soon I was off to my final race of my trip, Xterra European Champs in Germany.

Going back to the small  town of Zittau on the German/Czech Republic border brought back some good memories of Cross Triathlon World Champs that were held there in 2014. I had a good race that year and I was keen to get out and race on one of my favourite courses again. This being European Champs, the Pro field was stacked and the local crowds were out in force and it was guaranteed to be fast and furious racing.

I had a bad swim and exited the water behind some guys that I should have been ahead of or at least with when getting out the water but I was at least still up near the front. This however didn’t deter me much because I knew that it was still a long race and I would need to keep pushing if I had any chance of getting a good result. I paced my effort on the bike well and I closed down on a few guys that had left me behind at the start on the bike. Going onto the run I felt good but I knew that I would still need to run hard to hold onto my top 20 position. In the end I crossed the line in 17th, only a handful of seconds off a top 15 finish. I was really happy with the result, knowing that I made a few errors in the race and that I still have a lot of room for improvement.

I am now back home in South Africa and moving into a big training block in preparation for ITU Cross Triathlon World Champs in Australia, in November. With a few things to work on and plenty of motivation, I have no doubt the last part of this year is going to go really well and hopefully ends with a good result in Australia.

A big thank you to my family for making my trip to Europe possible and to my sponsors, Time Freight, Saucony and Powertap for their continued support.

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Images – Martin Wychera

Xterra PE

This past weekend I travelled down to PE to compete in the second race of the Xterra South Africa series. This being a new race on the calendar would be inaugural race at this venue and route.

At first I was not too sure about the venue and route layout but as soon as I had ridden the bike route and seen the layout of the run route I was excited to get out and race on a route that is nothing like any other off-road triathlon route that I have race on before.

The swim was a two lap ocean swim with roughly a 400m beach run in between the swim laps. The water was just below 20 degrees so wetsuits were allowed. This made me a little nervous a I haven’t swum in a wetsuit in ages (I haven’t actually swum that much recently) and I know that your arms have to work a bit harder when wearing wetsuit due to its resistance around your shoulders but then again the buoyancy factor means you swim faster so it balances out in the end. Again I surprised myself with my swim, considering the lack of swimming I have done, and I got out the water in 6th position just behind Nico Sterk, about 1min 40sec behind the leaders. This being a slight improvement on Buffelspoort the week before.

The bike loop took place in the Baakens Valley conservancy and was I single urban-trail loop of 23km. Going onto the ride I had a lot more confidence than the previous week I knew that due to the nature of the course it would be difficult to make up a lot of time ass there wasn’t very much open road to push a really high pace. This meant that I would have to get all lines through the technical sections right so as to not lose time to the chasers behind or the leaders. In Buffelspoort I really struggled on the bike but in PE I had more confidence after getting a few good bike sessions in leading up the race and I definitely felt the difference in my riding.

The run went from King’s Beach along the coast to Happy Valley where we ran two laps and then headed back to the venue along the promenade. The first 1km or so was the beach and this was really tough and I struggled to find a good rhythm. Once we hit the solid surface of the promenade I knew that I was in a bit of trouble and my lack of training and fitness caught up with me! I knew that my best option was to back-off a bit and find the fastest pace possible that I could hold until the finish. The run was definitely the worst leg of the race for me and I faded badly.

I crossed the finish line in 7th. I was happy! Although the field was smaller and less competitive than the week before in Buffelspoort, I felt like I had a much better race and had glimpses of previous form.

I now have a few weeks before Xterra SA Champs in Grabouw (20th February) to get some solid training in and hopefully improve on my result from last year.

Xterra Buffelspoort

With the South African Xterra franchise mixing it up a bit in 2016, the beginning of the year is quite busy with a new event – Xterra Port Elizabeth. This race takes place just a week after Buffelspoort.

I had planned to do all the Xterra races held in South Africa and so my first race of 2016 was Buffelspoort.

Over December and the first half of January I was overseas in the UK with family taking a nice break after completing my LLB Law degree at the end of 2015. After being sick for the first week of January, I had two weeks in which to find some form of fitness before Buffelspoort. Needless to say that I was in no shape to race, never mind be competitive come the race this last weekend.

I had no expectations going into the race but there is always that fire and determination to do well, so I just had to go out and give it everything I could on the day, and see what happens.

The swim leg was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. I came out the water near the front with what I would say was the chase group. These guys would eventually ride up to the front of the race.

