BMWCC Sutherland all-tar ride, 31st July – 1st August 2021 by Rowan Williams-Short.

Sutherland all-tar ride by Rowan Williams-Short


What a weekend! While it’s still winter in the Southern Hemisphere, why not head by bike to South Africa’s officially coldest town, Sutherland all-tar ride.

A group of about 17 riders and a three pillions met at Engen Winelands to be briefed by our ride leader, Rouen Williams who, with Wouter de Vos (gravel group leader of another 15 or so bikes), had done all the planning in fine detail. If you’re wondering, yes – I joined the BMWCC club primarily to create chaos and confusion between Rouen Williams and Rowan Williams-Short.

Route info 1.  2.  3.

Although our group kept to tar, we rode on the N1 as little as possible. First stop was for brunch at the Tulbagh Boutique Heritage Hotel which appears to have undergone a recent refurbishment – it’s in great condition.

After brunch we headed past Wolseley to Ceres via Michell’s Pass (not Mitchell’s Pass, as I discovered) which is always great on two wheels, and onto Matjiesfontein. There, the break was long enough for lunch but brunch had barely settled and in any case, another group of bikers was providing entertainment of sorts on the pavement outside the Lord Milner Hotel. Their efforts to replace a shredded tyre were a bit stymied by their enthusiastic consumption of brandy and coke. In at least one case it was unclear whether the tyre or the biker was the most shredded.

Soon after leaving Matjiesfontein, we crossed from the Western Cape into the Northern Cape. The 110km road from Matjiesfontein to Sutherland must have been designed by a biker, or at least with bikers in mind. It has long, fast, undulating straights punctuated by dozens of sweeping corners. If that wasn’t enough, it’s well maintained and has hardly any traffic, at least on weekends. It’s only really on the return journey that one appreciates the difference in altitude between Matjiesfontein and Sutherland, roughly 550 metres.

We were warned about the winter temperatures in Sutherland and were well prepared (one B&B owner recommended showering in the evening as the water pipes might be frozen in the morning, and veterans of the annual BMWCC trip to Sutherland warned of bikes not starting until the sun was up).

Shortly after arrival, Colin and I headed another 15km out of town, to visit the SALT (South African Large Telescope). Sutherland is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s best sites for astronomy and is also one of two sites for the SKA (Square Kilometre Array telescope) which apparently processes more data per unit of time than the world’s internet combined.

I heard good reports from all B&Bs. Mine (the Boorgat) was great, eccentrically furbished and warmly hosted.

We met for dinner at The Whitehouse in time for the kick-off of the second test between the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks (won 27-9 by SA). Our amazing hosts from the Save the Sheep foundation served up an excellent braai with copious helpings of Karoo lamb chops. We heard a stirring account of the crippling drought that currently bedevils the area.

Fortified by dinner and red wine, the short walks back to lodgings were no challenge in the crisp air. In the morning, almost disappointingly, the temperature was above freezing but it did mean on-time departures. Riders splintered but those of us who rode back to Matjiesfontein and then Touw’s River had another great spin.

Those who had to get back early took shorter routes but some of us took a winding route to Montagu via the brilliant Burger’s Pass. Then we finished with a flourish, taking the old road over Du Toit’s Kloof, back to Cape Town.

I’m ready to sign up for next year’s Sutherland trip.

Huge thanks to Wouter and Rouen.


See the off-road report here