You know when you find something hugely fun or exciting or satisfying and you just want to share it with someone? Well, that’s what a Pretoria couple have done for the past 10 years by inviting people to a unique mountain bike event that they host on their property. I got to ride the Rotsvas Challenge for the first time this past Sunday. It was more than two hours of tough technical toil and I won’t hesitate to return. Here’s why…

By Sean Badenhorst

It was full focus for almost two-and-a-half hours for me. In my element!

Is it cruel or kind to have a really tough mountain bike race over two laps of the same route? That’s what I was asking as I reluctantly started Lap 2 of the most challenging 13km I have ridden in, well, my life.

I could hear the happy voices of spectators and the oompah band. I could smell the fresh food and strong coffee. I could see the riders that had started ahead of me but had decided not to do a second lap, ringing Swiss cow bells with an enthusiasm I envied. I could feel the rain falling on my skin. I could decide to just do one lap and join the cow-bell crew, but then that would be not completing a race. And I always complete a race I start.

And besides, it’s only another 13km. Shortened from 14km due to the rain which had been falling all night and which had made some sections potentially dangerous. I counted off those 13 kilometres with the diligence of a five-year-old counting down the days to Christmas. Until I eventually crossed the finish line where my whole body thanked me for stopping.

Adrienne and Anton Moolman open up their home – and their hearts – to fellow mountain bikers each year for the Rotsvas Challenge.

The Rotsvas Challenge is an annual mountain bike race that started out as a private event, but has now been made public with a limit of only 100 entrants. Anton and Adrienne Moolman are the married couple that organise the event – in their front garden. It’s not your average front garden. It’s also not your average mountain bike event.

I was able to ride everything on Lap 1, which Anton tells me is the hardest they have made the route because they wanted the 10th edition to be even more challenging and memorable.

The key features are rock – plenty of it – and the fact that you are either climbing it or descending it. In order to climb and descend uneven, steep rock faces, you need to be both skilled and powerful. You also need to be able to pick lines well. A dropper seatpost isn’t essential, but it’s most useful. I chose to do the event on a Morewood Yebo trail hardtail with 650b Plus wheels and a dropper seatpost.

Anton Moolman in control

While I enjoyed the impressive grip I got from the Plus tyres on the wet rock, I did find myself missing some rear suspension at times. But the Rotsvas Challenge is more about the rider than the bike. A good, strong rider can complete it on just about any bike.

Except for a short section on a paved road and the final climb up a steep tar road, the entire lap requires you to be super focussed. You can’t afford not to be because you will lose momentum for sure and when you lose momentum on rocky trails, the penalty can be high. The Moolmans have, for more than a decade, been passionately handcrafting these trails, making a very rugged hillside into something rideable by adding bits of cement to close wheel-threatening holes and plenty of wooden crossings to help you gain a brief bit of rhythm and capture your breath before the next testing segment.

Adrienne Moolman always has a ready smile, even on the tricky bits.

With the consistent rain falling, my second lap was a bit more challenging than the first. Small streams of water had begun flowing down some of the rock and while there isn’t really much traditional-style mud on the route, there is some sand and this, combined with water can cost you some traction when you need it most. I dabbed a couple of times on Lap 2, but almost welcomed the short back and leg stretch I could take before remounting.

My first lap took me 1 hour 11 minutes to complete and my second lap took me 1 hour 15 minutes to complete for a total time of 2 hours 26 minutes (the official results were too kind to me, showing a time of 2:13). My overall average speed was 10.8kph for the 26km which included 452 metres of climbing.

For perspective, Armand du Toit won the race in a total time of 1:40, with Sarah Hill claiming the women’s title in 1:53 for fourth overall. Not surprisingly, Anton Moolman was fifth overall and Adrienne Moolman was sixth overall, a minute behind him. They both seemed happy to be beaten, knowing and appreciating what kind of rider it takes…

Men’s race winner, Armand du Toit.

Rocks, technical trails and (warm) rain. Three of my favourite mountain biking things. They were all there. Yes, it was tough, but at no point did I feel it was too tough to complete. I am quite skilled and currently fairly fit and strong. All essential in completing this if you’re contemplating it for 2021. There is also a one-lap race option and a kiddies race.

Women’s race winner, Sarah Hill.

The feeling of conquering the route – twice – was hugely rewarding. The warm welcome from the sympathetic cowbell crew was hugely satisfying. The cold Hazeldean Craft beer was hugely refreshing. But the best thing about the Rotsvas Challenge is that Anton and Adrienne love what they have developed so much that they want to share it with everyone.

For full results, head over here.