I have been cycling in Plettenberg Bay for years now, but this is the first time that I have a gravel bike with me! I can not believe what I was missing out on. I always knew that Plettenberg Bay had some epic off-road riding routes, but I never knew exactly how epic they were until I rode them for myself. This is the story of my gravel cycling adventure from Plettenberg Bay, over Prince Alfreds Pass to Uniondale and back.
I have been coming to Plettenberg Bay (or “Plett) on holiday with my family over Christmas every single year for the past 8 years. We stay at the Keurbooms Forever Resort camp site for 2-3 weeks and it is always a fun, relaxing getaway for all of us. I usually like to squeeze in a big block of training, because the riding here is so much better than back home. If you are a road cyclist, there is not a huge variety of routes for you to do, but the ones you can do are awesome. You will be surrounded by nature during most of your ride. Cycling through Bloukrans Pass in Plett always reminds me of cycling in Thailand. This is because of the dense forest that surround you. I even included a cycling route in Plettenberg Bay on my list of the best road cycling routes in the Western Cape.
Back to my gravel cycling adventure! There is a very famous mountain bike race called the Karoo2Coast that takes place every year. It starts in the small town of Uniondale and follows the R339 gravel road all the way to Knysna. The road heads over Prince Alfreds Pass. I saw that there was another gravel road which starts in Plettenberg Bay and comes out between Uniondale and Knysna. So what I did is a took that road from Plett and at the turnoff between Uniondale and Knysna, I took a right turn towards Prince Alfreds Pass and Uniondale.
I had no idea what the road surface would be like. All I knew was that cars traverse that road on a daily basis, so it could not be impossible to conquer it on a gravel bike. I messaged the organizers of the Karoo2Coast cycling race a while back to ask if I could enter the race with a gravel bike. They responded that it would not be possible to do so. This added even more fuel to my fire and I had to try this road out for myself on my gravel bike! Here is my very poorly created map of the area. The blue line is the Karoo2Coast route and the green line is the route I took from Plett:
The road from Plettenberg Bay to the R339 turnoff was treacherous, to say the least. There were a few thousand riffle bumps in the road, all in quick succession to one another. Riding to the turnoff was mostly uphill. I think I climbed 700m in the first 30km or so. When you are riding uphill you are going slower and do not always feel how bad the road surface actually is. It was only on the way back that my hands, arms and shoulders took a beating. That is another thing… I had to ride to Uniondale and then back to Plettenberg Bay. There was no way any of my family members were going to sacrifice a full day out of their holiday, just because I was too soft to ride back home.
After the turnoff the road got better. There was one short, maybe 1 kilometer, section that I considered walking it was so bad, but besides for that I was in my element on the gravel bike. Prince Alfreds Pass was the highlight of the day. The Pass is 14km long at an average gradient of 5.4%. There is no real spikes in the gradient, so for most part you are climbing at between 5-6%. The road surface is also incredibly smooth gravel, making it a joy to ride.
I got to Uniondale after 4 hours of riding and “raided” OK supermarket out of all their vegan sweets! I knew that I had to take some time just to sit in the shade and recover as best I could. I have never felt so defeated halfway into a ride, but giving up was not an option.
The hardest part of this ride was actually the 10km on the road from Uniondale back to where the gravel starts again. It was almost all uphill and against a brutal headwind. It was also during the hottest part of the day. I actually joked on my Instagram that you have not cycled in the Karoo, unless you got a headwind and got destroyed by the sun. Once I made it back to the gravel road I knew that I would finish this ride. It was just a case of keeping the cadence up on the uphills and not taking any unnecessary risks on the downhills that could send me flying off the side of the mountain.
I completed the 160km ride with 3200m of climbing in a little over 8 hours! I must say… I am so impressed with how my gravel bike performed during this ride. This was the first serious training ride I have ever done with my Pragma Gravel Breaker bike. I bought the bike early last week, but spent the first few days getting used to it and playing around with the bike fit. Now that I have done a big ride and feel comfortable on it, I can not wait to do another one. My next gravel ride in Plettenberg Bay will be similar to this one. I want to ride from Plett till the R339 turnoff, but instead of going right towards Uniondale I will go left towards Knysna. Then I can truly say I have done the Karoo2Coast cycling route on a gravel bike!
I will just add that I think it is the correct decision by the organizers of Karooo2Coast not to allow gravel bikes to take part. While it is definitely possible to complete the route on a gravel bike, racing it is not a good idea. I know that if I was to do the race on a gravel bike, I would want to try and keep up with the mountain bikers on the descents and it will probably not end well for me. If everyone was on a gravel bike then it would be different, but that is not the case.
Here are the Strava details for the gravel ride I did in Plettenberg Bay! I will do another post in a week or two, because I plan on exploring more gravel cycling routes in the Garden Route before I head back home.