FLYING HIGH: Chris tackles a bumpy ride.
FLYING HIGH: Chris tackles a bumpy ride.
FIGHTING IT OUT: Chris in one of his biking challenges.
FIGHTING IT OUT: Chris in one of his biking challenges.
The year is now in full swing and many will have started their resolutions of getting healthy and fit. But maybe you are one of those people still toying around with the idea of fitness and exercise, confused which option to go for.

Well, look no further than mountain biking. This endurance sport is used by the likes of Chris Dorfling, an aspiring biker from Gauteng, to get and stay in shape.

Dorfling, a Momentum employee who started mountain biking a few years ago, takes us through his journey of training to prepare for one of South Africa’s most exhilarating mountain bike races, that will take place this weekend.

The three-day biking challenge, which will enjoy International Cycling Union (UCI) status for the first time this year, will see cyclists negotiating the 268km of rough and rocky terrain, with 5 340 metres of vertical ascent, across the Western Cape’s Karoo region.

We asked Dorfling about the sport.

Why should people consider mountain biking?

It's often seen as a difficult distance sport. However, it's really a low-impact sport, ideal for someone like me who had a hip operation three months ago. I started mountain biking with the intention of getting back into running, but I'm enjoying it so much that I may put off trail running for a while.

How affordable is mountain biking and what motivates you to do it?

I’ve found that mountain biking can be affordable. To start, you can get a decent second-hand mountain bike for around R5000, and I recommend spending another R300 to get it set up for you according to your individual measurements.

If you take up mountain biking, the first thing you will notice is how much more of your neighbourhood you get to know on your bike as opposed to when you are driving through it.

There is also the joy of being outside in the cool morning or evening wind, with the sun on your skin, and if you venture off-road you will quickly run into all sorts of birds and little critters.

Has mountain biking surpassed road cycling in popularity? If so, why?

I think the fact that mountain bike cyclists do not have to dodge dangerous traffic and breathe in diesel fumes has contributed to the rise in the sport’s popularity, but in my case it’s my preference because I like getting away from houses and tar for a few hours. You cannot smell the ground and grass and see the wildlife and flowers without relaxing - so a trip on my mountain bike can take me from the most hectic day to 100% relaxed. As for doing events on weekends, a road bike often doesn’t let you cycle past waterfalls plus, if you fall, tar is less forgiving than sand.

What should amateur mountain bikers be aware of?

Having made the mistake of buying a really cheap bike because I did not know whether I would enjoy mountain biking, then having to sell and upgrade within a year, the best advice I can give is to start with a second-hand, carbon frame bike between R5000 and R20000.

The second tip when buying that first bike is to upgrade to tubeless tyres if it does not come with them already. Once you put sealant in tubeless tyres, you hardly ever have to fix punctures.

The third tip is to get nice cycling shoes with cleats, between R1000 and R3000 - and they should last eight years and more. The rest, such as cycling pants, helmet, sunglasses, basic tools, you can get as inexpensively as you wish, and upgrade when ready.

How big a change did you have to make in your diet?

In my house we already eat very healthy food, but a word of warning: once you start doing 20km and longer rides, you will start eating dramatically more.

I would advise talking to your doctor or nutritionist for advice that suits your needs.

And here is one of my favourite side benefits of mountain biking - you will now crave a slice of chocolate cake or a beer after a race, and you can have two, guilt-free, because you more than earned it in calories burnt.

Bystanders often marvel at the amount of snacks a rider can go through after a taxing race.

Tell us about your training routine. Did this continue over the festive period?

The beauty of a mountain bike is that your training route can be different every day. In my case, I hate seeing the same stuff every day so I make a point of always exploring new routes. When mountain biking on holiday, you really get to see Namibia, Botswana, Cape Town or wherever you are in a way that makes other holidaymakers jealous. This is how I have tasted fresh grapes off the vine in Ceres, and discovered the best fish and chips vendor in Somerset West.

Some would say that mountain biking could be an individually-driven sport. Is this so or can it be a family sport?

Mountain biking is great both for people like me who like to unwind alone, or those who prefer being in a social group. I'm noticing more and more cyclists forming groups and chatting throughout their rides. It makes post-ride coffees more fun too.

What are the health and fitness benefits of this sport?

This is a sport that pretty much anyone can do without getting injured. It's amazing how quickly you see a dramatic improvement in your health and fitness when taking up mountain biking.

Two weeks of riding every day and you'll be able to do things around the house you wouldn’t have done before. You will also notice people around you repeatedly asking you about the sport, and how they can get started. Don’t lend them your bike, they won’t give it back and you'll get grumpy while missing your rides!