G!RO's very own Jordan & Danny (aka Jonty & Hansie) recently joined the Curve crew for a bike packing expedition through the western Cape of South Africa as part of the inaugural Rhino Run. We hope you enjoy this blog looking back at an unforgettable week.
Screaming babies, cursing passengers, luke warm food on a tiny tray, cheap wine, no spare seats, no legroom, and certainly no lay-flat bed to be had… all for 11 glorious hours. This wasn’t the start of the trip we had been dreaming of…but our hopes remained that our long-haul destination would be worth the short-lived discomfort - Cape Town, South Africa.
This story begins in January of 2019. During Curve’s first South Africa expedition in partnership with Kevin Benky (Jonty's first SA Blog here), Rhino (Ryan Flinn - Curve co-owner) started to reveal the plans for a new cycling race he was dreaming up. A solo, unsupported, gravel race, leaving Plettenberg Bay following the Garden Route to Cape Town, then north into Namibia finishing at the capital Windhoek, crossing two countries and some of the most beautiful, challenging and varied landscapes on planet earth. After a couple of recce trips joined by Jesse Carlsson & Sarah Hammond, Rhino announced that the final route was confirmed and the date was set. The race would cover 2750km with a terrifying 27000+ vertical metres across predominantly gravel roads, all kicking off on Nov 1st 2020 at 6:22AM.
Sadly as with the majority of plans over the last two years, the pandemic had other ideas, so Rhino and the team decided to push the race back accordingly…the date reset for Oct 21st 2022, still at 6:22AM. All info here: https://rhinorun.cc
The best racers from all over the world threw their names in the ring to take on this unique, challenging and beautiful race, including local SA hero Kevin Benky, Curve hero and Race to the Rock Queen, Sarah Hammond, globe trotting wonderkid Jimmy Ashby, recent Trans America record setter Abdullah Zeinab, Atlas Mountain Race winner Sofiane Sehili, Masaka and Team Amani riders Florence Natagwa, Peter Wasswa, Paul Kato from Uganda, plus many more notable and winning Ultra racers.
However….As exciting that sounds, the race was not why we had landed in Cape Town. Even for the most enthusiastic rider, a race that was the magnitude of The Rhino Run is a big pill to swallow, and frankly too much for many a rider. Leave that to the big boys and girls so to speak!
To celebrate and coincide with the race, good friend of G!RO and Curve’s newest recruit Gus Burrell (@theguswagon) had been working hard in the background to put together The Rhino Run Expedition. The first in a new offering from Curve of fully guided bike-packing expeditions, that gives your everyday cyclist the opportunity to ride in some of the most stunning and rarely ridden parts of the world, with accommodation and food provided along the way. Making the seemingly impossible challenge and experience of something like the Rhino Run possible with the necessary support and guidance.
This expedition would follow the first part of the race’s route from Plettenberg Bay though to Stellenbosch, aka ‘The Entree’. A total of over 700km of gravel roads, with 11500m of climbing, split up over 6 days. This was by no means an ‘easy’ ride. Gus and Rhino had designed this expedition to be very challenging riding each day, facing steep, long climbs, punishing road surfaces, and some days extreme heat! Rewarded by the backdrop of arguably the most beautiful landscapes in the world, amazing wildlife, and the knowledge that at the end of each day you had a cold beer, hot meal, local wine and a bed waiting for you!
“I like cold beers” - Danny aka Hansie
So 10 riders from the UK (including 4 from G!RO), the US & Australia assembled in Stellenbosch, and kicked things off with a team dinner and briefing, accompanied with plenty of local Stellenbosch wine… what a way to start the week. A day-long transfer to Plettenberg Bay the following day was all that stood in the way of the team who were eager to get the wheels spinning and start what would turn out to be one of the most memorable weeks on a bike.
The Touring Rhinos were ready.
So, the first day would start as the rest of the week did: Early! Alarm 6AM, Breakfast 6:30AM, pack bikes & rollout 7:30AM. That night we were woken by a heavy lightning storm, leaving us with fear of a wet first stage. However as we drew the curtains at sunrise, we could see the storm clouds being blown across the bay leaving behind glorious sunshine. As we rolled out, we were joined by racers Sarah Hammond (who after 6 years of working with Curve it was the first time we had actually met in person, which was a lovely treat!) Stephen Lane, Abdullah Zeinab & of course the man who this race was named after, Rhino himself.
