There is no shortage of world-class MTB trails in South Africa – we can claim an almost greedy number! Any list of great rides is in a sense incomplete because it not only feels impossible to list them all but also new ones are being forged all the time. That said, here are a handful of routes that always crop up as favourites when you speak with mountain bikers; they’re a variety of the easy and ironman-ish, and we’re sure there’ll be more than one to inspire you into making some plans…
The Cederberg – a lunar adventure
The Cederberg is one of South Africa’s true remaining wildernesses, a wonderful option for mountain bikers wanting to leave civilisation behind and immerse themselves in a multiday ride in the primal and at times lunar landscape of this corner of the country.
The Cederberg, two hours NE of Cape Town, offers fantastic riding, though it is not for the novice – you’ll be riding along roughshod single or jeep track, and temperatures can grow intense in summer while it can snow in winter. The scenery however is ample reward, and those that brave the cold say they enjoy the relative solitude of the experience.
The Cederberg is the ‘Rock Garden of the Gods’, having towering sandstone peaks and fantastical rock formations that turn purple in the late light. Riders also get to enjoy pristine fynbos, which includes the rare snow protea and blankets of wildflowers in spring.
The South Coast – family forest fun
KZN’s lush South Coast, while overly developed in places, has a hidden gem: the Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve. It is 2,189 ha of preserved indigenous coastal forest and grassland and offers gentle track that is perfect for a family day MTB outing.
You’ll be cycling amongst the less ferocious of SA’s game, so there’ll be no high-adrenalin chases but still some great opportunities to stop and mingle with various buck, zebra and so on. For more about the reserve, including on-site accommodation, click here.
Lord of the Chain Rings – a flint-eyed experience
This 3-day November stage race takes place in the Amatola Forest near the town of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. The three stages – The Fellowship of the Chain Rings (63 km), The Two Hog-Towers (78 km), and The Return of the Champions (58 km) – clearly make reference to Tolkien’s legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy, which supposedly had elements inspired by the geography of the region, with the word ‘epic’ justly applying to both the story and the MTB trails.
Beautiful scenery is a given for riders of the Lord of the Chain Rings. The mountains and hills rise up dramatically from the plains, are covered in lush vegetation and forest, and are often shrouded in mist. Cycling along it is spooky, magical and incredibly pretty in turn.
For more info on this race, click here.
The Wild Coast – a scenery fest
The Wild Coast is one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, thickly green, rocky and dramatic, and largely unspoilt. A 33 km coastal stretch will take the rider southwards along the coast from Hluleka, past Hole-in-the-Wall, to Coffee Bay, a small community tucked away in the rural beauty of the old Transkei.
The route takes you along pristine beaches, over high cliffs, through indigenous forest, and more. Riders will however need to be prepared for river crossings (though some have ferries) and somewhat ‘hazy’ trails at certain points en route. Adventure is the name of the game when you venture into this part of the world.
If you don’t fancy the risks of venturing out alone, there are organised events, such as the 5-day Imana Wild Ride (from Kei River to Umngazi River), which also benefits local communities through the use of finances to build classrooms and provide other educational facilities.
For more on the area and its trails, click here.
Tokai Forest – an adrenaline ride
In this 18km day ride mountain bikers can look forward to a shaded warm-up ride through beautiful pine forest followed by a puffing climb to Elephant’s Eye Cave. Here you enjoy panoramic views of False Bay. Moreover, any MTB route on the slopes or top of Table Mountain offers the visitor eyefuls of gorgeous fynbos and the chance to come up close and personal with a variety of wildlife, from falcons and sunbirds to genet, porcupine, and (perhaps less desirably) baboons.
The trail’s descent is perhaps the strongest draw card for the mountain biker, as you descend along a series of hair-raisingly steep single tracks that will get your blood flowing as never before.
Tokai Mountainbike Central has all you need to know about riding in the area.
Thabaphaswa – a Limpopo adventure
Deo Richeter, past head of the Development Bank of SA, bought the farm Groenkom in 1994 and has since then turned it into a wildlife haven and mountain biking heaven. Ecotourism is the name of the game.
Riders can do distances of 7 to 24 km, and the difficulty rating is moderate, as there are occasionally some very steep gradients. There are four routes to choose from, all designed by renowned trail designer Tim Fair.
Thabaphaswe – which means Nguni Cattle Mountain – is also a working farm, so riders will see cattle one moment, and then, if lucky, see various wildlife the next, which could include leopard, warthog, hyena, duiker, and black eagle. The vegetation is also only what is indigenous, so you’ll find the likes of wild fig trees, paperbark cork, and kanniedood. It is a mountainous bit of land, with Thabaphaswa Mountain (1,700 m) the primary landmark in the area. This means wonderful scenery and rewarding vistas after climbs.
For more information, including on-site accommodation, view their website here.
Sani2C – an endurance cycle
The epic Sani2C has in recent years become a fast favourite among the mountain biking community. A 5-day cycle from the foothills of the Drakensberg down to Scottburgh on the coast, it is an endurance ride, with distances of roughly 80km a day.
One of the highlights of this ride is the community aspect – riding in pairs, eating and sleeping in tented camps, cycling in a group with other like-minded folks, and bringing work to local communities who clear the paths and prepare the area for the ride.
Mountain bikers can look forward to varying terrain that includes forest paths, grassland, farms and large valleys, and you’ll be travelling along smooth single track, as well as doing a few floating-bridge and foofie-slide river crossings.
Click here to view the website.
And the list goes on…
As we said, how does one pare the selection down to a bite-size list when there are so many stellar trails for the mountain biker to enjoy? Well, we’ll give ‘honourable mention’ here to just a few more, and then we invite you in the comments section below to share those trails you think should also be on such a list.
- The joBerg2c – a hefty 9-day scenic ride from Gauteng to the KZN coast.
- The Cape Epic – the “Untamed African MTB Race” that is an 8-day partner event.
- Giba Gorge – near Pinetown, this MTB park offers a range of day rides, with climbing options and downhill jumps for the strong and skilled as well as riverside trundles for kiddies.
- PMB’s Cascades MTB Park – this UCI course is a downhill extravaganza that will have your eyeballs popping out behind your shades.
- The Richetersveld – a (very hot!) multiday ride that offers a true escape into a remote, barren and otherworldly setting enjoyed only by the intrepid few. Desert Knights offers a 5-day guided tour.