Hot off winning the 2018 SA Downhill MTB national championship, we catch up with Theo Erlangsen and his winning YT Industries TUES.
Full name: Theo Erlangsen
Nickname: T-Pain / Mayo
Hometown: Cape Town
Bike: YT Industries – TUES Carbon XL
Sponsors: YT Industries, cSixx, Fox Racing South Africa, Maxxis tires / Rush Sports, Bike Park Constantia Uitsig, BMT Bikeshop and The Trails Crew.
Congrats on becoming the new South African Downhill MTB Champion. What does this achievement mean to you?
It’s always tricky trying to explain to a girl that you’re pretty good at riding bikes but having a title like ‘SA Champ” helps streamline that process. Always helpful! And… I also get to represent South Africa at World Championships in Switzerland in September, that’s also nice.
How did you prepare for the SA Champs?
Na, I don’t have a training program. I should, but being too serious doesn’t work for me. I just try and ride my bike as much as I can and have fun. The more fun you have, the quicker you get! I just tried to dial in my bike.
What was going through your mind going into SA Champs?
Shoh, Theo, you better pull the carrot out your ass. After qualifying, I realised how quick everyone was going to be in their race run, so I knew I really had to have the perfect race run to take the win.
Give us your thoughts on the SA Champs course?
The venue is really good! Not yet world class, but definitely a really good spot for a national race. The track needs some design changes, opening up and a few adjustments, but otherwise it was good. I do understand that they had time constraints. They’ve got some passionate people working on the track, which goes a long way to building the venues momentum.
Which are some of your favourite trails in SA?
Stellenbosch, Cape Town
Stellies has, by a country mile, the best trails in South Africa. The best trails all together in close proximity. From Jonkershoek, Coetzenberg, Helderberg Trails to Hellsend Bike Park. Simply the best, and Stellenbosch is a rad little town which is an added bonus to the trails.
What style of riding do you enjoy the most?
Big air bike park trails. You don’t really get any in SA but in Europe and Canada there are tons – A-Line, Dirt Merchant, Chatâl, Vink-Line, etc. I obviously enjoy steep techy trails but those are usually stressful and you can’t ride them all day. The best is being able to ride in big trains of riders with your friends, to throw big whips and blow up some loose corners. Not great for training, but great fun with the boys!
Riding the 2016/2017 TY Tues, what are your pro’s and con’s of the bike?
Pros – The bike is perfect in so many ways. It looks drop-dead gorgeous, it’s always nice to have a bike that makes others jealous. It’s super progressive, so I can really ride it brutally and it’s never a problem. The kinamatics and pivot are perfect for South African tacks. I feel very confident being able to whole-heartedly tell someone, looking to buy a DH bike, that it is the best option. Having a world class (proven) bike, that is cheaper than any other bike on the market, is an unusual and special combination.
Cons – The suspension and breaks are a bit out-dated (on my bike). I’d love to upgrade them.
What is your stand-out component on your bike?
My derailer. The new horizontal parallelogram sram derailers are way better than the previous models. There is way less chain-slap noise and it hardly ever breaks. I used to smoke like five derailers a season… now I’ve broken one in two years!
Which feature of the YT Tues do you enjoy the most?
It’s strength. I ride bikes really hard. I can’t say no to having fun and so I huck everything as big as I can and hit every corner as hard as I can. The bike should really just split in two, but it hasn’t. It’s a beast.
When not riding bikes, what can you normally be found doing?
Anything fun. I’m too hyperactive to sit still. Hiking, running, cliff jumping, moto, surfing, anything that’s fun and can be done with friends. But usually it’s a bike [laughs].
What’s next for Theo Erlangsen?
Europe! That’s where you have to prove yourself. It’s easy to be the best in SA, but in Europe it’s another game. I’m hoping to get some good races in, show my speed and hopefully even ride some Fest Series rounds, if I can get an invite! Hopefully I can make a career out of mountain biking in the near future.
What would you ultimately like to achieve in your riding career?
‘World champion’ is also a good title. A little far-fetched at this point, but you never know. Otherwise, if I could ride my bike, have fun and travel to the places I’ve only ever dreamed of riding, that would be a dream come true!