Day 1 would cover 110km and 2000m up, with the climbing very much front loaded over the day’s route. Turning West from Plettenberg Bay, we rose into the surrounding hills, revealing perfect red gravel roads, surrounded by lush, thick green forests (...The first of the wide variety of landscapes we would travel through). This first climb told us everything we needed to know about the week’s riding ahead… challenging riding, surrounded by jaw dropping, breathtaking beauty, and amazing wildlife…we saw Baboons within the first 20km, and had reports of a Rhino… Bring it on! After about 40kms of riding, we started to descend down into Knysner for some lunch, and then onto our first night’s accommodation just outside Karatara…we even managed to bump into G!RO favourite Jimmy Ashby (Jimmy's Round The World Podcast here) on route, who joined us for dinner at our treetop accommodation. Lovely.
“In a pretty clear demonstration of how ultra riders are different to us ‘normal’ people, I asked Jimmy what section of the Rhino Run he was looking forward to most. His eyes lit up, and he said ‘the last thousand kays through the Namibian desert’ without a trace of irony or sarcasm.” Hansie
Without boring you with the details of each and every day, it's worthwhile giving an overview of the route and the terrain we would be covering over the week. Riding East to West towards Cape Town from Plettenberg Bay, we would be loosely following what is known as the Garden Route… given its name due to its shere diversity of landscapes, vegetation, farmlands, and stunning wildlife! The route laid out for us would be a slightly more off road and gravel focussed, which takes us over a number of mountain ranges that run parallel to the Cape coastline. The roads that cross these ranges are known as ‘Passes’, and would come to be the focal point of each day, often looming in the distance creating either excitement or dread depending on how the legs were feeling!
Day 2 took us up and over the Montague Pass, a 10km climb of challenging, rocky gravel that took us up from George into the clouds! Parts ramped up to 15% with the road turning to a rock garden… not the place for your average family rental car!! As with all the passes, the riders took on the pass at their own pace, but each giving their all to get to the top in one piece. Hard not to stop and take photos of such a special setting… the pass hugged the mountain side above green valleys cascading below. Regrouping in the mist at the top of the pass, we descended into the desert valley below, which would reveal the Africa many of us had been waiting to see; vast, dry, open, rolling planes as far as the eye could see. Fast, dusty, rolling gravel roads taking us into hotter temperatures. This was the Klein Karoo desert and would be our home for the next two days.
As we rolled into our accommodation finishing off our 120km day, we were greeted by a friendly and inquisitive Giraffe (not kidding), named Sheila (also not kidding). The night’s accommodation turned out to be my favourite of the trip. Luxury tented rooms (complete with outdoor showers no less) set to the backdrop of an African sunset over desert, and we feasted on an amazing Braai (google it) cooked by our wonderful host Frikkie. Bellies full, legs beginning to feel the days’ riding, our relaxed feelings soon subsided as our thoughts turned to the next day that awaited us; a day we knew could be the hardest day of the expedition…
Sunrise, breakfast, roll-out. 135km of riding ahead of us with over 2100m of climbing… all of which set in the Karoo, through Calitzdorp to finish at a lodge just outside Van Wyksdorp. It became apparent that this day would be a challenge from the off, with temperatures getting close to 40 degrees Celcius by mid morning, and still rising. We sun-creamed up, plenty of water, and each rider concocting some sort of desert protection to cover the back of our necks… a t-shirt, a snood (… thankfully the mullet I'd been nurturing over the last 6 months came into fine use!).
As we passed over the first pass, the main stretch of the Karoo we rode would take us for dozens of KMs of gravel roads, nestled between 2 game reserves. The challenge of the riding, rewarded with sightings of Zebra, Giraffes, Oryx, wild boars and a number of Springbok. Incredible! But as the day went on, and the KMs increased, so too did the temperature, and the open landscape offered little in the way of shelter. It was unrelenting, and brutal. Passing through Calitzdorp, the temperature clocked 45C, it was very much taking its toll on the riders… and we still had arguably the hardest climb of the entire expedition to come!
