Although Africans have been competing at world-class levels for decades in distance running and other big sports, poor roads and the high cost of racing bicycles were barriers to the sport of cycling. And there was a social stigma to riding a bicycle as well. "There is a perception in Africa that if you own a bike it means you're too poor to own a car," says Douglas Ryder, the founder of MTN-Qhubeka. "So you'd rather walk. Or run. “
Dirtyheart recently had the pleasure of meeting a women who is ready to change all of that. I met Gobona at the Glacier Cradle Traverse earlier this year and we got to chatting about all things mountain biking. Her vision for cycling in Botswana is an inspiration and her plans to bring young girls and women into the sport of mountain biking is just feverish. Gobona Mantle is serious about helping women gain experience and is working to grow the sport she so loves in her home country. A qualified coach and mechanic, Gobona has big plans to bring girls and women into mountain biking in Botswana.
Hi Gobona, welcome to Dirtyheart. Firstly, tell us a little about yourself.
Hey guys, thanks for having me. My full name is Gobona Mantle. I grew up with my extended family which only had boys. Growing up I did boy stuff like going to the Cattle Post and riding on donkeys. I tried everything the boys did, including riding bikes. My first bike ride was at 12 years old, I had never been on a bike before. I used to see my uncle go to the Cattle Post with his commuter bike, we called it a Humber, I think that was its make. On this particular day, my uncle wanted to send me to his friend's house and it was about four kilometers from our house. So instead of running to his friend's house I asked him if he could push me so I could try and ride his bike. I knew this would cut down on time so I thought why not? At first he thought I was joking but I insisted and that's when he said okay. I got on the bike and rode that first journey of 4km. That was the start of my interests in bikes. From then on I was a “bike regular”, using it for most house hold chores that needed some time saving. This went on until I was 15 when the bike stopped operating and I wouldn't ride again until my adult years.
My second start, and a serious one, was when I was 26. I have always been a dreamer. Growing up less fortunate with no one fending for you and no parents to guide you, I had to grow up quickly. I was watching the local news and I saw a bicycle race and I was like… wow!!! I can do that... because I knew I loved cycling and I had a passion from childhood. That weekend I went to the shops and looked for the cheapest bike I could find and I bought it. I started inquiring about races and events around me. My first race was at best, interesting. LOL. I fell a lot because I just went to the race with little training and skills but that never brought me down. I started practicing and eventually I was competing with the best ladies that I had looked up to when I started cycling. At first my family were skeptical, because they didn't know much about the sport and they felt I was going to hurt myself. All sorts of scary believes come out but the more I spoke to them, they began understanding why I was doing it and that I will always make sure safety comes first. I continued racing and started winning the female categories. More and more youngsters began cycling and it was becoming little harder every time to stay on top.
With the continuous arrival of new talent and my interest in seeing this new generation of cyclist perform at an international level, I decided to enroll for a few Coaching courses with the help of Botswana cycling association, the Botswana Olympic committee and Olympic solidarity. I won two scholarships in the period of a month to do level one in coaching in South Africa. The next course was done in Switzerland in March 2018 where I did level one and two in coaching and mechanics and I excelled in both of the courses. I will forever be grateful for those opportunities to grow my knowledge in the sport I love. After returning home from my trip to Switzerland I started working on creating a business to help all these talented cyclists in Botswana and Life Cycle Bicycle Coaching and Tuition was born.
Your business is extremely exciting for cycling in Africa. Tell us more about it.
During the past nine years that I have been involved in cycling, I came to a realisation that a lot needs to be done in my country in terms of female participation and the age that one starts to cycle. We have few women doing mountain biking, especially in local communities. They have different opinions, some cultural or social that we need to break. I believe if we teach a young girl from a tender age about the importance of cycling and its pros and cons, we can grow the sport and allow girls more opportunities and that's where my company fits in.
