Group Rides To Make You Love Cycling Even More
Nothing embodies the spirit of cycling better than the group ride. Here are 14 of the best ones in SA. From Cape Town to Bloemfontein to KZN – By André Valentine
Whether it’s an attack-in-the-hills, sprint-for-the-last-streetlight snakefest, or just a leisurely outing for a coffee reward, the group ride invokes a sense of satisfaction and camaraderie, arguably second only to that feeling you get at the end of a race.
No two groups are the same: each has its own vibe, attracts a certain type of rider, and provides a certain reward afterwards, whether it’s a post-ride coffee or a year-end trophy. Whatever the reason, they get thousands of people on the road every day… no entry fee required!
We take a look at some of the country’s best-known group rides, and speak to those who have experienced them or who have a hand in making them happen – to get a first-hand account of what makes each one special.
When: Tuesday to Friday, 4.45am
Starting point: Engen garage, Main Rd, Bryanston
A pillar of the Johannesburg cycling scene, the Engen2Engen can attract a huge turnout and has a long history of putting the city’s best riders to the test. With only 400m of climbing, the route is pretty fast; riders usually average about 38km/h.
There are a couple of short, steep climbs on the route. Wicklow Hill, a 1min45sec all-out effort on a 7% gradient, is the first, and is renowned as a section of the route where attacks are popular. You’re offered a brief respite before you hit Jan Smuts Drive, which sees the pace accelerate again, thinning out the peloton even further. By the top of Jan Smuts, there are generally only five to 10 riders left at the front.
As the first ride of the week, the Tuesday outing is the pick of the roster. Everyone goes pretty much full gas all the way, but with big bunches come lots of attacks – no waiting if you get dropped.
“There’s definitely an element of competition to the Engen2Engen; but at the same time, everyone’s there to get in a really hard ride. You won’t find guys sitting in to save themselves. There’s usually quite a mix, with some of the elites joining in, a lot of the very strong sub-vets and vets, and then some more social riders as well.”
– Richard Damant, Engen2Engen regular
Simply rock up at the start… if you have the legs for it.
CycleLab Club Ladies Ride
Distance: 5 to 15km
When: Friday mornings
Start Point: PwC Bike Park reception area, Libertas St off Sloane St, Bryanston
This is a leisurely social ride originally meant for (but not limited to) ladies. The routes change constantly, as the group leader plots the course based on the ability of the participants on the day.
The PwC Bike Park is an enclosed urban off-road riding centre with 13km of varied trails that can be mixed and matched for many different outcomes. There are shower facilities available, so you don’t need to head back home to freshen up if you’re going to work after the ride.
While most riders are already members of the bike park or Cycle Lab’s Supercycling club, day visitors can also join the ride – just pay the entry fee to the park.
“These rides are energetic, and all about having fun and socialising with other cyclists. On most occasions, skills classes are offered with the ride, conducted by an internationally certified instructor.”
– Marcellus Hood, GM of PwC Bike Park
Visit bikepark.co.za for news on upcoming rides, and click on the ‘Contact Us’ box if you have any questions.
White Inc South to the Trees
When: Notification from White Inc
Start Point: Croft & Co, Tyrone Ave, Parkview
This is a relatively flat but scenic ride that takes on the farm roads south of Johannesburg. It’s a loop course that follows a downhill route on departure, meaning there’ll be a few climbs on the return. The toughest are on Butchers Hill, as well as the climb back up from the Valley, which could be into a headwind.
“This is a relaxed, social ride; but it gets quicker. There’s an air of friendship and adventure, for those who want to see an area south of Johannesburg less ridden now, but on the same routes the majority of riders used regularly in the 90s.”
– Nic White, former pro, and team principal of Team RoadCover
Visit whiteinc.co.za for updates on the latest rides, or contact Nic at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ICG (Illovo Cycle Group)
Distance: Weekdays ±35km, Saturdays ±100km
When: Tuesday to Saturday
Start Point: Engen garage, corner Glenhove & Oxford Rd, Melrose
This one’s another staple of Johannesburg’s group-riding culture, and its weekday rides have followed a set schedule for many years now.
