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Coastal Cracker- one of SA’s best cycle routes
Words and photos: Tim Brink. Article from Ride Magazine February 2016.
Each year, fires aside, we rush through Hout Bay, Llandudno and Camps Bay to the finish of the Cape Town Cycle Tour, focused on nothing but the second ticking by on our stopwatches. That is said. This is one of the most beautiful bike routes in the world.
The coast road between Sea Point and Noordhoek is world-famous for its beauty. Motor manufacturers fly their top-secret new models here for photoshoots, preferring the quieter roads and predictable weather (and maybe the plummeting exchange rate) over the more customary glam spots on the French Riviera.
During the week, you will struggle to not bump into another rider here, and on the weekends, the stretch from Camps Bay to the top of Llandudno resembles a funride, no matter the weather or time of year. In the summer months, leading up to the Cycle Tour, it is mayhem with thousands (yes, counts have been done) using the broad yellow shoulder to pedal together. After a trafficy start, this route is one of the safest in the Cape, if not the country.
The most convenient start spot is from the Green Point lighthouse, on Beach Road in Mouille Point. Yes, that does make sense. We make Caffe Neo our meeting point, because there is lots of parking, and they are always happy to ply us with excellent coffee while we wait for latecomers. Camp’s Bay is also a favoured meet-up point, more often than not at the Vida e Caffe, but also at the small car park just past the police station, as you leave the restaurant belt. But only if you can ride decaffeinated! Both of these options remove the challenge of getting through the Sea Point traffic, which can be quite busy on a week day, and crazy on a weekend, or in season. The traffic moves fairly slowly, so it is more of a nuisance than a threat.
We will focus on the full ride here, from Mouille Point, picking up the short-route riders as we go. Head away from the soccer stadium, along the busy, wide road that parallels the promenade, and turn right at the T-junction lights at the end of it. We normally choose the middle lane here, it takes you into the middle lane for the next set of lights, where the left lane is a turning-only lane. Beach Road proper, which you are now on, is the busiest on the route, and is a definite two- abreast no-go zone. Single file is critical, both from a safety and a public image perspective. You will also encounter half a dozen traffic lights along here, and sod’s cycling law dictates that one or more will go red on you. Please stop like a responsible adult, the cars do come quickly from the side roads. And it is the right thing to do, of course.
As you pass the MyCiti bus station, just over 3km into the ride, gear down a little and turn left at the traffic circle, up the beastly little St Johns Road climb. It is steep, but short: through the second traffic circle, and sweeping 90 degrees right onto the road to Camps Bay, where you can squeeze your thumping heart back into your ribcage. That was the last meaningful effort for a while!
Shiny happy people
You now head into a particularly dangerous stretch of the ride. The scenery, as you wind along the cliff-top road through Bantry Bay and Clifton, can be exceptional. This is where the gorgeous people come out to play: walking, jogging, running and strutting, often in less clothing than should be legal (male and female). It is hard to not notice, so you need to be ultra-aware of parked cars and pedestrians… fortunately, the view of the Twelve Apostles – the dozen buttresses that form the back side of Table Mountain – as you come around the corner towards Maiden’s Cove is breathtaking, and may distract you enough to keep Health and Safety happy.
Roll down into Camp’s Bay gingerly – the stretch past all the restaurants holds a triple threat. Pedestrians, U-turning motorists rushing for that elusive parking spot, and the wind, if the South Easter is blowing, gusts off the mountain, down the side streets, and can move you a metre or more into the road if you are not alert. Just seven kilometres into the ride, there is no need to stop here for coffee. But nobody will judge if you do.
After a couple of tight corners, the road opens out onto the truly spectacular stretch of Victoria Drive that makes this ride so special. The space to the left of the yellow line is wide enough for happy chatting, without holding up traffic, and with the mountain on your left, and the sea a few metres off to your right, there is plenty to see if you are riding solo. Dolphin and whale sightings are common in summer.The little dip past the stately Twelve Apostles Hotel is your last relaxed roll for five kilometres, as you now tackle the gradual ascent up to Llandudno, and the top of Suikerbossie, the 16km point. Start off easy, the flatter top reaches of this climb can rip your legs off if you don’t. As you pop over the top of Suikerbossie, stop and take a swig of water, and take in the view. That is Chapman’s Peak Drive, dead ahead across the bay. You will be there in however long it takes to ride 10 kilometres…
Once in Hout Bay again, turn left at the first circle, and then right at the second one. Dario’s is on your right and offers suppreme coffee.
