The Karoo Burn is an off-road race that will trigger your dark side

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We wouldn’t recommend riding the Karoo Burn as a couple, but if your relationship is strong enough… (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)
We wouldn’t recommend riding the Karoo Burn as a couple, but if your relationship is strong enough… (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)
  • Mountain bike racing is supposed to be fun. Cheering locals. Smooth singletrack trails. And afternoons of socialising.
  • The Karoo Burn isn’t fun. It’s a brutal point-to-point race through the most testing Karoo terrain.
  • But if you seek a challenge of mind, body and bike, this race will redefine your expectations and limits.

Journeying to your vacation destination during the festive season is accompanied by much driving frustration. But experienced travellers know that the longer way to a coastal vacation destination is usually best. And in South Africa, that often means routing through the Karoo.

The Western, Southern and Eastern Cape regions are home to most of South Africa’s most desirable coastal villages, towns and resorts. As such, many South Africans are familiar with the experience of driving through the Karoo. But what about riding it?

If you are sitting at your holiday destination and pondering a sense of disquiet, we can help. It’s not your fellow holidaymakers being unreasonable. Or the spectre of stage 6 load shedding. If you are an adventurer or rider struck by some sense of discord while on vacation, it’s because the Karoo is calling you.

Karoo riding
It starts in the dark. And for some riders, it will finish that way, too. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

The Karoo wants to confront you 

Familiarity is often the enemy of romance. And when you are schedule-pressured to arrive at a specific coastal destination on a required time and date, the Karoo’s starkness and desolation are a mind vacuum while driving.

You’ll occasionally glance sideways to register its desolation, but few ever stop. Get out of the car. And walk a few paces into it to acknowledge the Karoo. Much less experience it.

Karoo riding
Experienced riders, often in the 50 and over age group, do surprisingly well, tanks to mental tenacity. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

SA has the best extreme endurance MTB 

The global trend towards adventure riding has not ebbed since lockdown ended. It’s grown.

Better all-terrain bikes, tyres, apparel, bags and accessories have made the possibility of touring deep into isolated areas viable for average riders. You no longer need to be a professional adventurer or elite Sufferfest specialist to achieve that mindful exploration ride.

And there is no greater terrain for true adventure riding than the Karoo. American, Australian and South American semi-arid desert terrain doesn’t have the diversity of geology, history and mystery the Karoo has.

Karoo riding
Isolation is a very real experience, in the gigantic Karoo landscape. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

All the stats and soul in one go

Cycling is beholden to statistics. Data points become numbers of references for riders, it’s human nature, especially in the era of ‘measurable everything’. And that means we want to ride further. To achieve. But without sacrificing the purity of that Karoo experience.

There’s an event that allows you to embrace all your subconscious longing for that deep Karoo riding experience. And accomplished an extreme cycling data achievement, too. It’s the Karoo Burn. And it’s brutal.

Karoo riding
Mechanicals will happen. The Karoo dust and terrain, is merciless on mountain bikes and their components. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

It includes 'that' Karoo road

Experienced 4x4 drivers and off-road motorcyclists know the Karoo’s most forbidding road. It’s the R355, which ranks as South Africa’s longest section of dirt road and forms a core part of the Karoo Burn route.

The total event distance is 242km. That’s an unhealthy distance to pedal a bike, off-road. But harvesting the mindfulness and self-awareness of a deep Karoo experience can never come easy. That would make it inauthentic.

Karoo riding
Riding in a group has its aero advantages, but you don’t want to become the weakest link in that train, when it is your time to lead. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

Everyone suffers the same 

Like all of nature’s most majestic amphitheatres, the Karoo is neutral. It has no qualms with you. But you enter its realm as a visitor, not an equal.

At the Karoo Burn, temperatures will be extreme. The sun will discipline your ego. Those vicious Karoo headwinds will trigger all the residual despondency you keep hidden from friends and family. But this is what extreme Karoo riding is supposed to do: removing your layers of comfort.

Karoo riding
There is no shame in pushing. Riding 242km in a day, isn’t normal. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

Trick kit won't reduce your anxiety 

The Karoo Burn is a deep cycling democracy. You can arrive with the latest aero gravel bike, spinning low-friction ceramic bearings, but once the Karoo Burn's distance triggers your imposter syndrome, gear matters less.

And the stuff you can’t order online or buy start mattering a lot more. Like resolve. Like wanting to roll all 242 of those Karoo Burn kilometres.

Karoo riding
Beyond the halfway mark, this is the state of distress that many riders feel. (Photo: Justin Reinecke/zcmc.co.za)

It doesn't matter who wins 

If everything in your life is a confluence of happiness, enduring a Karoo Burn will serve you a generous helping of gratitude on the side dish of suffering. If your life’s dark, the Karoo Burn will match it and give you some parallel therapy and relief – if only for a day.

Like all meaningful life experiences involving wheels, human effort and isolation, nobody really cares or remembers who wins the Karoo Burn. Or even makes the top ten. It’s the finishing that matters. And answering the Karoo’s call.  

If you haven’t scheduled anything for the last weekend of February, the Karoo Burn beckons.

Entry is R1990 per rider, and you can choose to go solo, as a team of two, or four. A deep pain cave experience, but if you need some Karoo therapy of activity, it’s still a lot cheaper than one of those silent retreats. Just remember your lucky socks

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