South Africa has an abundance of outstanding mass participation cycling events, making us the envy of global mountain bikers when it comes to event diversity and mileage. But sometimes you just don’t want to rush through those water points and maintain your heart rate at 180bpm all the time to keep your place in a specific batch.
For those who wish to savour the splendour and beauty of rural South Africa and relish some time on the bike with friends, whilst others deal with all the logistics and catering, there are some excellent events that are more exclusive and not as obsessed with timing. Although they still guarantee you’ll have the time of your life.
The Nedbank Tour de Tuli, 2 to 8 August. Cost: R24 900
For those familiar with all things African wildlife, the Thuli triangle between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe is revered. With the cooperation of all three governments, an exclusive field of 300 riders complete 260km in five days, with four bushveld overnights. Despite the comfortable tented accommodation, the Thuli remains an immersive African bike safari experience. The trails are natural animal tracks, mostly migration paths used by elephants. Wildlife encounters are a given and spectacularly starry nights around the campfire too. Bonus: Event entry fees are donations (therefore tax deductible) and support the Children in the Wilderness foundation, which promotes sustainable conservation through the education of rural children in Africa.
York Timbers Enduro (usually in September, invitation only)
Capetonians may think they have forests because there’s now a single track linking Rhodes Memorial to Constantia, winding mostly through woodlands. Riders in lush KwaZulu-Natal assume they have the best forests, especially given the huge Sappi plantations around Howick.
But the forests around Sabie dwarf everything else in South Africa, and to celebrate and share its main operational assets, JSE-listed York timbers hosts an invite-only Enduro each year. The format is unusual and the riding, exceptional. Corporate teams of four are allocated a local professional mountain biker and then spend four days trying out every possible discipline of mountain biking. The trails, crafted by Jakes van Staden and his team, are sensational and the result of 10 000 hours of labour. It shows in the flow of each stage.
Tour de Braai, 6 to 12 May. Cost: R22 000
South Africa’s most famous braai master, Jan (Braai) Scannell, is an accomplished cyclist and if there was one person who could combine two of the country’s favourite activities – braaiing and riding – it was going to be him. The event is a non-competitive tour of the amazing gravel roads and hospitality often left undiscovered in the Klein Karoo. Starting in George, participants experience five days of breathtaking Klein Karoo scenery before finishing in Swellendam. And yes, the food is superlative and gastronomically authentic to the region, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Tour de Braai.
Old Mutual JoBerg2C, 20 to 28 April. Cost: R41 580
It’s not outrageously expensive compared to the Cape Epic and if you divide the entry fee by distance offered, the JoBerg2C is possibly South Africa’s best value stage race.
From its Highveld start near Heidelberg, it’s 910km of riding down South Africa’s inland escarpment, into KwaZulu-Natal’s lush valleys and then onto a tropical beach finish at Scarborough. Amenities, catering and accommodation are world class, but what makes the race truly exclusive is the fact that very few people can afford to take off time for nine days of racing. Add in the door-to-tent travel time to Heidelberg and back home from Scarborough, and convincing your family or business relations that you’re going mountain bike racing for nearly two weeks could be more challenging than the actual route itself.
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