In typical WH-style, we like to get our action on at the weekends. And if you’re like me, I race to train – without events, my motivation dwindles exceedingly — and I love to travel! In fact, #FitTravel is my thing. I am obsessed with exploring South Africa’s beautiful and unique landscapes. And the best way to explore a new destination (and to cover more land than running), is to mountain bike. Another point to take note of is that more and more SA MTB races are offering e-bike categories or allowing e-bikes to compete, so make sure to ask and check the rules on each site.
Here are some epic races that I’ve done, some I’m about to do and others that are still on my wish list…
Tankwa Trek (4 stages) — For MTBers Who Want Technical
6-9 February 2020, Ceres
If, at some point, the thought crosses your mind that you might want to attempt the Cape Epic, then give Tankwa a go. As everyone told me: “If you can do Tankwa, you can do the Epic. “Yes, you’ve surmised correctly — this race is a toughie. And there are some monster climbs, including the most famous Merino Monster (see pic below). The race used to be three stages, but as of last year, a fourth stage was added.
My favourite thing about Tankwa Trek is the race village and vibe. Some of the most serious South African mountain bikers take part, so there’s lot’s of cool bike porn and mingling over a post-stage beer to do. The food and village life is fantastic. It’s a spectacular Dryland event and I’m dying to go back and attempt it now that it’s even longer (… I just need to convince my partner).
Glacier Cradle Traverse — To Escape The Hustle
3-5 April, Gauteng
The Cradle Traverse takes places 30 minutes drive from the city (10 mins from Lanseria airport), so, technically, you can drive in and out each day as a local. Or immerse yourself into the wild side of Gauteng. The trails are often described as Gauteng’s best-kept secret and give participants a chance to explore Cradle of Humankind. The routes each day are short: between 35km and 45km. This race offers something for all levels and is great for beginners wanting to test their abilities at a stage event.
I’m still dying to do this race as I’ve never ridden the trails in this area, but have heard thew best things about it! (Same organisers as Tankwa Trek.)
Joberg2C (9 stages) — For MTB Endurance Kudos
24 April – 2 May, Gauteng, KZN
I’m so so so excited to ride my first J2C this year! It’s my first big fitness goal for 2020 and it’s going to be a real test of endurance. Nine — yes 9! —days of riding! With about 100km each day! Exploring the magical South African countryside between Johannesburg and the KZN coastline. Joberg2C is already sold out for 2020, but if you love mountain biking, you need to add this to your bucket list.
Why I’m so excited: the route crosses through four provinces of SA, over 220 private farms with more than 280km of single track trails. I love single track, so I’m seeing this as one giant play experience. I did an interview with first-time J2C rider, Roxanne Green, who shared her 2018 J2C race experience with me, aptly titled: What 9 Days Of Cycling Really Does To Your Bum
KAP Sani2C (3 stages) — For The Single Track Lovers
12-16 May, KZN
If nine days of riding sounds a bit mad to you, but you still want to best of those glorious KZN single-track trails, this is your race! Besides it being the largest stage race in SA, with three three-day events running concurrently over the week, it covers gorgeous terrain and the manicured trails are widely spoken about. About 4 500 riders participate, which is testament to its do-ability and popularity. The community-orientated race, the KAP Sani2C has created year-round employment for this rural KZN area and starts at the childhood home of Red Bull sponsored SA female mountain biker, Bianca Haw. Think undulating Midlands mountains and great Natal hospitality.
It’s totally on my bucket list… But I will get to experience the majority of the route at Joberg2C.
Knysna Cycle Tour MTB (1 stage) — A Reason To Visit Knysna
27 June, Garden Route
The Knysna Road Race and MTB Race take place on two consecutive days and in 2018 I did both of them and LOVED them. The Garden Route is one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Africa and there is so much to do in the town of Knysna (for your non-cycling friends and fam). This is the perfect excuse to head to the Garden Route for a weekend and enjoy some good racing and trails.
Note: It’s often cold and damp, so gear up with warm kit! We stayed in the town of Knysna itself, so you can easily ride to the start of either race. What’s also fab is that there are different distances for different levels of experience / fitness: a 88km route, 54km route, 34km route and 15km route.
Glacier Storms River Traverse (3 stages) — Beginner Friendly
8-10 August, Garden Route
Want to stay even longer in the Garden Route? Just copy this link and press send. The Glacier Storms River Traverse route takes riders through the landscape of the Tsitsikamma area, hugging rugged coastline with exceptional Insta opportunities.
The event is designed for the intermediate rider. After riding it in 2018 (a very wet race), I would say it’s a fab event to enter as a first stage race. It’s mostly jeep track, so don’t stress if your tech skills are still in need of a workshop or two. This is all about a fun weekend away immersed in nature and good times. And to show how dedicated to family the Dryland Team are, they’ve even included a daycare facility during the event.
Dr Evil Classic (3 stages) — For An Intimate MTB Experience
17-19 September, Garden Route
My first-ever MTB race was the Dr Evil and it set the tone for the rest of my journey into MTB. At the time, I was pretty under-prepared for any type of mountain biking racing, but what’s so great about this event is that you can wing it. Aka: just enjoy it! It features single track through lush indigenous forest to jeep roads through private farms and even wine estates!
Even though it’s designed by the Cape Epic route designer, it’s not too technical and it’s plenty of fun. Once I got through the first day (72km), it’s pretty easy sailing for the rest of the event (45km on day 2 and 51km on day 3). It’s also gorgeous, so make sure your phone is charged for all the pics and vids you’re going to take.
Karoo To Coast (1 stage) — For Cross-Country Lovers
20 September, Garden Route
This event follows directly after Dr Evil and while you’re in the Garden Route you might as well add K2C on (and get a preferential start time while you’re at it). From Uniondale to Knysna, the 100km race is very popular and not too technical, although there are a couple of steep climbs and some serious descents. It can be dry and dusty (like my 2017 race) or pouring with rain and freeing (like my 2019 race). Either way, be prepped to vanish your kit afterwards. The first year, I stayed in Knysna the night before and then took a (very) early-morning shuttle to Uniondale on the race morning. In 2019, we drove to the start from Knysna and a team of drivers brought our vehicle back. It’s one of the best-organised single-stage races I’ve done.
It’s also a seeding event for the Cape Town Cycle Tour.
Berg & Bush (2 or 3 stages) — For The Water Points
2-10 October, KZN
Imagine traversing the Drakensberg by bike… Camping on the banks of the Tugela River… Taking in the smells and sounds of the bushveld… That’s Grindrod Berg & Bush. The first part of the race, The Descent, is packed with fast-paced single track; the second part, Great Trek, is a more chilled, slower-going event; and the third part, the 2 Day, is sociable and a great experience for families. This is an MTB event I’m still dying to do!
Wines2Whales (3 stages) — For MTBers With A Party Spirit #SeriousGees
30 October – 8 November, Western Cape
Like the name suggests, this event takes you from the winelands (of Somerset West) to where the whales holiday (in Hermanus). This three-day event takes place three times over a 10 day period, starting with the women’s race: The Chardonnay; followed by the mid-week event, The Pinotage (e-bikes allowed); and then the men’s race, The Shiraz. But the very exciting thing about W2W this year, is that it’s a SWITCHBACK! That’s right, in 2020 the route is being reversed. New trails are being built and riders will have a very different experience starting in Hermanus.
I did the Chardonnay in 2018 and the Pinotage — on an e-bike (so much fun!) — in 2019. I had the time of my life. This is certainly one of the most playful and awesome stage races in the Western Cape (the village life is amazing). There is truly something for everyone, including lots of fun obstacles and single-track.