SANI2C the platinum edition
of a platinum event

Could this be South Africa’s perfect stage race? The warm hospitality, kilometer after kilometer of manicured singletrack, custom-built race villages with bespoke facilities and continually changing countryside that is jaw droppingly beautiful and spectacular. Shayne Dowling rides the 20th edition of the KAP Sani2C

I have a bit of history with Sani2C, my first attempt at the event was in 2017, and that year for the first time in the history of the Sani, due to the bad weather, the race was routed around the Umkomaas Valley – so no Umko Drop or Iconic climb. It had rained for 36 hours non-stop, and the ice cold “road” ride was the worst day I have ever experienced on a bicycle. We bailed as we woke up to more rain and C batch shivering at the start with about 10 people in the chute. Enough is enough. The irony is that 30 minutes into our taxi ride back to Scottburgh the rain stopped and the sun began to shine… sigh!

So here we were, 7 years later! The 20th edition of the Sani2C! Six of us had committed to the event and we dutifully found time to do the training despite busy schedules, weather challenges and family commitments. Logistics are definitely a consideration when you are flying in - from Cape Town in our case. The black box or trommel was definitely the focus of much discussion – what to take, how much to take, spares, equipment, who takes what etc. The Sani organisers, as much as they profess to be simple farmers, have got the event down to a fine art though and there insights, tips, advice and information will ensure even the biggest novices will be able to work things out. Well maybe not my riding partner but what he doesn’t know about the bicycle he makes up with enthusiasm, determination and organizational skills rivalled by none. So as a team we were well ahead of the game.

Sani is a point-to-point ride and it really does make it an amazing journey, and it does effect logistics. There is an airport shuttle or your vehicle is driven to the finish in Scottburgh (as a paid service). It does mean that you and your trusty steed need to get down to the coast – no bailing - 271kms of off-road riding – you and your trommel (well that get’s trucked down to the next stop)! You will in all-likelihood share a tent, you get a mattress, and you need to take your own sleeping bag and pillow. The weather can change in an instant, so clothing is a consideration – both on and off the bike. You need to trommel smart! All of this is actually half the fun! The trepidation, the “roughing” it, the packing angst, the distance, ICONIC – all add to Sani fever!

Sani isnt a pushover and frankly it’s far! You need to train, this isnt a ride you can wing – well not without expecting consequences. There is potentially a way, the re-introduced Trail event, which is the first ride of the Sani2C, and is the E-Bike race and so batteries (and load shedding) are going to be your biggest concern. Only joking about load shedding, Farmer Glen has this covered.

Race Villages: Glencairn (start), Mackenzie Club (Day 1), Jolivet (Day 2)
The race villages deserve a special mention. The Sani2C is 20 years old and the Haw family have taken these three properties and incorporated, into working farms and venues, the most magnificent event or race villages. The Glencairn Farm is beautiful, nestled at the foot of the Sani pass and surrounded by some really big mountains, the venue is also used for functions and weddings – so it’s properly pretty! We stayed at the conveniently situated Sani Pass Resort which is modern and stylish but has the KZN old school hospitality to it – dinner was a buffet, no options – but the food kept coming – all in all a grand way to spend the evening before the ride. There is a tent camp should you wish to stay at Glencairn and at all the villages there are purpose built ablutions – real cubicles and spotlessly clean, stunning showers with complimentary shower gel and shampoo – my public loo phobia and hygiene issues taken care of! It seems like a trivial thing but this alone puts the event at the top of the pile in my eyes!

A grand marquee at Mackenzie including chill area loaded with goodies to snack on and drink, a bar area with live music, and the quaint Mackenzie Sports Club where you can rub shoulders with some of the locals, have a lekker dop all at club prices! Needless to say we hunkered down there - Loved it!

Jolivet kind of springs up out of the burbs – one minute you’re riding through the outskirts of the town and then suddenly you’re through the large “ranch” style compound doors into a wonderland of chill zones, tents superbly laid out in a green orchard, between the rows of Macadamia nut trees. Beer was flowing, local brew by the pint, wine and branders the order of the day, a lot to the tough day you just experienced but also because the home straight was in touching distance. Oh, and did I mention the smell of massive steaks being grilled for dinner – just sublime!

So, what about the riding? Well as I said the Trail is back and aimed primarily at E bikes and giving them their “own” event, this certainly eliminates any issues that arise in events with the packed bicycle batches - particularly skill challenges that seem to be more evident in the e-category. The option for strictly muscle powered machines in the trail was cleverly solved by an astute farmer and all the analogue bikes set off half an hour after the E bike riders had left. The result was that our small essentially had the trails to ourselves. Mountain biking heaven.


