Professional Trail Builder Gavin Pelser talks bikes, dogs, being in nature and life lessons

Catching up with: Gavin Pelser

Behind the wheel on a build near Stellenbosch in 2019.

Gavin Pelser, the Gauteng-based trail builder, dog lover and beer talks bikes, riding and what he’s learnt along the way.

So let’s start at the beginning here, for someone who has absolutely no clue, who is Gavin Pelser? An avid mountain-biker who doesn’t ride enough! I raced BMX until around standard eight, when my academic failures prompted my pops (may he rest in peace) to promptly sell my BMX… Poof! Life destroyed just like that. At the age of 19 I purchased my first MTB, a Jamis Durango – far as I remember. I couldn’t complain about the suspension — there was none. For a while there I was a member of the then NCRC road cycling club in Pretoria and dabbled in some road racing from 1988 until mountain biking came to our shores.

The transition from road to mountain was rad: The trails were non-existent back then, with the only purpose-built trail venues in Pretoria around Fountains Valley and Klapperkop, which offered some technical and rocky riding thanks to the work of Mr Palmer and son. This arena produced several SA MTB champions in both the XC and DH disciplines: Mathew Kimble, Petr Leja, Paul Cordes, Adrian Ilsley, Dylan Victor and Justin Victor are the names I can remember. There were many familiar BMX hall-of-famers who instantly discovered what I consider to be the best bicycle genre – cross country and the XC racing scene flourished.

Training rides were outrides and we explored the outskirts of Pretoria searching for places to ride. It was an adventure every time. The humble BMX gave me an absolute understanding of flow and rhythm on two wheels, something any trail builder worth their salt knows, feels and understands. Best practice build techniques and responsible trail placement is as much a science as it is an art.

You’re a trail builder by trade, what do you occupy your days with? I like to ease into the day with a good cup of coffee, watch the sunrise.  My dad used to call me ‘the thinker,’ – I do a lot of that in the morning, some call it planning and strategy. If I’m not on-site exploring, plotting or building, I moonlight at two shops in Jozi… (I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Chris Wilson of Cycle Gallery, Alexander James Bramley and James van Luipen of Bike Market for understanding my comings and goings and putting ZARS in my pocket and keeping me off the streets between projects. Legends!) Back in the eventing days, I doubled up as soigneur and wrench monkey for a few top international racing teams, privateers and event specialist tech support gigs. Occasionally I do some admin, which I suck at.

How did you get into trail building? I have to acknowledge Meurant Botha, an inspiration and a legend. We met in 2006, he came to Jozi to assist with an early effort by some enthusiastic MTBing locals, who spearheaded the first consolidated proposal to City Parks to allow the development of not only MTB trails, but multi-user trails along the Braamfontein Spruit. An awkward bromance has flourished over the years, he passed on several trail consulting gigs my way that the AMA Rider initiative had inquiries for, and not only the Gauteng area. He definitely helped put chicken in the kitchen and got my “career” kickstarted. 

Where is your favourite place to ride and why? Clarens. For the views and the fact that there isn’t much purpose-built trail… Yet.

Hypothetically speaking, you have got three bikes in the garage: A jump bike, a fixie and Minnaar’s DH bike, which one do you pick to go have fun on? Imagine having being on Minnaar’s steed… From a practicality perspective and actual riding in Jozi, I’d have to choose the jump bike (having never owned one) I have hammered one around a pump track and it’s power. That being said, I seldom garner up the courage to hit jumps these days, the last time was about a year-and-a-half-ago with the dirt jump crew at Hurlingham line. Happy to report that I’ve still got it, I just need to follow the wheel of someone I trust for the first roll in. Also, I need to work on Monday.

When are you happiest and why? The PG answer is pretty much all the time, tomorrow is not guaranteed. I get my kicks in many ways, being out in nature is a favourite – mountains, rivers, bush.

What is your greatest fear? Eating shit, man, it’s always in the back of my mind prior to getting on a bike. Yet, once the hands are on the bars and your feet on the pedals, it disappears… Cannot explain it. My mom would have said ‘the fear of missing out on a jol!’

What’s the best piece of advice for bike riding you have ever been given and why?Just ride’ – Put your ego aside, put your fears aside and just ride… Too often my competitive nature has gotten the better of me, muscle memory, ego and not enough conditioning can be your undoing.

If you won an all-expenses-paid bikecation: would you pick a holiday in Whistler to shred with your mates or a Cape to Cairo bike ride, and why? WHISTLER!!! The mecca of mountain biking. Have not been, it’s bucket list stuff.

What has bike riding taught you about yourself and about life in general and why? The life lessons are plenty, the ones I’m particularly fond of are what the gravity community has taught me – in no particular order: 1. You cannot bullshit your way onto a podium. 2. A podium is not everything. 3. It can go horribly wrong at any time. 4. The clock doesn’t lie. 5. My fast and your fast are two different things, either way. 6. You’re on your own, yet the course is the same for everyone. 7. The fastest and the slowest can sit around a fire at the end of the day and revel in the same experience without judgment.

If you had to ride one pump track or bike park in your hood, for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why? I’m too much of a gypsy to commit to one place for the rest of my life. If my vision for the Eastern Free State becomes a reality, it would have to be Clarens.

How many hours a week are you riding? A slipped disc and sciatica from hell have kept me off the bike of late. The past seven months has only seen me riding the past two weekends here in Mpumalanga, both occasions at the MTO Lowveld trails just outside White River, while here in the region on two separate trail building projects. My motivation to ride is shadowed by my fear of eating shit. Before that, only once a week on average. I like a beer and don’t like to spend more than two hours in the saddle. I don’t consider it training, more an elixir. I need to ride more…

What does the future hold for you? What an exciting time to be a Trail Builder. Despite lockdown and Covid, 2020 and 2021 to date have been the busiest seasons in my 15-year‘ career.’ More venues are opening, existing venues are realizing the need to upgrade and large estates see the value-add of having their own trails. The future is bright indeed. //

| WORDS: Jazz Kuschke |

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