Long distance ultra bike racing is starting to enjoy a bit of an uptick in interest in the cycling fraternity, mostly in Europe and America, but South Africa seems to finally be catching up thanks to races like the Munga, 36one and the Freedom Challenge – and now the Ceres500!
One of four 500km races recently launched in South Africa, The Ceres500 was created with the goal of taking cyclists back to the true meaning of bicycle adventure, where there wasn’t guaranteed food and water every 50km or so. The race is a single stage and is fully self-supported, meaning no aidstations and in the pure sense of the race, no back up vehicles. Riders get given a gpx file of the route and must complete it in their own steam, resupplying at established shops and padstals. This adds a fun strategic twist to bicycle racing, instead of just riding hell for leather, entrants need to plan their stops and ensure they get there during opening hours or they will not be able to resupply. Most riders attempt it non-stop but with a 58 hour cutoff it is possible to complete the route over “3 days”.
20 cyclists lined up for the inaugural event on a cold and blustery morning in Ceres. With a forecasted wind speed of up to 90km/h and around 15mm of rain in the first 24 hours of the race, the already tough challenge was now reaching insurmountable classification. In the end very little rain fell on the cyclists and winds weren’t as severe as initially thought, although there was a literal head wind for the first 200km as riders made their way to Sutherland. Sutherland was also the first major resupply stop on the route, meaning enough water and food needed to be carried for at least the first 200km of the race.
Those that pushed through the night were fortunate enough to enjoy a slight tail wind down the R355 whereas those who opted to sleep over in Sutherland found that the wind had changed direction overnight, and they were now riding back to Ceres into another headwind. Ouberg Pass brought some welcome relief on the downhill though.
In the end 12 of the 20 riders who started the Ceres500 managed to complete the race, with the fastest rider (going slightly off the official route) finishing in 29 hours.
If you would to challenge yourself keep an eye out on the Ceres500 Instagram page for info upcoming events in the series. The route will change every year so the below gpx won’t be the 2021 route. *Adventure Collective members get 20% off the event entry fee!
If you have experience with the Karoo you will know two things, 1. Water is extremely scarce so if you plan to head out there make sure you are carrying enough water to get you to a resupply spot and 2. The weather is extremely temperamental, especially at higher altitudes around Sutherland. It can be hot one day and near freezing with gale force winds the next.
Sutherland is a great base to start from if you are looking to explore the area but don’t want to ride 500km. Primrose Cottage in Sutherland is bike friendly, and the hosts are incredible.
SPOTS TO STOP AT ALONG THE ROUTE
Top of Ouberg Pass
Tjol se Gat Tollhuis (bottom of Verlatenkloof Pass)
Adventure cyclist and ultra racer, Rae Trew-Browne shares his top tips on packing your bike for adventure cycling – whether you are roughing it on an endurance bikepacking race or flashpacking from guesthouse to guesthouse.
We take a look at South Africa’s newest long distance ultra bike race – the Ceres500 – a 500km, single stage race through the Tankwa Karoo, fully self-supported in the true spirit of adventure! This route can also be cycled anytime as an adventure cycling circuit.
1-2 DAYS | ⇔ 500 km (loop) | + 4 683m | ≡ Tar / Gravel
A beautiful short film about Rae and Brad’s fast-paced, gravel flashpacking adventure across the Cederberg. Covering 240km, climbing 3600m in just two days… a testament to true grit and the freedom of adventure untamed.
Go far beyond the tar and deep into the countryside with this epic gravel bikepacking adventure. The route to Riebeek Kasteel, located +80km from Cape Town, is both challenging and rewarding – heat, dust and corrugations present some tough riding (especially in summer), but the scenic farmlands, welcoming little towns and ice cold beers at the end, make for a truly memorable ride.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 98 km (oneway) | + 749m | ≡ Tar / Gravel