If you are looking for a brutally challenging, yet mesmerizingly beautiful mountain climb, look no further than Jonaskop. Jonaskop is arguably the toughest tarred climb in South Africa. Today marked my 4th summit of the mountain and I figured it is high time I share this experience with you.
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Jonaskop Mountain Climb
There is a good chance that you are already familiar with Jonaskop Mountain. A few years ago, when I rode up Jonaskop for the first time, it had just 20 odd segment efforts on Strava. Now it has over 200! I remember when I did my first ride up Jonaskop, I received a ton of messages from fellow cyclists who had seen my ride posted on Strava. They wanted to know more about the climb, such as what the terrain is like and if it is open to the public. People were justifiably perplexed by a climb of that distance and gradient on our doorstep, which appeared to be tarred. I was as well.
How I originally came across Jonaskop, was I used the Segment Explore feature on Strava and searched for climbs ranked as “Hors Categorie” (a term used to designate a climb that is so tough, it is beyond categorization). The handful of segments that popped up were mountain bike climbs, which I were already aware of and none that peeked my interest. That was all, except Jonaskop…
Where is Jonaskop?
Jonaskop is a mountain in South Africa, with an elevation of 1646 metres and a prominence of 932 metres in the Riviersonderend Mountains. The base of Jonaskop mountain is situated 29km from Villiersdorp and 36km from Worcestor.
Whether you are coming from Villiersdorp or Worcestor, you need to drive on the R43 until you turnoff onto, what is for the most part, a dirt road. If you are coming from Villiersdorp it is a right turn onto the dirt road and from Worcestor it is a left turn. The dirt road is unnamed, but you can use the following co-ordinates to get to the climb:
Doornrivier Handelshuis –
Doornrivier handelshuis is where I park my car when I cycle up Jonaskop. It is roughly 7km from the start of the climb. The shop is owned by a friendly couple who are always happy to see you. They have gotten used to cyclists who visit on the weekend to ride up the mountain.
The start of the climb –
Am I allowed to ride up Jonaskop?
The road from Doornrivier Handelshuis heading to Jonaskop, as well as the first part of the climb, goes through private farmland. Also, at the top of the mountain is a Sentech connection tower. Because of this, you technically need permission to ride up Jonaskop. I called Villiersdorp police station first, who gave me the number of a Warrant Officer, who then gave me the number of a farmer in the area, who gave me the number of another farmer, who then finally gave me the number of the farmer who owns the land surrounding Jonaskop Mountain.
The land owner is a super friendly guy. He said he has no problem with cyclists riding up the mountain. All he asks is that we leave the area exactly as we found it. He said he even made a hole in the fence next to the gate at the bottom of the climb, so that cyclists would not have to climb over it. What a great guy!
Public service announcement:
This is not from the farmer, but I think it needs to be said. Almost every time I have cycled up Jonaskop I have encountered one or two cars on the mountain. I assume they are people who work on the Sentech tower at the top. The road is extremely narrow, rough and has an endless amount of blind corners. Please take it easy on the descent.
The road is so narrow that if you do happen to encounter a car you will either have to go off the road or move as far to the side as possible so that it can squeeze past. If you are going too fast on the downhill and you encounter a car you did not see coming, it is going to end very very badly for you. I also do not imagine the farmer will be as accommodating to cyclists in the future if one dies on his property.
Is Jonaskop the hardest tarred climb in South Africa?
I definitely think so. I have not been able to find anything quite like it. Jonaskop is 14.76km long with an average gradient of 7.8%. Do not let the average gradient fool you though. 7.8% is not that steep, but there are two downhill sections during the ascent of Jonaskop Mountain, making the actual climbing bits much steeper than the average would suggest. There is one 4km section in particular that averages at 10%. Also, you need to take the terrain into account. The tarred surface is incredibly rough, which only adds to the epic nature of the climb. If you know of a tougher tarred climb than Jonaskop, please send me the Strava segment, because I would love to take a look at it.
I should also mention that at the top of the climb, where the Jonaskop Strava segment ends and where the tarred road finishes, you are met with a mountain bike trail of maybe a hundred meters or less. Unless you are on a mountain bike, you will probably have to walk this section. On the other side of it, is a tarred pavement that takes you to the actual summit of the mountain. It is only 400m long, but the final 100m of that averages at 31% and peaks at 40%! I call it the wall. If you can make it up there without falling over you have truly conquered Jonaskop.
Another notable mention includes the nearby Hansekop which is 6.49km at 10.2%.
What is the terrain like?
The 7km stretch between Doornrivier Handelshuis and the start of the climb is a smooth dirt road. There are a few potholes to contend with and some rocks, but if you choose your line right it will not be a problem. The climb itself has two short gravel road sections in the first 3km of the ascent. The first of which lasts for a couple hundred meters and the second for maybe half a kilometer. They are also reasonably smooth and nothing to be concerned about. The rest of the climb is tarred. It is dreadfully rough tarmac, but tarmac nonetheless.
What type of bike should I use?
The question you may have on your mind is, “Can I do Jonaskop on a road bike?” The answer to that is yes, you can. I have done Jonaskop on a road bike three times. It is definitely not the ideal choice for such a steep climb with a rough surface, but it is doable. The main thing you have to look at is what gearing you have on your bike. Jonaskop is a steep climb and if you do not have the correct gearing it will be an unpleasant experience. I recommend at least a 34×32 gear ratio. I have done Jonaskop with a 34×28 and I was stuck at around 40 cadence for most of the climb, despite going as fast as I could.
If you do not have good climbing gears on your bike, you are better off using a mountain bike. A mountain bike may be heavier than a road bike, but if it allows you to ride at a higher cadence it may get you up the climb faster.
If you have a gravel bike then you do not need to concern yourself with any of the above. A gravel bike is by far the superior choice for a ride up Jonaskop Mountain. A gravel bike will have easier gearing and allow you to run wider tires than a road bike, while being lighter and more aggressive than most mountain bikes. My most recent ascent of Jonaskop was on a gravel bike and what a joy it was to ride! The easy gearing saved my legs on the uphill, while the wider tires meant my hands and arms took less of a beating on the way down.
Jonaskop: Final thoughts
Jonaskop is a great outing! Have fun and take lots of pictures. The only excuse not to take photos of the breathtaking scenery at Jonaskop, is that you are gunning for the KOM. Even then, you should at least stop on the way down to snap a pic or two.
Ride hard and ride safe. I’ll see you on the road!