How to race a R15k mountain bike and love it

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Craig and his daughter, Chloe, at the Sani2C. (Photo: Craig Thomson)
Craig and his daughter, Chloe, at the Sani2C. (Photo: Craig Thomson)
  • Mountain bikes are expensive, but Craig Thomson Sani2C experience proves that less is more
  • He has multiple finishes at the 263km KZN event, most on a bike most would consider dated
  • This year Craig's son will join him, but dad is still cruising on his single-speed bike

Craig Thomson is proof that you don’t require an expensive mountain bike, to have a great time stage racing.

The Johannesburg rider is a committed Sani2C competitor, having done the event nine times. What makes Craig’s Sani2C adventures unusual, is that he does them without gears. Or more precisely, a single gear.

As mountain biking becomes more sophisticated, with wireless shifting and terrifically expensive drivetrains, Craig prefers to ride his single-speed mountain bike.

His initial Sani2C experience was in 2012, on a geared mountain bike. The next Craig entered on a single-speed has never regretted it.

steel bike
Reliable Stans Crest wheels and a steel frame. Craig's bike is nothing special, but deeply reliable (Photo: Craig Thomson)

Keeping it simple

Other Sani2C riders might look upon his simple steel hardtail with some pity, but Craig’s fitness quickly establishes his mountain biking credentials.

“Riding a single speed, you use muscles that you would otherwise not; you sit back in your saddle, change gears and take the easier way out, whereas the single-speed forces you to become a stronger rider. So now it’s a bit of a joke that everyone I ride with battles to keep up with me.”

Despite the burden of fitness that is required, a single-speed mountain bike has very real benefits. It is lighter and there is so little mechanical complexity, that component failures are nearly unimaginable.

The Sani2C event can occasionally experience heavy rain, creating muddy trails that can ruin a geared mountain bike’s drivetrain, or make its shifting horribly unpredictable. In muddy conditions, a single-speed just cruises along without bother.

Craig enjoys the Sani2C so much, he has never bothered entering any other local stage race.

“This is my tenth, and I don’t think I am going to stop. I think I could keep riding the sani2c every year. Some people want to try something different, but I feel like I am part of the family - why would you stay with a neighbour when you can stay with the Sani family? When I did my first one, the race just clicked for me.

single-speed bike
Craig has been using his single-speed bike successfully, for years (Photo: Craig Thomson)

Lots of fun per Rand

Two of his most cherished Sani2C experience, have been in 2018 and 2019, when his daughter, Chloe, joined Craig at the event. She rode an e-bike to keep up with her single-speed dad. This year the family tradition is being broadened to include Craig’s son, Benjamin.

For this year’s Sani2C Craig is depending on the same single-speed rig he used in 2013. “My bike is worth about R15 000; The only things I replace are the tyres and the odd chain.”

Craig’s presence, on a bike without the luxury of gears and constructed with steel tubes instead of carbon-fibre, serves as motivation for some riders, when they are struggling.  

“I ride past guys on these fancy bikes and they land up pushing them. But then I also seem to encourage some of them. I have definitely had a few guys get back on their bikes after I pass them. They see that they have 11 more gears than I do and realise they can do it.”

The Sani2C routes from Himeville to Scottburgh, covering 263km of KZN’s most inspiring terrain, over three days. And Craig will be there, on his trusty South African Momsen STR 29.

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