Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes were to be EF Pro Cycling’s ringers for the Cape Epic. Then the news broke…
The Tour of Ara was a truly unique race, out of South Africa:
“The Tour of Ara, named for the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Ara, was a prestige race ridden mostly on South African-built steel racing bicycles in the proud tradition of the early Italian multi-day stage races. For it’s five year duration, the Tour followed a tough dirt-road route over six days through the beautiful but harsh semi-desert South African Karoo each year. It was as much a race as it was an exploration and celebration of this unique landscape and the people that live there. This 34 minute documentary follows 40 racers as they experience life-changing situations, meet locals, and face some serious race challenges – soft sand, corrugated roads, loose stones, sharp tyre-shredding rocks, rain and mud.”
My time in South Africa was a real treat – tendonitis inflammation aside – I met a lot of amazing people there, including Poppie, the local who cooked us such delicious food, her roosterbrood. When the organizers of Eroica Italy came to Eroica South Africa, they fell in love with Poppie’s cooking, so they bought her a plane ticket to visit the original Eroica. Stan from Tour of Ara and the Karoobaix has set up a fundraiser to get Poppie some cash to use on her trip! Head on over to donate if you have the means.
For those seeking a truly unique experience, half a world away, the Karoobaix is for you. Based in South Africa, this dirt road race requires a grueling effort, yet is rewarded with a beautiful environment and welcoming community. You can check out my coverage from last year’s event in the Related sidebar to the left, register for the event at Karoobaix.com and find out more details below…
My Mercer ‘Buitelander’ (translated from Afrikaans – ‘foreigner’)
Words and photos by Stan Engelbrecht
I have a handful of track bikes. Almost all local South African-built in the 1980s. I love these bikes, all weird and wonderful and collectible. For some years my Hansom pursuit-style 700c was my day-to-day ride, but this constant use was starting to take its toll on the frame and the beautiful pink to seafoam fade paintwork. And the front wheel / downtube clearance is so tight that normal road use would sometimes push the tyre into the frame, resulting in long black rubber streaks under the downtube. It was obvious – I needed a bike I could use every day, without having to worry about destroying a bit of South Africa cycling heritage in the process.
Eroica’s most exotic location returns for 2018. Montagu is home to the Eroica South Africa and has landed a calendar date of March 18th. If you have the means to attend, I highly recommend it. As a lover of the desert, this part of South Africa is gorgeous, just like that Dream Press-made, Ello Xray Eyez-designed poster.
Head to the Eroica South Africa website for details.
Down the Ladder into Hell
Words and 35mm film photos by Stan Engelbrecht
I don’t remember when I first heard of ‘Die Hel’ (The Hell). It’s the kind of thing that comes to you like a mysterious rural legend – a rumour of a tiny community of farmers living for decades in complete isolation in an impenetrable valley paradise. More than anything, I wanted to go to ‘Die Hel’. Places and people like this have always fascinated me. South Africa has for many, many years had a complex social and political landscape, and I always like to imagine that these individualist pioneers left whatever country they came from to escape some kind of governmental or religious ideology, and when faced with the same developing in their newfound home, they were driven further into the natural world. To live simply, in peace, with nature as their surround.
Size matters, at least when it comes to shops like this. One of my absolute favorite parts about traveling with a bicycle is visiting the local bike shop for whatever location is on my itinerary. During my recent trip to South Africa, I was delighted by their local shop, Woodstock Cycleworks. The first thing I noticed was the scale of this shop. It is massive, taking up half a city block, with giant, vaulted ceilings, exposed brick and wood trusses, with natural light so beautiful, any photographer would take great pleasure in shooting the interior.
A cyclist sprints through the streets of Johannesburg, engaging with the city like none other.