Well aside from the Cape Epic which “discovers” new routes or incorporates existing trails in and around the Western Cape each year, or the now discontinued The U in Piket-Bo-Berg – which from a pure rugged mountain bike route and where it is situated was unparalleled, but frankly much to difficult or trying for most riders. Sani2C offers superbly maintained, improved, new and manicured single track, on all 3 days and frankly I have never experienced the sheer amount of singletrack you ride each day! It seems never ending – and that is NOT a complaint!

Day 1 – 89km   Ascent:  1300m

The riding hype of Sani is always about Day 2, BUT there is a little matter of Day 1 to get through. There are a few considerations, and the first one is if you come from the coast you start at an altitude you’re probably not used to riding at. You will feel like you’re breathing through a straw initially and your legs burn a tad but this amazing machine we call our body is remarkable at adapting and you’ll soon find your legs, and of course you are slowly descending of course. The other consideration is that it is a long day, 89kms off-road is not to be taken lightly. The bonus however is that (and certainly since my last Sani in 2017) there is seemingly endless singletrack – so much so that in the last quarter of the race you actually welcome the short respites on the jeep tracks – there is no respite for your smile though! It is superb fun and potentially my favourite day (shock horror). So much flow, so much adrenaline, so much FUN!

Much is made of the purpose-built PG Bison bridge and the crossover in the middle. It is fun and lekker to get cooled down by your wheel spray on a hot day, there are inevitably oopsies and as we arrived, they were fishing a bloke and his ebike out the water… it really is quite easy to ride and puts a smile on your face when you manage to get across.

The end of the day to Mackenzie Club was previously a long uphill drag, you could actually hear it and see it and had to put in a frustrating bit of work to reach it. I guess Farmer Glen was tired of all the complaining and once again came up with a solution: take out the climb when you leave final water point of the day, put one in nearer the end and roll down into Mackenzie! Mmmm well, it definitely is less frustrating, but save some in the legs (which you should have been doing for Day 2 anyway) as you are still going to do some work before you get the reward – frankly after a brilliant day in the saddle, on some of the most amazing singletracks you will ever experience, the bump at the end just adds more pleasure to the long cold one you’ve been promising yourself as motivation!

I am not going to talk about every days water tables because they are what you would expect, high quality, amazing goodies (LOVE the jam doughnuts! Oh, and the braaied boerie at the ) and all manned by the friendliest community volunteers. My only gripe would be that (remember we were behind the ebike field but the same happens in the lower batches in the big fields) some folks see the water tables as an opportunity to stock up on the supplement (in this case USN) products for their next 3 events! NOT COOL! Take what you need, think about the riders behind you! And say THANK YOU! They are parents, kids, community members that are giving up their time, yes to improve their community but to also help you. Be nice!

Day 2 – 96km  Ascent:  1896m

Day 2 starts of with each rider receiving the coveted bead bangle that are all handmade by members of the Hlanganani Ngothando Organisation, one of many beneficiaries of the Sani… the beads have become a Sani2C entrants badge of honor and are proudly displayed on riders headsets long after the race is done.

Of the six riders in our group, three had never done the Umkomaas Valley drop, me included, and of course the infamous Iconic climb out. Day 2 is a big day – frankly it is THE day on Sani2C. The nervous anticipation, even among those that have done it, begins while you’re training – in fact it’s probably the biggest motivator. So, what is all the fuss? Well to begin with it is the longest day, then depending on the weather you are going to either be hot and humid or cold and soaked, and the descent while brilliant, requires concentration and you will be standing quite a bit, then of course there is Iconic – it really is a beast – riding is not for mere mortals and the hike is also a pretty mean one. We did it in 39-40 degrees and high humidity. A real test but one you will always remember.

