Riding the Transbaviaans by hand

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Gabriel having the authentic South African endurance mountain bike experience (Photo: Peter Kirk)
Gabriel having the authentic South African endurance mountain bike experience (Photo: Peter Kirk)

The Transbaviaans is one of South Africa’s most iconic single-day events. Amazing, but brutal. 

It sees teams of mountain bikers ride from Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay, through the beautiful Baviaanskloof.

The event necessitated a slight change in the format, with riders facing severe time cuts along the route to adhere to governments curfew regulations, and finish before 21:00. 

With a 230km route that comprises 2540km of vertical ascent on iconic climbs such as the Mac, Bergplaas and Fangs, riders need to be well prepared. 

One incredible finisher of the most recent Transbaviaans was hand cyclist Gabriel Gomes. Johannesburg resident Gomes broke his back competing in a motorcycle race four years ago, which left him paralysed from the chest down.

While scrolling through Instagram during his rehab period, Gomes spotted an off-road handcycle and figured it was the perfect replacement for his former motorcycle hobby.

"Following my accident, life had become mundane and boring and I needed a challenge. Justin Jeffrey from the rehab I spent time at is a keen cyclist and motivated me to get into cycling, so I started training on my new steed," said Gomes.

"Justin and I had planned to take on Joburg2C, with no pressure to finish, rather just to see how far we could get, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic."

"I had been doing the training, so decided to enter the gruelling 100-miler Race 2 the Sun, which I finished comfortably earlier this year. When the TNT Bombers saw me finish that, they realised that I was fit enough and invited me to join them for the Transbaviaans."

Gomes rides a Lasher three-wheeler off-road handcycle that utilises a Bafong e-bike motor. 

"My Lasher has full suspension and drive is to the front wheels, so as long as the front wheel is in the path and has traction, I can ride anywhere I want, comfortably, including singletrack."

"I do enjoy the challenges of the longer gravel events like Race2 the sun and Transbaviaans and the pedal assistance of the e-bike motor allows me to keep up with my buddies on normal bikes. I ride bikes for fun, not competitively, so it’s perfect for me," boasts Gomes. 

Similar to two-wheeled e-bikes, there is always a trade-off between the amount of assistance and the range.

"For Transbaviaans I had three batteries but on the day I realised that I was not getting the range I had expected due to the steepness of the climbs, so I had to dial back the assistance to go the distance. There were times during the Transbaviaans that I thought about throwing in the towel. However, my normal wheelchair had gone by bakkie to the finish in Jeffreys Bay, so I really had no choice but to keep pedalling," says Gomes. 

Gomes says that completing the Transbaviaans was possible thanks to help from his TNT bomber teammates - Justin Jeffrey, Kerrin Lynch and Charl Kaschula. 

"They assisted me with everything from filling my bottles to crossing water crossings and finding a private spot when nature calls. The water crossings were slightly concerning as we were worried about the low slung electronics getting wet, but they weren’t too deep this year and my mate was able to push me through like a wheelbarrow," quips Gomes.

As the route approaches Jeffreys bay, the narrow singletrack almost had the final say as Gomes had to turn the pedal assistance right down to conserve the battery, but then struggled to keep momentum across the extremely rough terrain. 

Fortunately, his teammates fashioned a plan with a few tubes, towing him through that section, preventing the depletion of the last battery, a few kilometres from the finish line.

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