- Etienne Soekoe has done it all on bicycles,
yet the passion is stronger than ever.
- At 54, Soekoe is considering a career change from mining engineer to bicycle repair technician.
- Soekoe organises rides that aid in the prevention of rhino poaching.
What prompts a mining engineer to change tack and become a bicycle repair technician? A love for riding and two wheels, that is what.
54-year-old Etienne Soekoe has been riding bicycles for more than 20 years, during this time he has completed the Absa Cape Epic, Joberg2C, and a myriad of other races in between.
Soekoe also represented South Africa at the Masters Cross Country world championships in 2006.
He may have put racing behind him, but Soekoe still loves riding bikes, tinkering on bikes and chatting about bikes.
What prompted you to complete an accredited bicycle repair course?
Thanks to my engineering background I always built and looked after my own bikes, learning and figuring out how to do things along the way.
My wife is originally from the UK and we are thinking of moving back there at some stage. With the mining industry relatively small in that country I realised that I would need a backup plan. I figured this was an ideal opportunity to pursue something that I am passionate about and enrolled in a formal qualification in Bicycle Repair.
The Torq Zone academy, just outside Pretoria, offers Cytech training courses, which are internationally recognised in countries like the UK. This qualification would allow me to work in a bike shop over there or even start my own business fixing bikes if I wanted to.
There I was with six youngsters who had just finished school and who could be my children. Even though I had extensive experience working on my own bikes I learnt a tremendous amount during the Level 1 course, there are many tips and tricks that you only pick up during a formal training programme. I recently returned to commence my Level 2 training.
Is there any further training you would like to do?
Frame building appeals to me and I would love to create my own frame from scratch.
In the UK there is a frame building school and that is something I would try attend if we do make our way back there. Once I have mastered those techniques I would love to build my own gravel or cyclo-cross bike that can do it all.
What kind of riding do you enjoy doing these days?
I feel that I took cycling too seriously for too long, but I soon realised that in order to be competitive you need to be putting in 20 hours of training a week, while holding down a full time job and it becomes a chore. So I sold the carbon bicycles that I had in my garage and went looking for something more apt.
I now enjoy riding like when I was a kid, for fun. I have no ambition to race and with the versatility of my current rig the fun begins when the tar ends.
What are your favourite places to ride?
I do a lot of riding to the west of Johannesburg in the Cradle of Humankind and the Magaliesburg area, where I can easily do a 200km mixed surface loop starting at my front door.
There are many kilometres of gravel roads in South Africa and I simply love exploring. My riding mates and I put on yearly trips and over time we have ridden in most parts of the country. Mankele outside Nelspruit and the Harkerville forest red route are some of my favourite trails.
You have ridden some interesting bikes over the years, tell us about your favourites
I am always looking for unique bikes or new takes on technology and have ridden some interesting bikes over the years for sure.
For example, In 2006 I arrived at the Masters Cross Country world championships on the first aluminium dual-suspension mountain bike built by local frame building genius Patrick Morewood.
In recent years I teamed up with Abbey De Groot, father of well-known cyclist Robyn de Groot, and we won the veterans category at Joberg2C on titanium Lynskey hardtails, with rigid forks and a single speed conversion running a 32-18 ratio gearset. When we did the Cape Epic I rode a carbon fibre BMC fitted with a Laufe fork.
What bike are you currently riding?
At the moment I have what I consider to be to be the ultimate do it all bike, a Ritchey Swiss Cross. With its cyclo-cross geometry and bigger tyres I can have fun on the tar, pavement or gravel and it weighs just 8.6kg despite being built from Ritchey Logic steel tubing.
I have owned a number of Ritchey bikes, including a P29, the components are legendary and the attention to detail remarkable.
Tom Ritchey is a living mountain bike legend, he was there in the beginning and was first and foremost a racer. This is carried through into the final products, one can see that these frames and components are designed by someone that knows what they are doing.
I would love to build a Ritchey Steel road bike next, their frames are now disc brake and through axle compatible.
You are part of a unique approach to rhino conservation using bicycles, how does that work?
My wife and I are passionate about rhinos and I managed to find a way to combine this passion with cycling. Anti poaching units are costly so before Covid hit we would host regular full moon rides on a private game farm that is home to a family of rhino.
The heightened levels of activity created by the presence of cyclists on the farm during these full moon periods, deters poachers who then don't try their luck. It has worked to date.