Tuesdays are flat and fast out east to Bedfordview, with one notable climb over Sylvia’s Pass. Wednesdays are a tough tempo ride out to Randburg and along Bram Fischer drive, Thursdays the hills up Northcliff, and Fridays a relaxed coffee ride out west, towards Roodepoort. Saturdays alternate between a 90km airport loop eastwards, and a tougher 110km ride to the Cradle of Humankind.
The bunch is often split into A and B – especially on Tuesdays, and often Wednesdays too. This is to cater for a wider range of cycling abilities on these high-intensity days. The Tuesday A bunch is a proper workout that can average over 30km/h. On Saturdays on the ride east, the toughest part of the ride is the slightly uphill drag along Atlas Road, where the hammer is often put down.
This is a strong group; they say a sub-3-level 94.7 rider is probably good enough to be in B batch. So join with pleasure, but be prepared to work hard – and get dropped if you’re not strong enough.
“The bunches are incredibly welcoming to new riders. ICG is easily one of the safest and most well-coordinated group rides in Johannesburg. It’s facilitated and managed via a WhatsApp group that has in excess of 250 members – many of whom are active riders. While there are many informal bunch rides in Joburg, what sets ICG apart is the fact that you know you can expect to be looked after, and our cyclists ride responsibly and sensibly.”
– Greg Judin, long-standing ICG member
Contact ride captain Laurent Scholtz at email@example.com, to be added to the ride WhatsApp group.
Compendium Tri-X Multisport Club Ride
Distance: Tue-Fri 90min, Sat 80-110km
When: Tuesday to Saturday
Start Venue: outside La Lucia Virgin Active, Armstrong Ave, Umhlanga
A fun, fast and testing coming-together of Durban cycling enthusiasts. This group has an MTB and a road race, and even welcomes the odd triathlete into the mix. The route changes from day to day.
Tuesday rides are the hilly route, averaging 30km/h, while Wednesday is a cruise and a run for triathletes. Thursday is the hard mid-week ride, comprising town circuits at an average of 38-40km/h. And Friday is a coffee cruise.
But the pick of the lot is the Saturday ride. It’s normally to Ballito and back, either stopping at the airport to do a loop of the grounds and get some speed going, or continuing through Ballito to the hills in Compensation or Shakaskraal. It averages 30-35+km/h, and the ride home is normally a good hard ‘race’ back for some coffee.
“This is a friendly get-together, that suits anyone from the above-average club rider to those competing for top race spots in road, MTB and even triathlon. Every ride is different, and most are about the get-together rather than competition.”
– Andrew Hill, pro mountain biker for Team TIB
Contact Terrance Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org, for info on the next ride.
Cadence Cycling Inanda Valley Rides
When: Saturday mornings
Start Point: Lillies Quarter Lifestyle Centre, Old Main Rd, Hillcrest
This is an MTB event, offering non-technical riding; but it does take on an ascent in the Inanda Valley that goes up 1 100m across 20km, with some gradients reaching as high as 24%.
Despite this, it’s still a social ride meant for beginner and intermediate riders, and it attracts upwards of 60 riders every Saturday. To ensure that everyone can deal with the climb out of the valley, the race leader takes the group up an easier hill. If the whole group survives, then they drop into Inanda Valley to climb their way out. A post-ride coffee and breakfast caps off this sociable event.
“We split the groups, to cater for strength – there’s a social group, and a very social group! Beginner-level riders do the relaxed ride, and the intermediates do the social ride. We have a chilled, welcoming vibe that’s all about being friendly, and enjoying the time on the bike.”
– Mark Carroll, owner of Cadence Cycling Centre
Contact Mark Carroll on WhatsApp, at 076 570 1420, for info on the next ride.
430 Club Gateway
Distance: Various (depending on route)
When: Monday to Saturday
Start Point: Umhlanga Gateway Garage Circle
This is a social group, perfect for intermediate riders who enjoy the catch-up and coffee at the end just as much as turning the pedals. They ride at a pace that is quick, but not hard; and the route varies, but normally includes hills.
Each route provides its own challenges. There’s a longer, faster ride towards King Shaka airport and back, which tends to bring out a few egos. But there’s also a circuits route around King’s Park stadium, a Friday coffee ride, and long rides on weekends towards Ballito or Shakaskraal.
