As South Africa recovers from the significant disruptions caused by Covid-19 reaction restrictions, Cross-country (XCO) racing is showing an increase in popularity in the mountain bike segment. Record entries are being seen at provincial XCO races already and the first round of the 2022 Gauteng XCO Series, presented by Suzuki this Saturday, already has more than 300 entries.

By Sean Badenhorst | Photos: Dominic Barnardt

The 2021 South African Mountain Bike Survey, presented by Garmin, revealed a 2% growth in XCO racing interest, from 11.25% in 2020 to 13.39% in 2021. This makes XCO racing the fourth most popular form of racing after Marathons (51.73%), Short Stage Races (39.28%) and Half-marathons (36.76%). Consider though that the majority of XCO racers are under the age of 20 and unlikely to have taken this six-minute online survey.

The nature of XCO racing sees it condensed into races that last no longer than 90 minutes on a compact, lapped route that’s stimulating and challenging. The generational shift is happening in South Africa as the offspring of the original mountain bikers (now mostly in their 40s and 50s) are getting their mountain biking kicks in disciplines that are less time consuming and more focussed on fun than endurance, such as XCO, Enduro and Downhill.

There are five rounds in the 2022 Gauteng XCO Series, all taking place in the first half of the year. Suzuki’s sponsorship has allowed the organisers, Gauteng Cycling, to raise the standard of the events and assist the provincial body to channel funds that are normally allocated to safety and medics, to other mountain biking projects, including development and elite racing support.

Because there’s no longer a Spur Schools Series, Gauteng Cycling has added a Lite race option to each round, which gives newer or less-skilled riders an opportunity to race on a lower-risk course. There’s also points-scoring for an inter-schools competition. A number of schools have invested heavily in mountain biking as a school sport in recent years and this allows for the continuation and recognition of that.

The first round of the 2022 Gauteng XCO Series, presented by Suzuki will take place at Grootfontein, Pretoria this Saturday. Over 300 entries have already been received with more expected by the entry deadline at 11h00 on Friday, 18 February 2022.

Mountain bike trails parks have bought into the growth of XCO racing too and are investing in developing permanent XCO courses for riders to be able to practice and improve on any day during the week. The Gauteng XCO Series will take place as follows:

  • Saturday 19 February: Grootfontein, Pretoria
  • Saturday 19 March – Iron Throne, Hartebeespoort
  • Saturday 9 April – Buffelsdrift, Pretoria
  • Saturday 7 May – Race Craft, Vanderbijlpark
  • Saturday 11 June – Thaba Trails, Alberton

“The whole aim of the Lite race option is to introduce riders to XCO with a relatively tamed-down version of the Provincial race, allowing riders to build confidence, skills and fitness,” explained Paola Damilano, organiser of the Gauteng XCO Series.

“Once they’re ready, they can move up to the Provincial race. The Provincial race can be quite intimidating for newer riders because the obstacles are more pronounced and the gradients are steeper. So with the Lite race, we aim to enable progression and get more riders to become focussed on the fun of XCO racing without the fear,” she added.

XCO Racing in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape is of a very high standard and has been for some years. This is largely owing to committed administrators and loyal sponsors, most of whom are parents of eager racers. Provincial XCO races traditionally don’t appeal to the masses, which means that sponsors are difficult to secure. The commitment of Suzuki to the Gauteng XCO Series will add great value to the series in particular, but also mountain biking in the province as a whole

“Suzuki is not just a motorcycle brand, it’s a lifestyle brand. In addition to motorcycles, Suzuki also produces motor cars and motors for boats. The one common thread is enabling families to enjoy outdoor fun,” said Chris Kuun, Suzuki Motorcycle Marketing and PR.

“We started our support of mountain biking with the Like 2 Bike kids mountain bike series and are pleased to be able to expand that in 2022 to the provincial XCO Series. One of our main focus areas at Suzuki is safety, which can be seen in our safe riding and driving courses. With mountain biking, our sponsorship covers the costs for the medical support on race days as well as the Joint Operations Centre, which is essential to ensure the safest possible racing conditions, added Kuun.

Other brands that have invested in the sponsoring the Gauteng XCO Series are EcoLogic (bike wash products), 100% (eyewear products), 32 GI (performance supplements), Med Guys (medical support) and SHRED (media partner).

Normal entries have closed, but late entries will still be accepted until 11h00 on Friday 18 February 2022. Late entries won’t receive a pair of Sox sock though. Entries can be done online:

XCO Lite.

XCO Provincial. 

For more information, contact Paola on 083 2523752 or