Where the mountains’ thrills are as intoxicating as the wine … Stellenbosch wine estates have realised that mountain biking and vineyards are a perfect fit – and Jacques Marais will drink to that.
A natural network
Think Whistler Bike Park in Canada or perhaps a multi-trail network in Colorado or elsewhere in the good old US of A. Mountain-biking destinations such as these are rated as legendary and are revered by the fat-tyre crowd in search of their MTB fix.
Now focus your thoughts way further south, near the tip of Africa, where there’s a similar boom happening in a bike town by the name of Stellenbosch. Just as North Americans will forever be awed by those early days of mountain biking on Mount Tamalpais, you’ll have our local MTB crew banging on about their slice of Simonsberg stoke.
It was on the rugged Simonsberg slopes that early trail-scaping rebels first did their dirt-bag thing and more than three decades later their handiwork has spread throughout the surrounding valleys, ridges and peaks. As this is wine country, the day had to come when all that sweet singletrack would start flatlining through the abundant vineyards.
For years, many of the routes were off limits to regular riders; only the ‘epic’ inner circle got a chance to bomb these manicured trails and generally only during events. The good news, however, is that the times they are a-changing, especially within the numerous conservancies that flourish in and around Stellenbosch.
Buffer zones and protected areas go hand in hand with the vineyards of the area, as the wine-producing terroir thrives on natural diversity. Soon the wine estates began to see the benefits of a wide-ranging MTB network of ‘wine trails’ – and once you’ve uncorked an adventure option such as this, there’s no going back.
The Greater Simonsberg Conservancy, unfolding from Klapmuts, was one of the first to adopt the wine trail concept. Mountain bikers line up every weekend to crank onto the extensive trail network, with its kick-ass collection of routes spider-webbing across the Knorhoek Valley. It was here that legendary trail builder Meurant Botha hit his high notes, creating multiple sets of side-winding trails. Power your way onto these vaulted slopes and you can easily link into a selection of neighbouring estates, including Uitkyk, Delheim, Muratie, Delvera; a world-class MTB destination indeed.
“What kind of a rider am I?” According to Meurant, this should be one of the first questions you ask yourself when deciding where to saddle up in and around ‘The Bosch’. In his opinion, the contouring curves of Simonsberg make its trails easier to conquer, especially if you’ve not been seduced by the low-level hum of a pedal-assist eBike motor.
Adventure without limits
The Bottelary Hills Conservancy, located within easy reach of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, definitely gets the nod as well. This network of rollicking trails borders on the Hawequa Nature Reserve and forms part of the greater Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve.
Across the handlebars, you get to bliss out on stunning views of protected renosterveld and this makes for exhilarating riding on sweeping trails suitable for most levels of riders. Bottelary and the adjoining nature reserve are large enough to offer easy access, and MTB permit fees contribute to a number of sterling conservation projects by the various private estate landowners.
Head up towards Helshoogte and you will reach Banhoek, an up-and-coming conservation zone in the area. Geographically it forms part of the aforementioned Greater Simonsberg Conservancy, but it stretches further to encompass Dwarsrivier as well as the Hottentots-Holland foothills, positioning it as one of the most beautiful valleys in the region.
Kim Lord and his crew have been creating magic here and riders now have access to more than 70km of trails through this fynbos paradise. The network links no fewer than 10 wine estates and farms: Delaire, Bartinney, Fijnbos, Rainbow’s End, Oldenburg, Vuur-berg, Zorgvliet, Thelema, Tokara and Camissa Farm – all exquisite destinations.
Accommodation ranges from hideaway cottages to all-inclusive boutique establishments. Wherever you (or, more likely, your wallet) may choose to stay, you will have full access to the trails, with carte blanche to drop in for wine tastings, hike into the rugged gorges or savour a bit of laid-back mountain meditation.
This immersion in nature is exactly what landowners are trying to achieve.
