WITH over 130 riders confirmed for the 2017 edition of the Gabran (the Great Annual Bike Race Across Natal), Bluff cycling enthusiast Johnny Mauer has committed to extending his record as the ride’s most decorated participant, having taken part in virtually every Gabran since the three-day ride’s inception.The ride now forms part of The Cows annual fund-raiser for the Childhood Cancer Foundation Choc, but the ride from the foothills of the Drakensberg to Hillcrest started more than 30 years ago, and Mauer says he won’t miss out on an opportunity to ride the Gabran.“It beats a day in the office,” says the 56-year-old telecommunications professional. “In the years when the Gabran was cancelled because of low entry numbers, I did the ride anyway. I had booked the leave and arranged vehicles, so I did the ride on my own.”Mauer stumbled on the first Gabran and rode the final day with the group, and has hardly missed one since then.“It is a lot of fun, and not a race at all, and a chance to really enjoy this beautiful country of ours.” The ride holds a treasure trove of memories for Mauer, especially when they linked up with independent riders who were so struck by the Gabran idea they just tagged along.“The best part of the Gabran is sitting around the campfire while Horst Phillips plays his guitar,” he says.He says the race is different every year, and the afternoon sessions can become quite protracted when they get bogged down at some of the popular stops along the way. “The afternoon socialising is superb. Some years we get quite delayed because there are some many great places to visit, especially on the second day when you go through the Midlands Meander area.“We sometimes come across locals who set up refreshment tables on the side of the road for the Gabran, and there are no sports drinks there, I promise you.“It is a not-to-be-missed experience,” he added. Mauer says the ride is within the reach of any recreational cyclist, whether on a road bike or a mountain bike. “You obviously need to enjoy the outdoors and the camping, and even the longest days are ridden at a laid-back, casual pace.”He also laboured the value of the acceptable practice of taking a “casevac” lift if a rider is struggling, for whatever reason.He has been part of the event since its early days and seen the arrival of the mountain bike craze, which led, somewhat controversially, to a MTB rider being included in the Gabran logo.Mauer proudly houses a collection of all the Gabran T-shirts spanning three decades, which tell the unique story and evolution of the ride.With a few places still available for the 2017 ride, which will contribute to The Cows efforts to raise R10 million this year for Choc to commemorate their t10th anniversary, Mauer says any bike riding enthusiast should seize the opportunity.“Just do it. You will never ever forget it or regret it.” More information can be found at www.grabran.co.za - Supplied.