Theo ErlangsenThis downhill racer and Fest rider has no fear whether blowing up berms or sending the worlds biggest jumps. Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Theo rides DarkFest, races in World Cups, and has a business degree. The former rugby player turned mountain biker talks with us about how he got into bikes, his thoughts on the state of World Cup racing, and his plans for the future.
Loves a party, swears too much, and is usually in trouble because I blew up a berm. I'm just a big kid who loves riding bikes way too much.
Where are you from and where do you live?
I'm from Cape Town, South Africa and still live here because I think it’s one of the best cities in the world. Lots of good people, beautiful places and things to do. Also because South African passports suck I can’t move anywhere else.
Who do you ride for?
I ride for Monster Energy, Spank Components, Fox Racing, YT Industries South Africa and Maxxis Tires.
What are your strengths?
I'm not really sure, it depends on the context. Next to most riders, I’d like to say the technical stuff but next to Amaury Pierron I wouldn’t be so inclined to say that. I guess jumps are a strength. I can ride Darkfest and those jumps aren’t known to be particularly easy.
How did you get involved with Fest Series?
In a stroke of unbelievable luck, Sam Reynolds decided to build Darkfest in Cape Town. I’d been begging trail builders here to build jumps bigger than the usual 3 meters. When the Fest boys came to town, I thought I’d better put my money where my mouth is. Unfortunately, they don’t go 5 or 6 meters, they go 30 meters. I’ve followed Fest for years and dreamed of riding jumps that big. In the never ending pursuit of personal progression, I tried to get involved. I offered to help out with the digging and made friends with Sam, Nico and Clements. Then I tried to ride with them and show them I wasn’t completely rubbish on a bike. Their biggest concern is someone ending themselves on those jumps, causing them stacks of paperwork. Once they could saw I could ride and my head was in the right place they gave me a shot. Best thing that’s ever happened and I’m literally addicted to big air now.
What are your weaknesses?
Probably my diet and training. I’ve been trying to correct that after a stern talking to from Nico Vink. Previously I’d never had a training program or gym membership. I used to eat at least seven pizzas a week with quite a lot of McDonalds amongst the pizzas. I’m the world’s fussiest eater. I don’t eat any vegetables or most things with nutritional value. It would be a long interview if I tried to list everything I don’t eat. I live off peanut butter toast, pizza and hamburgers with no garnish. I’ve been told this isn’t the most ideal diet for an aspiring World Cup racer.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends quite a lot on the time of year or where I am. During the racing season, it’s always different. Always riding, racing, shooting, doing events. In the off season, it's usually some emails and procrastination in the morning and then riding in the afternoon.
What’s been your worst crash over the years?
Nothing too bad thankfully. Couple sore legs and arms, knocked out once or twice, and no broken bones so far. I had a savage crash in Verbier once. Got bucked head first into a tree hands still on the bars. I literally head tackled the tree. For a tenth of a second before I hit I was certain it was going to be the day I broke my back. Thankfully, I only winded myself badly and had a sore neck for a while.
Where’s your favorite place to ride?
Tough one. Stellenbosch just outside Cape Town is a favorite. It has some really fun Enduro trails in a beautiful university town. Morzine and the Ports du Soli are also huge favorites. I’ve been there for two summers now and love it. They’ve got everything from steep technical stuff to fast open race trails to rad bike park jumps. I’d have to say Whistler is a favorite too though. I was lucky enough to win the Giant Dream Summer Intern contest with a friend 5 years ago. It was my first time riding outside of South Africa and it was only for 5 days but I lost my mind. I remember having a ridiculous amount of fun. It’s a completely different type of riding to what we have in South Africa. I told every person I spoke to after that experience that I had visited heaven. I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since, hopefully I can go back this year.
How did you get into mountain biking?
I’ve been riding bicycles since I was two and a half. Spent every day riding up and down the road as a kid. From there I started racing motocross on 50cc and 65cc but had to give it up because it was just too costly and time-consuming. Then I focused on school sports but I was always riding bikes on the side. Just your usual kid’s bikes on the homemade jumps in the nearby fields. But after a bit, I started riding normal cross country bikes ridiculously hard on the downhills. A few older guys that I knew did downhill and I managed to buy an old bike from one of them for R1000 or 91 Canadian dollars. It was an old Turner Burner, insanely crap but I rode that until I snapped the chain stay clean off. After that, a guy organizing races saw me and helped me get a decent Giant Glory.
What bikes are you riding right now?
I ride a YT Tues CF pro 27.5 and a Capra CF pro 27.5. Both really sick bikes.
How do you set up your DH bike?
