But the Garden Route 300 is based in the Knysna region of the Western Cape Province and that is part of what puts it on a different level. You see, almost three decades ago, Knysna was one of the first South African towns to embrace mountain biking.

Knsyna is making a big push to attract mountain bikers from around the world and the next big event in the area is the Garden Route 300, a three-day stage race from 26-28 February, that shows off the region like no other event. Photo credit: Julie Ann Photography

The late 1980s was a time when mountain biking was considered a little crazy and, from a numbers perspective, very niche. It was possibly the most misunderstood activity/form of exercise in South Africa at the time. Many landowners assumed it was similar to motor-biking and immediately closed their minds and their land to mountain bikers.

This forced the mountain biking pioneers of South Africa to trespass, often inadvertently, in order to ride their bikes in the South African bush. But Knysna was different. Knysna as a town and community embraced mountain biking and became a beloved destination for South African mountain bikers. Some even call it the home of South African mountain biking.

Knysna is a coastal town around 500km from Cape Town in a region called the Garden Route, a popular area for tourism in South Africa. Knysna has never actually changed its stance on mountain biking, but mountain biking has changed significantly, particularly in the last decade, and now Knysna is pro-actively embracing that change.

Knysna’s local business and tourism associations have been hard at work in re-establishing Knysna as THE mountain biking destination in South Africa. It’s a competitive category because South Africa is virtually built for mountain biking and a number of towns and cities have seen the significant value of mountain biking visitors.

Knysna Tourism, backed by the Western Cape government, has a comprehensive plan that will be implemented steadily over the next couple of years to ensure it’s not only top-of mind as a destination for South African mountain bikers, but for mountain bikers around the world. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but it’s already making an impact. Knysna has boldly called itself Trail Town and is now making sure it lives up to that name with a range of progressive mountain bike-related initiatives.

You can’t really explore a region better than you can on a mountain bike. It takes you places a motor vehicle can’t and it takes you much further than you can walk or hike. The Garden Route 300 isn’t only a mountain bike stage race; it’s also a mountain bike tour of the Knynsa region that is not possible at any other time of the year, due to land access concessions specifically for the event.

The Red Route is an iconic South African mountain bike trail in the indigenous forest between the towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Not surprisingly, it’s part of the Garden Route 300 event route. But the Red Route is just a cornerpiece in a large, magnificent puzzle, with each piece representing another mountain biking experience in the region.

The Garden Route 300 allows you build this puzzle on your mountain bike, by taking you north, west and south of the coastal hamlet across the most spectacular natural landscapes and through a variety of indigenous vegetation. It’s challenging, scenic and rewarding and that’s really still the essence of mountain biking, no matter how the sport/activty has evolved since the late 1980s.

Because the logistics of getting you and your bike to Knysna are challenging enough, the Garden Route 300 has only one race village to simplify your Knysna mountain biking experience. Days 1 and 3 start and finish at Quay 4 on the Knysna Waterfront. Day 2 will start and finish at the internationally praised Garden Route Trail Park, 40km west of Knysna.

You can book your own accommodation at a variety of establishments in the town, or you can make use of the 100 tents that the Garden Route 300 organisers have made available this year – at no charge, right near the race village. Basically, free accommodation in a mountain biking paradise, in summer. You’ll need a damn good excuse to not be there.

And lack of fitness isn’t a valid excuse because there’s the Garden Route 300 Lite, which offers shorter distances and less climbing for those that aren’t quite as serious about racing, but want to be part of a world-class stage race. For the record, the race covers 220km in three days (175km for the Lite). Although some Cape Epic riders use it for a final fitness test, the Garden Route 300 is not an all-day, spirit-crushing stage race; it’s stimulating and fun and beautiful.

There are still some spots available so it’s not to late to make a commitment. The entry fee is very reasonable and you don’t have to enter as a team. If you do enter solo, you’ll still be in the company of like-minded people on their mountain bikes. And if for some reason at some point in the race you find yourself alone, you’ll probably appreciate it…

For more information or to enter, visit www.gardenrouteevents.co.za.