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  1. There are many good spots to start from but perhaps the most central is the little town of Stanford. Roughly two and a half hours drive from Cape Town, Stanford for me is the gateway to the best gravel in the Overberg area. For this short weekender bike packing trip we would ride from Stanford to Cape Agulhas and then back again the next day. After the drive from Cape Town, we parked at the Ou Muel coffee shop (it’s also safe to leave your car here) and after a coffee and croissant, we were on our way. As I said earlier, Stanford is the gateway to the best gravel roads that the Overberg has to offer, so there are really a lot of different routes you can take to get to Agulhas. It all depends on how far you want to ride and where you want to stop for lunch etc. From Stanford, it is a short tar section on the R326 to link up with the gravel road that takes you down to Elim, a tiny little town that was established in 1824 by German missionaries as a Moravian mission station. There isn’t much here by way of restaurants but there are some corner cafes with coke, steri-stumpie, and chips. Elim is just short of halfway but it has the majority of the climbing in the route. After Elim, there is one more long climb that maxes out at 9.2% but after you hit the 52km mark it is pretty much all flat as you make your way to Agulhas. The 105km route might only have 1200m of climbing but you do the majority of it in the first 45km (or the last 45km on your way back the next day). What makes riding in this area tricky is also the wind, as you might know, it can get insanely windy here so depending on the wind direction, chances are pretty good you will have a strong headwind one day and a strong tailwind the next day. The area close to Agulhas is very flat and open so there isn’t much to shelter the road from the wind, which can absolutely hammer you as you fight your way towards the coast. The prevailing wind is a South Easter which should mean you will have a nice tailwind on the way home. Agulhas is a great place to sleep over as there are a plethora of guesthouses and Airbnb’s that you can sleep at. There are also a lot of restaurants and coffee shops so you will have some nice options for lunch and supper. After our long ride in with only a short stop at Elim, the Fish and Chips at Agulhas Seafoods for lunch was probably the best slap tjips I have ever had, but that could have been because I was starving after a long day on the bike. The next morning after a hearty breakfast at Suidpunt Potpourri we set off back to Stanford. Unfortunately, we had a monster North Westerly wind blowing which meant we were in for a long 110km of gale-force headwinds, what do they say though, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger? After a couple of beers the night before, though, I thought it was going to kill me. There are some great gravel races starting up in the area, so if you prefer a race to explore the area the Dirty South Gravel Race and Around The Pot are two great options to explore this area in a race setting. Dirty South is the first three-day gravel race of its kind and Around the Pot is a one-day event that even features a 200 miler. There are many routes you can take in the area so this route is just one option. If you prefer to take a different road back then have a look at route options that will take you through Napier and Bredasdorp. These towns also have great lunch options. Route overview Route GPX: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37627000?privacy_code=V105VvplYi7ogAB2 The GWM P Series Commercial Double Cab The P Series Commercial Double Cab is the lower spec double cab bakkie in the P Series range but it is by no means lacking in features. We had the 4x4 version which activated the 4x4 via an electronic switch by the gear shift. The list of features at this price point is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. You get so many offerings in this package and non of them have a “cheap Chinese” feel to it. The interior is solid and built really well. The Commercial 4x4 double cab has a 2.0 Turbo diesel engine which produces a serious amount of torque low down in the rev range. I had to pull away from the robots in second gear to stop the wheels from spinning in first. The engine clearly has a serious amount of towing capacity. Out on the highway, it had absolutely no trouble getting up to cruising speed and holding it without having to gear down from 6th gear on the hills. Daytime running lights, reverse camera with rear parking assist, Apple Carplay / Android Auto, cruise control, sunroof, keyless entry, and keyless stop-start are just some of my favourite features that came in the P Series Commercial Double Cab. It’s called the Commercial Double Cab because it is geared to be more of a workhorse than the Passenger Double Cab, but if your budget is tight, there is nothing stopping this bakkie from being a comfortable everyday driver. For more information visit www.gwm.co.za
  2. The Western Cape has some pretty epic gravel roads but few compare with the Overberg area. With all the farms in the area, there are hundreds of kilometers of gravel roads meandering through farmlands that are not so far off the beaten track as you might think, with lush canola fields bursting with colour in winter, it is a ride for the senses. This ride route feature is sponsored by GWM We took their P Series Commercial Double Cab bakkie out for the trip, more on the car a little later. View full article
  3. Right, there is this challenge called Parallels, go check it out. Basically it a see how far you can go in 24 hours type of deal. But the unique selling point is that your distance is measured as the crow flies. To illustrate, if you do a circle route of 200 km; your distance, according to the rules of this challenge, would be zero km. I think I found an excellent route. The N14 between Vryburg and Upington. It is straight and it is flat. It drops from about 1200m above sea level to about 900m above. And the route would be about 406 km on the road but as the crow flies it would be 377 km. But I do not know how safe it is. Consider that I would cycle through the night so heavy traffic (there is mining activity in the area so a lot of trucks) and high crime (where is there ot high crime) would would put a nix on this route. I need some advice from locals. Thank you
  4. In February 2021 I got to be part of small four-person team, led by race director Chris Fisher, that did a reconnaissance of the race route for the inaugural edition of the Freedom Circuit scheduled for April. This is that story. Words: Carlo Gonzaga Good photos: Llewellyn Loyd/Reblex Photography Bad photos: Riders “Kuphi isipaza? Kuphi isipaza!?” Warm greetings aside this will be the most often asked question of locals during the inaugural Freedom Circuit bike packing race scheduled for April 2021. This begs the question, ‘why do I need to know the whereabout of a shop for a bike race?’ The last 20 years has seen South African main-stream mountain biking culture grow up on a diet of multi-day stage races. These are world class events where a riders’ every need is catered for. I’ve seen inflatable swimming pools and pizza ovens in locations so remote I could barely get my bicycle there. Riding ranged from damn hard to easy, and almost always on well-maintained routes and tracks. Stage race fatigue birthed gravel riding events and its favourite tool, the gravel bike. These events are similarly well organised: manned waterpoints; 100% ridable routes and large fields. Great camaraderie and a real test of pure lower limb horsepower. Given the relatively fast riding speeds and numerous support stations, 100mile (160km) and 150mile (240km) events are within reach of average riders. The Freedom Circuit is none of these events. The Call I got the call from Chris Fisher in January asking me if I wanted to do a reconnaissance ride of the race route in February. My reply was simple – “count me in… for whatever”. I assumed this recce would be done at a leisurely pace and was a little surprised when I got a text message with the ride plan. Chris wanted to mimic the average riders experience and complete the longer 700km route in 100hours, 20 hours quicker than the five-day cut-off. He also wanted us to ride our bikes in race trim, with all our gear on board – clothing, power, bivvie, and food. When February rolled around the recce team had grown to include accomplished adventure racer Julia Fisher and veteran ultra-endurance cyclist, Mike Woolnough. My leisurely-pace ride had morphed into “I’ll be hanging-on-by-my-toe-nails-to-keep-up ride”. The objective was to lay down a perfect bicycle GPS route for use in the actual event in April; to explore some alternate routes; and to establish potential re-supply points for competitors in the actual race. If this picture doesn’t stir your soul, then you’re probably being shown this photo at your funeral. The Format At its core the Freedom Circuit is a self-supported event. There are two courses: a long course of 430miles (700km) and a shorter, 250mile (400km) course. Both have the same cut-off of five days (120hours). Riders will get a GPS route and have to stay on the route. So far so good. At this point the format diverges from the norm: while there are checkpoints where riders sign in, these points are not support stations as you may have come to know them. They will offer basic meals and rustic lodgings, but riders will need to pay for these just as if they were using commercial hotels or restaurants. Riders have to carry everything on them from the start. Clothing, water, food, and power. There is a list of mandatory gear designed mainly around safety and catering for the range of weather you’re sure to encounter. ‘GPS route’ you say? Don’t be fooled into thinking that you cannot get lost. I’ve seen many people utilise the wrong settings on their GPS and get woefully lost. I’ve also had a GPS fail on me 600km into a 1000km race. Bring a spare. The route traverses