Words & Images by Andrew Stone
Blood, toil, sweat and tears – and that’s just what it takes to get to the start of Lesotho’s Motul Roof of Africa, dubbed the “mother” of extreme enduro.
Once in the Kingdom in the Sky, the hard work really begins. Riders and their two-wheeled machines are required to fight their way up jagged and boulderstrewn mountains before screaming down the other side. They also have to negotiate rocky stream beds, grassy knolls, oppressive heat and dust, drenching rain, people, and often livestock. They need to do all this while taking in plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and keeping one eye on their GPS to make sure that they don’t get lost. Most importantly, they need to ensure that they don’t ride off a cliff.
It’s energy-sapping, soul-destroying stuff, and only the toughest will make it to the finish line at the end of three days of racing. In 2013, when heavy rains wreaked havoc amongst the 366 starters, only 62 riders completed the race.
The two- and four-wheeled invasion
It’s a spectacle that needs to be witnessed first-hand; and, although there is never a really bad time of year to visit Lesotho, I’d recommend going in late November when the landlocked nation is invaded by an army of two-wheeled off roaders.
Their intention is not to effect a regime change, but rather to cross off an item on their bucket lists. Consider the Roof of Africa as the continent’s version of the Tour de France. There are many similarities, and one is that both races are run through mountains: the Alps in France, and the rugged Malotis in Lesotho. Unlike the Tour, though, it’s the action and bikes that are on steroids in the Roof.
Both events are also spectatorspectaculars. Although motorhomes are popular with Tour followers, there’s a mind-boggling array of double cabs and SUVs on display in Lesotho. You’re guaranteed to see everything from Lexus V8s and Land Rover Discoverys to Jeep Wranglers and Chevrolet Trailblazers.
But, this year, it was the number of Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux singleand double-cabs that really stood out – they are almost as common as the motorbikes, which themselves are naturally a dime a dozen.
The vehicles belong to the more than 400 competitors and their back-up crews, families and spectators (numbering in their thousands) who descend on the tiny landlocked country each year for what is considered one of the toughest races in the world. “Bakkies” are a natural fit with enduro riders, as the bikes can easily be transported on the back. Trailers are also used, as you can load more than one bike; although panel vans are popular too, as everything, including the bike, can be locked out of sight in the cavernous load area.
Held over three days, the Roof of Africa attracts top international competitors from South Africa and the rest of the world, and it seemed to me like a good event for the tough new Ford Ranger XLS 2.2-litre auto 4×4 double cab. So, I joined a group of East London entrants and their support crews who have been taking part in the event each year since 2007.