Romanticising the desert is as old as literature. From Edward Abbey to Aldo Leopold and Mary Hunter Austin. Over the years, authors and artists alike, have taken to these vast, arid landscapes for inspiration. I, myself, identify with these places and feel most at ease while traversing their planes and mountains. Perhaps its the ability to see for miles, in any direction, or it could be the intricacy of their flora and fauna, but the desert to me is the most wonderful place. Riding a bike in these conditions can be challenging, however. Typically, water is an issue, as is the sun and its oppressive rays, but probably the most incapacitating element is the wind, for you can take measures to block the sun and you can always carry more water.
Last year, I was supposed to travel to South Africa to partake in the Eroica, as well as a cycle tour around the Karoo Desert but I came down with the worst flu of my adult life the day I was supposed to depart. Fast forward a year and I really wanted to return, so I contacted Stan Engelbrecht, the Cape Town local race organizer to see if he wanted to do another trip. Stan also throws the Tour of Ara, a six-day, vintage steel bike-only race. He’s no rookie to races and so I struck up an email thread with him again. That’s when he told me that the Karoobaix was happening.
There were so many wonderful builds at the Karoobaix, but I have to admit, seeing this bike really made me stoked to be in South Africa. While Sarah’s Mercer Bikes isn’t as flashy as Stan’s, it’s still a locally-built frame, designed to fit Sarah and her riding style, with practical details, contributing to the overall beauty of a modern, disc road bike with classic lines.
Thanks to everyone who made this trip so memorable. There’s much more to come next week! You boys have fun out there on your cycling tour!
One of the highlights of trips like this is bumping into people whose work you’ve admired and being able to see the fruits of their labor in person. For me, finally meeting Matthew of Saffron Frameworks at the Karoobaix was one of these moments. Matthew’s work is clean, precise and artful, as embodied in this disc all road bike, built especially for the Karoobaix.
It’s been a wild few days thus far in South Africa and as you might imagine, there is little to no wifi in these parts, hence the lack of updates. Don’t fret, however, we’ve got galleries on the way for the next few days and you can get a preview of what’s to come at our Instagram!
I’m here in South Africa, documenting the Karoobaix, a 400km race through the Karoo Desert and naturally, while here, I’ve been documenting a few bikes from the event. While I’m compiling photos from the race itself. The first bike is Stan’s Mercer Bikes…
Stan is the organizer of the Karoobaix and the Tour of Ara, both races explore the vast Karoo desert outside of Cape Town. For South Africans, there are enough mountain bike races, but no dedicated “gravel” races, where dropbar exclusivity looks to separate these races from other, XC MTB-oriented stage races like the Cape Epic.
This bike was made by a South Africa builder named Mercer Bikes. Stan wanted an all-road bike, complete with rear rack mounts, clearance for big tires and a beautiful custom rack, which utilizes the face plate drilling of the Thomson stem. Stan then modified a bag he found online to fit on this race. While the rack is one of the most unique of its kind I’ve ever seen, by far, my favorite detail is the most low-fi, the amazing hand painted decoration by local artist Black Koki.
While there’s much more to come from my time in South Africa, including my Karoobaix Reportage, I wanted to give you something to whet your appetite in the meanwhile…
… to chase the sun across the Karoo Desert. Expect updates as events warrant.
… after missing out on last year’s event, I’m going to be attending South Africa’s Karoobaix, a 400km, two-day trek through the Karoo Desert. It’ll be like Death Valley riding, only in the Southern Hemisphere and I can’t wait. Who else is attending? For those wanting more information, check out the Karoobaix site and see Stan’s photos from last year’s trip in the archives.
This looks incredible!
“There are few roads in Lesotho. There are even fewer mountain bikers. Here the horse is supreme and the myriad horse trails that have been carved through its steep and rugged mountains are its lifeblood. Horsemen ply these trails, just as they have for generations, riding between villages that have remained unchanged over centuries. Amidst this scene frozen in time is Isaac, a twenty-two year old horseman who is bridging the gap between old and new. For a week in April 2017, Isaac – or Leputhing Molapo to use his Basotho name – rode a 180 Kilometre traverse of the mountains of his home country. It was a ride like his father had done before him, but this time he was leading two mountain bikers.”