properly rural South Africa and you will only pass through two small towns – Underberg and Matatiele. You can choose to camp or use commercially available lodgings. The golden rule is that you may only use support that is available to all other riders. i.e., no outside or personalised support. Riders will be allowed to ride in pairs or small groups. Save for this localised concession the race is classified as self-supported. For the rest you’ll be left to fend for yourself using community taps to refill water; spaza shops to find coke and snacks; and the checkpoints for a more filling meal. “Kuphi isipaza?” You will thank me. Heart and soul For the purist bike-packer accustomed to Tour Divide-type rules, the localised differences may sound like anathema. I disagree - bike packing and self-supported style riding is about the spirit of adventure. It is about self-discovery. It is about putting oneself ‘out there’, opening yourself up to an experience that is potentially life changing. It is about reducing, for a few days, your life to the basic nomadic needs of eating, sleeping, and moving forward. There is an inner kid in you yearning to get muddy again. There is an inner 30-something wondering how to get out the office again. There is a wiser 45-year-old wanting to connect with herself again. That is what these types of events are about. The rules merely facilitate these journeys. On a 100 hour plan we got into CP2 at around 10:30 at night having ridden in the rain for four hours. A sense of humour is part of the mandatory equipment list. The terrain There’s an old phrase I enjoy repeating: “just as the spreadsheet is not the business, the map is not the terrain.” This rings true for the Freedom Circuit. It cannot be ridden on google earth. Trust me on this. You absolutely will push your bike. Sometimes for an hour at a time. When you see 14% on your GPS it’s likely the gradient and not your battery power. If you’re new to a GPS this is generally bad news. You will cross so may rivers you will need to start counting on your toes. Your belly button may even get wet. Mine did. When you finish the long course, you will have climbed the equivalent of Kilimanjaro two-and-a half- times (13’000m or 43000ft). Just under twice for the short course. Race director, Chris Fisher walking the talk. He wanted to ensure that he experienced the route as riders would and he rode every single (and then some) mile. The route covers iconic sections of the region. Names that when uttered at a local bar are sure to get you a free drink and a front seat on which to tell your stories. When your children hear these stories they will be reminded how you were their first hero. And still are. Traversing “The Vuvu Valley” you will track the Tina river on the valley floor for some 9km. Like the road of bones in eastern Russia the tracks on this valley floor are filled with a small piece of every rider that has ever come through here. I can barely type the words without getting a lump in my throat. Food at Mrs Kibi’s house. The most delicious potatoes I’ve had in some time. Once you’ve refuelled at Mrs Kibi’s house, you will wet your feet in the “Tinana” river. Thirty minutes later you will have carried your bike through what appears to be the eye of a rock needle. You will need to take photos as no-one will believe you. At “Black Fountain” you will follow the scars of cattle tracks that descend for 13km before you, once again, hoist your bike on your shoulders to scale the nasty ascent of “Koebung”. At this point you will curse the race director. If you don’t, you should. You will pass “Mariazell Mission” and negotiate the spectacular uphill single track of “Stations of the Cross” that draws you up as if on a ski lift. Julia Fisher crossing the Tinana. In case you’re wondering, Julia is not especially short. It’s the water that is deep. Yes, they are related. The blue skies, green hills and red wattle drag strips of the “Mpharane Ridge” will fill the reservoir of your soul. You will silently apologise for having said such nasty things about the race director earlier. You will follow ancient paths that join the “Three Villages of Queen Mercy”. Route directions pre-GPS included gems like “turn left at the outdoor bathtub after the blue house”. Tubs break and houses get painted. You’ll tip you helmet to Mr Rattray as you traverse Pleasantview Farm on the access road to the magnificent section through “Politique Kraal.” Here, your odometer will click through 600km and your altimeter will reflect over 10’000 metres ascent. If you pass here in the dead of night you should take a moment, turn off your light, gaze upwards, and reflect in wonderment on your journey. Not just this one. You will meet Mr Dalu Ncgobo who “sleeps with one eye open” at “Ntsikeni Lodge” waiting for riders to arrive. You simply being there keeps him and the lodge alive for yet another season. You will have stories. Stories that can only be earned, never bought. Some advice Having done this route in 100 hours I can tell you: It. Is. Hard. You will be broken at some point. You will wonder “why?”. If you want to avoid riding at night and get a good night’s sleep, do the 250-mile (400km) course. Doing the 430-mile route (700km) will force you into forgoing sleep, riding at night and having to, in Mike’s words, get a “wiggle on”. Community water taps will be your friend. This one is at the top of Black Fountain. Please don’t use a gravel bike. Even if you’re a masochist. Lower your expectations when it comes to amenities. Don’t be a ‘tjop’ (colloquial for idiot) just because you’re paying for something. After all, this is rural South Africa where every person you see likely lives off less than $1 a day. You won’t even have electricity at some of the re-supply points. One of them is a fully functioning school. Others are the actual houses of rural South African folk. Be nice and people will return the smile and be helpful. The trail and its people that eke out a living are sensitised to riders and ensure our safety. Don’t ruin that for future adventurers. A typical spaza shop. This one had frozen ice lollies which we jammed into camelbaks to cool the water! You’ll find cokes, crisps and perhaps some peanuts & bread. They don’t typically adhere to nutritional guidelines. Be focussed, but don’t miss the important stuff on the side of the track. Carry spares. There is definitely nothing resembling a bike shop on this route. Be self- sufficient. Spaza shops may not be open. Cokes may be warm. Taps may be dry. Rain may ruin a previously ridable road. You may not have cell signal. TIA (this is Africa). Early morning departures will be required whether you are doing the short or long course. Why Larry, why? When I recount stories like this I am, at some point, inevitably met with silence, followed by a hushed “but why do that?”. The question is fair, the answer complicated and highly personalised. I imagine my life as a canvas and each experience a dot on it. Some dots are larger, representing a greater influence on my life. Having children. Finding a soul mate. When I was younger these dots appeared disconnected. As I’ve got older, I understand that the dots are in fact joined. It is my job to ensure I place new dots on my life’s canvas. I want dots that are both large and spaced further apart from the existing dots. This broadens the canvas of my life and ensures I influence my future with positive, large dots. I ‘hit the wall’, on the base of the climb through Pleasantview farm. I could pedal no more. I had to stop, take a few minutes, and renegotiate a new deal with myself. I needed to remind myself about the ‘why’. Having completed a few of these events in the last two years I am reminded that my happiness no longer comes from things, but from doing things. I am reminded how much more, less, is. I am reminded that my happiness doesn’t exist somewhere in the future but comes from my past. Last, I am reminded that I am solely the author of my happiness. This, is freedom. [PS: Mike and I paid our own way. We have entered the 700km race in April. If we said anything nice about Chris or his race its not because he paid us. Onward!] There are only two formal grocery stores on route - Matat and Underberg. The latter is 34km into the race so not too usefull. Matat has a Steers. I ordered a few hamburgers there on Tuesday at 9am. I ate the last of those hamburgers on Wednesday at 4pm. Mike Woolnough posting his ascerbic updates on one of the whatsapp groups during our ride. A great travelling companion that rarely gets his feathers ruffled. Mrs Kibi's house is at Tinana. This is one of the CP's in the race. Mike Julia and Chris keeping the wall up. Food in these parts of the world is always seems to be just what your body wanted. There are no service points or "technical zones" on this route. You had better make sure you have lube for 700km and that you carry enough spares. We didn't have one puncture between us but had a couple of shoe issues. Bring cable ties and duct tape. Some of the rocky descents will shake your teeth loose. Change your brake pads before hand. You will use your stoppers regulalry. Have a camera handy. Stop and take photos. You will want to show folks sitting in their armchairs what you've accomplished. Make sure you smile. If you're not feeling it, fake it. Grumpy is on the 'leave-at-home' list.
  5. I'm looking to get a frame bag (or half frame bag) made locally, specific to my bike's dimensions and having baulked at the price of 'ready-made' ones, was looking to get a recommendation for someone who is handy with a sewing machine that could make one to my design. Anyone been down this road before?
  6. Does anyone have some good contacts or advice on gravel bikepacking bags? Looking for some good quality bags for overnight or two night self sustained trips - We will get meals and drinks at pre booked accomadation so not much space needed apart from some after ride kit and fresh kit for the next day. Advice also welcome on what bag best to get ( bar bag or behind saddle ) Appreciate the help.
