Bregan travelled to South Africa to race the first edition of the Karoobaix followed by some days of bikepacking. With him: our Erdgeschoss. Read his report and enjoy the impressive photos by David Malan and John Watson.
By Bregan Koenigseker
KAROOBAIX is a new two-day 395km stage race for modern gravel-style bicycles through the South African Klein Karoo. The first edition was held on 9 + 10 October 2017. The name KAROOBAIX (pronounced ka-roo-bay) pays homage to the Paris-Roubaix race, the murderous European Classic that earned itself the nickname Hell of the North. With this spirit, Karoobaix set out to challenge riders through the unique, spectacular and sometimes inhospitable semi-desert region of the Klein Karoo in the Western Cape of South Africa. The race is the brainchild of Stan Engelbrecht, known for his Tour of Ara event, and would be the first “gravel” event in South Africa.
Through my agency Crank! Communication over the last three years I’ve been asked more and more often to attend gravel events like Dirty Kanza and Nova Eroica, and a year and a half ago one trip took me from the Dirty Reiver, a gravel grinder on the Scottish border, to a 5-day bikepacking adventure in South Africa through the Klein Karoo. The confirmation for the Karoobaix trip came late, and I was running short on time and still did not have a bike worthy to be seen on The Radavist, who I would be accompanying on this trip. The Standert Erdgeschoss, with its retro paint scheme reminiscent of the Merckx Team Stuttgart or Moser frames from the 90’s, looked like the perfect bike with its combination of steel and carbon for all day grinding. The Standert team sprung into action to put together a loaner with Peter stopping everything to transfer components from my Niner RLT-9 AL whose ultra stiff, unforgiving ride I would not miss in the least.
The plan was to ride the Karoobaix race (400km) and then bikepack 5 days (300km) to visit a rarely seen part of the world called die Hel (“the Abyss”) which we would reach from “the Ladder”, a 400m bouldering descent with loaded bikes. Though the Erdgeschoss is made for racing cyclocross, I would be using Apidura bikepacking bags and sleeping in a bivvy sack with a stowable lightweight backpack for occasional load carrying so rack mounts were not on my list of necessities.
The Niner also had a double chainring drivetrain which had not gotten much use so Peter installed a 40-tooth SRAM 1x11 (11-36) with Force cranks. To make it roll, we used the sturdy aluminium American Classic Argent 700c Tubeless wheelset from the Niner but swapped the 32c Schwalbe tires for Panaracer Gravel King SK 43mm compliments of WM Trading. This left plenty of mud clearance, not that there would much use for that in the high desert but good to know. I finished it off with a Brooks Cambium C13 145 and Brooks Rubber Bar Tape and the bike was ready to be packed for Cape Town.
After arrival we were shuttled in two vans from Woodstock Cycleworks to Calvinia, a small village 4 hours and 1000m northeast of Cape Town. A warm dinner and short nights’ sleep was followed by a euphoric start in the pitch dark at 5am. However the sun rose to a long and brutal day characterised by horrible corrugations, relentless headwind, and abundant sand. The anti-highlight was a 350-vertical-meter hike-a-bike at 25%+. Everyone walked except for the stage winner, who had recently made the rounds as a european pro. Blogger John Watson and 8 other riders succumbed to the effort and would not start stage 2. I hobbled in the sag at km 175 destroyed and in a foul mood, not caring about my placing.
The next morning my knee was still hurting from the day before and it was minus 2°C outside before the 6am start. In the night someone had cleaned my bike and oiled my chain and I couldn’t do anything else but climb back on and try to ride. A funny anecdote came as we rolled out of Sutherland listening to a South African try and remember the word for the “white stuff on the fields”. He was referring to the frost.
My knee held up and day 2 turned out to be what I had come for: really fun and interesting terrain, breathtaking scenery, tough climbs and fast riding. Combined with perfect weather and some memorable food stops, it was one of the best days of my life on a bike. I rolled into the finish in Matjesfontein in 14th place where we hung out in the quiet street in front of our Victorian hotel, drinking beer and champagne and cheering each rider crossing the finish. Later we ate a massive dinner and congratulated each other for surviving two very tough days at the first-ever Karoobaix. All documented on the Radavist.
The following day, seven of us set out on a tour to Hell, documented by David Malan.
For more details on the race, read the race report on my blog.
All in all the Erdgeschoss was a stellar ride for both the race and the bikepacking. There were countless long and rocky descents at high speed and the bike gave me the confidence to not fear for my life. On some of the longer and hairier segments it felt like a motorcross the way it rocked from front to back fluidly, and I don’t know if it was the build, but I never heard as much as a rattle - this is one solid bike. The Erdgeschoss wanted more than I could give it, but then again with guys like Peter riding on it that shouldn’t have been a surprise. I can’t wait to try it out soon as a singlespeed!
As for the 1x11 drivetrain, its important to choose the front ring for the type of riding you will be doing, not to mention your level of fitness. That being said the 40t turned out to be a good choice, and knowing there are fewer parts means less can go wrong.
Upon my return, instead of returning it to be used as a demo, I enquired into a payment plan. The Erdgeschoss stays with me!