For racing and Fest, it’s completely different. Fest is simple, just set up your bike to be horrible for normal riding. 45 to 50 PSI in the tires and your suspension as hard and slow as it can be clicked. It should feel like a big BMX bike. For racing, there are actually some possibilities. I’ll be honest though, I usually just ask knowledgeable friends what they think. For suspension, I just get them to push and click things until a nod of approval and a ‘that should be alright try that’. I learn to ride it from there. I am extremely particular about tire pressure, however. I almost always run 27 to 33 PSI. Anything lower than that I feel like I’m going to dig the rim or burp the rear tire. I’m also fussy about my brakes. I like them to have a sharp bite and be far away from the bars which is always a pain in the ass to get right when you’re a privateer.
Who’s your favorite rider?
Tough question. Minnaar, Lacondeguy, Brendog, Reynolds, and Hill is the shortlist, but I’d have to go with Nico Vink. He oozes talent and has a unique style that is insanely steezy. But as many might not know he is also the reigning World Champion of being a nice guy. One of the kindest and most humble people you will ever come across. Nico will always be the guy to put other people first. For someone of his stature, he could easily be cocky and obnoxious but he goes out of his way to be the nicest guy. After many years of riding, you can see he’s still just stoked to ride his bike with friends. Somebody at the top of their game who’s also incredibly humble is a special combination. You can’t ask for a better role model than that.
What do you enjoy doing away from bikes?
Everything outdoors: Surfing, moto, golf, running, and hiking. A favorite is cliff jumping. There are lots of spots in Cape Town and it's super fun to push your personal fear boundaries.
Who or what inspires you?
I get inspired by everything. Seeing another person doing something sick or pushing their limits no matter the sport can inspire you and broaden your perspective on things. Watching YouTube documentaries about the Supercross and Motocross guys also fires me up. I'm sure there are quite a few mountain bike guys who wish they were good on a motocross bike.
What’s something you believe that other people think is crazy?
Maybe it’s just in South Africa, but I often hear normal mountain bikers looking at the fest jumps and saying things like 'Those guys are crazy, those jumps are just stupid, you must be stupid to do that, etc.' Although certain situations are insane (Adolf Silva) most of the time it’s actually not. It’s almost disrespectful to say those guys are stupid. They’re extremely talented and have practiced and developed those skills for years. That's how they are able to ride stuff outside of most people’s comprehension. You don’t make it through a week of riding the world’s biggest jumps on luck or stupidity.
What’s your favorite non-bike website?
What’s your favorite motto or saying?
My favorite ones aren’t so kid friendly so I’ll go with “Hold it wide, let it slide”.
Do you have any big projects or trips planned for the rest of 2019?
No insanely big projects but I always do a Vanzacs inspired summer Euro trip. I gypsy my way around Europe trying to race, ride and see new places. South Africa is cool but you need to prove yourself overseas to make it. Hopefully, I’ll have a rad video by the end of the year. Filming is probably one of my favorite things to do but it’s always hard getting a budget to produce it. It's hard to produce something that even compares with the edits that the top guys are putting out.
What makes you happy?
Anything that gives me adrenaline or being with friends and having a laugh.
If you weren’t a pro mountain biker, what would you be doing?
I’d like to think a professional rugby player. I was pretty good in school and loved playing it. I had to stop because I was too small and got sick and tired of tackling people double my size. Size didn’t matter in bike racing so I got more involved in bikes. Aside from that probably just a regular job in marketing or something.
Where do you think the sport of downhill is headed?
Hopefully a lot of change. I think there are so many ways the UCI could make it better. It should change to a format more in line with Moto GP or Formula 1. Having 60 riders in a final is too many. It’s almost certain the guy who qualified 50th isn’t going to win. Watching 50 riders go down knowing one the top 10 guys are going to win isn’t very interesting especially if you don’t have a deep interest in the sport. I’ll pretext this with I have no idea how but I feel it should move to a format like Moto GP. You split the 60 into 3 races of 20 riders. You have 3 different equally interesting races where riders are fighting for a podium position within their respective class. You get an interesting race and the opportunity for the riders to get podiums and exposure. Almost all other sports have different feeder divisions before the premiership class. A U23 category would also be much better. Imagine if motocross guys went from 125’s at Loretta Lynns to competing for the 450 championship. That’s what UCI downhill is like now going from juniors to elite. It would also be awesome to see downhill become an Olympic sport.
How do you want to be remembered?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m still a nobody. I think I’ll start by just trying to be recognized.
Anything else we should know about you?
After high school, I got a business degree from one of South Africa’s top universities. Common to normal people, but not very common in the mountain bike industry. I’m stoked I did it because it’s a pretty high-risk sport so having something to fall back on is a huge benefit. The business degree will also diversify my options after my riding ‘career’. Follow my Instagram if you want to keep up with all the trouble. I’ll try keep everyone entertained on my euro trip. Apparently, you need lots of followers to be a big deal nowadays. Drop some comments below since we all only look at the posts with comments. Also if I said anything that didn’t sit well comment and we can argue online with our keyboards like real men.