  7. This Friday we have a one day only sale that really is beyond value for money. Book today for the 2-8 Sept 2021 Hessequa/Overberg Cruise, and pay only R4375pp (Normal Price R8750.00), and we will include the 9-11 Sept Stanford Cheese and Wine Ride for free, as well as 1 nights accomodation in Stanford on the 8th to link the two trips together. That works out at R480pp/pn, for a full service, fully catered luxury MTBing holiday. This offer is limited to the first 6 persons to book, thereafter normal pricing applies. You absolutely wouldnt be able to find a better value for money MTB holiday. The Hessequa/Overberg Cruise starts in Stillbay, and over the next 6 days you wind your way along the coastal region, into the Overberg, stopping off at highlights like Arniston and Cape Aghulus, before finally coming to an end in the quiant overberg village of Stanford. The Cheese and Wine Ride, is a weekend riding trip, based out of Stanford, and shows you around to some of the best riding in the region, while sampling wines and cheese, that the area is famous for. This ride allows you access to private property normally not afforded to the public, and even the chance to preview some of the tracks for the 2022 edition of the Cape Epic. If you book this combo package, you get a full ten day MTBing adventure of note, including 9 nights of luxury accomodation on a dbb basis, snacks and refreshements on the ride, support vehicle with mehanical backup, transfer from goerge Airport or from Cape Town on the the first day, and Transfer to Cape Town Airport on the last. We can assist you with assembling your bikes on arrival, as well as boxing for the return flight if needed. This offer is limited to no more than 6 persons - book now to avoid dissapointment - non riding partners are welcome to join @ the same rate as riders. To book now, click here *all our other trips are currently marked down with 35% too, until 31 October 2020
  8. So, I have been doing a fair bit of research here on TBH, and see alot of devided opinions on the matter. One half are thinking its a consipiracy theory for bike manufacturers to keep taking our money. The other half sees it as a practical solution to alot of things, ie. Replace your road bike with a gravel bike, its more comfy, you can easily go off the road on dangerous sections of traffic or climb curbs, you can do road races with them, all be it not UCI races, but who is checking. In fact, I saw someone do a sub 3 hour in the CTCT with a gravel bike.... I for one believe this is the bike that is in fact not the N+1 bike, but the bike that can give a person, the best of three worlds. Whats your take on the matter, try and stay positie if at all possible lol
  9. An appeal to the gravel gurus of the area... Does anyone have a route for a trip from St Francis to Uniondale using mostly gravel?Would be great to get pointers on camping etc as well. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!
  10. Hi All I'm planning on doing a 4 day bike-packing tour on my new gravel bike around the Klein Karoo area, specifically Riversdale - Oudtshoorn area, in a few weeks time. - I'd appreciate any suggestions with regards my proposed routes, places to stay, places to stop for lunch etc. Trying to include a few scenic passes where feasible. - I've kept the distances around 90km, it's going to be my first multi-day trip on my gravel bike so would rather be (relatively) conservative. Quiet gravel roads would be preferable to tar where possible. - I've used Google Maps as my primary route source, but I'm a little concerned as to it's accuracy once you get off the major roads onto gravel. - To keep weight down I'll be packing my credit card rather than a tent etc! - Day 4 might get interesting but I've got an emergency escape vehicle (assuming I have cell signal) if things get too desperate.. Thanks! NC_Lurker Day 1: Buffelsjagrivier - Riversdale Distance: 92km Elevation: 1450m - Overnight in Stilbaai Day 2: Stilbaai - Van Wyksdorp Distance: 92km Elevation: 870m - Overnight in Van Wyksdorp Day 3: Van Wyksdorp - Oudtshoorn Distance: 90km Elevation: 1200m - Overnight in Oudtshoorn Day 4: Oudtshoorn - Albertinia Distance: 125km Elevation: 1750m - Overnight in Stilbaai
  11. There's something magical about riding your bike with a planned route and everything you'll need with you. Its simplicity is rich fodder for the soul. Over the last couple of months I've been drawn in more and more to this simplicity, and I've developed an ever growing hunger for biking adventures. I've found myself gravitating to ultra-long distances, and where the riding pushes me hard, not just physically, but mentally too. Maybe it's my age - searching for that personal next level - or the immensely satisfying feeling I get each time I reach my goal totally spent. I just love it! I was looking for a home where I could share my ultra-distance passion so I hope you don't mind me sharing it here? From time to time I'd like to share stories about my goals and races, bike and equipment, training and some general thoughts on my experiences. I want to make it interesting, and perhaps useful for someone enjoying the same sort of riding. First up, my race plans for 2019: (I'll talk more about each race in time) 27 April - Swartberg100 (170km) 15–23 June - The 1000 Miler (1600km) 10 August - TransBaviaans (230km) ... and the big one... 17 August - The Silk Road Mountain Race (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan ~1670 km) If you're interested in what I'm getting up you can follow me at Twitter (@trailtrax) Instagram (@trailtrax) Cheers for now... -- Rob Check out my latest post on choosing my bike and components.
  12. Words Carlo Gonzaga. Photos: Carlo Gonzaga/Alex Harris/Nic Louw/Chris Fisher/Llewellyn lloyd “Are you joking? Two hundred metres? Is that all we missed it by?” In a bike race that’s 475km long, with 13’000 metres of vertical ascent that’s what it came down to. Two. Hundred. Metres. If I could, I would have cried. But I couldn’t. The tears would have frozen my eyelids shut. Quite ridiculous really. ‘Ridiculous’ is probably the appropriate description of the Freedom Challenge in general and the Race to Rhodes specifically. The Freedom Challenge is a 2300km race across South Africa that takes place in South Africa’s winter months. The Race to Rhodes follows the first 475km, which, in the scheme of things, doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it is. The general format This race is categorised as a mountain bike race. Having now completed this event this categorisation feels a little like classifying both apples and tomatoes as fruits – technically correct but obviously wrong. The race is unique in quite in a few ways. It describes itself as a ‘non-stop, self-sufficient and, self-navigated’ mountain bike race. Like much of life the devil is in the detail and facts do matter. The race starts at the doors of the Pietermaritzburg city hall and ends in the tiny village of Rhodes, almost at the foot of South Africa’s highest peak, Ben Macdhui. As the F16 flies it’s 287km and google tells me its about a seven-hour drive by car. So far, so good. Obviously, we are piloting neither and are told its 475km, minimum. “Urm… what’s this minimum story” you ask, in the same tone as one of the “rights reserved” legal letters. That would be a very good question to ask. The ‘mandatory’ (read: you must follow this line or be disqualified) route to Rhodes is hand drawn with a thin green marking pen across 18 A3-size paper contour maps. I repeat: Eighteen. Paper. Maps. Until March this year I couldn’t remember what was on a contour map and was surprised that there are two north arrows on such map, not pointing the same way. I would try and explain the ‘two norths’ thing but really cannot. If we follow that thin green line diligently, we should clock up 475km. That’s highly unlikely as the rules prohibit the use of any form of GPS device. No Google maps. No Garmin. Not even phone-a-friend to try and direct you left or right. Getting lost is an absolute certainty. Consequently, the 475km in the brochure is really just a guideline. It would be reasonable to think that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the route would follow large, well-marked roads. This race is many things – but, as I’ve come to learn, ‘reasonable’ is not one of them. To add more weight to your map-filled in-tray there are 11 pages of written narratives that are meant to support these maps. These narratives contain gems like “Put your bike down and follow one of these tracks for about 20 metres. You should find a jeep track in the bushes. Retrieve your bike and follow the jeep track across the base of the spur.” I was fully expecting to find a mall with a Spur Steak Ranch at the end of this jeep track. And my absolute favourite… “This is then followed by an equally ridiculous 400 metre climb”. Their words, not mine. So… “No” to following large well-marked roads. When I received my 18 A3 maps and read the narratives for the first time I ‘kakked’ my chamois. The green line follows cattle paths, an assortment of tracks, and some roads. Often it simply asks you to follow geographical features like mountain ridges, dongas or rivers. For enhanced entertainment the line crosses more than ten rivers (not where the bridges are) and goes up or down a handful of sheer cliffs. (I’ve learned the closer the contour lines to each other, the steeper the cliff. Good to know.) Often there is a track on the map but, rather disturbingly, no such thing on the ground. Equally as often there is one track on the map and seventeen on the ground. I asked a mate who had done the race for some info and he sent me 84 emails with over 200 attachments. Asking for some in-person guidance you got pearlers like “Turn right at the apple tree. What apple tree Dave? Someone ate an apple & dropped the pips there last year, there should be an apple tree there this year.” Turn left at the “blue house” or at the “edge of the plantation” occur frequently. As it turns out people paint their houses and plantations get harvested, quite regularly. And then, obviously if you think about it, cattle tend to be quite unconcerned with keeping to the same path the surveyor-general saw when he plotted the contour maps 15 years ago. And that’s just the “self-navigated part”. The race is also “self-supported”. That means you carry everything you may need for about 5 days on your person or your bike. You are expected to finish with the equipment your started. Presumably, you are also expected to finish with the same body you started. The rules are not specific in this regard. You may not receive any outside support while on route or you will face disqualification or a time penalty. If your bike breaks in half you are expected to fix it with the tools at hand which are most commonly trees, cattle, and rivers. If you break in half, you are expected to fix yourself. There isn’t medical assistance on route. Sure, you can call a doctor, but unless his advice is to cut your losses and beat yourself to death with your own phone you may have to do the stitching yourself. Some participants actually carry suture kits. In the longer, 2300km event, most carry antibiotics. Stories abound of broken bike frames splinted together with branches and saddles held in place with fence wire. I was even taught that you can ‘weld’ with the foil cap of a wine bottle and a lighter. After downing said bottle of wine, I suppose anything is possible. While you may use “commercially available” resources this is a rather moot concession in the rules as the track is in rural, mountainous, South Africa for much of the time. About the best you’ll get is a shepherd or herdsman. He won’t speak your language, even if you speak his. If you’re lucky he’ll have a horse. If you’re unlucky he’ll have six and a half hungry dogs. Don’t expect water tables with cheering wives’ or children filling your water bottles. Instead, expect community taps or streams to fill your bottles and the odd informal traders selling beer, warm coke or Chinese nik-naks. There are five checkpoints on route that you must check into. Ideally you should check out of them as well. These are mostly community operated lodgings located in villages, or more often, in the sticks somewhere. Some of them don’t have electricity and a couple don’t even have running water. Lodgings are modest by normal standards, but seven-star when you’ve got 300km and 8000m of climbing in you. At the last checkpoint, at a modest village labelled on the maps as ‘Vuvu’, you will sleep in the huts of the local residents, who will move out of their dwelling for the night. Your dinner will be served in the office of the head of department at the local junior secondary school. You will, as a rite of passage on the trail, freeze your saddle sores off if you attempt an evening bucket shower in Vuvu. True story. There is a passing reference to inclement weather in the rules. The clue to look out for is in the mandatory clothing requirements of ‘base layers, other layers, waterproof layers and emergency blankets’. The route tops out at about 2600m. This is well into snow territory when the conditions are right. Or wrong if you’re on a bike. This year we recorded -8 degrees and it has been known to get well below -15 degrees. Not Fahrenheit – the other one. This year (and apparently in many years) the wind was gusting up to 80 kilometres an hour. Snow in a gale becomes sleet. Dust particles become birdshot. Your sense of humour disappears quicker than a politicians’ promises after election day. This year riders had to look out for steel roof sheeting that had become airborne. I’ve seen videos of bicycles being lifted off the ground as riders grimly hold onto to the handlebar. If you see men peeing on their shifter cables, its because they’ve become frozen. If I were honestly marketing the race to newcomers, it would go something like: “Come and join our Race to Rhodes. You’ll definitely get lost, most likely in the dark and probably in sub-zero temperatures. We hope you’ll make it through all the river crossing and not fall down a cliff. You will be wet. It will be fun. As a midfielder you’ll be riding about 8-12 hours between support stations so you should be able to carry that much food and water with you. You must also carry all your own clothing, medical kits and bike spares for any eventuality. Be mindful with baggage as you will have to pick your bike up and over fences and should be prepared to hike up cliffs with your bike on your back. It will be fun. As there is no way to get a motor vehicle to many parts of the route please ensure you have airborne medical evacuation as part of your medical insurance. That will not be fun.” 5:00am. 71 hrs since departure. Top of Lehanas. Middle Earth, so it seems. Knees tucked into my chest. Lips pursed. Breathing shallow to limit the cold air into my already chilled lungs. I am lying on my right side directly on the ground, in what probably looks like the ‘foetal’ position. I am shivering, almost uncontrollably, but not quite. My eyes squint through foggy lenses into the moonlit night. My ears are filled with the continuous crackle, pop, and hiss of three space blankets fluttering in the icy wind, anchored only by a hand, a foot, or some other bodily appendage of their owners. It’s around five in the morning and my handlebar mounted temperature gauge looks like its reading minus-four-point-something Celsius. I would try and get a better look but the batteries in my helmet mounted light seem to have lost their amps, like we have lost our bearings. We’re at the top of Lehanas ‘Pass’. That much we know. We’re about 35km, or two-and-a half hours from the end. This we also know. What we don’t know is exactly where we are. Therefore, we can’t be exactly sure of where we need to go. Maddingly, we know the track we need to find is so close. So. Damn. Close. It’s been seventy-one hours since we left Pietermaritzburg, and we’re around 440km down the official track. Myself and my two travelling companions have had no more than four hours sleep in total since our city hall departure three days ago. Our last water and food refill was twelve hours ago. Half an hour earlier we were walking around in circles looking for the track that would take us off this exposed icy plateau. In one last gasp attempt to locate our exit, we each forge out a few hundred metres in opposite directions. Our lights, batteries weakened by the cold, tentatively prod the darkness ahead. The darkness gives no quarter, gives no inch. We reconvene once again. No good news. None of us find the road we intuitively know is there. Too tired and cold to think through the problem we abandon our joint quest to finish the race in under three days. To achieve that we needed to find that road by 3:30am, latest. Since we’re no longer cycling, our sweaty cycling kit starts to freeze in the increasingly stronger wind. We don all our remaining clothing, four or five layers in total, including that damned space blanket, and decide to bunker down until the sun comes up. Lying on the ground, I recall thinking to myself that this is probably how people die in the cold. They just… well… they… just… lie there…. and, er, …. die. No fanfare, no last wishes, no dramatic rushes to save yourself. Just a very, very long sleep. Lehanas Pass is legend on the trail. The adventures birthed on Lehanas generally secure you a front row at the bar, drinks included. Why it’s called a ‘pass’ is still somewhat lost on me. There is no road. Not even remnants of a road. In fact, there could never have been a road as the route required to traverse the 8,4km from base to peak requires a careful balancing act on the spine of a mountain range. It’s a venus fly trap. It’s a con artist. She is heart achingly beautiful in photos. Gorgeously smooth from google earth. I sound smitten. She draws you in. And then she’s Glenn Close and bunnies. She’s Hannibal Lecter making dinner, for one. It seems that Lehanas has a score to settle with almost all riders. In those 8,4km you will ascend 1000 metres. That’s nearly the same as the last push to the summit up Kilimanjaro. Except you’re the porter with a bicycle. Gradients exceed 40% and the upper reaches require scrambling up ledges that are head height. On a particularly steep windswept section I could do no better than flatten myself against the grassy, rock strewn slope, face into the ground. And sort of leopard crawl with two legs and one arm, the other securing my bike to my back. On one steep section Pieter