The Lions Karoo to Coast is one of South Africa’s most iconic mountain bike races. Since its foundation in 1999 the race has brought thousands of cyclists to Uniondale to ride the magnificent Prince Alfred’s Pass to Knysna. Over the 25 years, since the inaugural edition, mountain bikes have changed significantly, 26er hard-tails are almost a thing of the past and a growing number of riders are choosing to take on the 100 kilometre course, and its 1 800 metres of elevation gain, on E-Bikes or gravel bikes.
Whether you are going back to MTB’s roots at Lions Karoo to Coast or taking on the challenge on a modern machine, here are 10 reasons to ride on 22 September 2024…
- E-Bike Enthusiasm
The Lions Karoo to Coast introduced a free battery transport service which makes the race even more E-Bike friendly. 100 kilometres on one battery takes some careful riding, but with a change available to riders who provide a spare battery after 59 kilometres at Buffelsnek, the task is a whole lot simpler and more fun. Especially for the largely downhill blast through the final 40 kilometres! It is hard not to be enthusiastic about E-Bikes when it is made so easy.
- Great for Gravel
Since the Ou Wapad was redone, the route has become far more gravel bike friendly. In fact, after the first technical descent the rest of the route is arguably faster on a gravel bike… Though the rules have not recognised gravel bikes for podium positions, until now. From 2024 gravel racers will be competing on an equal footing to the mountain bikers. The road conditions, their skill and their legs will determine which bike is best suited to the Lions Karoo to Coast.
- Undefeated MTB
While everyone is raving about E- and gravel bikes the simple fact is, if you want to have the best day out, a mountain bike should be your weapon of choice. It will be more comfortable than a gravel bike, you will get more exercise than on an E-Bike and you will be riding with big groups of like-minded people; all soaking up the race day atmosphere. The fastest times were also set on mountain bikes, so it may be a while yet before a gravel bike unseats Gert Heyns as the King of the Karoo to Coast route.
The small Klein Karoo town of Uniondale is as much an essential element in the feel and vibe of the race as the route or the Lions Clubs. It comes alive for Lions Karoo to Coast; everyone gets involved and the spirit of the event. Community members volunteer as marshals, work aid stations and provide catering for hundreds of hungry cyclists descending on their sleepy village.
- Prince Alfred’s Pass
The longest publicly accessible mountain pass in the country and arguably Thomas Bain’s finest work, Prince Alfred’s Pass links Avontuur in the Langkloof with Knysna on the coast. For Lions Karoo to Coast riders it represents magnificent gravel road riding, with a few arduous climbs and more glorious descents.
- Kom se Pad
The mysteries of the Knysna forest, with its secret elephants and elusive loeries, are reason enough to ride the Lions Karoo to Coast. After the Karoo shrubs, the orchards of the Langkloof, the fynbos of the mountain pass and the plantations of Buffelsnek the deep indigenous forest provides welcome relief from the rising heat. Its cool greens and perennial streams will lead you into Knysna in high spirits.
The finishing point for the Lions Karoo to Coast is a jewel of the South African tourism industry. International and local visitors alike need little reminding of Knysna’s beauty. The town is also uniquely suited to hosting a massive mountain bike race, with ample accommodation and easy access to both the N2 and George airport. If you would like to stay on, spend a relaxing Sunday night in Knysna and cruise home slowly on Monday or remain for the Heritage Day public holiday on Tuesday, 24 September.
- 2 500 Meters of Descending
Uniondale is inland, at nearly 800 metres above sea level. Knysna is on the coast, at sea level. That means the race route trends downhill. Or loses 2 500 metres in accumulated elevation over the 100 kilometres to be precise. Yes, you have to climb 1 800 metres too, but focus on the positives. You will be going downhill more than you will be climbing! Enjoy the descents like the Spitskop downhill to De Vlugt.
- You’re Doing it for Charity
All the proceeds from the Lions Karoo to Coast are donated to charities. Primarily these are vision related charities, as the Lions were charged by Helen Keller to be “Knights for the Blind.” The race has funded 5 824 cataract operations in the Southern Cape, 66 guide dog puppies, sponsored 20 cornea replacements, paid for 2 operations for people born with defective vision as well as for 39 children with squints, procured a bio eye for a young girl who lost an eye as a toddler, and donates 300 pairs of spectacles to needy school children every year. If you would like to read more about the great work the race does with the profits click here.
- 30% Off for 2023 Entrants
2023 was however the third cancellation of the Lions Karoo to Coast in its 25-year history. Like 2020 and 2021’s COVID cancellation the storm of Heritage Day 2023 was beyond anyone’s control. Every entrant to last year’s race is eligible for a 30% discount on their 2024 entry, to off-set that loss. While it was not possible to host the race last year, this year is set to be an edition for the history books. So, secure your spot to celebrate the history and future of South African mountain biking.
- Bonus: Make it a Four Day Adventure!
Make it multi-day Garden Route adventure and enter the Dr Evil Classic too. The 3-day stage race takes in the world-class mountain biking trails of Plettenberg Bay and showcases the region that has become a trail Mecca. Discover it for yourself at www.drevilclassic.com, and save the dates: 19 to 21 September 2024.