The descent into Hout Bay is very fast – dead-straight, but a bit challenging if the South Easter is pumping. With a Northerly, you will easily touch 70 km/h, the Strava record is an average of 90… Once you get towards the lights at the bottom, you have a choice: straight, through the lights, and descending though the main business hub of Hout Bay; or the sweep to the left, followed by an immediate right turn into Empire Avenue. We usually favour the latter – there is less traffic – but there are three stop streets; again, don’t be the idiot that gives us all a bad name. Stop at all three. Please.
Either way, you need to turn left into Princess Street, at the big traffic circle if you braved the traffic, or at the T-junction at the end of Empire. Turn right at the circle at the end of Princess, and you can now follow the road to the foot of Chapman’s Peak. On your right, a hundred metres or so before you start the climb, is a coffee haven called Casareccio. Jorge, the owner, will greet you like a long-lost relative, and refill you with java. Unless you are riding with anyone from local government, in which case they get the superstar treatment, obviously. Casareccio is a popular turn-around point, giving a return trip of just over 40km, with plenty of climbing.
High Chappies roll
And so we are onto the big one – 6km of climb, defined by the first kilometre, which is taxingly steep, almost as much as it is by the flatfish, fast roll to the top. Don’t be fooled – it is a doddle with no wind, but when the Cape Doctor is blowing, you will be brought to a standstill on the flat as you exit some corners. The view from the top is worth any stain taken getting there, though. Stop for the ubiquitous selfie, the data signal is strong enough for any instatwitterbook boasting you need to do.
You have now covered 26.5km, and climbed 450m. The last choice for the day is whether to keep going, down the fun, slightly technical (read: take it easy!) side of Chappies, to the Noordhoek Farm Village for breakfast, or back into Hout Bay for some Dario’s Cafe TLC. The Noordhoek option adds just 10km to the ride total, but five of those are climbing back up again with a belly full of eggs Benedict (on a zucchini rosti) and cappuccino. The fare makes the trip worth it, as does the spectacular climb back to the top of Chappies.
The climb split into two – Little Chappies has a nasty start, but flattens off a bit, allowing the prevailing tail wind to push you like a pro, and then the main climb, which is the nemesis of many a Cycle Tour novice. Don’t be fooled by the false top, a few hundred metres from the real one; a smaller poort that looks just like the real thing.
Once over the top, the ride down into Hout Bay is fast and furious, with the only real challenge the sharp right-hander that has been paved with concrete, not tar, to make things even more exciting, and the last right-hander, overlooking the beach. Brake early, and enjoy.
Once in Hout Bay again, turn left at the first circle, and then right at the second one. Dario’s is on your right, and offers supreme coffee, a bike rack, banter and nibbles.
Suikerbossie wil jou he
Onwards and upwards – it is now time to tackle the beast that is Suikerbossie. Sweep through the lights at the bottom, and settle in for a 10-minute climb. If you are feeling frisky, the Strava segment (to date, 9 416 people have tested themselves in this public manner) starts at the bus stop, and finishes at the green sign just over the top, and Darren Lill holds the record for the 1.8km, 126m ascent in 3 min 50 sec… an average speed of just over 29km/h.
From here, enjoy the fast descent back towards Lion’s Head, be careful, again, through Camps Bay and Clifton, mind the circle at the bottom of St Johns, and roll back to Caffe Neo for a hard-earned espresso.
129 Beach Rd, Mouille Point, 021 433 0849
Vida e Caffe Camps Bay
Isaac Corner, 57-61 Victoria Rd, Camps Bay, 021 438 4655
Shop1 Bay beach, Main Rd, Hout Bay, 021 790 0200
Noordhoek Farm Village
Cnr Village Lane and Noordhoek Main Road www.noordhoekvillage.co.za
6 Victoria Ave, Hout Bay www.darioscafe.co.za
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