Wild spokes

Interview with Jan Havenga

For the last 12 years, Sani Pass has been the site of a heart-pumping mountain biking event that was acknowledged as ‘Best Cycle Race of the Year’. What started as the vision of Farmer Glen is now an internationally recognised route.

Sani Pass is known as the ‘mother of all passes’ and is located between KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Lesotho. The race starts in Glencairn Farm, Southern Drakensburg and concludes in Scottburgh at the coast. It is a multi-day event that tests the grit of the most experienced of mountain bikers.

Jan Havenga of Port Elizabeth gave Sani2C another go this year, having first participated in 2016. It’s not enough to describe Jan as an enthusiast because bicycles (and mountain bikes) have been a part of his livelihood, family and recreational time. Although his competitive days are behind him, cycling will always be a part of his lifestyle.

Jan speaks about his Sani2C experience and the incredible landscape in which it takes place. He also spent a night with his family at La Mer, located on KZN’s favourite holiday coast.


La Mer (LM): How would you explain mountain biking to someone who doesn’t know?

Jan Havenga (JH): It’s riding a bicycle off-road. A mountain bike is different compared to the traditional road bicycle in the sense that (a) it has wider tyres with knobbies for better grip, (b) flat handlebars and (c) a wider range of gears to help with difficult terrain.

LM: How did you get into mountain biking or MTB’ing? Are you involved in any other adventure sports?

JH: MTB’ing was just a natural progression from road cycling. Most people who enjoy the outdoors end up with a MTB. It is also much safer than road cycling as there are very little traffic issues being off-road. In terms of adventure sports, I have participated in an Ironman event but I am currently only MTB’ing and hiking.

LM: What is your background and profession?

JH: I have been working in the cycle trade most of my life. I managed a cycle store for many years, then owned the store for many years. Retail got the better of me so I sold the shop and now I have my own agency where I represent some major brands in the cycle trade in the Eastern Cape. I am based in Port Elizabeth and cover the area between East London to Mosselbay.

LM: What do you do to prepare for each competition?

JH: My competitive days as a cyclist are long gone. Cycling is a lifestyle activity for me and my family. We ride two to three times a week, mostly road as PE is well-suited for that. We do MTB rides on weekends and mostly once or twice a month. For Sani, we spent Easter in the Karoo cycling around three hours per day for five days which lays a good foundation in order to ride Sani2C without suffering to much. My wife and I do not race, we ride. My son is 21 so he is active in the racing side, but enjoyment is our first priority.

LM: What did you look forward to the most with Sani2C? How did you do?

JH: The scenery is out of this world! We spent a day cycling up Sani Pass to Sani Lodge from Himeville (not part of the Sani2C event though). It was breathtakingly beautiful. The 4×4 people along the pass was also something special and the Maluti beer was perfect!!

Day two of Sani2C takes you through the Umkomaas Valley which is very special. The trails are stunning, the views are magnificent and the people on the route are just great. Day one and three are just as beautiful albeit slightly different scenery. We did the Trial event which had about 700 two-man teams. We finished 139th overall and 21st in the mixed category. That was fairly ok, but the focus of the Trial event is on enjoyment and not racing as such.

LM: Why did you choose to stay at La Mer?

JH: Our stay at La Mer was just by chance. We searched via Booking.com and liked the look of the venue. Christine met us at arrival and she is a star. The facility is perfect and although we just overnighted, I would recommend staying there to anyone.

LM: Describe the essence of your Sani2C experience?

JH: The shared experience with my wife, son and friends are just too special to describe. We are so blessed that we can share experiences like this in an area as pristine as the Sani2C area. Add to that the camaraderie of fellow competitors, organisers and volunteers. One cannot but have a great experience.