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You haven’t experienced a full life until you have ridden your mountain bike through a sunrise and a sunset in the Karoo. That’s exactly what you get when you complete The 36ONE MTB Challenge. Plus a lot more in the 361km race with almost 5000 metres of ascent.  The 12th edition of South Africa’s ‘Ultimate MTB Race’ takes place from 12-14 May and here are nine good reasons you should do it!

1 It’s the Ultimate Challenge

Three hundred and sixty-one kilometres is one heck of a distance to cover on a bicycle. At an average speed of 20kph it will take you just over 18 hours. The cut-off time limit is 36 hours, which leaves an average speed of 10kph to beat it. Almost anyone can average 10kph, but would you want to? No, you want to cover the route as quickly as possible. Nice thought, but in reality an ultra-endurance race will take you through different stages of physical strength and through a range of emotions. Pre-race plans get dumped as your need to sustain energy and maintain strength and composure dominate. And 361km on a mountain bike will take you from high to low and back to high again. Maybe more than once. One thing is certain though, whether you finish first or last or somewhere in the middle, crossing that finish line will become one of your greatest achievements.

2 You race through the night

You know how when you do a night ride, it feels different to a regular day ride? Well imagine that feeling ALL night… One thing that makes the 36ONE MTB Challenge special is its timing. It starts at 15h00, which gives you about three hours of daylight to get settled before you ride into the dark. The dark in the Karoo is rather special in that there’s no light pollution and you get to see and appreciate our planet’s night sky at its best. The winners finish in just over 13 hours – in the dark – but for most, there’s the incredible Karoo sunrise to experience from your saddle. It’s truly memorable. Most riders will finish during the daylight of the second day, but some will ride into a second sunset on their way to trying to beat the 36-hour cut-off at 03h00 on the Saturday. There’s no extra charge for the second  Karoo sunset, but you’ll need to switch on your lights again…

3 It’s a circular route

It’s not a perfect circle, obviously, but you do circumnavigate from and back to the start/finish at Kleinplaas Holiday Resort. This means that you get to face every direction on the compass during your quest to conquer the 36ONE MTB Challenge, which is not something many mountain bike events can offer. Why does this matter? Well, when you’re spending a very long time in the saddle, the scenery better be both beautiful and changing, right?

4 Gravel bikes are permitted

For the first time, gravel bikes are permitted at the full-distance race at the 36ONE MTB Challenge. Previously permitted in the ‘Half’, gravel bikes have steadily become more popular and in recent years and the wheel/tyre technology has improved to the point where they’re more durable and therefore more capable of taking on such a big challenge. While the route is entirely on gravel roads, they’re not the pristine gravel road sectors you see on the Tuscan landscape at the Strade Bianche. No, these are South African gravel roads in the Karoo, which can range in condition from smooth and predictable to rutted, sandy, stony and, definitely corrugated. Any advantage gained by a gravel bike in terms of efficiency will still come with higher risk of tyre drama. There isn’t a separate gravel category – gravel bikes and mountain bikes will compete against each other…

5 There’s a 189km ‘Half’ event

If 361km seems too formidable then there’s the ‘Half’, which, at 189km with 2900 metres of vertical ascent is a serious challenge in itself. This event starts at 05h30 on the Saturday and takes in the same route and shares some of the same water points as the full-distance event. So you get the same experience, but a shorter – although not short – route.

6 It’s organised by Dryland Event Management

Established in 2007, Dryland Event Management is one of the most respected mountain bike event companies in South Africa. Among Dryland’s bouquet of mountain bike races are the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, Momentum Medical Scheme Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen and Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer presented by Biogen. These are all UCI-graded races, which attract some of the best mountain bike racers in the world and which meet the highest standards for mountain bike events, including exceptional catering at the water points and at the finish.

7 You can tackle it as a team

If racing 361km or 189km on your own seems a little too extreme, gather your riding mates and enter as a team. You can either race in the two-rider team category for the ‘Full’ or the ‘Half’ (Men, Women or Mixed), or you can give the four-rider relay a bash in the ‘Full’, also divided into Men, Women and Mixed divisions.

8 It’s a full-service race

You can confidently arrive at The 36ONE MTB Challenge on your own if you want to. Your entry includes meals at three of the checkpoints and there’s a range of nourishment, both food and drink, supplied at 11 water points. You’ll have more than enough calorie-rich foodstuff to choose from to be able to keep your engine topped up for the entire race.

9 Supporters are encouraged

But who would want to arrive at The 36ONE on your own, right? The organisers have set up the event so that supporters or family can move between checkpoints easily to support and encourage you. The training for an ultra-endurance race requires a lot of time away from your family, but the race should be a shared experience.

The 2023 edition of the 36ONE MTB Challenge takes place from Friday 12-Sunday 14 May. You can find out more about the event or enter online here. https://www.the36one.co.za

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