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10 Jun, 2015

Bikes, the Godfather, cleats and useful tips

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Susan tackles the big rock obstacle at Modders. Photograph by Marie-Anne Meijers.

Our 50 Shades of … Mud riders have become very accomplished mountain bikers since they started less than two years ago. Susan Winter, or “buns-of-steel” as she is known, takes stock of her mountain biking experience.

Having just gone through the change (and by that I mean changing from pedals to cleats), my cycling has ascended to the next level. I do have the Godfather to thank for this as he has always encouraged me but never forced me. He has been married to me for 35 years so knows better.

In the year and a half that I have been mountain biking, I initially started on a 26-inch hard tail which I loved. The Godfather sold it without informing me and came home with a 29-inch beast of a hard tail. Well I sulked and refused to ride it.

Two long weeks went by and I eventually realised that the only person losing out was me and I was missing out on all the family rides.

I eventually took the bike to the testing Rietvlei track, and off I went. I had my first fall and there and then blamed the bike. The Godfather told me to persevere, and give the bike a chance. Two weeks down the line, I started to enjoy the bike.

What was amazing was how the bigger tyres just rolled over the rocks. Initially it was a bit heavy to climb with however; going down steep inclines was an absolute joy. This also led to some scary out of control situations!

After learning the hard way, the Godfather consulted with me to come and try out a new 27.5-inch soft tail. It was love at first sight. I have now had it for five months and absolutely adore it. My bike and I have a very good understanding of each other’s skills and capabilities.

At this point, much to the dismay of the Godfather and some male friends, I refused point blank to wear cleats. I was enjoying my new bike as it came, with my wide pedals. I was also more than happy with the way my riding was progressing.

Waking up one morning in December, I realised that I had now reached the next level of fitness and from the pit of my stomach knew that I had to progress to cleats. (You see it does happen in your own time).

I felt that I was one with my bike, and now had the confidence, as I was also much fitter.

My technical skills had also come on in leaps and bounds.

I initially started out with two rides on the road, to get used to the cleats. The concentration and focus was immense.

One Sunday morning in January saw me on the starting line to do my first race cleated in. Avoiding the masses I started towards the back and soon got into my own rhythm.

Ten kilometres into the race, we came to a very muddy section with people scrambling all over the place. I was forced to stop but also forgot to uncleat. Before I knew it I had bought my own plot! At least it was a soft landing. Things did improve from there, and I even got to thoroughly enjoy the race.

On finishing, my riding friend Jean, commented that I was now living up to our “50 shades of … mud” -reputation.

The Godfather has also been very supportive and recommended some small changes to my bike set-up, which may seem insignificant, but made a huge difference.

Examples Below:

  • Hand sizes: Women normally have smaller hands than men. However most bikes come out with standard grips. Incorrect grips lead to pins and needles in the hands. This leads to poor control, and possible falls. Get your local bike shop to fit a set of silicone skinny grips. They are comfortable, colourful and improve the feel of the bike.
  • • Novices, who start mountain biking, often complain of weak wrists. Two squash balls can be used to strengthen one’s wrists. Squeeze them for 15 minutes every day. It’s amazing how much easier it is to go downhill fast, if your wrists are strong.
  • • Keep your cleats clean, and lightly lubed. Also lube your pedals so that you never battle to uncleat.
  • • Have your bike serviced regularly at a reputable bike shop. Try and forge a relationship with your bike shop. You never know when you may need a favour.
Susan Winter

Susan Winter

50 Shades Contributor |

Otherwise known as "buns-of-steel", Susan was one of the original three 50 Shades of ... Mud riders.