Table Mountain Activity Guide. Mountain Biking

Table Mountain mountain biking.
Photo: Shaen Adey ?
Picture Gallery

Words by Fiona McIntosh
Photographs by Shaen Adey


Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:
Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright ? 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.

The sad truth is that, though there is a great deal of mountain-biking to be done on Table Mountain, there is no continuous trail on which a cyclist can clock up good mileage. Great efforts are being made to connect some of the existing MTB-legal areas, but at the moment most of the riding on the mountain requires a great deal of zigzagging and repeats. There's no getting away from the fact that the beautiful fynbos ecosystem is an extremely sensitive one, and not really conducive to rippin? it up.

Add to that the established antipathy between old-school hikers and gangs of don?t-give-a-damn bikers, and you have the battle lines firmly drawn in the summer sands. Much relationship building has been done, but the best solution, it seems, is to keep the two apart. The most successful example of this is at the Tokai Plantation, where people on mountain bikes hold sway, horses have separate trails, and the brave walkers only dare enter with a great deal of respect.

A team of nature conservationists and mountain-biking community representatives has been working very hard behind the scenes for a number of years to reach compromises on access and to solve the maintenance dilemmas. The result: some magnificent legal riding, with more on the cards. According to the Environmental Management Programme for Recreational Riding in the Table Mountain National Park, a key objective is ?to implement a mountain-biking route from Signal Hill to Simon's Town and, if possible, on to Cape Point?.

Great mountain-biking trails, Tokai Plantation

The Tokai Forest offers the best and most popular mountain-biking on the Peninsula, with good climbing and downhill, a network of forestry roads and jeep track, and an extensive network of singletrack. Another bonus is the shade cover and, to a certain extent, wind protection afforded by the pines. With about 500 mountain bikers accessing the forest each weekend, it's a good place to meet other riders.

A day permit, bought at the gate next to the arboretum for a nominal sum, is mandatory. Entry is generally sunrise to sunset. Route maps are available at the picnic site entrance. Plenty of safe and shady parking is available, with toilets next to Lister's Place cafeteria in the arboretum. Although it is bordered by the Cape Point Nature Reserve to the south, west and north, the Tokai Plantation is the property of Safcol and therefore SA National Park Wild Cards do not hold sway.

A gate to the south gives access from the Level 5 track to Silvermine, but the only permitted entry for mountain bikers to Tokai is the gate at the Arboretum, just behind the Tokai Manor House at the end of Tokai Road. The Chrysalis Academy and Porter Estate bordering the Manor House do host mountain bike events such as legs of the national cross-country and downhill circuits, as well as the All African Champs, but this is the only time riding is allowed on the property.

After paying at the gate, follow the main gravel road up the mountain in a northwesterly direction. This 5.6km (3.47 mile) road goes up to the Vlakkenberg Nek, with mountain-biking more or less to the right (north). Tracks to the left (south) are for horse-riding and walking only. The highest contour road, Level 5, is an exception, with the flat jeep track to Silvermine also open to mountain bikers.

Those wanting good climbing training and superb views of Hout Bay and the southern Peninsula can continue upwards from Vlakkenberg along the tar road to the Semtech FM mast ? 4.9km (3 miles) of unremitting uphill to the top of Constantiaberg, which is 927.8m (3 045ft) above sea level. For the most challenging singletrack, turn right on Vlakkenberg instead and take the treacherous and extremely exposed 11 switchbacks down, though only the best mountain bikers can ride them all.

More good technical singletrack downhill starts about 1.3km (0.8 miles) along Level 5, dropping down and frequently crossing the jeep tracks for 3.3km (2 miles). Level 5's 5.7km (3.54 miles) are flat and fast with magnificent views east across the Cape Flats and northeast across the Buitenverwachting and Constantia Uitsig vineyards. The gate at the end gives access to the tar road between Silvermine main gate and the reservoir parking area and cycle trail. Entrance to Tokai from Silvermine is prohibited, but presumably Wild Card-carrying cyclists can exit the plantation and access Silvermine from here.

Silvermine

With its incredible views and northwest-oriented climbs that make this such a good option in Southeaster gales, it's surprising that more isn?t made of the remarkable ride to Noordhoek Peak. It might be only 7.5km (4.6 miles) long, but much of that is steep, gravelly uphill not to be taken lightly. The entrance is via the Silvermine main gate, with a Wild Card compulsory for mountain bikers. Gates open at 7:00 in summer, closing at 19:00.

From the upper parking area, start the trail at the MTB trail marker, but don?t take too seriously the ?follow the markers? instruction ? there are almost none to be seen from here on out. In fact, almost immediately an unmarked T-junction presents itself in the gravel road. Turn left (this is an indicator of things to come ? when in doubt, go up). After 0.8km (0.5 miles) you?ll be in line with the Silvermine dam wall. Look up and notice that snaking, switchback trail ahead. If your gears or legs are not 100 percent functional, you could give up here and go swimming.

The left turn at 1.3km (0.8 miles) is your opt-out to the reservoir. Carry on up. Blue chip gravel is aimed at erosion prevention on the steepest parts of the switchbacks. The steepest part of the climb, at 1.9km (1.18 miles), mercifully has cement strip for 200m (656ft). Not long after, the track to the right goes to the Tokai fire lookout, which has magnificent views. (Leave your bike and walk this 0.9km (1.18 miles), as it's not legal riding.)