“Conservancies generally have two main aims,” explains Rose Jordaan, chairperson of the Banhoek Conservancy. “Environmental and social upliftment are key priorities and by getting people onto our trails, we help them understand the sustainability aspects of caring for our Cape Floral Kingdom and ensuring its overall diversity.”
For a last hurrah, head onto the Helderberg side towards Somerset West and boom, you’re on the Wannabee MTB Club trail system, adding another dozen or so vineyard single-track and farm road sections to your MTB stoke equation.
So, don’t think of this as a definitive trail guide (I’d need a whole book to cover every potential ride!) but rather as a taster of what you can expect on a Bosch bike mission. Let’s just say you should probably count on a week-long visit rather than a quickie day trip …
At a glance
One thing is for sure: the Stellenbosch ranges never fail to impress. They rise up in all their Cape floristic glory to enfold the historic town below in a rugged embrace and don’t seem to quit for a hundred miles as they spike the Winelands sky. I’ve often cranked onto their craggy foothills on my mountain bike but it seems that every time I turn my back, the locals come up with a new trail …
Check out www.banhoekconservancy.org, www.simonsbergconservancy.co.za and www.wannabees.co.za, then get the relevant day permit and saddle up to tackle any of these trails.
Bartinney Skyfall Trail
Why ride it: Part of the Banhoek Conser-
vancy trail network, this flowing single-track descends from Botmaskop along a legendary serpentine set of curves known as Skyfall into Bartinney Wine Farm.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 9km east on the R310.
Grading: Moderate. A curving single-track.
Delvera MTB Trail (Delvera Wine Estate)
Why ride it: A riveting combo of jeep- and single-track, traversing both vineyards and rocky fynbos koppies near Klapmuts.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 14km along the R301.
Grading: Intermediate. Easy gravel road loops, plus technical rock garden sections on the tracks into the rugged ridges.
Muratie Wine Estate
Why ride it: This part of the Simonsberg Trail System offers magnificent single-track that’s easy enough for beginners but great fun for intermediate and experienced riders, too.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 10km. Travel 7km along the R44, then take the Knorhoek Road.
Helderberg Farm MTB Trails (Helderberg Farm)
Why ride it: Get into a climbing frame of mind along this calf-cruncher of a trail. What goes up must come down though; serious white-knuckle moments guaranteed.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 23km along the R301, direction Somerset West.
Grading: Intermediate to difficult. Loose gravel climbs with technical to extreme downhill sections along a challenging single-track.
Boschendal Wine Estate
Why ride it: Sweet single-track riding with a world-class Black Route that is
superb for intermediate to advanced
riders. There are also routes to suit
families and casual riders.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 15km north-east along the R310.
Bottelary Hills MTB Route
Why ride it: The Bottelary Hills MTB Route links 20 farms in the Bottelary Hills Renosterveld Conservancy.
All trails traverse privately owned land and offer super views of the Winelands, Table Mountain and False Bay. The four routes range from 6.5km to 27.5km.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 8.2km north-west on the R304.
Grading: Easy. Note, though, that the climbs are challenging. Trail types vary from jeep tracks and single-tracks to farm roads and vineyard paths.
Simonsberg Conservancy MTB Trail
Why ride it: This collection of trails in the Knorhoek Valley combines loops on Uitkyk, Delheim and Muratie estates. The rides are world-class, reflecting the high point of Meurant Botha’s illustrious trail-scaping career.
If you don’t believe me, let your bike do the talking …
Distance from Stellenbosch: 11km along the R44, direction Klapmuts.
Grading: Intermediate. Purpose-built single-track, bush tunnels, STRAVA sections.
Delheim MTB Trails (Delheim Wine Estate)
Why ride it: A perfect extension for a day out at Delvera, this is the spiritual home of some of the Cape’s most popular MTB events. Carefully planned routes allow even average riders to spend 99% of their time in the saddle, with climbs contouring along well-manicured trails.
Distance from Stellenbosch: 13km along the R301, direction Klapmuts.
Grading: Easy to intermediate. Groomed trails along contours make for a top-class MTB experience.
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