Fiona McIntosh checked out The Bike Park at Cape Town’s Constantia Uitsig wine estate and discovered that it was not only within her limited skill set but a wonderful confidence booster.
I’d driven past The Bike Park numerous times before I finally plucked up the courage to venture in. Biking friends had raved about the world-class venue and their kids were eager to show me their tricks but I lacked the confidence in my MTB skills. And besides, I had a feeling that I’d probably be at least 40 (if not 50) years older than most of the other visitors. It didn’t help that I couldn’t even understand the lingo never mind pop a wheelie, endo or fakie. And as for getting big air. Please.
“I suggest you start with the easier tracks at the bottom of the park,” advised owner Chris Nixon when I somewhat sheepishly pedalled into the scenic winelands venue for the first time. “As you go up the slope there are more technical challenges like switchbacks, drop-offs and rock gardens.”
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Pleased at having negotiated the easy tracks without incident I debated trying to take on a rock garden. “I’ve always been petrified of riding down rocky trails,” I confided to Chris’ sister, former South Africa’s BMX champion, Sharon Nixon, “so riding on Table Mountain is terrifying. “You’ll be fine,” she insisted as she talked me through the techniques required for the challenge. “Make sure that you’re in control as you start off down the slope but keep the momentum. Get your weight back and trust your bike.” The 45-degree slope was a mere four-metres high but my mouth was dry as I committed to the descent. To my amazement, I managed to hold my line as my trusty steed bounced over head-sized rocks. I survived. Time for a break.
“I previously worked in textiles but was always a serious rider,” Chris explained when, over coffee, I asked how The Bike Park came about. The Downhill World Champion started MTB skills coaching but soon realised that he was wasting a lot of time finding appropriate locations. Then he had a lucky break. The owner of Constantia Uitsig, whose daughter was one of Chris’ students, offered to help Chris start a business on the farm. He leapt at the chance and built The Bike Park. “Initially the farmer had planned to give me the use of a digger loader for three days,” Chris recalls. “We ended up using it for six months!”
The venue was busy that afternoon with a three-year-old’s birthday party and a gaggle of teenagers trying to out-do each other on the ramps when, buoyed by success, I headed up to the upper section. As I pondered the obstacles nine-year-old Jay Nel noticed my confusion and offered to guide me around.
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I watched carefully as he effortlessly used momentum to propel his bike over the bumps, absorbing the energy on the downhill sections and leaning into the steeply banked turns then did my best to mimic his movements. Before long Jay gave me the thumbs up, and, impromptu lesson over, headed off at speed to rejoin friends of his own age. I nervously joined the throng, wondering how the kids somehow manage to navigate through the park without colliding. By the time I arrived back at the Bike Barn I was grinning from ear to ear. I’m not quite up to the wheelies, ramping and big air manoeuvres that the youngsters have perfected, but hey, it’s early days. Practice makes perfect. And The Bike Park is certainly a fun place to practise.