The cycling diary of a 3 day MTB cycle tour. That take you through the Cederberg Mountains (Western Cape) by Duane Nicol.
The Cederberg Cycle Route
I've been on a few tours where the riding is specifically built for tourists looking to mildly challenge themselves over a few days, sometimes to get a feel of what stage racing feels like. This was another exceptional example of one of those tours.
When invited by my long-time cycling buddy, Craig Howes (who photographed the tour), I simply couldn't say no, especially after hearing how successful the Cross Cape tour was in 2017. So, I packed for a few days in the Cederberg and was instructed to be ready by 06:30, so that we could head to the Day Trippers HQ and prepare for the journey to Citrusdal. What I prepared for and what was ahead of me were incredibly different.
Day 1 : Meet at Day Trippers HQ
We arrived at the Day Trippers HQ on a chilly Friday morning, warmly welcomed by the owner Steve Thomas. Steve briefly explained the elements of the tour, his deep understanding of the area making sure that we had everything we need to seriously enjoy the adventure we were about to embark on. Craig and I packed our things into the bus along with our bikes while we waited for the third cyclist, Bonga Ngqobane, an ex-pro that coached the u23 cycling team for the Tour de L’Espoir in Cameroon earlier this year. This was the moment I knew that we were not in for a run of the mill tour.
At 07:30 sharp, we headed off on the N7, Steve passionately explaining his love for cycling on the way, sharing some stories like his 10,000km ride across the USA and similar tales which left us completely astounded. After a short coffee stop in Piketberg, we made the final leg of the journey, where we would meet up with fellow cyclists, David Bellairs (Director of the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust), Alan Winde (Minister of Economic Opportunities) and other aspiring peddlers, readying themselves for the 4 days that lay ahead.
11:00 arrived and at the crack of the gun, we were off on a somewhat flat 56km ride. Starting with a fairly painless tar section that eventually lead us to a gravel road, within meters of the Clanwilliam dam, the fresh air was fantastic and gave us the perfect opportunity to warm up our legs.
Before long we were at our first break point and we were not disappointed. Steve had laid out a bevy of treats and snacks for the remainder of the stage, leaving all of us packing in more than we'd like to admit. We headed off soon after and once we were in the rhythm, took a slow ride with the group of around 15 cyclists, some locals included. We chatted about the network of trail in the area and about some of the more technical single track that lures all kinds of cyclists from around the Western Cape to test their mettle. After the final climb, we descended into Clanwilliam, with the overnight stop being at the Clanwilliam Hotel, a stalwart in the city. Following a quick shower, a walk around the town and a sneaky local beer at De Kelder, we headed back for an incredible steak dinner at the hotel.
We sat down discussing the day as well as some of the challenges around cycling in general in the Western Cape and the access thereof to all those aspiring. Beverly Schafer (Chairperson, Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture) and the rest of the tour delegates sharing opinions and ideas over a delicious glass or two of wine from the local Cederberg Winery. After the last debrief on day two, we all turned in and got some well-deserved shut eye.
Day 2 : Cycling Cederberg Mountain Passes and Rain
A 07:00 breakfast awaited us on the cold Saturday morning. Some of the locals described the route and (in my opinion) seriously downplayed a few key aspects of the ride. We broke out at 09:00 with around 10 of us kicking off on the 86km journey.
A mild climb got us on our way as we headed toward some undulating gravel roads, which made it difficult to get into a rhythm. Steve caught up in the bus at around the 15km mark and let us know that he was setting up a stop at 25km for a hot beverage. This beverage was seriously welcomed by everyone as the fine rain had drenched us through and our hands were shivering as we entered. We stopped and spoke about what laid ahead, Uitkyk Pass, a route I had never ridden, yet alone heard of. One of the locals, Piet, chuckled at this and said, "Moenie worrie nie, ek sal saam met jou ry en jou hand vas hou.". This was mildly reassuring but more worrying, because there's trouble brewing if your hand needs to be held. After the coffee (and admittedly, more snacks) Piet and I headed off, going past some of the most beautiful camping spots I've ever seen. We chatted about our love for camping and I furiously took notes, ensuring that I return soon.
Duane Nicol on the gravel road.
We hooked a left onto a paved road and Piet proclaimed, "Right, here's Uitkyk." Having never heard of Uitkyk Pass and so that I could mentally prepare for what laid ahead, I asked Piet what to expect and for how long the climbing went on. Encouragingly, he advised that we were climbing a bit steep, then a bit steeper and then very steep. From experience I know, when a guy says steep that much, you're in kak. Trying to further rattle him for information, I asked the distance and was accordingly briefed that it was no longer than 2km.
Gearing down and giddying-up, we started on the 'bit steep' section with an average speed of 10km/h. As we reached the 'bit steeper' section, the rain started pouring and we lowered to 7.5km/h, now already nearing a total of 4km. Wait, what? By this stage, Piet had broken away by about 150m and I unfortunately had no chance to whinge about the supposed 2km of climbing I was promised. Then, the last steep section commenced and I was given a brief education on exactly what 'very steep' meant. 4.5km/h for a total of 3km awaited and I have never had to grind that hard to keep a MTB upright. The climbing felt like forever and in the pouring rain and serious fog, the peak was unidentifiable.
