The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy -

Monday, 1 July 2013

2013 Rider Profile - Roy Mottram

Dr. Roy Mottram

Doing the Freedom Challenge is tough, ask any finisher and they’ll confirm it but doing it at the age of 70 beggar’s belief – who in their right mind would attempt that? Only one ‘Crazy Old Man’ according to his friends - Dr. Roy Mottram. This is how his friend and regular riding partner, Rob Fincham, described him:

“Naked buttocks bristling in the breeze of a remote Lesotho gorge, fishing rod searching out giant trout in the river’s crystal clear waters – aha it’s that crazy old man Dr. Roy Mottram - training for the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa (RASA). His sons, Sam and Matt, horse backed with him into Lesotho as a present for his 70th birthday, just prior to the race. Based at Camdeboo Lodge on the outskirts of Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, this is a military man,  a graduate of Natal and Free State universities and a respected agronomist with water-related work his speciality. He has an often questioning twinkle in his eyes and has a great sporting background - a former Natal rugby player, deadly accurate with a rifle and a deep sea fisherman.  He is also known to enjoy an occasional party. Participating in RASA represents yet another personal challenge for this iron man and we salute his free spirit.”

Roy and Rob started out together in Batch C. Their first day saw them get to Allendale, tired but happy to be there. The big climbs in the Sisonke section of the trail had taken their toll though and it took them another 2 days to get to Ntsikeni. A few days later they got lost descending off the Black Fountain ridgeline and ended up sleeping out in an old ruin. They arrived in Rhodes after 8 days, a bit behind schedule but still within the 9-day interim cut-off.

Over the next few days, both Rob and Roy fell ill and picked up stomach problems. They stopped short at Kranskop to rest and recover. By the next day, Roy’s condition had improved but Rob’s had worsened – Roy decided to wait it out with his friend, hoping to continue together the following day. Rob’s condition was no better by morning and he was forced to withdraw from the race.

So Roy continued down the trail alone, passing Brosterlea that day and ending up at the foot of the Stormberg, on the farm Weltevrede.  The next day he got to Romansfontein by early afternoon and pressed on to the Aasvoelberg portage, hoping to get off the mountain before sunset and ride on to Hofmeyr in the dark. It was slow going though and he only picked up the rough, boulder strewn track off the mountain at last light but he lost the track when it crossed a riverbed and spent the rest of the night slowly picking his way down in the dark. By first light he had found the road at the bottom, so he made his way to Hofmeyr, arriving at midday. Exhausted after the long night, he stayed over there to recover.

The next few days went well and Roy made steady progress towards the Baviaanskloof. Along the way he was joined by Robbie McIntosh and they shared the support station at Bucklands. Robbie rode away the next day to Cambria. It was a tough day for Roy, who was once again struggling with a tummy bug and he decided to sleep at the top of the Osseberg jeeptrack, rather than descend into the Grootrivier Poort for the night. The next day he took on the river crossings through this infamous section and only crawled out at Cambria late that night. By then the damage was done, his body robbed of all strength and now also nursing knee and ankle injuries. 

After soldiering on for so long, his decision to withdraw couldn’t have been an easy one - it wasn’t his indomitable spirit that had been broken, just his body.  This was his message when he bowed out:
“Hi Meryl – thank you for all your help and inspiration – sitting on the top of Baviaanskloof, I am sorry to say that the body has told the mind ‘enough of this.’ So sorry to disappoint you and others but just not enjoyable anymore. Will take my time to next stop and make a plan to get a lift back to Cape Town. My knee and ankle sore, shoes broken, back suspension of bike gone.”

Roy left his mark on this year’s Freedom Challenge with his positive attitude and fierce determination when the going got tough. He also left a lasting impression on his hosts at the support stations – Sandra from Kranskop was so impressed that she lined up all her children and told them: “you see this man? When you are his age I want you all to be like him!” He also earned the respect of his fellow riders – they simply could not believe how a man of his years was still out there riding alongside them.

Roy emptying his Sealskinz socks

Whether or not he will return to try again will likely be a carefully considered decision but everyone will agree that he would be most welcome back on the trail and there will always be a blanket waiting for him at the finish line.


  1. Well done Roy. That was a good effort. I hope to see if i can do as well, or may be even better in six years time. Philip Erasmus

  2. Excellent effort Roy, very proud of your determination. Typically Hiltonian.

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  3. You are a true inspiration to all of us, this is the stuff that real legends are made of. Well done on you inspirational effort !!!!