On the bike I simple did not have the power to ride with anyone and just had to keep going at my own pace and ride as hard as my body would allow. To put it plainly I was not happy on the bike and extremely frustrated as I dropped further back into the field.

Going onto the run I was already hurting and feeling very fatigued, so I started the run very easy and focused on getting into a comfortable rhythm as quickly as possible. By half way on the run I was run/ walking due to cramps but after the last water station my legs seemed to come right and I was able to run fairly comfortably again. It was nothing special but I was moving forward quicker than I had anticipated. It was a painful journey to the finish line and despite the pain, discomfort and frustration I enjoyed the race and it was great to be doing what I love again after such a long break.

I ended 19th overall and 15th male overall (yes I was chicked by the top 3 ladies!) and it gives me something to build on.

I’ll be travelling to the new Xterra PE event this weekend, all in preparation for Xterra Grabouw in February, where I will be looking to improve on my result from last year.

Stay tuned for my race report from PE.

Winter Indoor Training

With winter fast approaching, the pleasantries of waking-up hopping onto your bike to join your regular group to ride around the quiet streets are radically diminished by the on-set of the less than ideal morning temperatures.

In winter I choose, out of safety and comfort, to rather to spend some quality time turning out the watts on my indoor trainer (IDT). Now this may seem like a boring way to complete your session but get a desk fan, set-up shop in front of your TV or somewhere where you can look out onto some sort of scenery with some music and you can actually turn your dreaded IDT sessions into something far more bearable. I am one who would much rather be out on the road or trails than on the IDT but with the morning traffic and time constraints that varsity puts on me, it is quicker and far less hassle to jump onto the trainer than to put on layer after layer and head out the door to fight with the cars on the road. Another great advantage of an IDT session is you can control just about all the variables (except your legs inability to perform!). No need to stop at traffic lights, puncture or run out some gradient mid-interval. You can just keep pedalling on.

I have been using the CycleOps Fluid 2 trainer for the last 3 and a bit years. This is a great entry level trainer by CycleOps. It is pretty robust, so it can handle being bumped around a bit but the true beauty of this IDT is that you do not need to adjust the resistance while you ride. The resistance runs on an infinite curve which means that the harder you pedal the higher the resistance will be from the trainer. This is a fantastic concept as there is no need to spend any time worrying about what the correct resistance level is for any particular interval or session you are doing. The resistance is smooth and caters for just about every type of rider and training you will need. It is incredible quiet so it doesn’t seem like you are parked out on the runway at the airport every time you smash out your sprint intervals. I have loved using this trainer and it has great rubber feet caps that you can twist to stabilised the unit on just about any surface.

As with all CycleOps trainer, the Fluid 2 comes with a lifetime warranty so you can have peace of mind that should anything be faulty with your unit, they will repair or replace your unit without hassle.
So before you decide to quickly go out and buy the first trainer you see, take some time to have a look at the extensive range that CycleOps has to offer and rather make an investment in a valuable piece of equipment that will last you your cycling career to come.

For information on CycleOps, Powertap and Saris products, visit http://www.bicyclepower.co.za or stop by the Bicycle Power SA showroom on Rivonia road in Joburg

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The Fluid2 trainer as it comes out the box.

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The perfect entry level power training combo. Fluid2 trainer with the Powertap Joule head unit and Powercal HR belt.

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Innovative rubberized rear feet, makes it easy to ensure that your trainer is level and does not rock and tilt while you ride.

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The easy lock mechanism that allows you to set-up your bike on the trainer in a matter of minutes.

Xterra SA Champs, Grabouw

This has been a race I have wanted to do for a long time, but due to me pursuing the ITU calender for the last few years I have just never got around to travelling out to the Elgin Valley to compete in the world’s biggest Xterra race.After having had some bad luck at Xterra Buffelspoort a few weeks ago, I was determined to have a good race here in Grabouw, to try and redeem myslef. At first I thought I would just need to have a similar performance to Buffelspoort and I would be sure to have a good result. As the race drew nearer I started to become aware of just how strong the pro field was going to be. With Conrad Stoltz, Brad Weiss, Stuart Marais and Roger Serrano all set to fight for the win, I started to doubt myself a bit, as my lead-up to the race was far from ideal with just having started varsity and my training hours being cut in half. From the outset, a top 10 was my goal, but the underlying reason I chose to race this race instead of the ITU sprint cup race the previous weekend, was to qualify for ITU Cross Triathlon World Champs later in the year.So I made the trip from Pretoria through to Grabouw where I stayed 2km from the venue in a quiet, simple, yet ideal garden cottage. I got to pre-ride the route which meant there would be no suprises come race day and on the Saturday before the race I made sure I had a good understanding of the infamous rock-garden nestled in the hills of Grabouw. 

