One such event is the Sedgefield500, a 500km single stage self-supported bike race. Entrants get 60 hours to complete the route, so they can either ride non-stop or they can use the 2 nights available to get a good night's rest while splitting the 500km up into 3 days of riding.
This feature is made possible by Suzuki. We got to spend the weekend following the riders to take photos and were lucky enough to have the Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX with manual gearing.
The Suzuki Jimny is best described as a 4x4 Go Kart, the 1.5lt engine has plenty of torque. The 4x4 has high range and low range and we spent most of the time in 4H on the gravel roads for the extra grip and stability. The climb up to the Spitzkop viewpoint above the Knysna Forests in low range showed just how capable this car is. There are no aidstations, no support vehicles and no route markings. You get a gps file of the route and you navigate yourself. Aid is available at established shops, restaurants and padstals but riders cannot take any outside assistance from someone not in the event. It is a throwback to the days of bike racing when races like the Tour de France didn’t have team vehicles, massage therapists and mechanics. If you had an issue with your bike you would use a workshop in whatever town you found yourself in at the time. With all the pampering happening at today's popular events this 500km series looks to try balance it all out with some pure hardcore adventure. You decide how you want to race, you plan it, you strategise and you get all the credit when you cross that finish line. Electronic Hill Descent assist is activated by the push of a button. This is for incredibly steep descents, where the car brakes automatically. With a 210mm ground clearance and significant approach angles I am almost convinced this car could drive up a wall. The Sedgefield500 has just over 7000m of climbing and is mostly covered on gravel roads that meander through the Garden Route and the Klein Karoo.
Riders start at the Wild Oats Farmers Market in Sedgefield on the Friday morning, anytime between 5 - 8am to limit large clumps of riders forming. After a short trot on the N2 the route turns onto gravel with some sharp climbing up to the Seven Passes Road that takes them to George. After a quick restock in George the Montagu Pass awaits, it is a gradual pass with incredible views of the valleys below. The “Brake LSD Traction Control” is a fancy term that means when 2 wheels diagonal to each other lose traction, the car automatically brakes the slipping wheels and redistributes torque to the other wheels. While on a corrugated corner this happened to us where the Jimny began to slide a bit, as soon as the car applied the brakes it righted itself immediately. Once on top of the pass the riders will now be in the Klein Karoo for the next 280km. Riders head north towards Oudsthoorn through the infamous Paardepoort, a beautiful narrow pass that follows the Doring River. Once out of the Poort the route goes left and takes the riders through Calitzdorp via twisting gravel roads. Calitzdorp offers some great food options to replenish reserves and most riders who opt to cover the route over 3 days choose the town as a sleep over spot as there are some great Guest Houses available. The next 40km out of Calitzdorp take the riders through the Groenfontein Poort and has just over 1000m of elevation gain before the route goes right at the Swartberg Game Reserve and heads towards the half-way mark, Oudsthoorn. Space inside is limited. With four people there is almost no boot space so a roof rack will be needed. For two people, though, with the back seats folded down, there is a lot of space for bags and adventure gear. You will struggle to get a bicycle inside though, a tow bar with bikerack or roof racks will be necessary. Oudsthoorn is around the 250km mark so riders who are going for a 2 day ride usually sleep in this popular Klein Karoo town. The next 120km to Uniondale are probably some of the most brutal sections of the route in terms of road condition, winds, and endless climbing. There are very little flat bits, it’s rolling hills all the way with a prevailing head wind and rutted, rocky road to navigate. There is also next to no aid along this route, except for a few farmhouses that the riders can visit if they run out of water. The GLX is the ‘range topping’ version which is available in automatic as well. The GLX also comes with the large touch screen which has all the usual features like Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth connectivity. The route from Uniondale follows pretty much the same route as the Karoo 2 Coast except that it sticks to the tar and gravel roads. A big climb out of Uniondale awaits before the infamous Prince Alfred Pass. Non-stop riders will go through here in the pitch dark of night, missing out on it’s incredible views. Fuel consumption was pretty decent, for the whole trip we got back to Cape Town with an average economy of 8lt/100km. Eventually the riders will arrive in the coolness of the Knysna Forest, a welcome relief provided it isn’t a mud fest after some rain. Once in the town of Knysna the route heads back onto the Seven Passes road via Phantom Pass. The Seven Passes Road is an incredible route to ride with a nice mix of gravel and tar, the seven passes aren’t too brutal in themselves but add them all together and you have quite a tough ride. At the Garden Route Trail Park the riders start to smell the finish as they turn down to head back towards Sedgefield before finishing at the Wild Oats Farmers Market. Non-stop riders have the reward of enjoying food and beer from the Saturday Market if they get there early enough. If someone asked me to drive to Cairo tomorrow only taking off road routes and I could take any production vehicle I wanted, I would without a doubt take a Jimny (with a couple extra Jerry cans of fuel of course).
The inaugural Sedgefield500 was a great success with 36 riders starting and 27 finishing. This “new” style of racing had each one of the riders saying how great the challenge was. Hungry for more un-pampered adventure, most have already signed up for the next race in July which takes place in the Natal Midlands, the Burra500.More info can be found at https://www.instagram.com/sedgefield500/ For more on the Suzuki Jimny range visit: https://www.suzukiauto.co.za/cars/jimny