Being active alleviates stress and, let’s face it, it will see you age a tad more gracefully. Many professionals take up mountain biking as it’s easier on the joints than, say, running, but still exhilarating – there’s also no better way to experience the country than being in the saddle of a bicycle. RISKAFRICA talked to some industry experts about their riding hobbies, and we look at five races in South Africa.

ABSA CAPE EPIC

Days: 8

Distance: 654km total

Place: Western Cape

When? 13 – 20 March

The Cape Epic is arguably the best known and most gruelling mountain biking event in South Africa, if not the world, in which riders have to cycle 654 kilometres in eight days on a circle route beginning and ending at the Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, Cape Town. The total elevation gained on this route is 15 000 metres, which, considering the length of the race, is madness as any rider will tell you.

Riders first complete a 26km Prologue before cycling through Tulbagh and Wellington, Western Cape. In the last few stages, cyclists tour through the Stellenbosch trails in the winelands before heading back to Meerendal.

FNB WINES 2 WHALES

Days: 3

Distance: 212.7km total

Place: Western Cape

When? 4 – 6 March

The three-day route runs along the Western Cape coastline from Somerset West, near the winelands of Stellenbosch, and ends in Onrus, near Hermanus – known internationally for the whales that converge here during the winter months.

Day 1

Will see teams cycle from Somerset West to Grabouw, known for the ubiquitous fruit orchards and trails on the farms in the area.

Day 2

Includes a circle route along the contours of the Groenland Mountains, beginning and ending at Oak Valley.

Day 3

Will steer riders down to lower elevation before ending at the Onrus campsite near Hermanus.

KAP SANI2C

Days: 3

Distance: 261km total

Place: KwaZulu-Natal

When? 10 – 12 March

The Sani2C, short for Sani to sea, which gives you a vague idea of the route, is a three-day ride starting at the infamous Sani Pass and ending at the coastal South Coast town of Scottburgh.

Day 1

Starts at the Glencairn Farm, which belongs to race founder and mountain biker ‘Farmer’ Glen Haw, and winds through forests and some tough climbs before ending at the Mackenzie Country Club in Eastworlds.

Day 2

Starts at 4h30, as it’s a tough day of cycling, according to the organisers. Cyclists will traverse cliffs and cross numerous bridges before reaching the final destination at the Jolivet Farm. “This day will be remembered as one of your most challenging ever on a mountain bike,” the organisers warn.

Day 3

Is much faster and less technical, and should be the easiest day in the seat of the three days. It snakes through coastal forests before reaching Scottburgh’s main beach.

TRANS BAVIAANS

Days: 1

Distance: 230km total

Place: Eastern Cape

When? 13 August and 20 August

It’s labelled as the toughest single stage race in the world, in which cyclists traverse the Baviaanskloof over 230km in 24 hours, cycling throughout the night.

The race starts in Willowmore in the Eastern Cape Karoo, winds through the World Heritage site Baviaanskloof, and ends in Jeffreys Bay – the surfing capital of South Africa.

GRINDROD BERG AND BUSH

Days: 3

Distance: 206km total

Place: KwaZulu-Natal

When? 7 – 9 March

Day 1

Of the main event is mostly downhill, dropping nearly a 1 000m in 20 kilometres, before the route passes through the beef farms and eventually leads to a climb up the old Fairview ox wagon trail.

Day 2

Veers mostly through bushveld, where riders will climb passes and cross the Tugela River.

Day 3

Takes you up the historic Spioenkop, the site of a great battle between the Boers and the English, before a 13km descent ending at the final destination at Em’Seni Camp.

Gareth-Beaver

When did you start mountain biking?

In 2008, about eight years ago.

What are the top five races you have participated in?

I don’t really race per se, but the top events over the years include the Berg and Bush, Sani2C, iSimangaliso MTB Challenge, and the Route 66 Mountain Bike Experience.

What do you gain from mountain biking?

It is an excellent way to stay fit and healthy. Plus, participation in the various events takes me to many parts of our beautiful country that you would not ordinarily visit.

Where is your favourite trail?

The Berg and Bush trail. The three-day event starts at the top of the Drakensberg and drops down the escarpment into the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands area. Day two includes the summiting of the iconic South African historic landmark site, Spioenkop. Day three meanders along the Tugela River and some of the most pristine single track ever.

Any notable wipeouts?

In the early days, I made the mistake of trying to make a call on my cellular phone, which was in my right hand, while on a slight decline. Still inside our complex, I had to suddenly hit the brakes with my free hand, which was my front brakes. My bike stopped abruptly and, of course, without both hands on the steering bar I catapulted five metres over the bars – almost hitting the car I needed to brake for and landing on a brick driveway. Lesson learnt – don’t ride a bike and try to use a phone at the same time. If you ever do for some reason, phone in the same hand as the front brakes.

What are your bucket list races?

Locally: Wines2Whales and joBerg2c.

Internationally: Red Island Ride, Madagascar.

Nic-Kohler

When did you start mountain biking?

I started mountain biking in 2011. That year I did the Sani2C, a 261km race over three days.

What have been the top five races you have competed in?

Cape Epic

Transalp Challenge, Europe

Sani2C

Wines2Whales

Desert Dash

What do you gain from mountain biking?

Apart from the benefit of staying fit, mountain biking forces me to continuously challenge myself – it’s a pastime that demands both physical and mental strength. I also get to see the most incredible parts of our country, some of which are not accessible to the general public. Finally, mountain biking has given me the opportunity to see interesting parts of the world and enjoy the company of like-minded MTB enthusiasts.

Where is your favourite trail?

My favourite trail is the Red Route in the Harkerville Forest. It has everything – spectacular views of the coastline, beautiful forests, difficult technical bits, and kilometres of single track – and it’s also really tough.

Any notable wipeouts?

In 2012, I had a big wipeout while cycling the Transalp. I was halfway through day six when I went over the handlebars and off the edge of the cliff. Fortunately, the fall was relatively short, but it resulted in my stomach being sliced open. I had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital, where I discovered that I had sustained serious injuries to my abdomen as a result of my bike handlebars lacerating my stomach muscles and missing my femoral artery by less than a centimetre. You would think having my stomach sliced open would be the most traumatic part of this experience, but actually, the main emotional trauma was not being able to finish the race.

What are your bucket list races?

There are so many, but top of my list are the Trans Baviaans (which I have already entered), the Tour of Ara, the BC Bike Race and the Cape Pioneer Trek.