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Springbok great John Smit’s slightly different Cannondale Scalpel MTB

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One of the greatest Springboks, on his Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike. (Photo: John Smit)
One of the greatest Springboks, on his Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike. (Photo: John Smit)

For John Smit, cycling was a way of keeping fit as his rugby career ended. But now, it is a big part of his daily life. 

Although Smit describes himself as a serial stage race survivor, he truly finds joy behind the handlebars of his mountain bike. Smit needs to carefully consider his bicycle choices as he seeks a steed that is both rewarding and strong enough to handle his weight and power output.

"In my last two seasons as a professional rugby player, my body was starting to hurt, so I didn't want to run for my fitness training and hated the gym, so I spent a lot of time on the Wattbike," recalls Smit.

"Somehow, this led to me being on the cover of a cycling magazine, although I was never a cyclist. My mate Shane Corley said I must ride the Cape Epic with him. Ignorantly I agreed, not knowing anything about the event. During my last six months of playing rugby, I escalated my cycling training in preparation for that first Epic," adds Smit.

"Riding bicycles has been a good transitional tool into the real world. I enjoy the routine, the training. At the races, there is a competitive thread, checking out which batch the other guys are in, and I feel it represents many similarities with rugby," explains Smit.

To date, Smit has finished the Cape Epic five times, but 2022 saw him record his first DNF, the high heat and severe winds making things challenging even for seasoned Epic campaigners.

"An unlucky chain of events led to me missing the cut-off at water point four early on in the race, but I kept riding. As I pedalled into a block headwind towards the finish that day, I said to myself that I was definitely done with the Cape Epic."

"However, I have many good memories from the five others, and I don't want to end my Epic career like this, so we are entered for next year, and the training is going ahead at full speed," says Smit.

Following a successful rugby career, Smit entered the corporate world, which saw him move back to Pretoria and discover a new way of riding.

"It is much colder in Gauteng in winter, but I did find that from where I live, I have a couple of riding options. The Big Red Barn is close to home, and Wolwespruit is an easy pedal away. I find it more enjoyable as I can roll out of my garage and start my training immediately. In Kwa-Zulu Natal, I had to load my bike up and drive to a riding spot where I could get my training, which took a lot more time.

"I need my bikes to be like a Mercedes-Benz W123: reliable, strong and comfortable. I have been riding Santa Cruz for a couple of years and love the brand. The bikes have never let me down. My mate Mark Nel at Omnico twisted my arm to give the new Cannondale Scalpel a try, I think he was keen to see if it could handle a big guy like myself," explains Smit.

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