In a cycling mad country littered with mountain bike stage races, the options for enjoyment might seem unlimited. But on closer inspection, many stage events offer the same package: yes, great trails, but then come the tents, the mass-prepared meals, the extra expense of purchasing drinks, massage, or supplementary food. Even the great trails only cater for those who like riding trails, and not necessarily those who just like riding their mountain bikes along scenic routes.
For the fun-seeking, non-competitive, life-is-about-variety set, there are not many events that provide a multi-day approach centered around fun.
That’s where the Tour de Braai enters the fray. Conceptualised by Jan Braai, the man behind the National Braai Day initiative, the Tour de Braai is a five-day gravel ride from George to Swellendam.
Taking in some of the most scenic passes in the Klein Karoo and the Western Cape, the Tour de Braai offers riders the opportunity to cycle at leisure and then enjoy their post-ride surroundings to the maximum. The ride takes place almost exclusively on quiet gravel roads, where a mountain bike or gravel bike can be used.
As the name suggests, the Tour is also about lighting a fire and enjoying a braai. Forget race gels, snack bars, tasteless muffins and sweet, sticky energy drinks. At the Tour de Braai, the water point of the day is a braai, with all the good things you normally find around the fire; delicious food and ice-cold adult beverages.
“The Tour de Braai aims to give cyclists a few great days of touring, holiday, braaing and riding a bicycle through beautiful parts of South Africa,” says Jan Braai. “Our main goal is to have fun.”
Starting in George and immediately taking riders over the breathtaking Montagu Pass, the Tour visits Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, the picturesque and peaceful Rooiberg Lodge in the Klein Karoo, Kweekkraal Guest Farm just outside Riversdale and eventually culminates in Swellendam.
“With its trademark slogan Travel on Gravel, the Tour aims to take participants on gravel as much as possible,” says Braai. “Going up Montagu Pass on Stage 1 as well as up and down Rooiberg Pass on Stage 3 are incredible experiences and will be highlights of the Tour for everyone.”
The Tour de Braai route is not designed to be the toughest challenge of a rider’s life. Instead, it has been developed to be a cycling holiday where the only work you have to do is turning the legs – but it does require a certain level of fitness. There are enough passes on the route to get the blood pumping. The stronger you are on a bike, the more fun you will have off the bike.
Braai says, “To put it in the most South African context possible, if you can ride a sub-3 hour Cape Town Cycle Tour (Argus) you are 100% there. If you can ride a 3:30 Cape Town Cycle Tour you are definitely there. If you can ride a sub-4 hour Cape Town Cycle Tour you will be absolutely fine. If a sub-4 sounds challenging to you, you will find Tour de Braai doable, but challenging. Not to worry, that is why a daily sports massage and the healing qualities of free wine and beer are included in your entry fee.”