Gus, using his wisdom, pulled the crew into a remote, empty looking house located just off the main road. We knocked on the door, to be greeted by an understandably surprised looking fella named Dries, who took pity on us and welcomed us to use his porch for shade and refreshments from this punishing day. Uncle Chris unloaded water, ice cold cokes and fantas, which didn't last long… and Dries even brought out the hose to cool us down…. A welcome, well needed break, and one which came to reflect the warm hospitality we encountered on this trip from day 1.
Somewhat rested and cooled we headed to the real challenge of the day… the fabled Rooiberg pass. Rooiberg literally translated Red Mountain due to its red rocks and rough road cut along its face to cross this beast. Not the longest climb we’ve ever done, but it lived up to its reputation as a true brute! Steep, gnarly surface (barely rideable in places), the roads switch back and up over this barren land, with the heat still making its presence felt at every turn! With well over 100km in the legs already on this punishing day, this pass took every ounce of focus and energy to crest. But conquer it we did! One of the hardest hours or so on the bike i've had for sure, and one certainly happy to have under my belt!
What followed was one of those moments, when it feels like the stars align, and everything falls into its place to offer an experience like no other. We started our descent into the Valley below, and as this perfect, sweeping, picturesque gravel road meandered out of sight ahead of us, we were gifted the most perfect African sunset! The sunset illuminated the valley in front and the riders crossed its roads in a warm orange glow. That seemed like a photoshoot that had been months in the planning. But no, it was one of those perfect moments… enjoying it with friends, old and new, laughing, smiling, trying to take it all in, and riding the wave of exhilaration as to what we were in the middle of! It reminded me why I simply love riding a bike! It's the places it can take you; It's the people you meet; And it's the experiences you have along the way! Thank you Rooiberg pass for that moment, it will live with me forever.
“Rounding the corner and seeing this sunset was one of the most memorable moments of the trip. Seeing the mountain ranges stacked like cards into the distance and the perfect golden/orange light had us whooping the whole way down”. Hansie
As the sun finally set, we made it to our accommodation just before dusk, where we ate, slept, ate once more and set out on the next day's riding, taking us closer and closer to Stellenbosch. The next few days would be much of the same. Each day, each valley revealed more and more of this stunning, varied land, from dense forests, to open desert planes, to rolling farmlands rich in life! Photos cant convey the sheer beauty and scale of this special country! Nor can they convey the severity of the passes we had to crest. The penultimate being the Rusty Gate pass, which certainly left its mark with gradients topping 20%!!
Added to this countryside is the incredible wildlife, both on the ground and in the air. From the game animals roaming in the planes, to having Ostriches run alongside us as we rode by was incredible! Seeing the nearly endangered Cape Vulture rise just over us was also a special moment. And the oh so many Guinea Fowls that lined the roads and ran away (rarely flew) in a chorus of shouts and hoots as we passed!
As we arrived into Franschhoek (just outside Stellenbosch) the 10 riders who started the expedition, rode in with a sense of togetherness having just completed this challenging yet rewarding week of riding! The Touring Rhinos (L to R) Jan, Frikkie, Jonty, Stiffie, Mike, Bibi, Pete, Ian, Patrick & Hansie….Thank you! Thank you for being a part of this wonderful adventure! Each of us came with varying levels of fitness and experience, but we rode as one, and cheered each other on right ‘til the end! Special mention to Jan who flew in from Seattle, Washington. At 67 years old, she showed real grit and resolve to complete the weeks riding! Such an inspiration… I hope I can ride my bike as half as good as you can at your age!
What a week! It will live on in memories forever, and I consider you all friends! ‘You Rock’ Touring Rhinos!
The return to Franshoeek was made all the more exciting, as we got our first glimpse of the riders from the race who had set off on Friday morning (4 days after us!!)! Kevin Benky rolled into town at 7pm, looking fresh as anything, with Abdullah soon after… what had taken us 6 days to complete, we had done in less than 2!!! I still cannot comprehend this feat given that we had just ridden ourselves the same course!
