10 Apr, 2015

Riding for Big Air


So what does riding the Nedbank Sani2c and “Sick” Nick de Witt, South Africa’s best known freestyle motocross rider, have in common? Raymond Travers went to “Sick” Nick’s hide-out in Muldersdrift to find out.

With the sound of powerful motocross engines revving and redlining in the background, we enter a small, nondescript shack.

The obligatory oily rag hanging over a rack on one side, a motor cycle carcass perched upright on a brace with its plethora of components waiting around like vultures, eyeing its carcass.

We move deeper into the cavern. An old lounger greets us, and shakes an assortment of incidentals off itself so that we could sit down.

My eyes look around, picking up motorcycle helmets, leathers, one or two more motorcycles in various states of disrepair, various parts and accessories and a pretty well-stocked tool box.

“Excuse the dirty workshop,” said Nick. He looked at me and I couldn’t help noticing a twinkle in his eye.

“Don’t be fooled,” said his cycling and sometimes-business partner Brian Capper, “he probably wouldn’t have tidied up anyway.”

I pick up a few common cycling – motocross brands, Fox, Monster, Dirt Nurse etc – and I relaxed. I felt at home.

“No, no, no, Nick,” I joined the conversation. “If you didn’t have a dirty workshop, I would really start to worry!”
All three of us laugh. We have found a common love for things with two wheels, but I’m still not 100% sure why I’m interviewing Nick and Brian together.

“Well,” explained Nick, “we’ve got two separate sports here. I’m primarily freestyle motocross and Brian, he used to be super moto, then trails, then enduro. I started racing motocross and then went to freestyle motocross,” Nick explained.

In the early days of freestyle motocross, or FMX, riders would just go out and ride and enjoy it. Riders never needed training but over the last 10 years, it has evolved from a “fun sport” to something a lot more competitive.

“Gone are the days where you could just go out and have fun expressing yourself on your bike,” Nick explained further, “tracks have evolved from two ramps to 10 different ramps, so it’s kind of like riding motor cross or super cross but still doing backflips and all the other crazy tricks. And, you know, all that has become physically demanding.”

So Nick and Brian have chosen cycling to build their base fitness level.

“It is also a fun way to get fit,” said Nick, “I don’t really like going to gym so I’d rather hop on my bike. You know, it’s got two wheels and it’s what I know how to do. And to just go out into the veld and climb some big hills, or put in 50, 60 or 70 kilometres on a bicycle.”

Brian gets technical.

“From the racing side for me, it’s obviously massively physically demanding. Enduro and supermoto your heart rate is between 170 and 190 beats per minute for 20 to 30 minutes,” explained Brian, “we’ve just found that cycling is without a doubt the best all-round way of training.”

Brian stated that he not only gets a good cardio vascular workout on his bicycle, but a very good mental workout too.

“Both the motorbike and the bicycle are very physical. And especially when you ride with a guy like Nick who is very technically-minded, so the way he rides is very technical. The similarities are so, so close,” added Brian.

So bicycles and motor bikes, no matter whether they are powered by engines or human legs, are very similar “animals”, according to Brian and Nick.
“You use the same muscles, your core and for balancing,” said Nick, “and I’ve read that the second most physically demanding sport in the USA is motocross, so our sports are definitely physically demanding which is why cycling is definitely good for us.”

Again, Brian stressed the mental fitness.

“There is a lot of hand-eye co-ordination with it and we need a lot of that. Nick’s sport is so precise and the accuracy you need is insane, particularly when you are five storeys in the air. With mine, it is a little less, but it’s also important. So I think from our point of view, we need to be able to stay on the cutting edge all the time.”

He also explained that motorcycling have given both him and Nick the edge with reading the terrain.

“On the downhills especially, we are able to read the terrain and manoeuvre the bike at high speeds when there are rocks and drop-offs. For us, this is natural,” explained Brian.

So, instead of heading to gym after a hard day’s work, in this case on their respective motorcycles as they earn a living, Brian and Nick grab their mountain bikes and head out onto the various trails within cycling distance.

