Western Cape Gravel Travel
Bikepacking is the next big thing in cycling, and for once this is a ‘fad’ that might last. We have the ideal conditions for it – long open roads, interesting places to discover, great weather and a pioneering spirit ingrained in our national psyche.
The good news is that you don’t need a gravel bike to get into this level of adventure. Bikepacking baggage (it does away with all those rattly panniers and racks, strapping onto your saddle and frame with Velcro, not bolts) is now readily available in South Africa.
Even the Western Cape Government has got involved, creating and promoting a network of roads and links that will get you from Plettenberg Bay, in the far east of the province all the way through to Stellenbosch, in the West, with little in the way of tarred roads. The full route covers 740km, and includes over 10 000m of ascent as it takes in the Seven Passes road between Knysna and George, Montagu Pass, Rooiberg Pass, Garcia Pass Franschhoek Pass and Helshoogte as it wanders through the back roads and farmlands sandwiched between the N1 and N2. The route is set up in 40km (roughly) blocks, with accommodation, nutrition and bike repair opportunities clearly marked. To do it on one go is quite an ask – eight days for the pros, fully-supported, or a more sensible fortnight if you want to actually enjoy the scenery. But you don’t need to do it all in one go… break in at any point, and leave again when you have run out of time. In the same vein, the second of the Cross Cape routes will be launched in May 2018. Based around the Cederberg, it will be a 250km loop (also broken down into bite-sized 40km chunks) and will take riders through Citrusdal, Clanwilliam and the Tankwa Karoo. On the way, expect plenty of heat, lots of gravel-road emptiness and plenty of climbing: 3 500m in total, including some of the famous passes of the area, like Pakhuis, Cederberg and Ouberg, while taking in the Cederberg classic attractions of Lot’s Wife, Wolfberg Arch and Cracks, and the Maltese Cross.
So there are two ‘pre-arranged’ routes. There is no need to restrict yourself to them, though. The joy of cycling, one of the joys anyway, is that you can just park your car and go exploring. Pack some clean kit in a bag, and a credit card in your pocket, and ride until you find something interesting.
THE CROSS CAPE website has it all, and more:
To get kitted out, check out gravel bikes from www.specialized.com, www.santacruzbicycles.com or www.momsenbikes.com. Then, visit www.cycletouring.co.za for the widest range of bags, packs, racks and more.
For mapping, either use www.ridewithgps.com, or buy the six-DVD government 1:50 000 map set from www.mapstudio.co.za