My parents for putting up with my shit.
Theo talks us through his YT Industries TUES
Frame – YT industries TUES Carbon Fibre XL.
I could go on for ages about the frame, angles, lengths, kinematics, etc.
But give it a thought – Aaron Gwin dominates the World Cup scene on his YT, both last year and this year’s SA champions won on a YT TUES. You could go out on a limb, and say it’s a good bike, take a hint.
YT is without a doubt the best value when it comes to buying a downhill bike.
Fork – Rockshox Boxxer
One of the best forks I’ve ever had. Technically the fork shouldn’t work as it originally came with a spring, not an air cartridge. I rode it for a while with a spring, but hated the feel, so I wanted to put in an air cartridge. However, once you ride it with the spring, it scratches the inside of the station, and they say you can’t run the air cartridge. But I managed to get an old model air cartridge lying in the back of the Cape Cycle Systems warehouse and put that in. Somehow, I really don’t know how, but it’s worked like a dream. I’ve serviced it maybe 4 times in like 2 years, and it’s been absolutely bomb-proof, never failing on me. However given the choice, I’d run a Fox 40 air, purely for racing in Europe. I’d like to have the increased adjustability in settings and stiffness, as the tracks are so much more demanding. That being said, for riding in South Africa, I think a Boxxer is sufficient for most people.
Rear shock – Rockshox Vivid
Another component on my bike that has surpassed my expectations. In 2 years of abuse, I’ve only serviced it once, and it’s never given me any issues. I favour coil shocks as I prefer the small bump sensitivity, and when racing in Europe, air shocks can heat up too much on long runs and jeopardize performance. Additionally with the introduction of the new generation of lightweight springs, there is less incentive to run air shocks.
Brakes – OG SRAM Code brakes.
One of my favourite components on my bike and the one I am most picky about. Bought second hand in poor condition, Cape Cycle Systems completely redid the internals for me, and gave them a second life. The code brake has a more powerful calliper, which is needed for competitive downhill racing. I am extremely fussy about how my brakes feel. Leaver reach as far out as possible, they must bite as early and tightly as possible and each side must feel identical. I run the SRAM brand organic compound pads, and wouldn’t run anything else. I’ve tried knock off brand pads and hate them. 200mm SRAM rotors, but I can’t wait for SRAM to start making 220mm rotors.
Tyres – Maxxis DHR 2 Super Tacky, DH Casing – front and rear.
Another component on my bike which is hugely important to me. I love the feel of the Maxxis tyres, I love the compound and predictability of the side knobs. My ideal combination is a DHF on the front and a DHR on the back. Depending on the nature of the track that I’m racing, I switch between the Double Down and DH casing. Due to the harsh rocks in the SA Champs track, I chose to run the DH casing to reduce the probability of a flat. But if certain tracks allow for it, I run the double down, as it is lighter and the rotational weight of the wheels makes a significant difference to the feel and speed of the bike. The importance of tyres is hugely underrated. Formula 1, Moto GP, etc., spend millions on tyres for a reason, it’s critical. Don’t think mountain biking is any different. Your tyres are your only point of contact with the ground, therefore the way they feel, makes a huge difference to your riding. Fresh tyres make the world of difference.
Chain Guide – cSixx 9 Gravity Guide.
Really stoked with it, I’ve smashed it on rocks and things so many times, and it’s still holding up. Thanks to the new clutch derailleurs, they can now ditch the jockey wheel and just have a shark fin guide on the bottom, enabling the guide to have full protection with no drag. I’m running the metal one because the custom carbon one they made for me went missing at a Dawn of the Dirt after party. But there’s a new proto carbon one, with custom colours, waiting at the cSixx office to be put on. The weight reduction on a carbon guide is so obvious, with almost no downside. Carbon is always first choice. Having a local company, keen to test and develop their products with you, is hugely helpful to both parties.
Wheels Set – DT Swiss YT 2020.
Also known as DT Swiss FR570 rims. My favourite Aluminium rims that I’ve ever run. In terms of DH aluminium rims, I wouldn’t use anything else, and highly recommend them. (A tip, I run brass nipples, they are a bit heavier, but they are more durable. Aluminium nipples are lighter, but I break spokes too easily. With brass nipples, I almost never break spokes.)
