For the past five days, 20 cyclists with a taste for the finer things in life have been riding through the Klein Karoo, making their way from George to Swellendam via the most scenic district roads and mountain passes in the Western Cape.
The five-day ride is the inaugural Tour de Braai, an antidote to South Africa’s obsession with gruelling mountain bike stage races, tents and smelly communal toilets. The Tour is the brainchild of Jan Braai, the man behind the National Braai Day initiative and the National Braai Tour.
Riders on the first Tour have come from all over South Africa, with one participant from Germany and another from Switzerland also dipping their toes into the braai and bike trek. The Tour de Braai started in George last Monday, with overnight stops during the week including daily luxury accommodation and fine braai dining in Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Rooiberg Lodge in the Klein Karoo, and Riversdale. On Friday afternoon, the Tour will reach its final destination of Swellendam.
One of the pioneering gravel riders on the Tour de Braai is elite South African mountain biker Erik Kleinhans, a man with multiple stage race wins under his belt, as well as being a former South Africa cross-country champion. On hearing about the Tour de Braai, Kleinhans was intrigued by the concept of a stage event where the main aim is to have fun. After four days of gravel riding and the best braai meals in South Africa, he’s convinced that this is the way forward for cycle touring.
“It’s great to combine my favourite food pastime – braaing – with the sport that I love,” says Kleinhans. “It’s been amazing to be out in nature and cycling through such fantastic areas. Everywhere we have been is renowned for good food and stunning scenery; it’s made the Tour de Braai very special. The week has been incredible.”
The idea behind the Tour de Braai is to showcase the incredible countryside of the Western Cape and to let people experience it on their bicycles in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
“We have enjoyed excellent Garden Route and Klein Karoo hospitality in our first four days of riding,” says Jan Braai. “On the first day, some riders were still keen to come to breakfast in their cycling kit and ready to race, but that is not the ethos of the Tour de Braai. We are here to see beautiful scenery and to enjoy ourselves. So far, both those objectives have been achieved.
“Everyone has enjoyed the Tour highlights of the Montagu Pass, the port in Caltizdorp, riding up the Rooiberg Pass and braaing at the top, then crossing into the Overberg via the picturesque Garcia Pass. It’s fantastic to see people enjoying themselves on and off the bike and to show them parts of the country that are very special.”
German participant Ralf Stapela, from bicycle company Bergamont is riding his Bergamont Grandurance cyclocross bike. Many of the first-time Tour de Braai riders have taken to gravel bikes to participate in the Tour, another unique aspect of the experience.
“It’s been amazing,” says Stapela. “The whole week has been very special, but especially today (the fourth day). It was a bit windy and cold, but the ride was an experience you won’t forget. I’m from Europe, so the conditions were perfect! I’m so glad I did it; I would definitely come back for more.”
Today the first ever Tour de Braai concluded with the final ride, Riversdale to Swellendam, with an en route lunch braai in Suurbraak.
Entries for the November edition of the Tour de Braai are open, and can be found at http://braai.com/braaitour/tour-de-braai/