was throwing his bike up the hill and then stepping up. The wind on Lehanas is something to behold. It doesn’t ‘blow’. It roars up its slopes like the death charge of a wounded lion – you hear the grunts but can’t see the lion until the last second. It tears through shrubs and trees, branches snapping back like mortars above Normandy. It clutches at your clothing and your bike. It’s like getting in a boxing ring with Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime. The punches come from nowhere but are everywhere. I have had riders tell me of having their bikes ripped from their grip by the wind and having to crawl down to retrieve them. A few riders have actually been trapped on the mountain, unable to crest the summit for the ferocity of the wind. For a reason unknown to me there is a blue container at the summit. One year riders had to break into it, seeking refuge. When they wanted to leave, Lehanas had the last laugh. They were locked inside for an hour or so, unable to open the door. Did I mention that, through all this gradient, wind and weather, you have to carry your bike? You do. Unavoidable really. How do you train to carry your bike up a 40% rocky incline; in -3 degrees centigrade, in a gusting, 100kph wind? If you know, do tell. At about 6:30am the darkness finally begins to recede. First, the ridgelines of the surrounding mountains show themselves in monochrome silhouette. At this point the temperature always drops a few more digits. I am standing now, space blanket wrapped twice around my torso. Still shivering. Henry and Pieter are stoically holding onto their fluttering space blankets, still grounded. As the light pushes the darkness away, I start to make out a straight-ish line in the distance. Not too far – about two hundred metres. A few minutes pass. You must be joking? That straight line is the road. That’s the thing with being lost. One moment you are lost. And, eventually, at some other moment you are instantly un-lost. You don’t gradually un-lose yourself. You either know where you are, or you don’t. 10pm. 15hours from the start. The Wall. I am walking down a hill I’ve just pushed up. I am shouting “Hello” at darkened rural houses. I am hopeful that my waking someone up will somehow be forgiven because I have done so with a “Hello”. Dogs bark, which I’m happy for. I figure ‘barks’ plus ‘hello’ should get someone’s’ attention. Finally, I see a light in a window of a small brick one-roomed building. I start with “Hello” in conversational tone. After escalating my conversational “Hello” to a rather hysterical ‘HAAALLOOOWW’, I advance toward the lit window. Mercifully the dog doesn’t eat me, and the resident doesn’t think I’m an intruder. As we try to bridge the language gap, he points frantically up the road I’ve just pushed down, and supports this gesturing with “Straaait, Straaait”. At that point I see two lights walking up the road. Ok… the lights aren’t really walking – they’re attached to the bikes of Peter and Henry. We’ve been riding a few minutes apart for the last 15 hours. I dash out the yard, thanking the local who is still gesturing and shouting “Straaait”. Henry and Pieter have done this four times between them and they must know the route. I ask if I can ride with them a bit. Three navigators are better than one. Or so you’d think. Two hours later we finally acknowledge we’re lost. We cannot pinpoint where we are on the paper maps. We’ve asked more local residents. Language is a problem. I must learn Zulu. We have travelled about 5,3km on an incorrect road, most of which has been uphill. We round a corner and Pieter correctly concludes that we are going in the exact opposite direction that we’re meant to be going in. We round another corner, this time in the right direction, but facing a steep uphill. The ‘protocol’ for getting un-lost is retracing your steps until you can pinpoint where you are on a map. Not wanting to scale that climb, just to have to come down it, we sagely agree to do the adult thing and acknowledge our mistake and go back down the 5,3km we have just come up. Given the now almost zero temperatures we stop to layer up for the descent. I record a video on my phone. 20 minutes later, at the base of the climb we find our error: just metres up from where I met Peter and Henry the good road breaks left, with a track continuing straight to a rock-infested section referred to as ‘The Wall’ by riders. It is un-rideable which is the clue that tells us we are on the right track. Days later, after the race, I review our GPS tracks that the race office gives me access to. The point at which we turned around, after 2 hours and 5,3km of uphill, was just two hundred metres from the road that we were meant to be on. We had taken the vehicular road that bypasses the un-rideable section we call The Wall. If we had stayed on it, we would have re-joined above the un-rideable section and been hi-five-ing and back-slapping at our genius navigation. This sounds made up. It is not. I have pictures. Two hundred metres. Again. Race office, we have a problem Per the rules you are allowed seven days to complete the course. Sounds like a long time for just 475km. Until you consider that you continuously stop to check your maps; the path is largely on tracks and grassland; and has its fair share of un-rideable sections. Compounding matters there’s the hills - by the time you’ve quaffed your first G&T in Rhodes you will have ascended the equivalent of Mt. Everest one and a half times. Of the 49 starters in this year’s edition just two finished in under three days. Only six finished in under five days. Of the eight that never made it to Rhodes, one was washed down a river he was crossing. And he wasn’t on a boat at the time. At race briefing it became apparent there were three other riders with a sub three-day game plan, including myself. This was my first time so my ambitious plan could be blamed on first-time stupidity. Roger was on a single speed, rigid bike. Think about that for a moment. I subsequently learned he is a plastic surgeon, so I blame his crazy attempt on second-hand anaesthesia inhalation. I don’t know if that’s physiologically possible, but I hope you get my point. Peter and Henry had narrowly missed a sub three-day attempt previously and their plan was fuelled mostly by revenge. There is a sub two-day strategy, but that is currently reserved for just one rider. Just five riders have ever managed under 2,5 days. A veteran of The Trail, Mike Woolnough was on track for a sub-two this year until the sleep monsters and weather tightened their grip. To achieve under three days, you essentially must ride double the time of other riders, each day. Conceptually not difficult to grasp, but there are a couple of critical pinch points to consider. First, you probably need to ride the first 200km to the remote lodge in Nstekeni Nature Reserve in one go. That comes with 6300m of climbing. You should get that done in about 18 hours, leaving you with a couple hours to sleep, eat and consider other necessities before mounting your steed at around 4:30. A warm up, so to speak. Assuming you won’t get too lost during the day you’ll have the privilege of negotiating some tricky night-time navigation. If that goes ok-ish you’ll have the morning to get to Vuvu. Its highly desirable to get past Vuvu and to the foot of Lehanas in daylight so you can get your bearings on that little blue container 8,4km away. If you get that right, you’ll get to Rhodes in about 2 days and 15 hours. Like Roger did. Be like Roger. Don’t be like us. Leaving Vuvu at 5pm already put us on the backfoot as we’d only get to Lehanas at around 6pm. It’s darkest just after the sun is fully tucked away and the moon isn’t quite shiny yet, making it difficult to get bearing on aforementioned blue container. So, in what history will judge as a… mmm... err…. let’s just go with ‘crap' decision, we decided to try an alternate route up Lehanas. This involves not actually going up Lehanas at all but finding an adjacent mountain to the west and scaling that instead. Just writing that plan down sounds bad. Trust me though, it was a good idea at the time. No – beers were not involved. Roll forward four hours. We’re back at the foot of Lehanas, around 10pm. We found the mountain to the west. We even found the track on the mountain to the west we were meant to be on. For 4km. Then we ran out of track, skill, experience, and humour. We scribbled messages in the ground. We found the southern cross. We studied our maps and compasses. Still only 4km progress in three hours. At about 9pm we called the race office. “We have a problem”. To his credit and our good fortune Chris Fisher, race director, took our call. He advised us, as he had previously, to try Lehanas instead. I don’t even think he said “I told you so”. Mountain 1 – Three Musketeers 0. 