“The guys and gals in this group enjoy riding, but don’t take it too seriously. The vibe is definitely more focused on the social and fun aspect of the ride. Post-ride coffee is usually at Seattle Coffee in Umhlanga Gateway Circle during the week, but often the ride will end at Tasha’s in Gateway for some breakfast.”
– Andrew Hill
Contact Athol Dand at email@example.com to be added to the WhatsApp group.
Paul Kruger Group
Distance: Weekdays 90min, Saturdays 180min
When: Tuesday to Saturday
Start Point: Corner Paul Kruger Ave and Stegman St, Universitas
This road crew plans its routes on an impromptu basis. Although Bloemfontein is mostly flat, their ride sometimes takes them hill hunting across the city. If not, they make their way out of town, sometimes going all the way to Dewetsdorp – a round trip of 160km, give or take. The rides attract anything from 10 to 40 riders; they are a group for all types; and although most of the regular riders aren’t novices, they will turn back for slower riders who are.
LHP Baptist Church Group
Distance: Weekdays 90min, Saturdays 180min
When: Tuesday to Saturday
Start Point: Langenhovenpark Baptist Church, Van Blerck St, Groenvlei
This is an MTB group that does long, slow rides on Bloemfontein’s trails. They’re accommodating, often choosing an easier route if there are any novices in the group; when it’s just experienced riders or regulars, they take on the more technical routes. One of these is the Seven Dams trail, which is a rocky route requiring excellent skill and line choice.
In keeping with their attitude to novices, the group has a policy of turning back for slower riders. Also, because these rides may sometimes attract small numbers (between 10 and 20 riders), the MTB group joins the Paul Kruger road group every now and then for interval sessions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and sometimes for a weekend ride.
“Both these rides have a friendly vibe with lots of joking, which keeps this crew ticking. The roadies are sometimes more serious than the mountain bikers, but not by much. We also train with a plan; we don’t just ride. When we do intervals, we ride hard, and try to do fun things too. We train together, and we always help each other – no matter what.”
– Francois Oosthuizen, ride organiser
Contact Francois on WhatsApp at 083 625 6196, to be included on the WhatsApp group.
Distance: 36km loop
When: Tuesday to Friday, 5.30am
Start Point: BP garage, corner Main Rd and 10th Ave, Walmer
This group ride is renowned for its speed – and the scenery along the way. The route is flat and fast, and follows the coastline for about 20km on Marine Drive, which is wonderfully scenic. Then you cruise back into town along the beachfront, and then head past the airport and back to the start.
The level of rider ability varies vastly. On most days you’ll see riders of all levels, from coffee cruisers to serious cyclists. But Wednesday is reserved for racing, and this is when the fastest riders steal the show. If a westerly is blowing, the ride gets really fast along Marine Drive until you hit the beachfront.
There is one short sharp climb, up a section of La Roche Drive (1km at 3%) – this often results in a straight shootout for the top of the hill.
“The group is very social and friendly – whichever day you ride. On Wednesdays though, or when a strong westerly is blowing, the seriousness ramps up, as you need to be ready for speed. But people are very friendly in the windy city, and anyone is welcome to come along for a ride and a good chat.
“This ride is especially popular for its speed and good-natured competitiveness on fast days. Everyone loves to cruise along at 45-50km/h without going into the red.”
– Jarred Salszwedel, Cycling coach
Rock up at the start, and be ready to roll!
The Stellenbosch Flandria Group Ride
Distance: 3-4 hours (for both MTB and road)
Start Point: Various, dependent on route
With various start points and multiple route options, both the road and MTB rides in this group are always adventures. However, they’re also challenging, with the aim of testing you so that you can get better.
Rides usually happen at (or close to) race pace, and routes vary between tough, high climbs – sometimes including the infamous Franschhoek Pass, among others – and rolling terrain, to suit heavier, more power-based riders. There is also a lot of pride in the group, which fuels competition.
The group is welcoming to new members, but consensus suggests you should be a sub-4hr Cape Town Cycle Tour rider or better to really enjoy this ride.
“This is a group of friendly riders who all get along, and we’re welcoming to newcomers. We are a fast group, with lots of competition; but we also have empathy, and will wait for newbies not used to the route and for those who suffer mechanicals. Also, while we are a bunch of strong, experienced racers, the group acknowledges that you can’t be at your best all the time.”
