The protagonists of the first instalment of Oli Munnik's #5Questions Interview Series are none other than Downhill mountain biking’s GOAT Greg Minnaar, and the Old Coot of the SA cycling industry, Brandon Els. We cover where they've come from and where they're headed.
#5Questions for the Old Coot, Brandon Els
- When and where did your passion for mountain biking begin?
I started racing BMX in 1979 with PEBMXA and that’s really where my passion for mountain biking originated. In 1988 I was on my way to a Benson and Hedges day/night match and as we walked past Beachbreak Surf and Sport en route to St. George’s Cricket Ground I spotted this huge BMX in the window and it was love at first sight. The next week I owned a Bridgestone MB4 and had made friends with Neil Dorward, the owner of Beachbreak.
- What was the catalyst that saw you shift into the business side of cycling?
1989 I started studying Chartered Accounting and I needed pocket money. Neil gave me a job to sell bikes on the floor and we then went on to start things like Fat Tracks MBC, SA Mountain Biking Association, Sedgefield Fat Tyre Festival and selecting the SA MTB team for the Bromont World Champs. When I qualified as a CA and completed my articles at KPMG I went back to work for Neil at his wholesale division, Adventure Sports Trading. My friends and family thought I was nuts to go sell bikes and turn down a job offer from Investec.
- Over the years, has any one particular person played a pivotal role in your career?
Neil Dorward played a big part in me seeing that I could make a living from my passion for mountain biking and he taught me sales. But Mike Smith from KPMG and Peter Miller, my business partner at Probike taught me valuable business and life lessons. I am thankful for having met and worked with Neil, Mike and Peter.
- What does the future hold for the South African cycling industry, and specifically Rush Sports?
Right now I think the SA cycling industry is consolidating after tremendous growth over the last few years. Specifically Rush Sports has an extremely bright future and is growing fast because of the quality of the management team and the projects under development. At Rush I can also now apply some of the lessons I learnt over the years and my role is just really the financing and rapid development of the team. Watch this space!
- What has been your proudest moment in cycling?
It is without a doubt finishing the 2008 ABSA Cape Epic in position 117. J Nobody will convince me there was a tougher mountain bike race ever on this Earth!!
#5Questions for the GOAT, Greg Minnaar
- With a career spanning almost two decades, many fans have been asking themselves how long you will continue to live between the tape? Can you share with us an outline of what the next few years hold?
Last season I was forced onto the sidelines after breaking my arm at Fort William, Scotland, on one of my favourite tracks. Literally the next day I got stuck in to rehabbing my arm in an effort to make sure I was back on the bike ASAP. This urgency to regain fitness reminded me that I hadn’t lost any of the passion or drive to race - or as you say, live between the tape. So I’ll definitely be on the start line for another few seasons at least. Having said that, as soon as that passion and drive fade I'll know it is time to pull the plug.
- What is your relationship with Rush Sports?
While racing professionally is my main focus, I've always been interested in the business side of the industry. I joined Rush Sports as a Director in 2016 to help build relationships internationally as well as provide the company with a unique perspective based on my international racing experience.
- What attracted you to this business in particular?
Brandon has been involved in South Africa's bike industry for decades and has always had a great eye for opportunity, taking on leading brands and giving them the footing needed to provide a great service and value to the South African customer. When Brandon and Andre joined forces at Rush Sports, it was a merger between veteran experience and a new-age, self-taught operator. It is the perfect type of partnership leading brands like Santa Cruz and Maxxis look for in a globally relevant distributor.
- The industry has seen rapid technological development in the last 5 years, where do you think the focus of this development will lie in the next few years, firstly in terms of professional Downhill racing, and secondly for amateur riders?
Like Formula1 is to cars, DH racing will continue to push the boundaries of development and technology in the bike world. From the perspective of amateur riders, they will continue to reap the rewards of the technology that ultimately trickles down to bikes available at your local bike shop. In terms of where the technological focus will lie in the near future, it is really hard to say, for the last few years we have been focused on wheels. Now that that has settled down we can continue focusing on suspension and the overall experience of the ride.
- What has been your proudest moment in cycling?
It's going to be tough to beat winning World Champs at home, nothing has ever come close to that feeling!
About #5Questions: This 10 part series of interviews aims to highlight characters, from industry insiders to professional racers, who have shaped South Africa's cycling landscape.
Written and compiled by Oli Munnik