He’s an absolute weapon on a bike and has the palmares to prove it but podiums and medals are not really what makes Benky tick. Instead, he believes the success of a ride can be measured by the size of the smile and the quality of the experience. Here’s Benky:
Who is Kevin Benkenstein?
My Insta bio says: Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Friend. Let’s go with that.
Where are you from and where do you live?
I am born and bred in Pietermaritzburg, the Burra, and still live here (in Hilton). I have left, come back and left again but we are here now raising our family and it is home for good. I am very proud of it being my home, the people and the riding, that we have here.
What do you do for a living?
I own a business called Benky Rides, selling bicycles and sometimes taking tours too. We are the importers of Curve Titanium and Steel bikes and their associated components too. Some (my wife) might say I counsel people on their riding lives too.
Cortado, tea or other?
Favourite recovery meal?
A good bowl of Oats and Eggs on Toast – 3 eggs, runny.
What hobbies do you have outside of biking?
There’s life outside of riding? No, seriously riding and bikes are my life other than my family. I live for it, and it’s what I think of borderline non-stop. From riding, to training, to watching bike races and learning about bikes and parts, it is what I do. Working in the industry obviously adds to that but I think I can honestly say I have given my life to this activity and the sport and I am very happy with that. The rest of my time is for my family.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by people and teams who try their best with no excuses, regardless of the result on paper. Sporting excuses are my pet hate.
How did you get into riding?
I lay on the couch during school holidays watching the Tour in 2001 and decided it looked fun. I convinced my Dad to buy me a bike at the end of those holidays and started riding from boarding school to the shops and back. I rode Amashova a few months later and realized I loved racing and was okay at it, so it grew from there. I took a break from riding during Varsity but got back into it in my mid-20s and haven’t looked back.
Tell us the history of your racing experience.
I was a road rider for the first half of my riding life, but would call myself a rider of all bikes now, and tried to make it on that scene but was never good enough. I did get a SA Champs TT medal in my junior days but really that was the closest I came to being any good. For the last 10 years or so though I have gravitated into longer races in general. Specifically, the non-stop multi-day races that are self-supported. I love the challenge of these races and the mental strength they require. I have been lucky to have a few wins but mostly I am really good at coming 2nd through 4th, a habit I am trying to break! I’ve won the Munga, Freedom Circuit and placed 2nd in the Race to the Rock and Rhino Run.
How and when did you fall in love with gravel?
In 2014 I was hit by a car and my bike broke. I ordered a replacement roadie but at the last minute changed my mind and got a Specialized Diverge, with 32mm tyres and tubes as was the gravel spec back then. Finding gravel revitalized my riding life, and life in general, and I was soon off exploring and touring and getting lost too and it was awesome. It has grown into racing too but at the heart of it for me remains going to places I love to be and finding new ways to get there, or not.
Are you happy to see gravel racing on the up and up in SA?
Yes! Gravel racing is an easy entry point given that it isn’t very technical and is easy for all riders to get into. I feel that it can be inclusive and hasn’t got the baggage of longer-standing riding genres, much like Enduro is on the up these days too because it doesn’t have to be a race.
What other style of gravel events do you think SA needs more of?
I think the weekend-event type rides/races need to come around, somewhat similar to what Trail Running has. I think that Gravel should be a family weekend, and a community one too, with kids’ rides and pre-rides and a bit of a party after. Bikes are fun, I hope that more events focus on that before the racing.
You’ve been around bikes and the bike industry for a bit. Looking into the crystal ball – do you see sales of Gravel Bikes equaling that of Road Bikes in the next 10 to 20 years, in SA?
Easily, and surpassing it too. I think South Africa is the perfect place to own a gravel bike, race one and just ride one. For much of the country road quality will drive that too, sadly, but mostly I think more riders just want to have fun and explore and that’s what gravel bikes encourage more than anything else.
If you could change one thing about the bike industry – when it comes to Gravel – what would it be and why?
I think I’d really like the brands to focus on rider engagement and understanding more. I get the feeling (from rider interactions) that there’s a bit of a bubble of self-feedback rather than actually being where riders are riding and because of that they aren’t always providing the product options that would benefit South African riders the most. Our market is different from the US or Europe.
4-hour solo gravel ride on the menu for the day – as you walk out the door, what do you have in your pockets?
Cadence Nutrition Bars, Jam Sandwiches and maybe a Bar One or two.
Which SA bike rider inspires you the most? Any category, any era. And why?
Burry, mostly because I had the pleasure of racing with him as team-mates and competitors as a Junior so got to see his raw talent first-hand. He remains the most gifted rider on any bike, from DH to Road, and even now thinking of what he was capable of leaves me awe-struck. He could have chosen any bike to be a World-level Pro on and more importantly, was actually just a good guy.
Of the current crop I have a lot of respect for Louis Meintjies and love seeing him riding to his level again. I can’t think of much harder than being a WT GC rider and he’s got a few TdF top 10s and a Vuelta Stage Win to his name, both of which he earned by riding to his abilities even if that wasn’t spectacular attacks, which takes a lot of self-awareness and patience I would imagine.
Your favorite gravel loop is?
Oof, it’s a 500km loop of course. You start in PMB, ride up to Hilton, around the back of Midmar Dam, through Impendle to Himeville, across the Lotheni Road (the most beautiful road!) to Glengarry Farm, then to Notties and finishing with a loop in the Karkloof. I cannot think of a ride I want to do more.
Your dream destination for a gravel ride is? Why?
The KZN Midlands, because you can ride 100km gravel loops on empty farm roads from your front door.
What one thing would you like all Gravel riders to remember/embrace?
Easy. Something even I have to remember occasionally is that bikes are meant to be fun, and we don’t have to take it too seriously. Even when we are training hard.