Mountain biking is a great way to travel, embrace the great outdoors and get body-beautiful. We point first-time mountain bikers in the right direction with essential items for the ride and the top trails in your area.
When it comes to mountain biking, what you wear is less of a fashion statement and more of a practical issue. Performance fabrics have evolved, and now can control your body climate by dispersing moisture away from the skin and maintaining an even temperature. A skin-tight base top is a must and can be combined with a fleece if temperatures dip. When it comes to shorts, tight-fitting Lycra is recommended as it doesn’t hook onto branches while you’re negotiating narrow single tracks, although, shorts in the baggy department also feature built-in padding. Full-length tights or waterproof longs will also keep the elements at bay. Local stores Cape Storm (www.capestorm.co.za) and First Ascent (www.firstascent.co.za) are right up there with international brands, usually at a fraction of the price.
Mountain biking is a great way to travel, embrace the great outdoors and get body-beautiful.
Because South Africa has such a small mountain biking market, there is a relatively small footwear line-up to choose from. Firstly, find a shoe suited to the shape of your foot. Look out for a rigid sole to transfer pressure across the whole sole, a padded tongue to ensure comfort, a rigid outsole, recessed cleats and a good tread pattern.
When buying gloves the thing to look out for is a towel upper (for wiping your brow) and inner palm padding (for wipe-out protection and unrestricted movement). Finger or fingerless – go for whatever suits your hand (and your pocket).
Wind shell: As a rule, windproof is more important than waterproof in local conditions. Modern day microfiber fabrics are totally windproof, but are still breathable and reasonably water-resistant. A bigger budget will buy you international labels like North Face, Columbia, Fox Raid-Light and the totally cool Salomon clothing range.
You should spend as much time choosing a helmet as you would choosing a bike. A snug fit, ANSI-approved rating and ample vents to ensure a cool head are all imperative. A peak offers some eye protection and if it is adjustable – even better! Brands vary in price, but generally protection is relative to price. Check out brands like Bell, Trek, Giro, Marin and Met.
Eyewear: Protect your eyes from dust, mud, flying gravel, branches and ultra-violet glare. Base your choice on UV protection ratings and face fit. There’s nothing wrong with offerings from Oakley, Dragon, D’Arcs or the innovative Smith Optics Slider-System.
A wide range of available styles and brands will leave you spoilt for choice. A stable body fit, ventilated back, reasonable aerodynamics, water capacity, storage volume and the bite valve quality should be deciding factors. Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear and Camelbak kick butt in the price department, while Rav-X and Deuter are more expensive.
Recharge your body by fuelling up with glucose-based carbohydrates or energy gels. Anything goes, from corn syrup sachets, GU (maltodextrin and fructose combo) to endurance-rated Cytomax. Energy bars also offer slower energy release than with squeezes, and are best combined with natural food intake – think bananas, raisins and nuts.
Cycling computer or GPS:
Nothing can beat Garmin’s range of MTB-specific units, featuring a myriad of functions including riding speed, riding time, riding distance, cadence, altitude and heart rate! Plus, it lets you store route details so you can ride without ever getting lost.
Weight, price and toughness score points. Park is a legendary tool manufacturer, but Topeak offers a full range of MTB specific multi-tools. Beware of cheapies!
Locally manufactured Sludge will keep you riding through thorns and sharp stones. Make sure you get the right type of sealant for your tyre, or go tubeless for minimum hassle. For your puncture repair kit you can make a choice to either go glue or glue-less. And a pump is essential and cheap enough – choose from Topeak, Giant, Beto and Rav-X, or opt to bomb it with a CO2 cylinder.
For the chain:
When there are 45 kilometres of track and a broken chain between you and a cold beer, you’ll quickly realise that a chain-breaker is an essential item! No imitations please – buy a Park and get over it. Alleviate additional friction that will take it out on your legs with chain lube. Plus, no one wants a squeaky bike.
It’s all out there – meandering switchback trails, swooping down hills and dusty gravel roads. If you want quality time in the saddle check out these trails rated for beginners, intermediate and pros!
Beginner: MTN Toyota Cycle Park MTB Trails
15 custom built trails of different lengths and levels. Routes are graded and obstacles increase according to grading. Entry fee payable.
Intermediate: Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve
Various options, circular or return along single track, tar, dirt or jeep track. For a longer distance, bomb down the wide and corrugated Skylark Road.
Extreme: Groenkloof Nature Reserve
20km circuit, 14km 4X4 trail along steep rocky tracks, single track, jeep track and tarred roads. Be prepared for extreme heat in summer. Fountains Valley has a number of MTB circuits with a variety of single tracks through the forests bordering the park. 5km south of Pretoria City Centre. Entry fee payable.
Beginner: Sani Spoors MTB Trails
Four trails, from 3km to 13km, along pine forest and pasture single track, cattle tracks and river bank trails. Intoxicating mix of mountain-bike trails of varying difficulty and skill level. 6km from Underburg. Entry fee payable.
Intermediate: Lake Eland Private Game Reserve MTB Trails
27km to 40km circular routes on well maintained game-viewing roads that wind through four distinct ecosystems. Rides cover gentle, scenic gorge views as well as the strenuous Dunstone’s Pass. 35km from Port Shepstone.
Extreme: Clearwater Cabins and Trails
Four custom-built and carefully marked trails, 6km to 14km, along farm roads, single track, dirt roads, gravel and tar. Berms, switch-backs, natural ramps, bridges and water crossings add to the adventure. 7km from Port Edward. Entry fee payable.
Beginner: Cape Point MTB Trail
Get stuck into this easy ride along a network of tarred roads meandering through the southernmost tip of the Cape Peninsula. Don’t moan about the tarmac until you’ve experienced the views!
Intermediate: Deer Park Table Mountain MTB Route
A network of gnarly gravel roads traverses the steep slopes of Table Mountain. The surface is reasonably hard-packed but loose gravel, ruts and rocks are bound to rear their ugly heads every so often.
Extreme: Dwarsrivier Conservancy
There’s been a lot of work done on the Dwarsrivier MTB route, and rather than a glorified gravel road with the odd bit of hiking trail, it now features some purpose-built single track to delight members of the fast-track tribe who do head here.
Top MTB Trails is the perfect companion for experienced as well as aspiring mountain biking enthusiasts.