Revisiting the roots of Roof of Africa and how it has changed over the years

Image Credit : MOTUL -

Over the years, the Roof of Africa has evolved into one of the most extreme and hard motorcycle enduros on earth.

It attracted the cream of the crop from around the world to Lesotho, to tackle the toughest the Maluti Mountains can dish out.

But it was not always like that, and for those who hold the classic Roof dear, there is great news presented by Live Lesotho: the Motul Retro Roof of Africa will call back the past in so many ways when it happens for the first time on September 21.

The Roof of Africa Rally was dreamed up by Bob Phillips, the roads engineer who had just completed “the worst road in the world”.

Phillips urged the Johannesburg Sports Car Club to organise a car race over the tortuous route, and the Roof of Africa was born, sponsored by The Star in 1967. The bikes joined in 1969 and the Roof soon became a legend as it ran annually for 30 years each mid-September – a volatile weather period in the Malutis.

Starting with the mad Round the Houses dash on the streets of Maseru to set start times for the race, the route ran over the Malutis and through the border up to Matatiele in the early years, before heading back around the mountains to the finish in Maseru.

In later years, the Roof became two treacherous laps around Lesotho, when the bikes would divert to legendary mountain challenges like Rampai and Letele, Slide Your Ass and Baboons Pass, too.

The Roof legend grew over the years and attracted the best riders and drivers from around the world who came to take on SA’s finest – rally champions like Ove Anderson and bikers including world champion Elio Adreoletti and US wizard Malcolm Smith, the first man to win on both two and four wheels.

Tales of competitors caught in blizzards, sleeping in mountain schoolhouses and river crossings being flooded were regular fare, let alone the legends of the men who beat it all to finish and win.

So the Roof became a bikes-only event early in the new millennium and has now evolved into the stand-alone extreme challenge it continues to be today.

The regular motorcycle classes include open-class OR1 spec, 250cc OR2, over 36-senior and over-15 juniors, as well as two unique over and under-1000cc adventure motorcycle classes and a pre-99 vintage motorcycle class.

Interest has, however, grown of late to see the return of a “real” Roof of Africa and now the Motul Retro Roof does just that, as it takes competitors back to the roots of the car and bike Roof of Africa, on its traditional late-September date across a combination of faster tracks with a few technical challenges across the rugged Maluti Lowlands.

In 2019 the cars are back! and will race together with other category’s of competitors who wish to experience the adventure racing in Lesotho has to offer.

Quick Facts & Figures by MOTUL

  • The Roof has been run every year since 1967, except 1998 due to the riots in Lesotho.
  • The Roof belongs to the people of The Kingdom of Lesotho and the Lesotho off Rd association are the elected custodians of the event.
  • The Roof is managed and run by “Live Lesotho” a fun and adventure company based in Lesotho
  • 2019 will see the 52th staging of this event.
  • The event is inscribed on the FIM International Calendar and attracts competitors from up to 20 different countries.
  • The Roof attracts nearly 400 competitors.
  • The Roof is contested by the top competitors in the world as well as all the top competitors from the sub-continent.
  • The Roof is now considered as a “bucket list event” in the same way that people do the Comrades Marathon, Two Oceans, Cape Epic etc.
  • The Roof has an enviable safety record. Medical Support is of the highest available standards and world class hospital facilities are close by.
  • The event is attended by many Lesotho dignitaries.
  • The prize fund equivalent or better than the other Extreme events worldwide.
  • The Roof is a highly visible sport reaching not only the town, but a lot of people in rural areas as well.
  • It injects an estimated M100 million into Lesotho economy during Roof of Africa week.
  • Organisation supports local businesses and communities.
  • The Roof has boosted the Tourism Industry in Lesotho probably more than any other medium.