I recently heard South Africa described as the ‘deep south’ of the MTB (mountain bike) community. If you consider the MTB scene in South Africa is hotting up, this description fits. The country is full of exceptional mountain bike trails in areas that manage to combine gobsmacking scenery with a healthy ride and a good dose of tourist attractions.
So when things freeze over in the northern hemisphere, a trip down south sounds all the more appealing with bike trails added to the mix. You don’t have to be hard core either. Many trails lend themselves to families and holiday riders.
It wasn’t difficult to come up with a list of favourites. Whilst I’m not a biker, I do have friends for whom time in the saddle is tantamount to meditation…
Here are their 10 favourite MTB trails in South Africa:
1. Tygerberg, Cape Town
Tygerberg is a good alternative to the network of trails in the Tokai plantation. It combines over 120 km of linked trails in and around the Durbanville hills of Cape Town. Managed by the Tygerberg MTB Club, the system of trails include Majik Forest, Hillcrest, Meerendal, Contermanskloof, and Hoogekraal. These are connected by green corridors – linking trails across land that does not offer trails (accessible only to members). Meerendal, Contermanskloof and Hoogekraal operate a day permit system.
2. Eselfontein MTB Track, Ceres, Western Cape
Considered one of the best single track MTB trails in the country (80% of the 70 km trail is single track), Eselfontein Farm provides trails that range from 15 to 70 km. Aimed at the hard core cyclist (particularly in summer when the temperatures soar), the trails crisscross the fynbos and private farms of the Koue Bokkeveld.
3. Lebanon Forest, Grabouw, Cape Overberg
These circular forest trails are graded according to colour and include a yellow 7.3km trail, a 23.6 km red trail, and a deep forest single track (great views from the top of the climb). The trails are aimed at any experience level, and whilst they might seem intimidating they offer a healthy mix of obstacles. Beginners can cruise, whilst hard core riders get to experience narrow ridges, rocky stretches, weaving single track, and steep climbs. Did we mention the views?
4. Harkerville Trail, Garden Route
Harkerville Forest lies close to Plettenberg Bay, with a series of four routes of varying difficulty of between 12 to 27 km. These circular MTB trails are colour coded and range from easy rides (the yellow route, on gravel) to a hardcore, single track (the red route) through fynbos, plantations and indigenous forest. The forest green route is probably the most popular of the trails, with a mix of single and jeep track. Get a seasonal permit if you intend riding more than three times.
5. Gariep Dam, Free State
The Gariep Nature Reserve, close to the town of Venterstad, has been described by Jacques Marais (the adventure journalist) as ‘a piece of mountain-biking nirvana’. Trails are on gravel road or jeep-track and cover 150 km of out-and-back routes, starting at either the Oviston Nature Reserve or Gariep Forever Resort gates. For the price of an entrance you are in game viewing territory within a few kilometres where summiting a kopje to pass a herd of mountain zebra is par for the course, for the grassy plains and banks are home to antelope. Or you can stick to the roads that track the dam shore. Wonderful scenery; quiet and off-the-beaten-track trails.
6. Giba Gorge, KwaZulu-Natal
Giba Gorge, a bike park dedicated to mountain bike trails, is close to Pinetown. Trails are hand-made, divided into various colour-coded routes (blue, green, purple, enduro and downhill) and set on 250 hectares of red soil with access to beautiful scenery. The trails are considered tough, but a couple take the more ‘average’ rider into consideration – the purple route is perfect for children and first timers (no technical aspects), whilst the enduro and downhill need advanced riding skills to complete. It is rated as comparable to the Lebanon Forest, Grabouw.
7. Van Gaalen Cheese Farm trails, Magaliesberg, North West
Close to the village of Skeerpoort, Van Gaalens MTB trails wind through farmland, bushveld, rocky terrain, rivers and ravines over a good 150 kilometres. The network of handmade, well marked, single-track trails vary in degrees of difficulty. Most of them are on level, sometimes sandy, tracks through savanna bushveld but others, like Pofadder, include loose surfaces, big drops and more demanding terrain (you will need to be technically skilled to cope with the natural obstacles). The Magalies MTB trails start at the farm.
8. Lower (Imana) Wild Coast MTB trail, Eatern Cape
The Imana Wild Ride that starts at the Great Kei River and finishes four days, and nearly 200 km, later at the Umngazi River Bungalows placed the Wild Coast as an MTB destination on the map. You don’t have to ride the full 200 km to enjoy the beauty of the Wild Coast. But you won’t find marked routes, and will encounter numerous natural obstacles – estuary crossings, mangrove marshes, loose single-track and beach cruising. The ride from Hluleka Nature Reserve to Coffee Bay is one of the more do-able bits of the coast, and is known as the Wild Coast MTB trail.
9. Thaba Trails, Johannesburg, Gauteng
A city trail area, Thaba Trails lie in Mulbarton to the south of Johannesburg in a 450 hectare nature reserve. Trails are colour coded – yellow, green, blue and black – with a newer, more recent, 30 km (regarded as Jo’burg’s toughest MTB single-track trail, with great downhills). The yellow trails are good for beginners and those wanting to get fit, whilst blue is a case of ride at your own risk. Thaba Trails hosted the 2014 Cycling SA-MTB National Championships.
10. Tranquilitas Trails, Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga
Single-track MTB trails, aimed at all skill levels, start at the campsite at Tranquilitas – a farm in the hill tops of Waterval Boven. The trails lead into a forested area and down a very steep slope, with wonderful views. Trails vary from 3km easy trails to 11.5 km trails regarded as strenuous, which can get a little tricky (watch out for arrows on the fast bits), with the odd cliff edge or rocky drop off to contend with. But biking doesn’t come better than this.