On the morning of the race, the nerves really kicked in and I was not feeling ready to race some of the best Xterra athletes in the world and to top it off I did not manage to get in a swim warm-up, so standing in the water I was not happy. Though the wind made the water quite choppy, and being a stronger swimmer in this field, meant it was a bit more to my advantage. I went out hard so that I could try and get my heart-rate up and then settle down before the other guys got going, this seemed to work as I got out the water in 4th and I could see the other guys in front of me.

Grabouw is renowned for its tough bike course and it definitely didn’t dissapoint. I droppd from 4th to 5th on the first climb when Nico Sterk came past me. He was riding a good pace so I just tried to hang onto his wheel to the top. I lost his wheel on the first tech descent and then just tried to keep him within sight on the road. At the back end of the course I was caught by a group of athletes, including a friend from Austria (a swiss athlete), and local powerhouse Antoine Van Heerden. I jumped into the group and we then rode back up to Nico and then the pace picked up some more and we caught the back of Theo Blignaut. At this point I was not sure how my body was going to respond to hard riding and I soon found out when we hit the rock-garden and my quads started to cramp up. This meant I had to back off a bit so that I didn’t cripple myself with cramp going onto the run. I sat up a bit, took in lots of fluid and this seemed to work. Going onto the run I was lying 9th overall.

I started the run pretty conservatively to make sure I had something in the tank for the last few km’s in case I needed it. This was the right choice because I ended up running from aid station to aid station to get fluids to keep my legs from full blown cramp. Luckily I had a big enough gap to the next guy behind me to not be pressured into pushing too hard, though in the last 3km I saw Flora Duffy charging in my direction and I was determined to not get ‘chicked’! Coming onto the final, famous, beach section, I could see 8th just in front of me but I had nothing more to give and I was happy to cross the line in 9th overall and 1st u23.

Stillwater Sports put on an incredible event. Probably one of the best events I have done. Nicola Collins and her team made it a great and memorable trip and us pros were lookd after like kings! I would recommend this race to anyone and I will definitely be back in the years to come, hopefully a few steps closer to the podium.

I now have a few days to chill-out before I head to East London for some fast ‘n furious racing at SA Triathlon Champs, this coming Sunday.

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Xterra Buffelspoort 2015

Xterra Buffelspoort would be my first Xterra franchise race. Though I am not new to off-road triathlon, I have never done an infamous Xterra. Buffelspoort was set to be a tough race with most of SA’s top off-road athletes there to race.  

The 1.5km swim was fairly comfortable and I managed to get into a good rhythm early on the first lap and then exited the water in 4th, about 1:30 behind the race leader. Going into the bike I was feeling calm and ready to push hard to stay in touch with the leaders. Unfortunately I got a side-wall cut about 5km into the bike. I stopped, plugged the tyre, bombed it up and then jumped on and continued riding only for the plug to burst out 100m down the road. So I set about re-plugging the tyre, but without a bomb or a pump it was useless. I started walking back to the race village slightly depressed that my Xterra debut was short-lived, when a kind fellow competitor stopped and gave me one of his spare bombs. I quickly inflated my tyre, jumped onto my bike and threw caution to the wind to try and make up some of the lost time (8mins or so). After catching up to my race-saving-bomb-donor, I quickly thanked him for his generosity and then continued my efforts to salvage my race. The 29km bike leg flew by and soon I found  myself in the familiar motion of dismounting and frantically transitioning into my running shoes and setting out on the 12km trail run to complete the race. At this point I was well down in the field and much to my dismay I was being ‘chicked’ by teammate and ladies race leader Carla van Huysteen. Soon the run course made a dramatic drop in elevation and immediately it kicked up again in an equally dramatic fashion and I then began to question my choice to ride so hard and wondered if I had enough in the tank to hold onto the finish; only time would tell and I decided to keep pushing as hard as possible and deal with ‘bonking’ when it happened! Fortunately it only happened in the final kilometer and I was able to run myself back into 10th place. The run course turned out to be the hardest run course I have done in a triathlon and next time I will definitely managed my efforts better.  