However, if I could run carbon rims, I would. The weight reduction in rotational weight and increase stiffness is one of the most noticeable and advantageous upgrades you can do to your bike. I would put ‘upgrading to carbon rims’ at the top of your list of things to upgrade on your bike, especially your trail bike. Don’t be silly and buy cheap kak carbon rims, because they will break, and you’ll be angry. Buy some decent quality cSixx ones, with good post sale warranty support. You get what you pay for. On that note, if you have carbon rims, always be aware of your tire pressure. Check it before every ride as tires always slowly leak air. If you run silly low pressures, don’t be angry when you break them. You won’t believe how much better your bike will feel with light and stiff rims. Additionally, because of the stiffness of carbon rims, they don’t flex, and your spokes don’t get loose over time, meaning you don’t have to constantly tighten spokes to keep your rims true.
Tire Inserts – cSixx FOMO’s, Double Ply – front and rear
Joburg tracks have some of the most unforgiving rocks I’ve ever ridden. It helped hugely to run double ply fomo’s front and back. It reduces the chances of dinging your rim or cutting your tire, which was a huge risk racing there. Tire inserts are one of my favourite innovations in recent years, simple, but a game changer. I’ve been running FOMOs in my DH bike and trail bike since cSixx first started prototyping them.
Bars – Raceface Atlats, 812-ish mm wide
My dad CNC’d some homemade bar extensions because I wanted wider bars. I’d still like to go wider, maybe 820mm, but the Joburg track was too tight to have wider bars. I’ll put 820mm bars on for racing in Europe.
I actually don’t really like the sweep and feel of these bars. I usually run cSixx carbon bars, but had to take them off when I rode DarkFEST (for obvious reasons). I much prefer the feel of the cSixx bars, and swear by them. Carbon bars are so good at dampening the vibration of rough tracks, and were hugely beneficial when racing in Europe on the rough tracks. Don’t be hesitant of carbon bars, yes they can snap, but that’s usually because the person using them was being a plonker. If you treat them right, they won’t just snap out of the blue.
I’ll pretext this with, I believe the derailleur is the worst most outdated component on bikes today, and I cannot wait for a discontinuous innovation to replace it. Having a fragile little arm hanging at your back wheel is just silly. It’s just so vulnerable. The weight of the whole cassette and derailleur on the rear end of the bike hinders the suspension performance drastically. I have no idea how they are going to innovate the drivetrain, but I can’t wait for the day. (No gearboxes are not the solution yet.)
That being said. This new XO derailleur is another favourite component on my bike. Most people wouldn’t know this, but the new generation derailleurs have a horizontal parallelogram, as opposed to the diagonal parallelogram of old derailleurs. If you always have issues breaking derailleurs, I highly, highly recommend upgrading to a horizontal parallelogram derailleur. I used to break about four or five derailleurs a year with the old models, but with the new ones, I’ve broken one in the last two years. Also a sneaky trick, I run a pedal spacer in between my derailleur and the hanger, I found this to be hugely helpful in not breaking derailleurs, and it helps it not to rattle loose over time.
I have a 10 speed cassette, but would run a much smaller one if possible. I don’t ever use the first four gears. Having a cassette as light as possible, just means less weight on your rear end and an increase in suspension performance.
Chain Ring – e*thirteen
Unfortunately cSixx haven’t made one that fits my bike, but are in the process of doing it. Shout out mountain biking industry for having a million different types of chain rings.
Cranks – e*thirteen
By a country mile the worst component on my bike. I highly recommend not buying them.
Saddle and Seat post – SDG I fly
I highly recommend not buying it. I’ve snapped two seats already, and find them horribly uncomfortable.
Grips – ODI Ruffians
Not my favourite, but they’re alright. Prefer the old ruffians but they stopped making them.
Pedals – Shimano DX
Favourite pedals to run. I like a ton of float in my pedals and with the adjustability of the DX pedals I can have them nice and loose. Secondly, they are hard as hell. I’ve smashed them on rocks insanely hard so many times and they always survive. The only issue is, after a year or so they start deteriorating and develop a lot of play. I wish Shimano would sell a service kit for them.