If you are a keen cyclist and looking for a long weekend riding through the beautiful Karoo, the laid-back, five-star luxury JanBraai Cycle Tour is just what you are looking for.
They call it the Tomahawk. Shaped like the fearsome Native American battle axe and about the same size too, it is the largest chop you have ever have seen.
Very likely the most delicious too. Sourced from the illustrious Van Rensburg’s Butchery in George, this prime rib cut, basted in olive oil and rosemary, pretty much sums up the JanBraai Cycle Tour… there is no skimping on anything, be it the braaiing, the lodgings, or the scenic route you will traverse.
Creating The JanBraai Cycle Tour
The brainchild of celebrity chef and keen cyclist Jan Scannell aka Jan Braai, the JanBraai Cycle Tour came about three years ago after Jan and his mate Dave Moseley were having a bit of a moan.
They had just finished a well-known South African mountain bike stage race and, over a couple of beers, were ruminating on how they would like the event to have been run.
These races are generally quite serious affairs, with competitive riders lining up for the dawn start… and again at dusk for the mass-catered buffet in the race village marquee. Challenging, yes. Fun, not so much.
“So, we decided to stop moaning and organise one ourselves,” says Jan, sipping his champagne. We are sitting on a low stone wall at the top of the Montagu Pass, dressed in green and red lycra, holding silver goblets of sparkling wine and looking back down the valley to George in the far distance.
It has been an hour and a half since we left our lodgings at the luxurious Fancourt Hotel to start day one of the three-day adventure, and I’m starting to get a feel of what the remaining 240-odd kilometres are going to be like…
For The Fit
Make no mistake, though, unless you are on an e-bike – and there were a number of them in the event – you will need to be a reasonably fit cyclist to do this. Covering around 85 kilometres each day along scenic Karoo gravel roads, there is also a reasonable amount of climbing built into each stage.
“We made a list,” says Jan during the lunch stop at the small Thorny Creek Brewery that appears around the bend of the isolated gravel road through Kleinspoort, halfway between George and Oudtshoorn. “It was a bullet-pointed list of the key things our event was going to have.”
It turns out quite a few of the rules revolve around cycling kit. Everyone should be given a full set of cycling clothing, and under no circumstances would anyone be allowed to wear red socks.
Furthermore, appearing at the sumptuous breakfast table in said cycling kit was not allowed – après-ride casuals only. And with a very civilised daily start time of 9am, breakfast was, of course, an enjoyable relaxed affair, rather than the crack-of-dawn feed that occurs at the big stage races.
All-Inclusive and Affordable
And that is the other thing… if you are seen to be racing, Jan politely requests you refer back to the actual name of the event. It is a tour. It is not timed, and there is no winner.
Some are naturally faster than others, and everyone is encouraged to ride at their own pace and enjoy both each other’s company and the wonderful vistas you are pedalling past.
Another bullet on the list was that the event must be all-inclusive. As a result, everyone pays the same amount of money on the JanBraai Cycle Tour.
There were no exclusive VIP add-ons and, for your entry fee, you get everything from the luxury accommodation at Fancourt and De Opstal Country Lodge outside Oudsthoorn, to all meals, soft drinks, beer and wine, a daily service of your bike, on-the-road back-up, and the cycling apparel.
At R24 000 per team of two – or R12 000 per person for the three days – it may at first glance seem expensive, but total up all that it includes, and you will realise Jan and his team are not in it for the money.
“This is basically my holiday,” says Jan, and as laid-back as that sounds, it is also a smart assessment of a growing trend in tourism. Wellness travel is now a thing, and more and more travellers are booking holidays involving activities that promote physical and mental wellbeing.
And if you love cycling, the JanBraai Cycle Tour is going to be a holiday you will long remember – from the unexpected gems like that Thorny Creek Brewery and the Swartberg Country Manor’s Patat Restaurant on the way to Calitzdorp (try their delicious sweet potato cupcakes), to Herold Wines on the final day (and the Tomahawk chops), and memorable stretches of Karoo gravel road flanked by red-streaked cliff faces and small, lush hidden valleys.
Having done all those big stage races around South Africa, trust me, the JanBraai Cycle Tour is one of the best things you will ever do on a bike.
Dave runs the show along with an enthusiastic and efficient team, while Jan plays host, cycling among the group of 40 riders who signed up for this bespoke event.
It is this personal attention – along with touches like everyone getting images from the day (the ones on these pages) downloaded on their phones each night – that makes this a very special experience.
Words by Steve Smith