• Martin Zietsman

Taking the leap and following your dreams


It’s Sunday morning, the temperature outside is surprisingly mild and the sun is shining, which is quite a novelty for the UK in early December. I’m trying to pencil an article about my new life chapter but I’m getting distracted by the incredible scenery outside. The sun’s reflecting off the blanket of early morning dew covering the fields as the train I’m on zips through the British countryside.

Today is the day that I start writing this new chapter. It’s equally scary and daunting as it is exciting. It can be pretty intimidating when you make the decision to leave your comfort zone and leap into the unknown to pursue a dream. It’s amazing how often in life the only thing holding us back from achieving our dreams, or chasing what we really want, is simply just having the courage to believe in ourselves and taking that leap.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here so let’s wind it back a little. Most of you reading this won’t know what my story is leading up to this point. You may however have seen pics of me over the past 2 years on the Knolly Bikes social media streams, so let me fill you in.

My name is Martin Zietsman, I’m a proudly South African, 34 year old guy currently living in the UK and was working as a design engineer for Bilstein’s special projects division (yup, the vehicle suspension company). I design dampers (or shock absorbers, as most people know them) for a variety of pretty incredible vehicles, ranging from armoured military vehicles, to rally 4x4’s and right through to the 2-seater Ariel Atom (I’m pretty proud of that one). I have no doubt there’s countless engineers all around the world that would give anything to have this job… but this is not the dream I’m chasing. Mountain biking is where my true passion lies.

Visiting the Ariel factory to do a fitting of some prototype dampers to the Atom 4 (Atom 3 pictured).

I started riding DH around ’99 when I got introduced to it by a school friend shortly after moving to the UK. The ‘bug’ bit instantly and it bit hard! Like most other people that discover this incredible sport and pastime, MTB’ing didn’t just become a part of my life, it engulfed my life. I rode whatever and whenever I could… DH, 4X, dirt jumping, skate parks, street, you name it, I just wanted to be on a bike. I had piles of Dirt & MBUK magazines in my bedroom and my walls were covered in posters of the greats from the time (Greg Minnaar, Eric Carter & Brian Lopes were some of my favourites).

Snapped in 2015, taking part in a dirt jumping demo at a local fayre with Simon Newton.

Cycling brought something unique to my life that nothing else has ever really come close to. I know every cyclist reading this can relate to it, that sense of freedom when out in nature, the adrenalin pumping through your veins as you nail that section of trail, the constant push for progression and that warm fuzzy feeling inside when you see it happening! I can’t count the number of evenings I lay in bed dreaming of riding and racing professionally on the WC DH Circuit and travelling the world with my bike.

It was only a dream though. An average kid living on a council estate in Yorkshire could never be a professional athlete on the international stage. I mean, come on, those kinds of lives are reserved for the elite, the wealthy, people with incredible natural talent and ability, the lucky few. I think many people’s lives are conditioned and controlled by this same lie, that ‘we’re not good enough’. I have learnt to hate this notion, and it’s something I will address shortly.

Life doesn’t always go the way you thought it would and is known for throwing curveballs, a fare few of which I’ve faced myself. Fast forward 13 years to 2012, a close succession of serious injuries, growing up and facing the ‘real world’ with work, responsibilities, and all those things that come with no longer being a kid, means it’s now 8 years since I last even touched a bike. My riding days now a long distant memory. I’ve just moved to Stellenbosch in Cape Town to study engineering and unbeknownst to me at the time, this is the MTB capital of South Africa. It’s not long before I get invited out for a social MTB ride and **BAM**, that cycling bug has bitten once more.

Totally cringe-worthy! The first bike I owned in about 8 years. Way too small for me, baggies & hydration pack for a 15km ride!

It didn’t take long at all before I was venturing out to the mountains on a daily basis, social rides turned into training rides and the magazine purchases started again. One or two races in and that fierce competitive nature of mine is on fire once more. Then it happens, I finally make the decision: if I’m going to start riding again, I’m going to do it properly, I’m going to chase my dreams with everything I’ve got. I never again want to taste the regret of giving up riding and not chasing the dream when I was younger.