Stellenbosch: leading hub of MTB and cycling in the Cape winelands

Stellenbosch has entrenched itself as the leading hub of MTB and cycling in the Cape winelands. Clifford Roberts reports.

Pictures by Wine Lands Cycle Club and Clifford Roberts

It’s still dark and I’m alone when I arrive at the locked gate. My excitement is tempered by lack of sleep, a little trepidation about the track ahead and the disorientation that would accompany any first-timer. Suddenly, a light bulb clicks on in the guardhouse. I buy my ticket, rouse ‘Bezerkgangr’ – my moniker for my faithful steed and mountain bike – and launch to the mountains of Jonkershoek.

I’m grateful for having packed the bicycle for this overnight stay at the nearby Lanzerac Hotel & Spa because if there’s one place with enough trails and rides to fill multiple days, it’s Stellenbosch. If you’re a winelover, then there’s really no other destination to consider. The wealth of accommodation, from high-end luxury stays and guesthouses to Airbnbs and farm stays, puts you practically on the trails wherever you book.

In fact, the popularity and variety of local trails is one reason for the recent launch of a multi-regional Winelands cycling permit, the first of its kind, that gives riders access to five of South Africa’s most attractive MTB regions, including Grabouw, Somerset West, Stellenbosch and Jonkershoek, and as far as Paarl, Wellington and Franschhoek.

The idea for the annual permit germinated in Stellenbosch and the provision of access to more than 500km of trails over private land was made possible through the Wine Lands Cycling Club, Stellenbosch Trail Fund, MTO Jonkershoek and Winelands Trails. For out-of-towners, however, there are alternatives such as paying single-day entry via local pay points or using a company like Adventureshop, which covers the cost of permits in its organised tours.

Planning a multi-day MTB trip to Stellenbosch will ultimately require deciding on a region, and fortunately each caters for diverse skill levels. Touring some of Stellenbosch’s historic sights on an e-bike – an experience offered by Adventureshop – is probably the most accessible of the lot. This particular guided ride takes up to five hours at an easy pace along shaded gravel tracks and quiet streets, with visits to Stark-Condé and Lanzerac wine farms. Other routes by Adventureshop include trips from Stellenbosch town to the Banhoek Valley, with stops at some notable wine farms along the Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

To identify other MTB-friendly regions to tackle in the vicinity, it may help to plan according to the segmentation of Stellenbosch’s several ‘sub-’ wine routes. When observed from above, the sub-route system resembles a series of wedges radiating from Stellenbosch town as its centre. Greater Simonsberg lies to the north-east of the town and incorporates the Jonkershoek Valley to the R44 towards Paarl. It’s where the dramatic Sky Traverse MTB trail is located, tracking the cliff-faces on the upper reaches of Old Bethlehem farm. There are also few better ways of exploring the historic villages of Pniel and Kylemore than from the saddle of a bike.

The region’s southerly neighbour is Stellenbosch Berg, home to wineries such as Kleine Zalze, Vriesenhof and Stellenzicht, which are also accessible via MTB trails.

Helderberg extends to the False Bay shore and is where most of the Wine Lands Cycling Club trails lie, criss-crossing wine farms such as Ernie Els and Lyngrove.

Stellenbosch Valley is situated south-west of Stellenbosch and covers the triangular area roughly bordered by the R310 road and the R304. Here you’ll find farms such as De Toren, Spier, Jordan Wines, De Waal and Overgaauw.

Lastly, there’s Bottelary Hills, which is located north-west of Stellenbosch and is wedged in by the R304 and the M23. Wineries here include Beyerskloof, Hartenberg and Villiera. It is also the heartland of more MTB heaven in the form of the Bottelary Hills Renosterveld Conservancy, which overlaps onto other sub-routes. Expect farm roads, jeep tracks and numerous singletracks suitable for all skill types. All are located on private working wine farms so riders need to be aware of people and activity, but it also means there’s plenty of opportunity for breaks at local tasting rooms like Simonsig, Beyerskloof, Bellevue, Mooiplaas, Neethlingshof and Hazendal.

Day permits for the Bottelary Hills Conservancy cost R70 and are sold at route access points. More details are available on the relevant website below.

As for bicycle services, Stellenbosch itself is a hub of bike shops and several properties have trail centres. Some of them, like Boschendal and the Ride In Café on Jonkers-
hoek Road, even rent out bicycles and gear. And should everything not go according to plan, Somersbosch in the Helderberg area has a repair shop.

Back in the Jonkershoek Mountains, the sun has emerged from behind the peaks. I’m a third of the way into my planned excursion and the views are spectacular. The bush has recovered after the fire of months ago and is alive with the morning chorus. But there’s a struggle going on in my mind. I’m in Jonkershoek now, but already thinking about where tomorrow’s trails might take me.

Just breathe, I tell myself. And I do.

Websites to help you plan your trip

www.adventureshop.co.za is the website of the eponymous Stellenbosch-based enterprise that was founded by Raino Bolz in 2000. It has since expanded to offer a range of cycling and other experiences in Stellenbosch, as well as other famous destinations in the Cape winelands.

www.stellenboschtrailfund.co.za is the home page of the Stellenbosch Trail Fund, a community organisation that maintains several of Stellenbosch’s natural attractions, including the upper reaches of the Eerste River and hiking, biking and running trails in and around Stellenbosch. Its stewardship is funded by both private and corporate donors and extends to facilitating skills development and creating economic opportunities in outdoor recreation and tourism.

www.winelandscyclingclub.co.za showcases the work of the Wine Lands Cycling Club (WLCC), a volunteer-based, multi-disciplinary club that facilitates and promotes cycling activities as well as trail running for its members within the local community. It was founded in 2004.

www.bottelaryconservancy.co.za unpacks the full story of the Bottelary Hills Renosterveld Conservancy (BHRC), a non-profit community that focuses on conservation and the maintenance of MTB trails. Members contribute by following sustainable farming and wine production practices through the adoption of biodiversity guidelines by the South African wine industry.

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