“As Brian said, he has got a racing background and is very competitive,” smiled Nick, “So every time we go on a ride, he’s kind of ‘I’ll-beat-you-to-the-top-of-that-hill!’ kind of thing. So we are competitive even when we ride together.”

So, while out on a ride one day, Brian and Nick decided that they needed a cycling challenge.

“We’ve seen a couple of videos of the Nedbank Sani2c and Old Mutual Joberg2c stage races and we thought, you know what, we want to go ride there in those mountains. We wanted to ride the Nedbank Sani2c,” Nick explained.

Thanks to Brian and Nick’s mutual sponsor Red Bull, a meeting was set up with race organiser Farmer Glen Haw and their entry was secured.

“We also want to say that we are two relatively normal guys who aren’t professional cyclists but who do cycle a bit and we aim to put in a respectable time,” explained Nick, “you don’t have to be a pro cyclist to go and ride these big prestigious races. I thought that because I wasn’t really a cyclist, I could never do a race like the Sani2c but I am forcing myself to do it. We want to show other people that they can do it too, no matter what other sport they come from.”

Brian explained that due to the demanding schedule that their shows give them, it was difficult to clear the time to do the Nedbank Sani2c.

“Like Nick says,” explained Brian, “we want to inspire other people to do it as well. I know a lot of the rugby players are doing it. But unlike them, we don’t just want to finish it, we want to rock ‘n roll. We want to go there and go big. We want to go hard. It is a stepping stone and we both like the Sani2c race so we’re keen to do it and I think the scenery is going to be awesome.”

And after the Nedbank Sani2c next month, Brian and Nick aim to push for other events so their participation in the 2016 Absa Cape Epic is possible.

So Brian and Nick have taken up cycling to keep fit for their regular endeavours, which include regular appearances on the FMX and Enduro circuits. Both Brian and Nick also showcase their relevant sports during their roadshows.

“Mine is called Extreme Riding Exhibitions, which is a trial bike exhibition that I’ve brought back from the States,” explained Brian.

It is basically a 25-minute choreographed show where Brian does his own commentating while he shows off what a trial bike can do. Often Nick will join Brian and backflip over Brian’s rig, showing off to anyone from corporate functions to the crowds at the Rand Easter Show.

“I’ve found that corporates are tired of the magic shows, the comedians and the normal entertainment so let’s create something exciting by putting a motorcycle in there. So I’m doing exciting corporate events for the likes of Coca Cola, Mercedes and Nestle,” Nick explained.

So instead of taking an event like the Nitro Circus or Red Bull X Fighters – both of which Nick regularly participates in – which are large R25 – R30 million shows, Nick and Brian take their smaller events and put them on in your company’s car park.

“But you still see me on a bike 12 metres in the sky or you see Brian balancing a motorcycle on the edge of a four metre box,” explained Nick, “we are definitely taking our sport to the people, which is something we decided to do 10 or 12 years ago.”

And even if this is a little smaller than Nick’s largest show, where he jumped over the wooden horse used during the making of the movie Troy in front of 120 000 people in Turkey, Brian and Nick still get the same reactions.

“From the guys who come up to us after the show and lift our shirts to make sure we are actually human, to the chops who come up to us and say ‘hou vas my dop en watch hierdie move’, people are always basically amazed at what we do,” concludes Nick.

We get up and I give the workshop a cursory glance as I head towards the door. I can’t wait to see what Nick and the other FMX guys are doing at the track and I head towards the strange collection of sharply rising ramps and mounds of earth, only to see and hear a powerful engine as a bike and rider shoots into the sky, the rider getting off the saddle and holding onto the rear of the bike before taking his seat again, just before the bike lands on one of the mounds and rides away as if it had been riding normally all afternoon.

All kitted up, Nick rides his motorcycle up to where I’m standing and I asked whether I was safe.

“Sure, but now you going to see something else. Keep your camera ready,” he said as he gunned the engine.

After riding around, he hit the ramp and flew 10 or 12 metres over me … upside down!

I still can’t make up my mind whether watching “Sick” Nick de Wit flying upside down over my head or looking around his “Aladdin’s Cave” of a workshop excited me more. One thing is for sure, the former got my goosebumps going!

Check out Sick Nick’s and Brian’s for more information about their shows.


Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |