In May 2018 Seamus Allardice joined Zane Schmahl, Jacques Marais and a group of fellow cycling adventure enthusiasts on the recce ride for the Bikamino – a three day tour through the arid Northern Cape Province. From the once booming mining outpost of O’kiep to the icy waters of the Atlantic Oceanside village of Hondeklipbaai, the Bikamino traversed Namaqualand’s beautiful landscape and took in some of the area’s hidden gems.

The Namaqua Bikamino – gravel riding at its African harshest and best. Photo by Jacques Marais.

My Introduction to the Bikamino

Standing over the new Momsen Vipa Ultra, at the bike’s mid-Cape Epic launch, EcoBound’s Zane Schmahl whispered: “We’re putting together a recce for a new event in the Northern Cape. Would you like to join us?”

That was all it took. I didn’t need any more info or convincing I was in.

The Bikamino map with a signature Wes Kus Platsnoek (AKA Sedgwick’s Old Brown).

Six weeks and a nine hour drive later, the other Bikamino recce riders and myself arrived in O’kiep in the heart of South Africa’s most sparsely populated province for what was to become a memorable three day cycling adventure.

The Bikamino recce crew (from left to right): Alwyn Maass, Dudley Wessels, Dino Lloyd, Anneke Whelan, Seamus Allardice, Hannele Steyn, Robert le Brun, Zane Schmahl, Wikus van der Walt and Charl du Plessis. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Bikamino Gear

With the three day ride being semi-supported, and riders expected to carry everything they would need for a day of riding, hydration packs were essential. That said the 4x4s with photographer Jacques Marais, videographer Frans Fourie and local expert Dudley Wessels were never too far away, so emergency supplies were always on hand. But it was important, as a recce, to see if it was possible to complete the distances unaided; hence the need to carry extra water.

My well used First Ascent Aqueous hydration pack carried all the essentials for a long day on the bike, including a coffee making kit.

Along with the two bottles on my bike I carried a First Ascent Aqueous hydration pack with a 2 litre bladder. I also added my camp stove, a one cup moka pot and enough Terbodore The Great Dane ground coffee beans for three days’ worth of trail side brews.

My bike choice was dictated by Zane’s need to see if the route was gravel bike friendly, so I rode my trusty Specialized Diverge (read more about it here), with a 38c Specialized Trigger Pro at the front and a 33c Trigger Pro at the rear. Ideally I would have rolled on 38c’s all round, but the rear clearance is a bit tight and a slight wobble on my very well used rear rim means that the 38c tyre clips the chainstay, so 33c would and did serve.

Weapon of choice: Specialized Diverge complete with SWAT box for any mechanical misadventures.

Day 1: O’kiep to Naries – 68km with 1460m of climbing

Heading out from the O’kiep Country Hotel I had virtually no idea of what to expect. “Some sections are pretty rough,” Zane warned. He and I were on gravel bikes to test if the route was thin wheel friendly. And the early kilometres certainly were; great hard-packed gravel roads cutting between the koppies and ridgelines of the Northern Cape.

Cutting between the Northern Cape koppies. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Heading out of O’kiep.

Anneke leading the way early on day one.

Dino looking happy to have escaped the big smoke of Joburg for a few days.

The first regroup for a chat by Dudley on the old O’kiep mule drawn cocopan train to the coast.

The Last Lioness, Hannele Steyn, riding alongside EcoBound’s Zane Schmahl.

Rolling through the metropolis of Nababeep.

Soon after passing through the village of Nababeep though we started a sweeping gravel road descent. Skipping over corrugations at speed soon popped a water bottle from one of my bottle cages though. So while the rest of the group sped off I was forced to descend cautiously. By the time the road began to climb again I was probably the only one in the group happy to be going uphill. Not having to focus on remaining upright also gave me a chance to take in the amazing scenery. It is arid but beautiful in Namaqualand – the type of landscape which kindles a respect for the hardy people who eke out a living off the unforgiving land.

The start of the corrugations…

Crossing into private land.

Near the top of the gravel pass we met a local farmer’s wife to receive our passport stamps.

Stamps to prove you rode all the way.

Creative alternative for those of us who forgot to bring our Bikamino passports on the ride.

A proper 4×4 track, complete with what could to all intents and purposes have been a double black diamond descent on my gravel bike, took us from the top of the gravel pass to the base of the intimidating Spektakelpas. The mountain bikers in the group loved the descent, but what followed was definitely better on the gravel bike.

4×4 tracks Namaqua style. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Not exactly gravel bike friendly.

Zane using the thin wheels to pick out the smoothest line.

Perspective on just how steep it was…

Blissfully smooth tar after 50km of gravel, some of it pretty rough.

At a shade under 10km long and gaining 550m in elevation Spektakelpas isn’t the steepest, but in the last 10 kay of a ride and with the temperature nudging up into the mid 30’s it was a significant challenge. With the knowledge that the oasis of Narries Namaqua Retreat awaiting us at the top of the climb I rode it pretty much as hard as I could. Despite that Hannele Steyn soon disappeared from view over the first of the many false summits of the climb. The Last Lioness cruised up Spektakelpas with enviable ease.


