Does sitting in the traffic pouring out of the Mother City stress you out? Then be prepared. Sling your bike in the boot and pull off the busy N2 to check out one of these scenic wineland mountain biking venues. There’s nothing like fresh air and a shot of adrenalin to reduce stress levels.
Words by Fiona McIntosh. Images by Shaen Adey
Nestled in the foothills of the Helderberg Mountains near Somerset West, this multi-activity venue is not yet on the radar of most mountain bikers. Unless they’re downhill riders that is. This is where the hard-core, body-armoured, full-face-helmeted speed freaks go to be shuttled up the mountains before defying death as they take on the jumps, drops, rock gardens and terrifyingly steep corners of Helderberg’s world-class downhill tracks.
Of course, you don’t have to be an extreme adrenaline junkie to enjoy Helderberg: there’s also a short easy circuit, some moderately challenging intermediate routes and some gnarly stuff for expert riders. And there’s plenty to amuse non-riders too. With stunning views and a range of other activities including Segways, trail running, 4×4 trails, strawberry picking, a kiddies’ playpark and a fab tea garden, the farm prides itself on being family friendly. But when you watch the dirt hounds whizzing past as you make your way down the regular MTB tracks it’s hard not to feel inferior.
A spin around this stately wine estate near Grabouw in the Elgin Valley might be just the tonic if the traffic through Somerset West is its usual crawling self. Or if you get stuck behind 18-wheeler lorries on Sir Lowry’s Pass. Grrr. The predominantly single-track routes, which meander under towering oak trees and past the vineyards, orchards and pastures of this working farm on the slopes of Groenlandberg, accommodate riders of all abilities. Swooping down the famous Star-Wars riverbed section will put a smile on your face no matter how black your mood!
Drivers obviously won’t be able to indulge in a tasting of Oak Valley’s fine wines (though they might gallantly indulge their passengers) but a Bikers’ Breakfast, quick lunch or some retail therapy at the deli at The Pool Room should put you in the right frame of mind to tackle the N2 again.
It’s a close-run thing, but for my money, Paul Cluver Wine Estate, the entrance to which is right on the N2 a little further east, has the most interesting array of mountain biking trails in the winelands. They start with a bang in the Amphitheatre, taking you over a couple of long suspension bridges that will test your resolve. Then you’re on purpose-built singletrack weaving through the forest and onto the mountain. The test pieces, Pofadder, Mamba and Boomslang, sound intimidating but are fabulous fun and you might even see bontebok and other plains game on the way back to your car. Fuel up at SALT, the farm’s lovely restaurant, before recommencing your journey.
If you’re short on time but need to let off steam, blasting around the bridges, drops and other technical challenges of the Amphitheatre bike park should be just the ticket.
Tip Paul Cluver and Oak Valley now offer a combined permit, with which you can ride both properties. It’s a bargain, but be warned: if you buy that one you’ll never get back on the road to hell.
Down The Valley Road – on your right, just a short way beyond Paul Cluver – are the Lebanon MTB Trails, one of the longest-running and best-known MTB venues in the Western Cape. Whatever your level of experience and time available there’s a trail to suit. Just unpack the bike, complete the self-issue permit formalities and you’re good to go for a quick, pressure-releasing spin through orchards, fynbos and pine forests.