A Cyclist's Bucket List
HotChillee Rainmaker Rollercoaster
2018 saw the first ever HotChillee Rainmaker Rollercoaster taking place in South Africa with cyclists from all around the world gathering to ride the seven-day event in the Western Cape. HotChillee have created a tour where riders can choose whether to race, or “ride and survive” the 550km with 8000m of climbing from Swellendam to the coastal resort of Plettenberg Bay. Participants could race in teams of two, or explore the gravel tracks and trails in small groups supported by the HotChillee Ride Captains. There’s something for everyone if you're feeling adventurous!
A seasoned cyclist and one of the most experience HotChillee Ride Captains, completing, to date, over 17 HotChillee events, Dave "The Captain" Kirkby is as much at home off as he is on road. The Australian gives his thoughts on some of his favourite Rainmaker Rollercoaster stages.
Heading through a picturesque national park that adjoins Swellendam, this is a time trial on loose and heavy gravel and, although not far in distance, you will feel it in your legs. Wide gravel tyres and correct pressure will be the order of the day.
A relatively short stage with steep, punchy climbs, so gearing will be important. Especially given that there are a few short sharp hills on stage two and the "Alpe du Huez" climb on Stage 3 (though not that long, I was zig-zagging up this brute so a granny gear is beneficial!).
This is a rouleur’s day with good roads except for the tough final climb which has some rough sections, before a great descent to our stop for the night.
Stage Five is effectively a recovery day for those riding with us in the groups, though I'm sure the racers will be covering the ground quickly. We picked up lots of punctures on this section so be careful on the verges.
My favourite stage of the reconnaissance ride earlier in the year, Stage Six is long and leg sapping through the seven passes, but don't forget to look around as there is plenty of spectacular scenery to be enjoyed. Montague Pass is easy and the descent is just great fun (although there were some washouts so you still have to be on your game!).
The last day, Stage Seven, has some surprises and not an easy day with some tricky roads with larger stones, washouts and jeep track, with one final leg breaker near the end of the stage at 60kms on tired legs before being joined by the awesome kids from Kwano Cycling Academy and being rewarded for a hard week's work with some pizza on the beach at Plettenberg Bay.
The average weather forecast for early October has a daily range of 12/20 degrees celsius, however, we will be starting early and the weather could be quite cold in the morning on the bike. It is still wise to pack arm, knee and leg warmers as well as a gilet and rain jacket. In early April we went over a mountain pass en-route with temperatures dropping to seven degrees and a rain squall so we need to be prepared for both heat and cold. Off the bike as we will be camping out, depending on the package you have booked, so be prepared with a warm down style jacket and beanie as essential items.
Assuming you are riding a gravel bike a very good option is to run tubeless tyres with sealant. Several bikes ran tubes on the recce earlier in the year however we did encounter thorns (the South African Bush can be a tough environment) and therefore numerous punctures. Thorns are difficult to avoid and would advise proceeding with caution when moving off the side of the road where, in some areas, they lay in waiting! The tread pattern does not need to be overly aggressive as the majority of the roads and trails are well made, however in saying that we have some more rugged sections on Stage two and Stage seven through the rainforest.
The Gravel Verdict
Shelley, a participant of the Rainmaker Rollercoaster, was anxious about never having ridden on gravel before but discovered a camaraderie between the riders that put her nerves at ease. “Every new day was a delight as I basked in the diversity of the surrounding beauty, chatting to new people and found that my ability to ride comfortably took a natural progression.” She gave the week-long ride a glowing review, saying “This is an absolute must for anyone, male or female, who celebrate the freedom of cycling, who enjoy new found relationships, and who continue celebrating the memories of the unforgettable places and experiences that being on our bikes brings!”
Henk, another event rider, felt similarly about the other participants, stating “The best thing about the ride for me was that is was very challenging, competitive but major fun! The vibe was amazing. People from all sorts of life, from all around the world came to do it.”
If there’s one word that keeps coming back in reviews of the ride it’s “Fun” - and to take on a fun event you need a bike that can keep giving. The HotChillee Ride Captains all jumped at the chance to get their hands on the new Specialized Diverge Expert X1 Adventure Road Bike and their thoughts on the machine were as glowing as the reviews of the Rainmaker Rollercoaster itself.
David “The Captain” Kirkby, built up his new bike the night before flying out to South Africa and saw some great improvements on this newer model which features tubeless ready Specialized Sawtooth tyres onboard Roval C38 carbon wheels, a SRAM Force X1 groupset with a super-wide 10x42 cassette. Praxis carbon cranks, a full carbon frame (with a striking paint job) and distinctive flared bars add to the unique look. The Captain was impressed with the Diverge’s handling, saying “The route was incredibly varied with soft gravel to technical terrain, hard packed endless roads and mountain passes with speedy descents. The bike handled it all with ease.”
David “The Bull” Bryant was wholeheartedly in agreement saying that the X1 is quite a light set up “so it really feels like a top road bike you can ride on gravel” with “a durable feel of being built to ensure an off-road battering”.
But it’s not just the bike that can withstand a battering - thanks to the cockpit of flanged bars and future shock - The Bull says “The level of comfort and control was off the chart. It is hard to believe how much these two features impact the bike. No sore or battered shoulders, arms or hands even, for 150km on all sorts of terrain.”
To experience the adventure for yourself, check out next year’s event. 5 - 11 October 2019. Registrations are now open. Enter before 28 February and claim a Sigma Sports 10% discount on the current entry price. Enter SIGMASPORTS at the checkout to claim your discount. Click here to find out more and enter.
Photos: Nick Muzik