After a bit of bad luck, I am pretty happy to come away with 10th and I will definitely be gunning for a top five placing at Xterra Grabouw next month – the biggest Xterra in the world, or so I have been told.  

A big thanks to Saucony SA for getting me a pair of the Exodus 5.0 trail shoes, incredible shoes that ate up every part of the trail without a problem. Also to Powerbar SA and Bicycle Power Trading for giving me the tools to execute my races to my best possible ability.

Until next time…

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Coming out of the water

                                                                          Coming out of the water.

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                                                                         Chasing hard on the run.

2015 KZN Triathlon Championships

KZN Champs is generally the first race on my calendar every year, as it falls mid-January. It is normally quite a tough race due to the fact that I am always coming into the race only having focussed on base training through November, December and beginning of January. This year was no different, but after a season of racing the Olympic distance races my body has adapted to the 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run a bit better. I have had a teammate, training partner and friend, Drikus Coetzee, from Namibia, staying and training with me for the past few weeks and we have been pushing each other quite hard, so training has been going well. I picked up a foot injury towards the end of 2014 so I was a bit doubtful in my running form as I have only been running for two weeks prior to the race, but I was keen to have a good go at the race and get rid of any cobwebs hanging around.

With the race being at Midmar dam, practically my back garden, I was excited to put my early season form to the test. The swim went a bit better than expected as I managed to get out of the water with Drikus, who has been pushing me to my limits in training, with a group which made up 3rd place. Going onto the bike Drikus quickly opened the gap and went blistering up the road while I struggled to find my bike legs which seemed to have deserted me. Thanks to Bicycle Power Trading I had Enve/Powertap race wheels to give me accurate racing power data and I was watching the numbers as I didn’t want to go out too hard and have nothing left for the run. Soon I was averaging around 85% of my Functional Threshold Power (the maximum power you can sustain for an hour). Unfortunately I never felt any better the whole 40km and just had to hack away at the pedals and see what would happen on the run. On the bike I dropped from 4th to 7th and had a lot of work to do to pull back the guys in front of me. I quickly caught and passed 6th position and then over the rest of the first 5km lap I set out to catch 5th, which happened around the 4km mark. At the 5km turn point I saw that 4th was within reach but would take as a big effort to catch, especially in the condition I found myself – tired and frustrated. So I put in some surges whenever I felt my legs could handle it and gradually pulled 4th position in. I made the catch and pass at the 8km mark and then my only focus was to make sure no one made a move my position (3rd was too far up the road). So I crossed the line in 4th with a 37:53 run split after only two weeks of running and one tempo session. This also meant that I was 3rd in KZN overall and 1st U23 in the KZN Champs.

I’m happy with a few things that went right for me, namely that my foot held out in the first race in many months and that I was still able to maintain a consistent pace on the run, even after having a dismal bike leg. There are generally always some positives you can take away from a race and today, even though it didn’t go anywhere near to the plan I had for the race, I can take some positives from the day and hopefully improve on the races next time round.

A big thanks must go out to the guys at Bicycle Power Trading for their support, Trevor Seinen from Powerbar SA for providing me with arguably the best sport nutrition products on the market, Saucony SA for putting world class running shoes on my feet and last but not least, Time Freight for providing the platform for me to do what I love to do.

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Coming out the water.

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Heading onto the bike leg.

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coming through the turn around point on the bike leg.

Overdue Update

Wow! It has been far too long since I was last able (or should I say somewhat interested) to sit down and type-up a report on the events that have transpired in recent months. Logging onto my blog I became aware that my last post was my race report from Geneva, in July! So here is my attempt to briefly recap the events of two months or so.

After my race in Geneva I returned back to RSA and decided to take the first week of varsity off to have some down time at home in Pietermaritzburg. This in hindsight was not the wisest decision as it mean that two weeks later when I jetted off again the Europe I would miss another two weeks or so of varsity making it that I missed 3 of the first 6 weeks of the semester. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed my few days at home and then reluctantly made my back to Pretoria to get in my final prep before I left for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in Germany (notice this time was dedicated to race prep and not catching up varsity work!). These World Champs would be my 3rd World Champs event I have attended but my first off-road triathlon World Champs. Having only done one Cross Triathlon (the qualifying race) in the last few years, I had no idea what to expect but I was determined to have fun while obviously trying to have the best performance I could on the day. The conditions on race day made for a very interesting race, there was some mud and then whole lot more mud… pretty much just mud along the whole course, but then what is mountain-biking without mud?? I feel that I executed well on race day though I probably could have swum and run a bit better. I ended up 8th in the World in the u23 category and managed to sneak a top 50 overall in the elite men (43rd). I was satisfied with my result but I was really hoping for a top 5 in the u23 category, though with the build-up I had and very limited opportunity to ride my mountain-bike in preparation for the race it was a solid effort.
After Germany I came back to Pretoria and went straight into a demanding test period at varsity and I think all the travel and stress got to me and ended up getting sick and having to withdraw from the 5150 Bela Bela race the weekend after Germany, never a nice feeling having to withdraw but that’s the way it goes and it reinforced the fact that I needed a break, so I did just that. I took a week of and then another week to just ease back into training. The easy week culminated in an off-road duathlon where I managed a 7th overall which I was happy with.