We hit the Umko drop in a dense mist. As a result, we were smashing the trails, enjoying the flow and rush without getting to appreciate the magnificence and magnitude of the valley, I kept asking if we were on the drop proper and then suddenly we were out of the mist. It is insane. That you are descending on a perfectly manicured singletrack, clinging to the side of what is an enormous valley, with the river snaking powerfully on the floor way below you. It is a surreal moment and one that you will always remember. Words and even the pics we took just don’t do it justice. After we had taken the obligatory pics we charged down the magnificent path – I am running out of superlatives. But wait there’s more! Once you have reached the valley floor you once again hit fast, flowy singles that wind along next to the river, grasslands then green fertile farmlands all the while heading towards Iconic, crisscrossing the river on purpose built bridges made just for us! And finally, Iconic. It all started with a lot of smiles as we took our pics under the Iconic trailhead marker but soon the “chitter chatter” (Thanks Sean) came to an abrupt halt! Paul and I tried to go as far as we could – me losing the line on a steep bit and unable to recover and Paul going the furthest of our group until admitting defeat. It’s steep, (put in your fave expletive here) STEEP! The pictures don’t do it justice, my respect goes out to the pro’s who make it look so easy – it is not! Long, gnarly and steeeeeep! It is everything you heard and more, and WE DID IT! That’s the whole point – Iconic is the bragging right, the sense of achievement, a reason to do the race – it really is something you will always remember and talk about.

There was one questionable issue on the day; the mud pool across the road right at the end, alongside an electric fence, that was so unnecessary – tons of pallets and wood was used to straddle rivers and obstacles, one lot built up to the side of the road giving riders a dry line would be easy and certainly would have not provided any pause for a comment. If there was one bit of advice I would give new riders it would be that the days “end” which is 3kms from the race village leads you onto a purpose built sidewalk to create safe passage alongside a fairly busy road down to Jolivet; the reason given to me was that when the race ended at Jolivet there was some serious racing done to reach the finish, and believe me the sidewalk is pretty damn scary – resulting in crashes. It’s fast and has a few unexpected drop-offs due to the sidewalk subsiding in certain places and potential for a high-speed fall is great. It is marshalled but the flag bearers, that are easily distracted, and you are tired and it’s quick – you have to keep your wits about you and don’t relax. Of course, there is the call of a “cold one” to deal with.

Jolivet is another really special place. A “homestead” that is really quiet surprising when you enter through the gates, as per my description earlier. A really welcome oasis!

Day 3 – 86km  Ascent: 1024m

Jolivet sets the tone for the last day. It is just superb and the additional bevies the night before certainly don’t dampen the excitement of the last days run to the sea. It isn’t a short day, but it is mostly… mostly nose pointing down. It IS a quick day though and with the least amount of climbing a really fun way to wind down to the coast. Vernon Crooks gets mentioned a lot and for good reason, Work to be Done is a tough bugger that has to be climbed, the reserve itself flashes past, and then there is for me the highlight of the day: the long winding, super-fast descent that is just brilliant! I loved that flowing track that just seems to go on forever, you start to see the vegetation changing and it feels like you’ve opened an oven door with a steamed pudding in it. The humidity is tangible under the canopy and then when you do finally emerge you are surrounded by green rolling hills that is a sea of sugar cane. It really is incredibly beautiful!

There really isnt anything too challenging after the last water table just a couple of little bumps but mostly it’s just about realizing you have 31kms to go and you don’t want to burn all your matches too soon. Seeing the sea still invokes a child like response and reaction and really lifts your spirits as it is not only a little cooler, but you can actually smell the end! The run to the beach is frankly quite unspectacular but the beach crossing makes up for it, this was the ending I knew and I wish it was still there, but you wander on for a little further and make the drag up the fairway to the end at the Scottburgh Golf Club. We were the normally aspirated bikes in the e-bike race and the priviledge of empty and clear trails due to our small field was slightly tainted by the fact that this was made quite obvious. It was a great move to set up off a half-hour before the e-bikes but my only suggestion is that don’t ignore the back markers – there were a couple of tables that had run out of a few things, one table had started to pack up – not cool! No mention was made of the few incredible analogue riders who made it to the top of Iconic without e and if you consider almost the entire field went to collect their memento for reaching the top without putting their foot down, it really is quite an achievement and worth acknowledging. These are really nit-picking points and the hospitality of the Natal locals – from the Sani Pass to the sea – is warm, friendly and welcoming. They treat each and every rider like a long lost friend, are quick to smile and have a chat. Much like Glen Haw and his family and while the WhatsApp group is really convenient, I can’t imaging all the questions they must get – we certainly fired off one or 12. Not once were we not answered and not once was anything too much trouble.

The Sani2C is a truly spectacular event. It is a large, slick operation that is disguised by the familiarity of the family and volunteers who front up, but it is a credit to all those back room folk who work all-year round to ensure the absolutely magnificent trails that are constantly evolving and improving and that are in all probability the best event trails in the country. Make a plan, save and train but this is a bucket-list event that you MUST do!