At the moment we have three schools that we have approached and will soon start providing our services, the focus being more on the girl child. I know how difficult growing up as a girl is, especially in our African society. A woman is always perceived as a child bearer whose job is in the kitchen but this isn’t true. If girls could be taught to appreciate themselves as much as their counterparts, and believe in themselves, the world will be a different place.
Last but not least our program's aim is to provide community service. With the help of Cycle Base, which is a local bike shop in Botswana, we provide weekend social rides and sessions with the focus on helping women and motivating them with ideas on how to improve their cycling. At the moment I have about seven women that have come for these sessions and they are keen to learn more and improve their mountain biking skills. Our youngest female rider is eleven years old and shows great promise.
Why did you decide to start this business? What challenges and success have you had?
I created this business with the intention of growing cycling from grassroots level to a competitive level. We see a lot of youngsters like me growing up with bicycles and all they can do is just ride around for fun and nothing else. Our company wants to take those interested kids out of the comfort of their homes and put them into a space that they can learn bike handling, skills and technique, taking care of their bicycles, basic bike mechanics and how to start competing locally and internationally. We want the government to see the importance of cycling on a child's life and that cycling, if done professionally, can change people’s lives and take many of our youth off the streets, feed them, and let them achieve success, if they reach the top levels of competition. My dream is to see everyone regardless of their financial background being able to follow their dreams.
How difficult is sport and cycling for youngsters to get into in Botswana? How is Lifecycle helping overcome this?
Sometimes it's hard for youngsters to get into sports like cycling because they don’t know much about the sport or they believe cycling is an expensive. Yes, it can be expensive but with support from government and external providers in the private sector, I believe we could change those believes and allow more riders to become interested in participation. Everyone deserves the chance to fulfill their dreams, live a good and healthy lifestyle and maybe even become a star. I have many women in the community that I motivate on a daily basis and mentor. I either visit them at their villages or ask them to join us on the Saturday rides so I can help them with their riding. My interest is to grow young girls in the sport and to be their role model. Getting the youth the right skills and opportunities is my main focus.
What are your future plans for Lifecycle?
Again Cycle Base has been amazing in their commitment to me and my programme. They have offered to sponsor us with kids bicycles so that we could start the business and they provide us with so much help while our business grows. We have been contacted by investors that want to invest in the business as they see potential and share our dream that Botswana will become a centre for cycling in the near future.
At the moment we have three private schools in the country which we provide coaching and tuition and we are engaging other schools and other stake holders to assist us. We are working hard to get sponsorship for those who cannot afford our services so that they too can become involved regardless of their circumstances. We want to see Lifecycle bicycle coaching and Tuition grow to produce the best and dedicated sports women and men in the country.
What is your dream for cycling and growing the sport in your country?
Our dream is to see Botswana compete with other African countries in major competition. We would love to create a racing series, like the Spur cycling competition for school kids in Botswana. We need sponsors and investors that have great knowledge in cycling to come and help us to grow the sport in our country. We would love to see more stage races in Botswana, like South Africa, where we could invite international riders and inspire more people to take up the sport.
If you could give cyclists in other countries who are finding it difficult to do the sport they love one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could give a cyclist there a piece of advice it would be; regardless of your family background, if you want to pursue something… do it! You will find along the way something good will come out of it. To all the girl riders I would say don't be intimidated by your male counterparts, whatever a boy can do, you can also do, but for a lady you will have to go the extra mile. My other piece of advice is don't let anyone choose your destiny, if anybody tells you that you are not good enough or you cannot do something, just work harder to outlive their words… Last but not least, girls should not be enticed easily just because they want to be chosen at a high level. They should know their worth and work hard to be the best because these things coaches taking advantage of their weaknesses.
We love your work Gabona. You are doing amazing things and we will be following your progress. If you have any questions or would like to assist the Lifecycle bicycle coaching and Tuition programme, please contact Gabona at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow their Facebook page to see the great work they are doing for mountain biking in Botswana.