16 hours 33 minutes. That’s how long it took us to reach Rhodes from Vuvu. 51km according to the maps. 75 hours, 33 minutes since we had city hall in our rear-view mirrors. Four hours sleep. And we missed our plan by 3 hours 33 minutes. Two hundred metres. Twice. The thing But here’s the thing: I feel fulfilled. Energised. Richer for the experience. Even taller. I inhaled more just than a few beers and slept for a week after. Sure, I got lost for some 9 hours of the 75 hours I was on the trail, without which I would have smashed my goal. But that would be too easy. I now value my first time on The Trail. To grow physically you need to stress your body and then, during rest, the body adapts to a new expectation, becoming stronger through each cycle of rest. It’s the rest after the physical activity that makes you stronger. The Trail under race conditions has more than its fair share of physical stresses. These you will overcome, and be stronger for, with rest and few glasses of wine. It’s the stresses The Trail places on your mind, your spirit, your self, that are uniquely valuable. These don’t happen at the gym, a morning run, or in board meetings. Getting lost is part of life. It happens all the time to us across multiple spheres. In relationships, business, strategy. With our families. Most often we are in denial about being lost at all. We convince ourselves we are on track. On the trail you are either lost or not. There is no ‘convincing’ yourself. You are forced to face reality; admit to being lost; and start the process of finding your way back. This is the stress. When you find the track, as you will, you will be mentally and spiritually stronger for it. You will be more appreciative of the need to pay attention next time. To be engaged with your surroundings. To prepare better. To be present. You will be more willing to help others, for one day you may need the help of others. These are my lessons from Lehanas. The Trail is filled with old-school adventure. You will genuinely scramble down cliff faces. You will drop your bike down 3m vertical dongas. You may get washed down a river. You will feel inspired and invincible when you successfully navigate your way at night through the three villages to Queen Mercy; or ride ‘flat-box’ down red-earth wattle strips on the Mpharane ridge on a crisp, cloudless, blue-sky day. You will turn around and look down the section you have portaged up and resist patting yourself on the back. You may even have the need to find the Southern Cross because you lost your compass. You will humbly push your bike up, and down, hills. You will crest the Umkomaas valley and get goose bumps from the view before you descend an impossibly steep track. You will thrash your way through thorn trees, wattles and river debris. All while pulling, pushing, and dragging your bike. Always forward. Always forward. Most of all, the trail is filled with people. Their aspirations. Their stories. The giant Dalu Ncobo and his wife, Gladys, at Nstekeni. He sleeps with “one eye open” and made us breakfast - or was it dinner - at 2am. Sheila and Charles Raven, their daughter Kerry - hosting cyclists around the clock for three continuous weeks at their home in Glen Edward. The never-ending stories from Dana and Ian Waddilove, whose brother, David, founded the Freedom Challenge in 2004. The giant, syrupy vetkoek that Buhle makes at the modest Masakala support station. The residents of Vuvu who actually give up their bed for cyclists. The children who run next to you for kilometres, shouting “Where are you going? What is your name?”. The spaza shop owners for whom the race represents a mid-year Christmas rush. There's the lone horseman who points to where you should be going and sometimes, seeing the exhaustion written in, and on you, leads you to your path. This is The Race to Rhodes. This is the Freedom Challenge. 'Gonzo, out' The enormity of the navigational challenge becomes tangible when you unpack your maps and lay them side by side, for 475km. Its about this point that you either start drinking or throw up. Or the latter after the former. I think I may have invested over 100hours over five months in the maps. I rode the google earth version of the route multiple times. Still not getting it right I rode the actual route on my bicycle in April. Clearly I still have work to do. The end result of all my navigation preparation. Alex Harris, once record Holder for the 2300km version, said reading them was like trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. I actually took that as a compliment but couldn’t help noticing he was carrying no maps at all. One year, Ingrid Avidon had to navigate with just these remaining pieces of her maps. That little blue section of road is 200m long. Not knowing where we were that is where we made a U turn and headed back down the red line to the missed turn. We then went up the green line. From a different perspective, we were merely doing hill repeats on the The Wall, which sounds far more heroic. This is what a section of The Wall looks like from the perspective of my knee in April. During the race this was just black. Kids relish the humour in being able to walk faster than riders up t hese steep, most ofetn un-rideable sections. Riders are allowed to send one 2L ice cream tub to certain checkpoints on route prior to the race starting. You may put whatever you wish in these. What you leave behind is considered a donation to the trail. If you withdraw or have passed a checkpoint the contents of your box may be scavenged by following riders. If I combined the contents of my five boxes I was almost able to build a new bike. Next time I shall put a spare compass in one of those boxes and not use so much duct tape. I needed Semtex to open those tub, which is ordinarily difficult to come by on the trail. You may read the word ‘shop’ in the narratives or hear it from fellow riders. Lower your expectation and then half that. This “U-Save” was in fact well stocked in April, but closed on Sunday in June. Notwithstanding, if you ask nicely, they’ve always got one cold coke in a fridge somewhere and there’s always a nik nak or two to share around. One thing you’re assured of is breath-taking, uncluttered views. But that’s only half the time. At night its just black and terrifying. Day one – you’ve already done 1500m of ascent in the first 50km. You’ve thundered through the tiny village of Kwangeshe along its slightly downhill, undulating track. This is your view. The Umkomass Valley. Don’t be fooled into thinking that road on the left is somehow for you. No, your path goes does to rivers edge and will see you thrashing about for an hour or two in the riverine bush, until you cross the river. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd Oliver Greaves crossing the mighty Umkomazi River. Ollie is 17 and was one of two father-and-son teams to do this years Race to Rhodes. Don’t be fooled by the calm. This river can get angry. In April it was impassable. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd A lone rider crosses the Umko river. One rider tried to cross near the rocks where the water flows faster. He and his bike, were washed down, and over the rocks. Finally making it to the other side he had to withdraw from the race. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd Hela Hela. 7,5km on the steepest section. 741m ascent. 9,3% average gradient with maximum of 39%. It’s a beast on a good day. A monster in the heat. Gorgeous from above. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd There is not much tar or electricity on this part of the trail. If you get into the lonely support station of Malekgolonyane after dark you will have a romantic paraffin lit dinner. Photo: REBLEX Photography/Llewellyn Lloyd If the narratives say anything similar to ‘dongas’, don’t expect some technical riding. Expect carrying, dirt and straight-up walls. The only way in, and out, is through cattle paths. If there are no cattle in that area you’d best consider alternate transport. When I crossed this river during the race (riders call it the Boshelweni, which is entirely incorrect) it was at night, but only half full. I took my socks and inner soles out so that they wouldn’t be wet in the freezing temps. Half-way across my feet were so cold that I contemplated turning back, or tip toing onto an exposed rock so my feet could warm up. The bottom reaches of Lehanas during my recce ride in April. It’s a pity I didn’t get to see it again during the day. But then I wouldn’t have the story or the free drinks at the bar. That's Alex Harris patiently waiting for me. Again. Lehanas in daylight from the base. There is a faint line which indicates one of the ways to get up. For clarity – the line is not actually there to help you in real life. The arrow is pointing to the blue container that is on top of the mountain. 8,4km. 1000m ascent. You just have to get on with it and “take your medicine” as Alex Harris would say. Photo: Nic Louw The view of Lehanas from the lens of photographer/rider Nic Louw. When you get to the top this is the view down. Can you see the rider – bottom middle of the photo. That thing that looks like the spine of a dragon’s tail. It is. That is what you’ve hiked up. No matter how much riders tippy-toe up this pass we always seem to wake the dragon. Thanks to Nic for strapping a real camera to his chest for the whole 6 days. The only thing strapped to my chest was a pretty useless heart rate monitor. He was one of two father-and-son teams on this year’s Race to Rhodes. The Freedom Challenge will not go according to plan so it pays to have a glass-half-full attitude. And if the going gets really tough, a peanut butter sandwich and coffee doesn’t hurt.