Then a real highlight was to see the Masaka crew Peter Wasswa & Paul Kato from Uganda, come through the next morning bright and early... we were gutted to have missed Florence who came through over night! What an amazing ride by these guys!!
And of course a special thanks to Uncle Chris, who had the task of driving the support vehicle and being the rock to our days’ riding! You were always there with cold drinks and masses of Biltong at every lunch stop (it will be sometime before I can stomach any more biltong…)! But you were also a fountain of knowledge of all things wildlife and countryside, which we all loved! On ya Uncle Chris!
What Gus as the team at Curve have put together for this expedition is really something unique, and special. This was a bike expedition like no other… Not only were the routes planned challenging and beautiful, but real care was taken to give the riders a local and authentic experience in this beautiful country! Very much away from the tourist trail, we stayed in local accommodation, and ate local food each and every evening! Most notably, was staying at Michelle and Keith’s farm stay, just outside Swellerdam. Sitting in their dining room, surrounded by candlelight, we enjoyed a meal Michelle had cooked that evening…For many this would have been a nice change, but Gus had planned similar experiences throughout the week. Thank you Gus for putting your heart and soul into planning this expedition! And on the roads you made sure each rider had what they needed, and nurtured us through each day like a suckling gazelle! On ya Gus, you mighty oke!
Returning back home after a trip like this will always be strange. How can you leave an experience like this, in a country such as South Africa, and not feel sad to be leaving? No question, it was a real privilege to fly to another part of the world, meet some wonderful people, and spend time riding our bikes. But the truth is that experiences like this only stand to reinforce and resolve what is important. In any experience it is the people you are with, and the journey together that matters most.
Bike: Curve Kevin of Steel aka Steve
Wheels & Tyres: Curve 650b Carbon / Vittoria Mezcal 2.25”
Groupset: Campagnolo Ekar 1 x 13 / 38 x 10/44
"What a bike! The more KMs I clock on this rig, the more and more I am blown away by its capabilities. Hands down this is the most capable and fun bike I've ever ridden. This trip took it to its limits on some of these fast, rocky descents… would have been much more suited to a MTB in parts, but this bike with 650b tyres was perfect, and my confidence grew as a descender with this bike. All trip, it didn't put a foot wrong, and I couldn't be more pleased. This is a special bike! I wouldn't change it for anything! On ya Steve"
Bike: Curve GXR Titanium aka Kevin
Wheels + tyres: Curve GravAL 650b / Vittoria Mezcal 2.25”
Groupset: SRAM Force 1x11, 38t chainring, 10-42T
"I absolutely love mountain biking. There’s pretty much nothing I enjoy more than ripping descents on a big 160mm sled, but this bike has challenged my beliefs in what a gravel bike can do at every turn. Shod with some phat 650b’s, I was (maybe foolishly) hitting some of the chunky off road descents at pace. Since first throwing a leg over it a couple of years ago, I reckon I’ve done a single digit number of rides on my MTB, and if that’s not an endorsement of the GXR’s capabilities and fun factor I don’t know what is! From long smooth gravel roads to singletrack, it can do it all. "
For those reading this, and want to experience it for themselves, head over to the Curve website. Curve and the team have been busy planning more expeditions. The Touring Rhinos will return to SA next October to do the same route. And Argentina is available now in February, with more to come including Romania next summer! I cannot recommend these expeditions that Curve are putting on, and encourage you to sign up if you can!
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Here at G!RO we continue to share our ways of beating the global pandemic and keeping morale high! Jamie tells us how his year sampling a new style of riding on his Downrock has been a godsend in this unprecedented year!
Wow! It’s been nearly a year since that giant box, containing my new favourite bike arrived! It was March 2020, things were starting to head south globally and the UK was a few short days away from Lockdown 1.0, but spirits were high as me and head mechanic Danny tore into the box containing all the parts, and the beautiful Downrock frame Curve had just shipped us. Days were getting longer, weather was getting warmer, riding was getting easier and ignoring the global pandemic things were looking up… Except, how can you ignore a global pandemic... That’s right, you can’t!!!