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Sani Pass Ride


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Sani Pass Ride anyone?


I will be visiting South Africa next March to ride in the Argus and will thereafter spend a fortnight in the Natal Midlands - Howick, Kamberg, Rietvlei area.

It has long been an idea of mine that a ride up Sani Pass might be worth doing - but I will need three things.


Firstly I will need some local "smarts".

Is it feasible?

Would Sani Pass Hotel (Motel ?)  be a good start/finish point.

What is the start/finish altitude - I've heard the top is at about 3000m but have no confirmation of this.

How remote is it in terms of population, services etc. and how far from the Hotel is the crest (say in both kms and cycling hours)?

Is it safe - the international news media paint a bleak picutre of crime in SA and a several relatives of my wife have had hairy experiences. Can any of you comment on the likely/possible/probable situation that might be expected?


Secondly I will need a companion or companions.

Common sense decrees that there is strength in numbers.

As an Aussie I will be at a severe linguistic disadvantage and a bit of local know-how there will be adviseable, not to mention the street smarts apropos security.


Thirdly I will need to beg borrow or hire a suitable bike.

Something with serious granny rings!


So there it is - I'm unashamedly on the scrounge. The date is somewhat flexible being either the weekend of March 24th or 31st as I must scarper back here before Easter.


If any of you can offer advice, companionship, or equipment  or put me in touch with any tour operators or interested parties who do this sort of thing I'd really appreciate your reply.




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That's a lot of questions for one post, but I will try help as best I can.




Firstly, I assume you know that the Sani Pass road is a 4x4 track and

not tarred (although parts are currently being tarred much to the

chagrin to MTB owners).




Secondly, there are many great tarred and untarred rides around Howick,

Kamberg and Underberg (near Sani).  If you want I can give you routes

on the tar anywhere in the Midlands or Southern Drakensberg.  The

off-road routes are best described by the locals so I would refer you

to the guys at Drakensberg MTB Club (Sam Knox's email address is on the

homepage of their website www.drakensbergmtb.co.za).




Back to the Sani Pass ride.  You will notice that Drakensberg MTB run a

race called the Sani Pass Transfrontier Epic which climbs both Sani and

Black Mountain.  The profile of this event is below:


The Transfrontier Epic starts and finishes from the Sani Pass Hotel, so that is a good starting point.  The top of Sani is around 2900m with Black Mountain at around 3150m.  The hotel is around 1500m.  The hotel is a good starting point even if you don't stay there as there is a decent parking lot and they have facilities like a swimming pool and bar which are good places to visit after climbing Sani and Black Mountain.  There are numerous places to stay in the area as it is a popular location for local fisherman, hikers and moutain bikers.


As for remoteness, the hotel has is 11km from the main road.  There are a few lodges, shops etc near the hotel, but from there on the is very little until you hit the border post (bring your passport as you enter the sovereign state of Lesotho).  At the top there is a bar (the highest in the world so they claim - but I think they lie) and nothing else.  You can then turn around and head back down or follow the road to the top of Black Mountain.  You do pass through a small village that is pretty poverty stricken, so crime is not out of the question.  In a small group I don't see there being any issues.


As for companions, I would happily join you although it is a 3 hour drive to the hotel from my place.  Best bet would be the local lads - again Sam Knox would be a good starting point.  There are tours but I always feel they charge too much and offer little.


Equipment wise, you will need a granny gear.  If you are comfortable riding over rocks with a hardtail, borrow a hardtail, otherwise a dual suspension will help keep your wheels on the ground.  I spent a lot of time climbing in the 22-34 combination and still had to walk for some sections on both Sani and Black Mountain  (You can read my account at www.chainwheel.co.za - under Gavin's Spin in the Road section). 


Don't be too deterred by the crime reports you hear.  It is not as bad as it sounds but it is far worse than it should be.  In the Midlands and Southern Berg you should be relatively safe.  I wouldn't recommend riding isolated roads or paths without company but with two or more you should be fine.


Tells us a little more about yourself and how you ended up deciding to do the Argus.


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Linnega, many thanks for such an informative reply. I shall certainly follow up the links.

I can't remember where I first heard about the Argus, it was long ago. Last year my war department wanted to visit her old Mum in Howick and the deal was that if I rode the Argus I'd also make the trip. Had such a ball I've slaughtered my freqt flyer points and am coming back fo more. The added upside is that my enthusiasm is such that one of my nephews from Seattle is joining me!

Personally I am a keen cycling commuter doing 3 to 4 trips to work each week - 28 kms each way - plus a bit of weekend bush riding. There are a multitude of trails in our local hills the best being the Munda Biddi trail www.mundabiddi.org.au. For a crust I design sampling equipment for bulk mineral handling installations, and sample processing equipment for the associated analytical laboratories.

Many thanks for your advice!
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