  13. The suggested trail was the Munda Biddi, a roughly 1000km off-road trail that runs between Perth in the north, and Albany in the south of Western Australia. The trail is divided into sections, and can be ridden in either direction, either as short sections, or as a complete ride, called an end-to-end. We chose to do an end-to-end, from north to south. The Munda Biddi provides a marked route which includes small sections of tarmac, but mostly gravel roads, fire roads, trails and single-track. Along the way are ‘huts’ - shelters for cyclists to overnight in – or small towns where you can find food and accommodation. If you do their recommended itinerary, you cycle between 30km and 70km each day, overnighting in a hut or small town. Having no idea of the terrain or difficulty of the route, we decided to start out with the recommended itinerary, and see how things went from there. Bikes and equipment We did the Munda Biddi on our standard dual suspension 29er mountain bikes, kitted out with bikepacking bags and panniers. Desi's Specialized Epic. My bike was a Specialized Epic; on the back, a back bike rack, small panniers and a bag on the rack; a custom bike frame bag (sewn up by my sister); a bag on the handlebars; and two cages on the front forks. A small ‘fuel tank’ provided easy access to snacks on the go. I also wore a hydration pack large enough to stuff a rain jacket into. Nigel’s Santa Cruz Tallboy. My husband Nigel’s bike was a Santa Cruz Tallboy; on the back, a back bike rack, large panniers and our tent strapped onto the rack; a seat bag with frame; a couple of small frame bags; and a handlebar roll bag. Nigel also wore a hydration pack. Hans's Scott Spark. Hans rode a Scott Spark with a seat bag, a frame bag, a handlebar roll bag, cages on the front forks, and a couple of fuel tanks, plus he wore a hydration backpack. We carried the basic bike spares that you would carry on any regular multi-day event, sharing where we could, and made sure that our bikes had a thorough service before the trip. As it turned out, we had one broken chain to deal with, and a few squeaks and creaks on a really wet and muddy day - that was it as far as mechanical problems went. Accommodation and food The huts along the way are all the same basic design: a metal shelter with large wooden platforms where you lay out your sleeping bags. On one end are picnic tables and chairs, and on the other, two large water tanks. A little way from the shelter is a smaller shelter with an eco-friendly long-drop toilet. Nothing else is provided at the shelter, so you need to carry sleeping mats, bags, liners, and of course, your clothing and toiletries. As no open fires are allowed, you also carry a camping cooker, plates, mugs, cutlery, pots and your food. Our menu consisted mainly of quick-cooking oats (just add boiling water and let it stand for a minute) and coffee for breakfast, a lunch of either fresh bread or wraps with peanut butter, or vegemite, cheese and salami (salami stays fresh for ages!), and a dinner of cous-cous with a ‘cuppa-soup’ for flavour, dehydrated peas, plus tuna/salami/salmon (available in packets) to add some protein. We also carried energy bars, trail mix and jelly babies for snacks. When we spent a night in a small town (every two to three nights), we’d find a cabin, bed & breakfast or a motel, for a hot shower, warm bed and a chance to do some laundry. Plus, we’d fuel up with a real meal and some beers at the local pub. No matter how small the town, there’s always a pub! The ride With our typical South African ‘give it a go’ attitude, we did no test rides before loading up with panniers, gear and food, and heading off from the northern trailhead. Well, the first thing that you notice is that your wonderful light carbon bike is now approximately 20kg heavier, and that it does, indeed, affect the ride! Weight does matter! It takes a while for you to get the feel of the bike and its cargo, but after a day or so on the trail, you’re riding noticeably better than day one! We did rearrange bags, gear and weight distribution several times along the route, until we found what worked best for each of us. I found that weight on the handlebars affected the handling badly, while weight on my back racks was far less noticeable, so I shifted anything heavy from the front to the back. We also rearranged goods logically so that we could find what we needed when we stopped each day, without having to unpack everything! The route was incredible, and a great deal of work has gone into its planning, creation and upkeep. The route uses tar roads only where necessary, which was minimal. Most of the trail was on quiet gravel roads, small fire roads, barely used old logging tracks, former railway lines, or single-track, some of which has been created specifically for the Munda Biddi. The bulk of the ride is through forests, which makes for some pleasant riding and lovely scenery. We spotted several kangaroos, some emus and many loud and colourful birds along the way. The Munda Biddi is not difficult, but that’s not to say it’s easy, either. The route itself is manageable by most intermediate cyclists, by South African standards. What makes things difficult is that you’re effectively riding a 30kg bicycle. It is not a technical route, but there are some big hills. There is also, in the northern areas, what the locals call ‘pea gravel’, which is exactly as described – very loose, deep gravel roughly the size of peas. Easy enough to ride on the flat, or control (with some sliding about) on the downhills, but a challenge on a steep hill with a very heavy bike. And once you do stop, it’s almost impossible to get going again on an incline. There were several short sections that I walked. Because the trails are through forests, there is also a lot of debris on the trails – from plants to sticks, branches and even trees that have fallen across the tracks. All easy enough on a regular ride, but when the closest bike shop is 100km away, you don’t want to risk breaking a spoke, bending a derailleur, or breaking a bike rack, so you tend to ride more conservatively than usual. The weather, of course, also plays a role, and can turn an easy ride into a battle. We encountered heavy rain and high winds, which made things more of a challenge. You do, however, have all day to do your chosen distance, so you’re not chasing cut-off times, just daylight. Nigel (a strong cyclist) and I (a social cyclist) completed the Munda Biddi quite comfortably in 20 days of riding, but for me, there were a couple of tough days, and we did the ride quite slowly, enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately Hans (a social cyclist) had trouble firstly with a chest infection, and later with knee injuries. He took a few days off to get over the chest infection, and joined us again further down the trail. The record for an end-to-end is four days, six hours and 39 minutes, but I really see no point in racing a route like this. We took two rest days, both of which were to sit out severe storms. The verdict on bikepacking We loved it, and plan to do a lot more in the years to come. It’s a wonderful way to see a country, literally at grass-roots level, get some exercise and adventure along the way, plus earn a sense of achievement. Another great aspect of bikepacking is the people you meet along the way. There’s a special camaraderie, a shared sense of achievement when you meet another heavily laden cyclist on a trail, and swop stories of trails and routes, bikes and gear, mishaps and not-to-be-missed bits. I can’t wait to be back out there, loaded with gear and peanut-butter wraps, following a trail less travelled, to borrow a phrase. Stats from our ride: 20 days riding plus 2 rest days Total distance: 1003km Total time: 127 hours, 24 minutes Moving time: 82 hours, 54 minutes Average speed: 7,9km/h Average moving speed: 12,1km/h
  14. When we let the family know that we planned to spend three months in Australia to visit them, my brother-in-law sent us an email – ‘something to do while you’re here’ he said, and added a link to a bike trail in Western Australia. Bikepacking has been on our ‘to do’ list for a while, so we thought – right: we’ll give it a go. Of course, being typically South African, we didn’t do a two or three-day trip to try things out, we went straight to the 20-day, 1000km trip. Deep end and all. We even persuaded our friend Hans, an ex-South African now living in Australia, to join us. Click here to view the article
  15. So we are a bunch of friends heading down to the Annual Knysna Oyster festival for the July Holiday with one simple rule - enter at least the half marathon run on the 7th. Great, we will all stay in Buffelsbaai for the weekend, I have 2 weeks of leave and has come up with this marvelous idea of getting to Buffelsbaai on my bicycle. I have 4 days so i have planned it as follows. Day 1 Robertson to Barrydale. Day 2 Barrydale to Riversdale. Day 3 Riversdale to Hartenbos (where some of my colleuges will stay)(backroades) Day 4 George to Buffelsbaai (via 7passes). All and all about 390km My idea is to take only the necessary clothing and a extra pair of cycling clothes. This is an opportunity to ride the amazing gravel back roads, experience some small town hospitality and get a good winter base training in. I will be on my full sus MTB for this trip I need some comments on the route i plan to take. Anything to watch out for, must do stops, route tips, dangerous areas, places to stay. Basically anything useful since i have never done this.( note I am a experienced cyclist, just not a experienced bike-packer) This is the link to my google maps route - https://goo.gl/maps/e4fbrFALWqQ2 Go check it out Thanks
  16. Event Name: Bikepacking | The Big 3 Route | 3 Days When: 9 November 2018 - 11 November 2018 Where: Vrede, Freestate Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 240km 3 days/2 nights The Big 3 Route is one of the routes where you will experience real bikepacking. The route has challenges in both climb and terrain and some bike trekking will be required. ​ Our destination will be an adventure farm near Volksrust: “The town was laid out in 1888 on the farms Boschpad Drift, Rooibult or Llanwarne, Verkyk and Zandfontein, and proclaimed in 1889. Municipal status was attained in 1904. It has important beef, dairy, maize, sorghum, wool and sunflower seed industries. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. REGISTER HERE Go to Event Page
  17. Event Name: Bikepacking | The Koepel Cruise Route | Overnight When: 13 October 2018 - 14 October 2018 Where: Potchefstroom Dam, North West Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 180km 2 days/1 night The Koepel Cruise Route - The ideal long weekend family adventure. Take the whole family on a bikepacking weekend or meet the wife and kids at an overnight destination. Enjoy a Saturday at the many overnight venues while engaging in river rafting or zip line through the tree tops. ​ The overnight route is 185 km without detours with mild first day gradients, the second day route will cross the Vaal River twice as you head back to Potchefstroom. ​ Always take care on the active railway/road sections during your adventures. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. REGISTER HERE Go to Event Page
