The top 8 multi-day mountain biking events in South Africa

Posted on 2 December 2021 By Matt Sterne

Think you can pedal with the best of them? It’s dust or bust on these crazy rides.

1. The Freedom Challenge

Credit:@reblexphotography – Llewellyn Lloyd

The Freedom Challenge is a 2,150-km long route along the Freedom Trail, from Pietermaritzburg to Wellington. It has 33km of ups and downs. That’s a lot. Participants have 26 days to complete the challenge and receive revered Challenge blankets once they do. This technically challenging trail was started in 2003 and traverses seven biomes, from the high mountains of Lesotho to the wide open spaces of the Great Karoo, crossing six mountain ranges, criss-crossing countless valleys, venturing through unspoilt wilderness areas, national parks, private farms and some nature reserves.

The trail is unmarked and no GPS is allowed, with riders making use of paper maps, a compass, and narrative directions for navigation. Accommodation stops are usually eight hours apart, and include guest houses, country hotels, game lodges, nature reserve cottages and farm stays.

2. Absa Cape Epic

Credit: Cape Epic

Sometimes called “the Tour de France of mountain biking”, this race typically covers more than 100 km a day, and lasts eight days – a prologue and seven stages. Professional mountain bikers from around the world compete in teams of two, with the event featuring up to 650 teams. To qualify for a finish, teams have to stay together for the duration of the race. First staged in 2004, the race is also open to amateurs, who enter a lottery in order to gain a slot. The route was originally a point-to-point race, beginning in Knysna and ending in the Winelands. This format changed in 2009, where riders spent multiple days in each stage location to ensure the route could fully explore the best mountain biking that the region had to offer.

3. KAP sani2c

Credit: KAP sani2c

The KAP sani2c is a three-day, 265-kilometre mountain bike stage race, which takes place in KwaZulu-Natal. There are three versions of the annual event, which takes place over a total of four days. The race begins on a small sheep farm near Sani Pass in the southern Drakensberg and ends at Scottburgh beach. Pedalling across a section of the KZN Midlands mist belt, riders traverse dairy and timber farms, glide through indigenous forests and soar down a breathtaking pass into the Umkomaas Valley, before criss-crossing a nature reserve and sugar cane farms that eventually deliver them onto the shores of the Indian Ocean.

In the late 2000s, when mountain biking popularity was booming, riders had only 24-hours and would start at midnight. The demand for three-stage racing saw that fade away 15 years ago, although disruptions to the stage racing calendar have seen the KAP sani2c reintroduce the non-stop for 2022.

4. FNB Wines2Whales

Credot: FNB Wine2Whales

The biggest drawcard of the FNB Wines2Whales is its route. Starting in the vineyards of Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, riders traverse a string of private farms, wineries, majestic mountains, historic roads and nature conservation areas which includes the Kogelberg Biosphere before finishing alongside the famous whales of Hermanus.

Three events are spread over 10 days – the Chardonnay, Pinotage and Shiraz, which ensures there’s something for all skill sets with the focus on celebrating the love of mountain biking and the culture that accompanies it. There’s a lot of talk about the ‘gees’ of the event.

Since its inception in 2009, The FNB Wines2Whales has been more about the journey and experience than the destination. In 2021, the FNB Wines2Whales is switching back on itself, and riders will tackle an all-new adventure that sees the route roll away from the whales and head inland towards the wines. It has been named the FNB Wines2Whales Switchback.

5. The Munga

Credit: Munga

Often called “The toughest race on earth”, the Munga is not for sissies. It was launched in 2014, and at first seemed like a crazy idea – to race non-stop for 1000km, from Bloemfontein to Wellington, across the arid Karoo in summer. Riders have 120 hours or five days to make the cut-off. The race provides five race villages where riders can sleep (although there’s minimal rest), eat and shower, plus ten water-points where they can fill up on snacks and water.

Munga riders go to some very dark places of the mind, as they battle winds in the Karoo. A recent winner managed his astonishing ride on only a single power nap. With the benefit of a plotted GPS route and the latest navigational bike computer guidance, it all sounds deceptively unassuming, but nobody can prepare riders for the misery of those Karoo headwinds. Or being alone, at 02:00, on a corrugated gravel road climb, without energy or motivation.

6. Joberg2c

Credit: Kevin Sawyer

Joberg2c is a 900-km, 9-day mountain bike adventure across four provinces of South Africa. It is 99.5% off-road, passing through 220 private farms with more than 280km of single track trails. It starts 85km south of Johannesburg and finishes at Scottburgh Golf Club on the south coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Now in its eleventh year of existence, joberg2c attracts a loyal following of local and international riders.

7. The Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush

Credit: Berg and Bush/Em Gatland

The Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush has three events to choose from, the Descent, Tour and Original Two Day. The Descent and Tour are three-day events with distances of around 60 kilometres on each day. Riders camp along the shady banks of the Tugela river at the famous Em’Seni Camp near Winterton. With farm-style hospitality and an area rich in history, not to mention incredible riding, you’re sure to have a proper adventure on your bike!

8. The Cape Pioneer Trek

Credit: Cape Pioneer

The ‘Race With Soul’ is a seven-day event that takes riders from the pulsating singletrack of Saasveld into the heart of the Klein Karoo. Each day is different, with riders summiting the mighty Swartberg Mountain one day to traversing the arid, desert-like landscapes of the wild Kammanassie the next. According to their website, ‘From the arid desertscapes of the Groot Karoo to the great mountains of the Klein Karoo and the aboriginal forests of the Garden Route, the Cape Pioneer has it all, a truly African mountain biking experience. The magic lies in the unique combination of exciting, diverse trails, passionate people and authentic human connection, brought to you by world-class event organisers. The result is a race that has achieved near legendary status.’



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