The 36ONE MTB Challenge is unquestionably one of the toughest events on South Africa’s cycling calendar. Known as the Ultimate Race it circumnavigates the Klein Karoo, taking in 4 930 metres of climbing in 361 kilometres, between the 12th and the 14th of May this year. It does however also boast a half-distance option, measuring 189 kilometres with 2 900 metres of climbing, which is comfortably more than the 100 milers in the country.

Paid partnership with The 36ONE MTB Challenge

Despite the imposing nature of the tests put forth by the 36ONE MTB Challenge courses, both are infinitely finishable. This is in part due to the generous cut-offs, and in part due to the incredible support riders receive out on the route. The full distance features 11 water points, including the three check points, which help nurse solo riders and teams around the course. Especially from Check Point 2, at Volmoed, onwards many are just riding water point to water point, or oasis to oasis. Which is fine, because each one is set up to ensure the next stretch is a manageable challenge.

Yolande de Villiers is the reigning double solo women’s champion and holds the course record which she set in 2021. | Photo: Shift Media Co.

“The big unknown for 2023 is how gravel bikers will fare against the mountain bikers,” Henco Rademeyer, of Dryland Event Management, mused. “They will certainly be faster along some stretches of the course, but on others the mountain bikes will maintain a big advantage. We’ve had gravel bikers contesting and winning the Half for a few years now, but the full distance is a different beast. Descending the Rooiberg Pass at night could be the section which costs the men and women on drop-bar bikes the most time. Perhaps the undulating but fast run, past Lategansvlei, in the final 30 kilometres will help someone on a gravel bike break Drikus Coetzee’s record of 13 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds?”

Starting at 15:00 on Friday afternoon means that every rider, regardless of how fast they are, will ride through the depths of the night to complete the ultimate race. | Photo: Shift Media Co.

“The other change for this year is the location of the Half start,” Rademeyer confirmed. “Like the full 36ONE MTB Challenge, it will be starting at Kleinplaas Holiday Resort in Oudtshoorn. This means the route will be 8.5 kilometres longer, but it will be logistically much easier for the Half riders as they now also start and finish at the same point.”

Entries to the 2023 36ONE MTB Challenge close on the 3rd of May, so riders wishing to take part only have less than a week to sign up for the Ultimate Race. For those fit enough for the full 361 kilometre test it is an opportunity not to be missed; riding through at least one Klein Karoo sunset and sunrise, and possibly a second sunset too. For the less physically and mentally prepared the 189 kilometre Half race is the ideal stepping stone from tough 100 milers to real ultra-endurance cycling events. For more information or to secure a spot in the twelfth edition visit

The 36ONE MTB Challenge is known as the ultimate race and in 2023 gravel bikers will have the opportunity to test themselves against the 361km course and see if their machines are faster than mountain bikes in the circumnavigation of the Klein Karoo basin. | Photo: Shift Media Co.

Paid partnership with The 36ONE MTB Challenge