Piet finally became visible again in his lumo rain jacket and as I stopped, I got off the bike and regained both my breath my consciousness. At the same time, Steve pulled up in the bus, ironically telling me I was but 50m from the peak, a victory at this stage, I had no need for. In the warmth of the van, Beverly pleaded with me to get in as she could visibly see I was finished, but Piet got me with his enthusiasm and after a banana and some sweeties, I opted to keep at it with him. This part of the ride was fast and flat, with an ice-cold wind now chilling us right down to the bone through our drenched jerseys.
A few km's later Steve caught up and I was again tempted to get into the toasty bus. I looked at Piet, who was now fired up and riding in a great rhythm, enticing me to stick with him until Dwarsrivier. We rode on, a lot harder and faster than I expected my legs could hold, even after a few locals in 4x4's flooded us in mud as they went over the rain filled potholes. A few kilometres from Dwarsrivier, about 30km from the finish, I hit a wall and felt it better to be cautious at this stage, because Day 3 was offering an incredible ride back to the Koue Bokkeveld and I really wanted to finish it all. We hung around for Bonga, who had also clearly had enough and headed to our accommodation for the night, Mt. Ceder.
Alarmingly however, on the final 10km of the stage, we caught up with Quintin Smith (another ex-pro and Founder of &Bikes Cafe) ascending the last climb of the day. We caught up behind him (jealously, I’ll admit) and Steve chuckled as we flew up the hill in the bus. At the peak, Steve told us to keep an eye on him, because he was going to 'fly' past us in spectacular fashion. That he did and we couldn't believe the speed at which he was taking the fairly sketchy corners. We got back at the same time and congratulated Quintin on his perseverance, albeit a bit tongue in cheek. Up until the end of the tour, Steve swears he held onto the trailer for at least 100m.
Cold and tired we headed to our accommodation and regrouped at 17:30 for dinner. We shared our experiences of the day and compared the challenges we faced, before finishing off with cappuccino’s and the Formula 1 qualifying. Craig and I opted to walk back to the cottage, which in retrospect, was probably not the greatest idea in leopard country in the pitch blackness of the night. We made it.
Day 3 : Cycling From Mount Ceder
Still speaking of Day 2 at breakfast, we readied ourselves for the stage ahead, a 94km ride from Mt. Ceder to the Kunje Guestfarm just outside Citrusdal. This time, I asked the locals about the route, rather than Steve, because I had hoped that this information was more accurate. Thankfully, it was. I was however not thankful that my rear brakes seemed to be failing and with a few descents in excess of 60km/h, I was a bit worried, but left as is anyway.
Welcoming us with 400m of ascent, the first 10km did not disappoint. Bonga and I broke away, alarmingly feeling quite strong and hoping that they'd outlast the ride. At the peak, we were met with some of the most spectacular views I had ever seen, stopping to snap a pic or two. We had a quick stop at around 25km and at this stage, Craig was ready to tackle the trail and joined us. The next 50km was again undulating, 90% of it being on tar road. We stopped again around 58km for lunch and again, Steve’s spread didn't disappoint. After a few sandwiches and a beer, the final group attacked the last 35km. 7 of us remained, so we started our very own peloton and worked together to get us to the finish. It was an amazing effort, switching leaders, taking on the headwind and even the odd breakaway by Bonga every now and again.
Duane and Bonga, cycling up the pass Cederberg
During the last 10km, literally everyone's competitive streak came out and we were now in full racing mode, Bonga trying to break away feverishly, while Craig remained hot on his heels. I saw my chance as they broke away and at the last second, mounted my attack, finishing with the pair of sprinters.
We reached Kunje at around 14:30 and Quintin duly handed out fines to everyone, making them up as he went along. An incredible end to an incredible day in the saddle. After the usual showering and Strava syncing, we grouped at the braai for a chilled evening around the fire, enjoying a few glasses of wine and even some whisky. The night finished off and as the Canadian Grand Prix came to a close, so did our eyes.
Alan Winde Premier of the Western Cape
Day 4 : Middleburg Pass with Alan Winde
The last day loomed and at breakfast we were still discussing Day 2. Only 4 now remained and a short and punchy 30km ride awaited us up to Middleburg Pass, descending back to the start in Citrusdal.
Alan Winde riding uphill!
It was freezing at 08:30 and we kitted up like Alaskans to battle the cold up the hill. At the base of the main climb, Bonga spotted a 3km sign and we finally had some honesty as to what awaited us. The climb was challenging, but not too aggressive so we paced up and met with Steve at the peak for some much-needed coffee and biscuits. We again regrouped for the descent and raced down as fast as we could, averaging around 45km/h on an extremely corrugated and wet gravel patch. Eventually we got to the tar and effortlessly made our way down, Bonga occasionally pulling a Froom'ey style descent trick, which made for some great conversation between Alan and I.
The full cape cycle routes group photo
Back at the start, we took a group picture at the big pin, shook hands and said our goodbyes before beginning to pack the bikes up and head back to Cape Town. After a coffee stop in the town and a toasted sarmie in Piketberg, we listened to some great music and expressed our jealousy to Steve that this was his job. For him, it's not work if you love what you do and I must say, his hospitality is unparalleled. Craig and I discussed daily that we more than likely picked up weight during the trip because we were so well fed at every point.
All in all, the Cederberg Circuit had all the elements you'd expect from a mountainous region. Incredible views, great track, challenging climbs and to top it off, the awesome company made it all worth it in the end. So, if you're looking to get away from it all, spend some time in the mountains, not worry about placing and racing, this would most certainly be one of my top recommendations to you.
Article by Duane Nicol (Pictured Below) Images by Craig Howes (SoCoMunity)