Mountain biking, with a dash of coffee

2011-03-18 00:00

IF you drive along Hilton Avenue early in the morning you will often see a group of vehicles parked outside the old post office. They share a distinctive feature — a bike rack. The owners of those racked vehicles are off somewhere in the surrounding plantations on their bikes.

The old post office is home to custom-designed premises for a new concept in “lifestyle-destination stores”. WSquared Cycling is a specialist­ mountain biking (MTB) and coffee bar that opened there in early 2010 after a year in smaller premises on the other side of Hilton’s main road. According to owner Johann­ Wykerd (42), he selected this location because the midlands is “mountain-biking paradise”. Both Wykerd and his wife, Allegra, are not only themselves keen bikers, but also coach riders, including four of the six current African champions.

Bike stores that incorporate a coffee bar are common in the United States, but the concept is a recent introduction to South Africa. “We love biking and we love coffee, so the combination made sense to us,” Wykerd said. He chose the location because “we wanted to be somewhere where we could exercise our passion for the sport. We close on Sundays when we take part in races”. The Wykerds relocated to Hilton from Hillcrest in 2008 after too many traffic lights were installed. Traffic lights? I hesitate, not sure whether he’s serious, but he seems to be. “There were only two sets when we moved there. Now there are 15. That’s too many for me.” Hilton currently has only two sets of traffic lights.

According to Wykerd, his sport is growing exponentially around the world. “In this province alone, we has seen a 20% to 25% growth year-on-year for the past four or five years. KZN Mountain Biking have a database of over 11 000 people, which is substantial.” He ascribed the sport’s popularity to two influences. First, road cycling has become too dangerous, so its following is dwindling. Evidence of this is the recent deaths of cyclists taking part in local road races. Secondly, MTB is a sport for the whole family. “You often see parents out cycling with children carried on bike seats or on their own bikes. On Saturday mornings we have guided rides on local trails for the whole family. We break into groups to suit the different levels of participants. In part, the coffee bar element is designed to cater for families­ too. If the men want to go out cycling but the women don’t, they can relax with a coffee and the children can try out the test track.”

Designed as a practice track, the wooden structure is based on cycle tracks that are standard in Canada because of the wet, marshy conditions. The store organises regular “shop rides” on local trails and the Wykerds also run skills clinics to teach new cyclists the skills of mountain biking.

WSquared Cycling is a destination store serving a niche market and clients­ come from all over the province, as well as Gauteng. Bikes can be couriered anywhere in the world. It serves the top end of the adult biking market, the imported bikes on sale varying from R30 000 to R100 000. It stocks a full range of imported equipment and the premises include a full workshop. Wykerd and his staff can custom build a bike to suit customers’ bodies and needs, including having sophisticated fitment equipment designed to ensure that they are perfectly fitted to the bike they purchase.

Asked why the midlands is becoming a mountain-biking mecca, Wykerd said: “The area is covered in plantations and many of the local plantation and property owners are willing to work with the biking community to allow us onto their land. Some are also permitting the construction of trail networks. The biking in this area is awesome and people come from all over the province, as well as inland, to ride here.

“At Easter, the city will host the MTB world cup event again at Cascades. This year we are expecting more than 15 000 people to attend. There is huge potential for MTB tourism in the midlands.”

I comment that it’s clear he is passionate about MTB: “Yes and that makes it tricky to keep a balance.” By this, Wykerd explains, he means between running the store and helping other people to enjoy MTB and finding time to enjoy it himself. As tricky perhaps, as children find it to balance on the wooden practice track on his store’s front lawn. Contact: www.w2cycling.co.za

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