– Linus van Onselen, owner, Flandria Cycles
Contact Flandria Cycles at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the WhatsApp group.
CVA (Claremont Virgin Active)
Distance: You name it
When: Monday to Sunday
Start Point: Engen garage, corner Protea & Main Rd, Claremont
This ride could be 50km or 200km; it could finish back where it started, or when the last rider can’t go on any longer. It all depends on the whim of the group leader, and the strength of that last man (if the last man quits but no-one is there to see it… did it really happen?).
It’s faster than your average group ride, and attracts the best riders, although anyone can rock up on the day; still, it’s generally not a good idea if you don’t think you’ll have the strength to follow through. The ride is challenging, but the bunch is fun – it’s no wonder Bicycling gear editor Oli Munnik is a proud member of this group.
“Challenging and fun, with lots of humour. It’s a coming together of great mates who have loads of years of riding and fun times between them. The guys are pretty serious though, and the rides are generally faster than a ‘club’ ride.
“But as we’re friends (or soon to be friends), there’s a lot of joking around – the idea is to have fun, with guys who graft hard and just want to have a great ride session. With a laugh.”
– Trevor Seinen, head of CVA
Contact Trevor at 083 254 8305 to be added to the WhatsApp group
When: Tuesday to Friday, 4.45am
Starting point: BP garage, corner Mildred & De Bron Ave, Kenridge
This group has been going – on mountain bikes – since 2005, and comprises riders of all ages and from all walks of life. And the rides, often done while others are sleeping and long before the sun rises, are known to strike fear and lactic acid into the legs of those brave enough to join one – there are usually around four per week, of varying distance and pace, with a bunch of guys who like riding hard.
Tuesday is the toughy. It’s pretty much full-on racing, over a 30km urban assault course through the suburbs of Durbanville, Plattekloof and Burgundy, before heading back to Kenridge via the infamous Tiekiedraai climb.
Some brave souls have pitched up on road bikes before, but usually meet their fate when the dikwiele hit their stride and start unloading serious dollops of wattage up the slopes of Tiekie. There’s even an annual trophy for the rider with the most KOMs in the year up this slog of a climb: the KOTS trophy – for King of Tiekie Summit, of course.
“There’s always a sense of trepidation when joining one of these brutal rides. The pace is usually mellow for the first 10km, but eventually starts ramping up – especially when somebody goes off the front. Things get mental once Tiekiedraai is in sight. This is usually when the group splinters, and the battle begins – for bragging rights, and much-needed ‘points’ for the KOTS trophy.”
– Aaron Borrill, Bicycling Online Editor
Contact Braam Rust on 082 822 0799 to be added to the WhatsApp group.
Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club Night Ride
Distance: 10 to 12km
When: Thursdays, 7pm
Starting point: Bloemendal Wine Estate, Tygerberg Valley Rd, Durbanville Hills
The Tygerberg Night Ride has been going for many years now, and takes place at the club’s headquarters at the Bloemendal Trail Park on Bloemendal Wine Estate. Tygerberg’s one of the oldest clubs in the country, and has roughly 130km of trails available to its members. Thursdays are special though, as that’s the only day members can ride at night; usually a 12km ride through the lower and upper trails of Bloemendal and Majik Forest. It’s largely weather-dependent, but everything you need to know is clearly communicated via the club’s official channels.
What makes this ride so popular among members is that the evening caters for the whole family; there’s always good food on offer, entertainment for the kiddies, live music – as well as the occasional celebrity pro rider: Ariane Luthi, Jennie Stenerhag, Karl Platt, Simon Stiebjan and Nino Schurter have all participated in the club’s night rides before.
And yes, you can race it or cruise it, or even run it if you want to.
“Nothing beats riding in the dark, and racing mates through awesome, purpose-built trails for a well-earned boerie roll. The Tygerberg MTB Club Night Ride is unique in that there’s something for everyone – no matter if you’re there to pin it, win it, or just enjoy a drink with family and friends. The vibe is excellent, and you never feel left out.”
– Aaron Borrill
Simply rock up at the start, and purchase a day permit… members get in free!