Adventure is a relative thing, between trying a new chocolate bar and discovering the North Pole, humans seek adventure every day in every way.
Many years ago I happened across a group of adventurers that opened my eyes to a whole new type of challenge.
One that removed any safety nets and forced me over the edge and into the unknown. On that day, as I was ‘falling’, I opened my eyes and realized that once you let go of all expectations of how things should go — expectations of who should do what for you, expectations of what the world owes you — you magically grow wings and start to glide. That experience was at the Trans-Provence Enduro race in 2012. It is an event that changed me and set me on a new path — in my life and in cycling. It taught me, that once you do a full-body trust fall into the knowledge that you are far stronger and more resourceful than you can imagine, a sense of freedom emerges that the warmth and comfort of contemporary living has protected us from. All very serious and melodramatic but a fundamental truth to me and something when ignored burns its way through the lining of my persona and manifests as an increasing longing for release.
Enduro mountain biking and all-day Jonkershoek sessions are amazing but the easy roll to the valley floor when the day is done means that while it is dangerous and thrilling the clarity of thought that one gets when you realize you only have one choice and that is to keep moving are replaced by a blissful knowledge that there is warm food and a cold drink a few minutes away. Gravel bikes however promise something more. The ability to pick two places on the map and connect them using any manner of path, road, jeep track or the ever-elusive groad (a gravel road so smooth that it is faster than tarmac). South Africa with its wide-open spaces and great road network has endless opportunities for huge adventures of the gravel kind. But for yours truly, a guy who has spent his life on DH and Enduro bikes, I wondered if the gravel scene would carry the same calling as gravity riding.
After many Whatsapp’s and calendar compares (yes we all have very full lives and don’t just ride bikes) we settled on a date and J-Rad set to work on the route. Day one would be a 170km long route of gravel and tar in the Karoo, taking us from Matjiesfontein to Sutherland. We would overnight in Sutherland and then ride 120km on a different route back to our cars in Matjiesfontein for the night. There would be no support vehicles, just a crew of 8 riders. The weather apps said September was the second driest month of the year and shouldn’t be too cold. This is my photo story:
The gravel scene in South Africa is full of people who just like gravity riders, love bikes. They have also discovered the freedom that these bikes encourage. Just like any scene you need to be humble and acknowledge that you have a lot to learn and with that attitude the gravel gurus open up and start sharing many hard-earned insights. It also helps that I have raced downhill with two of the gravel grinding legends Oliver Munnik and Jarryd Haley and via those connections have become good friends with the East City Cycles and Switchback Sports crew. These guys are the heart and soul of the Cape Town gravel crew and have many trips under their belt. Thanks for a great weekend. Oh, and the answer is an emphatic yes: for me, Gravel riding in the Karoo is as rad as any Enduro race, just different.
| IMAGES: Gary Barnard, Jaco Pelser & Oliver Munnik |
| WORDS: Gary Barnard & Jaco Pelser |
Matjiesfontein: the Start and Finish town
Matjiesfontein is about as pretty and quirky a town as you’ll ever find. The excellent Lord Milner Hotel, the museum, road-side petrol pumps, tennis courts are all straight out of a movie set from the 19th century. It is worth a visit in its own right.