I am now 4 weeks into a controlled base training block where I training religiously according to heart rate on the run and then power (with use of my Powertap products, thanks Bicycle Power SA) on the bike. This is to ensure I am either training aerobically or anaerobically (mostly aerobically at this stage) so as to avoid the ‘grey zone’ of training which has no benefit for either your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.
I am working towards my first 70.3 distance race at the end of November, Midlands Ultra at Midmar resort. This for me is purely a testing of the waters when it comes to long distance racing. With it being at Midmar which I consider to be one of, if not my favourite training/ racing venues, I am super excited for what should be a tough but memorable experience.

So for now it is back to the books but I’ll be sure to make a concerted effort to update my blog on a more regular basis in the future.

Until next time

ITU European Cup, Geneva

This past weekend I was lining-up on the start line in Geneva, Switzerland. After a fairly mediocre race in Holten two weeks before and not getting to race in Hamburg last weekend I was excited to have one last go at the European racing scene before I headed back to SA.

The field was pretty strong and the course was demanding. The swim taking place in a very scenic Lake Geneva and mostly into a strong current. The bike course consisted of 6 laps with a 1km hill climb on each lap. The run was a moderately flat 3 lap course that would be challenging after the bike leg.

The swim start was fast as usual but to add to the situation I was caught up in a lot of ‘fighting’ but that is all part of Triathlon. With my swim being pretty weak compared to the standard in Europe I got out the water a fair way back from the leaders. As it turns out, there were only 2 packs out of the water and then a a couple of smaller groups of us stragglers. This is pretty unusual for european races as there are normally at least 3 main packs and this just shows the quality of this field was pretty high. On the bike I struggled a bit but was strong enough to hang-on up the hill until the second to last lap where I just didn’t quite have the power and dropped off. By this stage there were quite a few athletes dropping out of the race and it was on the last lap that the sweeper motor-bike was behind me indicating I was last out on the course. Getting onto the run I knew there were a couple of guys just ahead of me and I set-out to catch them. I found a good rhythm pretty quickly and just tried to maintain the speed as best I could. The guys I tried to catch pulled out at some point on the run so I ended up running by myself which can be pretty tough when you are behind and tired. This year I have struggled to maintain my speed through the second half of the run and this past weekend I was able to keep going which is a major positive for me in a otherwise disappointing race. In ITU racing, the swim is super important and I will now have to seriously work hard on improving my swim to make sure I am not so disadvantaged from the start of the race.

My trip to Geneva was an incredible experience and it ended a great 4 weeks overseas where I got to see and do much more than I hoped to. I am now back in SA and getting in a final block of trainig before the Cross Triathlon World Champs in Germany next month.

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MTN National MTB – Van Gaalens

This past weekend I took part in the MTN National MTB series held at Van Gaalens cheese farm in the North West. Due to me having an exam on the Saturday morning I had to opt for the half-marathon race on the Sunday morning. The 46km route was very dry and dusty with quite a few sections that had loose rocks which made for a some technical riding but in general it was a pretty straight forward routes with only two climbs worth any mention. Not being a regular rider I was put into C batch and caught the back end of B batch after about 8km and then lost a lot of time trying the fight my way through the crowds and nervous riders on the single track. Once we hit the district roads I was able to put in a consistent effort and for about 15km rode pretty hard to try and not lose too much time to the front riders. I ended up crossing the line in 2hrs 9min and some change, quite a bit slower than the winners. Hopefully I my seeding index will improve so next time I can start closer to the front and hopefully eventually have a go at riding with the front guys in the future. For now I am just riding for the enjoyment and taking the opportunity to ride my MTB when I can.