Picture this: 20 people of all fitness levels, some of whom had not been on a bicycle since school, took on what could be considered their most ambitious challenge yet – three months of training culminating in touring through 14 passes, over 400 kilometres of some of the toughest terrain, in just nine days.
Lockdown has been a long, difficult road for many. It has forced us to think about what makes life worth living, encouraged us to reconnect with friends and family and pushed us to rediscover the great outdoors. But how do you combine all these things?
Gerhard and Sandra de Clercq came up with the idea of doing a bicycle tour with friends through the Garden Route. It would be a different sort of adventure – ten married couples of all shapes and sizes, all in their fifties, many of them not having used a bicycle since their school days, and in no way interested in roughing it. The aim? To mix physical exercise with luxury and lots of fun. If anything, it would be interesting!
The Idyllic Garden Route
The Garden Route was chosen due to its beautifully maintained mountain bike trails, making it an ideal place to explore with friends. The tour was based on the majestic mountain passes found all over this area, many of them built by Thomas Bain.
A circular route was picked – George to Oudtshoorn (80.61km) via the Montagu Pass, Oudtshoorn to Prince Albert (56.43km) via the Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert to De Rust and De Rust to Uniondale (76.76km) via Meiringspoort, Uniondale to Knysna (92.64km) via the Prince Albert Pass and Knysna back to George (94.48km) via the Seven Passes Road. In total, 14 passes would be crossed.
“The Southern Cape is one of the most beautiful parts of our country. It is safe and mostly unspoilt, with the most exciting cycling opportunities one can wish for. All these roads are accessible by car, just in case you need some extra help!” said Gerhard on their decision to travel through the Garden Route.
To ensure that everyone in the group could participate in the tour, they made use of e-bikes. An e-bike is a bicycle that has a small electric motor powered by a battery to assist the rider when pedalling. As long as you have battery power left and you can still move your legs, you have a helping hand to assist you as you go.
Living The Mountain Bike Life
For three months, the friends ate, drank and slept mountain biking, training whenever they could. Finally, on 27 March 2021, the tour began. Some days were incredibly hard, with a lot of ascending, and the weather wasn’t always at its finest. The trip was an emotional one too – many had to dig deep and push themselves harder than ever before.
“Riding 95 kilometres or ascending heights of 1 800 metres in a day is a challenge, even on an e-bike. You need to put in the effort,” Gerhard said.
A backup vehicle followed the friends in case anyone had reached their limit and couldn’t continue. Amazingly enough, nobody gave up and every person made it over the highest mountain and through the deepest ravines.
Days Off The Bike
There were, of course, some spectacular days spent off their bicycles. Not only did the friends sleep in the absolute best accommodation that they could find en route, but they also spent time enjoying olive tastings, cooking classes, spa treatments, sundowner cruises and lots of wining and dining.
“The food was always first-class and the people were even better. We were treated like royalty wherever we stopped, whether for breakfast, lunch or at our hotels.”
The team finished their loop on 4 April 2021, just nine days after setting off.
“Finishing something that seemed impossible at the time is an amazing feeling. We all achieved what we set out to do and we challenge anybody out there to get up and go, start riding… there’s a whole new world out there!” says Gerhard.