After four, five or six (the sun and relentless climbing make the memory fuzzy) false summits I eventually crested the pass and rolled, absolutely exhausted through the gates of Narries. Thankfully the guest house has a pool, so I stripped off my hydration pack, fished my phone and empty bar wrappers from my pockets, and dove in.

Swim time for Charl (left) and Robert (right).

Bliss! Followed by Darling Brew beers, ice water and an amazing lunch.

We capped day one with a relaxed night ride above Narries.

Later, that evening we pedalled up the gravel road above Narries – past their eco-cottages which are set into the mountainside – to the edge of the escarpment. The escarpment overlooks the Spektakelpas and west across the lower hills towards the sun setting into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Narries lapa offers views toward the setting sun.

Jacques in action.

Backlit by the setting sun we rode up and down a few times so Jacques could get shots of the new Extreme Lights Endurance+ bike light in action. Then we retired to the Narries lapa, for a chat from Open Africa about their tourism development work in the area.

The pro’s work. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Mandatory group shot. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Dinner and the last night of the trip in a real bed concluded the opening day of the Bikamino recce.

Dino enjoying a warming sip of the Platsnoek.

Coffee always tastes better brewed on an adventure.

Day 2: Narries to Kookfontein – 84km with 1272m of climbing

My hands had taken a beating on the hoods of my gravel bike on the first day, so when the options for the start of day two were presented there was no way I was taking my 38c and 33c tyres down the 4×4 track. After stamping our Bikamino passports we soft pedalled out of the Narries gates, Zane and the mountain bikers went straight across the tar road while I followed it up a short drag and down the smooth asphalt of the Spektakelpas.

Getting the formalities done before leaving Narries.

Smooth descending via Spektakelpas.

Hooking a left at the bottom of the pass I made my way along a sandy gravel road to the meeting point of the two route options. The Bikamino is full of options like this; offering shorter, technical, routes off the primary red route. Or longer, smoother roads – intended for bike packers on gravel bikes – indicated in green on the official route map.

Robert fulfilling media duties for Frans.

I heard the rest of the group long before I saw them. The distinctive voices of Robert le Brun and Dino Lloyd echoed off the kranse as they descended along a track which followed the power line down the mountain. Reunited, the group followed a sandy road along the banks of the equally dry and sandy Buffelsrivier. Then crossed a fence into private land and started the day’s main climb.

Searching for smooth lines.

Into private land and off what passed in Namaqualand as the well-beaten track.

The climb took us above the ridgeline in the distance.

Charl and his first aid kit, close at hand after Hannele had a brush with a thorn bush earlier in the day.

Within 50m Hannele was well ahead of the rest of the group and as the climb became steeper and looser I gave up on trying to ride, settling rather for a hike-a-bike. I wasn’t alone in my approach and the next hour and a half were spent climbing or trudging up gradients which peaked at over 20% in places. It wasn’t all a hike mind you; most of the climb was rideable, for mortals, not just for Hannele who only walked two sections.

Hike-a-bike selfie.

The long trudge up the steepest section.

20% gradients and limited grip don’t make for easy climbing.

Anneke with the Buffelsrivier Valley far below in the background.


Dino seeking shade.

Zane and Alwyn plotting the route to the Messelpad.

Even in the dry season there are bursts of colour in the Namaqua veld if you look closely enough.

Slightly more gravel bike friendly conditions.

Charl and Wikus making their way along the rolling road toward the Messelpad.

The 4×4 track continued briefly over the summit of the climb before joining a large gravel road known as the Messelpad, which in the 1860s formed part of the copper route from O’kiep to Hondeklipbaai. In those days the route was navigated by ox wagon, before the railway was built to Port Nolloth and the shipping of copper from Hondeklipbaai ceased just a decade later.

The Messelpad

Cheers to an ice cold coca-cola in the middle of nowhere.

Back on the bikes, ticking off kilometres.

Crystal clear mountain water, but only refill your bottles from the pipe.

Dino taking a drink.

And Charl cooling off.

Zane and Robert took the cooling off to the next level.

Robert on the look-out for floating goat droppings…

Hannele giving Anneke a helping hand up the final climb of the day.

The Messelpad led us past herds of goats and hardy sheep, watched over by Anatolian shepherds, into the Namaqua National Park. That section of road, along with the road from Montagu up the Ouberg Pass (Read about that in “Ride to Opsoek”), has to rank as one of my favourite bits of gravel road riding I’ve ever done. For the mountain bikers in the group the road then got even better as it started to descend from the Kamiesberg Mountains, via the Wildeperdehoek Pass, to the Namaqua grasslands below.

An Anatolian shepherd watches as Zane and Charl roll by.

The Wildeperdehoek Pass. Gravel road perfection.

As we were to find out later that evening the grasslands were seeded inadvertently in the 1800’s by settler cattle, which grazed in the Boesmanland in the summer months and wintered in the warmer Namaqualand. The seeds were carried in the cattle’s gut from the Boesmanland in the east, before being deposited in their dung on the Namaqua plains.

The sweeping bends of the Wildeperdehoek Pass. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Me, not keeping up on the descent. Photo by Jacques Marais.

While the mountain bikers bombed down the pass I initially kept up as best I could; but had to stop when my chain rattled completely off the cassette and chainring. Chain tension had become my biggest concern mid-way through day one, when it became clear that my chain was too stretched and my road derailleur too weak to keep it in place as soon as the terrain roughened up. Over the course of the three days I became an expert at stopping, resetting the chain where it had derailed – usually off the lower jockey wheel – and chasing back to the group. Aside from frequent stops this meant I had to ride in the big ring for as much of the route as possible and keep constant pressure on the drivetrain.

Regrouping and reinflating.

Shade is a scarce commodity in the Namaqualand.

Jacques Marais going the extra mile to get the perfect shot.

From the base of the Wildeperdehoek Pass we cut a straight line across the grasslands, turning left towards Soebatsfontein and then turning left again; leaving the great gravel roads behind for a 4×4 track shortcut. The 4×4 route, as with much of the later part of the day’s ride, forms part of the Caracal Eco Route;  a 4×4 fauna and flora viewing route through the Namaqua National Park. While by no means one of the more technical sections of the Bikamino route the sandy tracks at the end of an 80 odd kilometre ride made for slow going. Fortunately Zane and finding the going just as tough on his 40c shod Momsen gravel bike.

There’s nothing like suffering with someone…

The oasis of Kookfontein couldn’t come soon enough. And while Narries is a metaphorical oasis – complete with luxury accommodation in the heart of the Namaqualand – Kookfontein is a literal oasis; complete with palm trees.

The Kookfontein oasis.

Chilling hard. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Kookfontein is an environmental education camp within the park and our campsite under the palms was idyllic. Best of all were the cool waters of the Kookfontein dam, followed closely by the snoek braai dinner.

Snoek braai!

Before dinner we were regaled by a couple of the SANParks staff with tales of yore and were warned of the presence of a very large leopard, which also makes use of the Kookfontein fountain. Unfortunately we didn’t spot the leopard ourselves, though Jacques presented himself as human bait by spending much of the night photographing star trails, in the absence of light pollution, across the clear Namaqua night sky.

It’s totally worth braving a leopard for photos like these! Photo by Jacques Marais.

The Kookfontein wind-pump set against the stars. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Day 3: Kookfontein to Hondeklipbaai – 62km with 615m of climbing

The final day of the Bikamino recce took us from the heart of the Namaqua National Park to the Atlantic Ocean. After two days of exploring black routes whenever possible the route from Kookfontein to Hondeklipbaai was mercifully all on the red, primary, route. Another mercy was that the first 5km featured the only significant climb of the day, a 100m gain up a short gravel pass, on the road to Soebatsfontein.

Rolling out of Kookfontein for the final day of the Bikamino recce.

Robert doing his Martin Dreyer impersonation complete with beard, cap under the helmet and buff on the arm.

The village of Soebatsfontein is encircled by the national park and seems a throwback to times long forgotten. Like many of its fellow Namaqualand towns it rose and fell with the fortunes of the mining industry. What little business takes place there now is limited to tourism in the Namaqua flower season, but hopefully mountain bike touring will add to that income in the years to come. The most remarkable feature of the village is undoubtedly its name. The fountain, which is the lifeblood of the town, marked the spot where in 1898 Hendrik Stievert, a farmhand, begged for his life having been caught stealing cattle. Clemency was however not grated, and Stievert was executed despite his pleas.

Gravel grinding.

Back into the Namaqua National Park.

Exiting Soebatsfontein, our lives intact, we headed due west before swinging south towards Hondeklipbaai. The roads were wide and the gravel reasonably good, apart from one particularly sandy, 50m, section which nearly threw me from my bike. I hit it at nearly 40kph and fishtailed wildly through the first 10m until I had slowed enough to regain control. After surviving the rocky descent on day one it would have been rather embarrassing, but at least soft, to fall in the sand.

The EcoBound Land Cruiser loaded up and headed for the coast.

The group fell to pieces slightly as everyone rode at their own pace towards the Hondeklipbaai turn off.

Lonely gravel road for days. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Everyone was clearly eager to reach our final destination because there were limited stops on the final day. In fact we only stopped twice as a group once for a photo at the sign marking the Hondeklipbaai turn off and one final time to regroup just before we reached the coast.

Regroup for a group photo.

Hannele with her custom Last Lioness Momsen Vipa and Zane with the Momsen R355 gravel bike.

Rolling down to the Aristea shipwreck, were ice cold Darling Brews awaited, spirits were high. The fresh ocean breeze invigorating after three long days in the arid interior – all the while deceptively close to the ocean but seemingly a world away.

Formation flying for the final kays.

I see the sea.

Wes Kus bes kus…

Namaqualand is truly a unique part of South Africa, almost a country on its own it’s so different. But in that difference there is a unique beauty which defies description, it has to be experienced – by total emersion – to be understood.

Gathering for a cold one at the wreck of the Aristea.

Cheers to a great ride. Photo by Jacques Marais.

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Zane: The man with the plan. Thanks again for the invite!