  18. Event Name: Bikepacking | Silo Wonders Route | Overnight When: 11 August 2018 - 12 August 2018 Where: Val Hotel, Mpumulanga Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 230 km 2 days/1 night I often call the Silo Wonders Route a “connecting” route. Not because the route connects Val and the town of Vrede but rather as this route connects other routes to form a longer bikepacking route that can easily go as far as 600 km. ​ As a route on its own, the Silo Wonders is great. You will make your way from the Val to Vrede over a 100 km crossing the Vaal River. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. REGISTER HERE Go to Event Page
  19. Event Name: Bikepacking | The Scott Route | Overnight When: 7 July 2018 - 8 July 2018 Where: Greylingstad, Mpumulanga Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 270 km 2 days/1 night The Scott Route - Named after the Scottish Regiment markings on top of a peak at Greylingstad where you start your journey. This stage route connects Greylingstad with Vrede and as a weekend route loops past Val and back to Greylingstad. The 270 km is gravel roads that follow the "Rooi Klip" road past farmlands and game farms. On route, you pass through the town of Cornelia where small town means, small town. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. REGISTER HERE Go to Event Page
  20. Event Name: Bikepacking | The Iron Line | Overnight When: 9 June 2018 - 10 June 2018 Where: Le Bonheur Guesthouse, Heidelberg, Gauteng Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 165 km 2 days/1 night The Iron Line is one of our first bikepacking routes. The route starts in Heidelberg 70 km from the Johannesburg international airport. The Iron Line Route is made for people new to bikepacking. Daily distance is 75-80 km with stops at Belfour and Greylingstad. Discover more about the route, view the ride report. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. BIKEPACKING.AFRICA Go to Event Page
  21. Event Name: Bikepacking | The Iron Line | Overnight When: 1 September 2018 - 2 September 2018 Where: Le Bonheur Guesthouse, Gauteng Category: MTB BIKEPACKING.AFRICA ABOUT THE ROUTE: 165 km 2 days/1 night The Iron Line is one of our first bikepacking routes. The route starts in Heidelberg 70 km from the Johannesburg international airport. The Iron Line Route is made for people new to bikepacking. Daily distance is 75-80 km with stops at Belfour and Greylingstad. Discover more about the route, view the ride report. ​ Pay your own way: you will be responsible to pay for your own meals and accommodation, snacks and drinks along the route. Admin Fees: Include but not limited to, the ride organizer being responsible for leading the group, will share information about sights along the route, assist with pre ride preparations questions and arrange with all venues to expect and prepare for guests. Might also include the special arrangement with private land owners to gain access to remote trails. Admin fees are also applied to charity ventures, route maintenance/development and running costs. ​ Who will enjoy this route: Persons looking for a mountain bike adventure. Camping is part of bikepacking and if you love camping you will be right at home. ​ What you will need: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow for camping. See the packing list for what you might need on a bikepacking adventure packing list. ​ Bike and gear rentals are available on request. REGISTER NOW Go to Event Page
  22. Hello from a very long time lurker on this forum. Over the last two years, I have been doing a lot of bikepacking type riding in ZA and in Lesotho, with my biggest trip being from PMB to Knysna, with numerous smaller trips in Lesotho. Last year December, while crossing Lesotho from Maseru to Himeville, I ran into an American guy bikepacking in the opposite direction, we talked and spent a rest day together....one thing led to another, and now I'm en route to Ecuador to ride rhe Trans-Ecuador Singletrack Route with him (http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/trans-ecuador-singletrack). I will be doing my best to keep my instagram account updated (@jagged_horizons) and time allowing, this forum as well, if anyone is interested.... Cheers Jagged Horizons
  23. Planning a bike packing adventure from Pretoria to Knysna. The Missus is a little concerned about my safety so I am going to try and get a tracker but have also decided to see if I can find anyone to join me ........ for all or just parts of the route. Current thinking is to leave 04:00 from Pretoria on Sun 11 December. Route at this stage looks something like this: Day 1: Pretoria to Heilbron (182km - B&B accommodation)Day 2: Heilbron to Clocolan (211km - Camping on Ben Nevis Farm)Day 3: Clocolan to Smithfield (198km - B&B accommodation)Day 4: Smithfield to Hofmeyr (219km - B&B accommodation)Day 5: Hofmeyr to Jansenville (222km - B&B accommodation)Day 6: Jansenville to Uniondale (192km - possibly camp but means extra 30km)Day 7: Uniondale to Knysna (87km)Aiming to try cycle 10 hours a day with two hours a day allocated to eating/sight seeing/photo's etc. Not sure how realistic this is as it means most days I need to average around and even over 20km/hr. My biggest concern at this stage is having adequate water so going to take a 3L Camelback. I will only have lighter, stove, torch, food and water in the Camelback - a survival kit, if you will. If I can't find another camping spot I might just abandon the idea of camping for this trip as it is a bit silly dragging all the camping kit along for one night (the farm where I planned to camp has chalets available as well). Still need to do: Work out how to get the daily Google map tracks onto my GPS (will hopefully sort out this week);Borrow a saddle bag and handle bar roll, pack and practice a bit with it (have approached someone just need to tie it all up)Try to identify more camping options - at least one or two more nightsAnybody interested or who can offer route advice/tips, please PM me and we can then swap numbers and chat further
  24. I've got 2 weeks off in February, and I thought I'd do some more bikepacking. My plan is to fly to George, then cycle up through the garden route all the way to PE. I'll catch either a train or a flight back from there. Is this route possible? I'm not sure what the rules say about using the N2, and I don't see too many alternatives that will let me stay along the coast. It has to be on road, as I'll be using my little brompton. Yes I know it's not the ideal choice, but I like it and have cycled from Munich to Vienna on it quite happily. I do try to keep the distances under 50km a day though, I'm in no rush, and there's nobody to race Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
  25. DevelopmentThe inspiration for the Sherpa came from our lead product guy Alex Cogger, whose own rides were getting longer and weirder and more rugged. Through strategic cooperation with WTB we were the first to experiment with 27.5+ tires and rims, and over the last few years we prototyped several bikes to test the capabilities of the wheel size. It was immediately clear that the increased float and traction was a great match for overland bikepacking. The Sherpa debuted as a concept bike at Sea Otter 2014—complete with a custom Tibetan Snow Lion paint job. It generated an overwhelming response from riders wanting to expand their exploration capabilities, and convinced us to bring it to production. CharacteristicsFully loaded overlanding requires an extended gear range. We began with our proven Element carbon front triangle and designed a wider rear end to ensure that a front derailleur would clear even the widest tires. The wide footprint of WTB’s 27.5+ x 2.8 Trailblazer tires gives the Sherpa confidence and stability in choppy sections—important when you’re loaded down with gear and going mach chicken over high desert chunder. They also have surprisingly low rolling resistance and excellent roll-over characteristics. We matched its 95mm of rear travel to an increased 120mm of front travel for more capability and loaded stability. Rider position was adjusted to be more upright, making long days in the saddle more comfortable. It is critical for suspension to react in tandem with high volume tires. We worked with Manitou to spec supple suspension for excellent response off the top. The Magnum fork has a wide stance for better tire clearance, and the Mcleod requires lower air pressure, allowing a fully loaded rider and bike to remain in the shock’s “sweet spot.” Why another new wheel size?27.5+ is a super high volume tire mounted on a wide 27.5 rim, providing an outer diameter that is roughly equivalent to a 29er tire. Overlanding means exploring the unknown, and for the kind of varied terrain we wanted to explore with the Sherpa we needed a low pressure, high volume tire that didn’t exceed traditional 29er outer diameters. The extra volume improves traction and allows for low pressures even while carrying the weight of bikepacking gear—because needing to overinflate your tires is the worst. And, the outer diameter allowed us to design the Sherpa with proper full suspension in a full range of sizes. If massive volume is so great, why aren't all your bikes 27.5+? Overlanding means exploring the unknown The Sherpa is the world’s first full suspension 27.5+ bike, but we’re not using the new “skinny fat” wheel size to jump on a bandwagon. 27.5+ wheels are not 27.5 and they’re not 29—they’re not a replacement for any other wheel size and our “regular” bikes aren’t going anywhere. Everyone put their pitchforks down. For all their advantages, they are slower and heavier than traditional 29er systems on smoother terrain. So if you’re looking to win an XC World Cup then 27.5+ probably isn’t for you. Also, more volume means their sidewalls are taller than traditional tires, limiting cornering stability. A Landcruiser isn’t great at the racetrack, but hits its stride when things get rough. The RiderWe designed the Sherpa for riders who want to get out and explore the world. From bushwhacking in Idaho, to traversing military trails in the Dolomites, to racing the Colorado Trail, to travelling long forgotten game trails in the Himalayas—the Sherpa is made for anyone whose adventures regularly require a GPS beacon. The Black Canyon TrailEarlier this spring, Wade Simmons, Geoff Gulevich, Andreas Hestler, and Alex Cogger headed down to Arizona’s Black Canyon Trail for a few days of desert overland bikepacking. Filmmaker Brian Vernor joined the crew and put together a piece that really captures the vibe and inspiration behind the Sherpa. Specifications and Geometry
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