The appeal of adventure is about the unknown - the moments you don’t expect nor can you predict.
Choosing a challenge, taking the road less travelled, and getting lost in the moment is all part of the adventure. Gravel racing adds to the challenge and Rebecca Van Huyssteen, CIOVITA ambassador and gravel racer, can attest to this. She has travelled thousands of kilometres through South Africa and is no stranger to a challenge.
Rebecca has raced and podiumed at numerous ultra-endurance gravel events, Around the Pot 200 miler, the Munga Grit, Sedgefield 500, and The Ceder 245km, to name a few. She is an absolute weapon when it comes to gravel racing. With her wealth of knowledge and experience, we couldn't help but ask for her insider tips to conquering those gravel events.
Gravel season is well underway. With it being mid-winter already, the calendar is full of opportunities to join the Gravel craze.
Hi, I’m Rebecca van Huyssteen. I love riding Gravel.
I am a competitive cyclist who focuses on ultra-distance events. I have competed in many of South Africa’s most popular Gravel races and learned a lot of lessons along the way. Being well-prepared with the correct kit and equipment means that you can enjoy yourself out on dusty gravel roads. Here are some of my tips for Gravel season.
Quality kit that you can trust is a must on any gravel ride. While gravel season rolls in during our colder months, warm kit that can handle the weather is vital.
Gloves should be essential on your packing list for a gravel race. Regardless of temperature or weather, gloves protect your hands over the rough sections of road that you are likely to encounter in any gravel race. Short gloves are great if the cold is not a problem, however, most gravel races involve icy starts. The Volare long-finger gloves are a great option for races with a chilly start and warm finish, providing coverage in the cold morning but enough ventilation for those warm afternoons.
Good bibs are crucial when gravel racing. Bouncing around on rough roads, and the possibility of rain when racing in the Western Cape mean that your choice of bib shorts can make a huge difference to your comfort on race day. Bib fit is important. To limit chafe and saddle sores, bibs should fit snug. If it is a choice between two sizes, choose the tighter fit! CIOVITA’s Apex bibs are my go-to on race day. The sturdy fabric and thick shammy ensure maximum possible comfort when riding in rough conditions. Gravel racing in winter is almost always cold. And often wet.
The Pachetto waterproof jacket is my non-negotiable jacket option. While great in the rain, it is a really effective outer layer in dry conditions too. It is effective at keeping the cold wind out, and the hood is a real bonus. Pulling it over your helmet keeps rain out and does a brilliant job of keeping warmth in on dry and rainy days. The double zip also means you can get the right ventilation if things heat up. If weather conditions are looking good, a gilet is a great warm-layer option. The Apex Contego gilet with its quilted front panels is my choice because it provides more warmth than thinner summer gilets and like the Pachetto jacket, the dual zipper makes it easy to cool down if things warm up later in the day.
The remote places that gravel riding takes you mean that you need to be packed and prepared with a range of spares. The CIOVITA pocket companion is great for storing things like multitools, C02 canisters, adaptors, and plugs. I like this pouch because the rubber shell made from upcycled bicycle tyres stops spares from rattling around too much on rough roads and works well to keep things dry in wet weather.
We all have a cupboard full of water bottles gathered from race goodie bags. Unfortunately, not all water bottles are made equal. Most people who have done a gravel race have lost a bottle on a bumpy section of road. The CIOVITA TACX bottles are made of hardy plastic that holds its shape and does a really good job of staying secure in bottle cages. I have used the same two TACX bottles for thousands of kilometres of riding and love how reliable they are. Great to not have to worry about losing bottles midway through a race!
How to survive a gravel race
Gravel racing is an awesome adventure, especially when you are well-prepared. Apparel and equipment are easy to get right when you have quality options and a weather app you can trust! Food, or in my case treats, is probably the next most important thing to consider when doing a Gravel race. Regardless of whether you are super calculated or not, a good rule is to eat early and eat as much as you can. Whether splashing out on perfectly formulated nutrition or taking the opportunity to indulge in your favourite snacks, don't hold back on race day.
Most importantly, get out there and have fun. Gravel racing combines the simplicity of road riding with the adventure of mountain biking in the best way. It's all about exploring remote places on open roads, with friendly water points along the way. The local race calendar offers a wide range of options that suit all levels. While 100 miles (160 km) is the flagship distance for most Gravel races, many events offer a range of distances. These are some races in the Western Cape to look forward to this year.
Around the Pot (late July) is a great option for both new and experienced riders. The 200, 100, 60, and 25-mile distances mean that everyone can participate in a distance that suits their experience and fitness. This one is usually cold and wet, so make sure to pack your Pachetto Waterproof Jacket!
Race to the Sea (early September) starts with an iconic climb over Franschhoek pass before dropping down towards the coast just outside Hermanus. The beautiful route and proximity to Cape Town make this a great event to include friends and family for a weekend away.
The Ceder (early September) is a special adventure deep in the heart of the Cederberg. With the introduction of 140km and 30km route options in addition to the original 245km race, this is a great opportunity to race on some of SA’s toughest, but most beautiful gravel.
Prince George (mid-October), a recent addition to the Dryland portfolio of races, takes riders from Prince Albert to George, over the Prins Albert pass - a bucket list climb for all gravel riders!
Hopefully see you there 🙂