The road seems to fork at 2.6km (1.6 miles). Keep left (the right peters out into what is said to be the old fishermen's path from Kalk Bay to Hout Bay) and go on to the Hout Bay viewing site at 3.8km (2.3 miles). Follow the trail for about 100m (328ft) on foot and prepare to be blown away by the incredible views of the bay, the Sentinel, Dungeons and forever. Back on the bike, the climbing's almost over. Just a little way further and you?ll spot the beacon that marks Noordhoek Peak, the highest in Silvermine at 754m (2 474ft).

Views take in sections of Chapman's Peak, the whole of Kommetjie and Long Beach, Simon's Town and beyond, Elsie's Peak, Fish Hoek, Silvermine East and the Cape Flats. Noordhoek directly below you is only a stone's drop away ? in fact, be careful here in high winds. From here, simply follow the road downhill, watching for the frequent water bars across the road, to the dam wall. Turn right and follow the tar road back to the car.

A longer ride would start at the parking area at the Silvermine entrance for 2km (1.24 miles) of climbing, passing the gate to Tokai's Level 5. Additionally, the gravelly Ou Wapad starts just behind the main gate and heads across the Steenberg Plateau on the western side of Bokkop to meet Ou Kaapse Weg 0.4km (0.2 miles) from the intersection of Silvermine Road to Noordhoek.

Red Hill

A beautiful, entry-level 7km (4.34 mile) route just north of Simon's Town, with views of False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this ride is most enjoyable in winter when the tracks are less dry and sandy. The sign at the Pinehaven entrance at the top of Red Hill indicates no mountain-biking, but, thanks to the MTB Working Group that is made up of Pedal Power Association members and conservationists from the Table Mountain National Park, this route was opened in 2002 as part of the Environmental Management Plan for Recreational Cycling.

It forms part of a longer route from Black Hill on the Glencairn Express way to Red Hill Road via the Lewis Gay Dam, but much of the Black Hill section is so sandy it is enjoyable only to the masochistic, even in winter. Fitter riders could get a good 5km (3.10 miles) of challenging uphill warm-up by parking on Main Road just before Simon's Town and cycling up Red Hill: 3.5km (2.17 miles) of winding tar to the viewing site and another 600m (1 968ft) to the Pinehaven turn-off.

Alternatively, take the steeper cement track just before the main Red Hill road for 1.5km (0.93 miles) of small chainring through Navy property amongst camouflage-painted World War II lookouts and cannon placements. Turn left at the T-junction and head on up to where this road joins Red Hill road just before the viewing site. Park at the Pinehaven houses and follow the tar road to its end, watching for puff adders sunning themselves on the tar in summer.

Turn sharp left (continue straight to go to Black Hill) through the gate and follow the gravel road as it S-bends up onto the saddle. Just before the reservoir wall, look for the sandy jeep track to the left. Continue along this in a southerly direction, until a singletrack forks to the right to follow a small stream? onto the flat top of Red Hill, with its views of the Atlantic and the intersection with the walking trail down to Scarborough. Follow the path as it bends east, zigzagging quickly through stands of restios to the tarred Red Hill Road.

Deer Park

For great views of the City Bowl, not to mention easy post- or pre-work ride access, Deer Park is hard to beat. The gravel roads below Tafelberg Road on the entire front face of Table Mountain from Kloof Nek to Mowbray Ridge are generally open to cyclists, with many entry points clearly visible along the length of this road. In fact, a gravel track begins at the parking area at the eastern end of Tafelberg Road and, following the same contour, is ridable all the way to close to the King's Blockhouse at 436m (1 430ft).

Other Deer Park access points are from the top of Derry and Pepper roads in Devil's Peak Estate, Deer Park East drive in Vredehoek, Molteno Road in Oranjezicht and Glencoe in Higgovale. Though access from the City Bowl is easy, the steepness of these tracks necessitates a good warm-up beforehand and a fair level of fitness. The area has no shade and is north-facing, making it extremely hot in summer. It nonetheless offers some good riding that, it is envisaged, could connect with the tracks on Groote Schuur Estate to provide a longer route, starting from Signal Hill and ending at Rhodes Memorial.

Rhodes Estate

Not overly technical or challenging, the 5.2km (3.23 mile) circular route around Plum Pudding Hill is a great option for families or inexperienced riders. Plenty of parking is available, as are toilets and restaurant facilities. Starting on the tar road leading to Rhodes Memorial, follow the well-marked path for panoramic views of the Cape Flats, with Table and False Bays on either side and the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the distance. The route offers a variety of terrain, with fynbos, forest and streams and only one steep section, the 100m (328ft) of vertical height gain required to ascend Plum Pudding Hill itself.

Further reading

Best Mountain Bike Rides of South Africa by Jacques Marais; Susie Mills, Struik.

For all the information and inspiration you could possibly want on South Africa's top rides, this book is unbeatable. Tokai features strongly, with beautiful visuals of downhillers doing their wild thing, but more important for your average rider is the detailed information you simply won?t find elsewhere: route gradient profiles, clear maps and detailed route descriptions.

Useful Websites

www.pedalpower.co.za
The Western Province Pedal Power Association is an extremely active organisation promoting every facet of cycling in the region. Though more focused onevents than on social riding, their website offers an excellent entry point to all things cycling.

www.dirtopia.co.za
The Dirtopia brand is synonymous with mountain-biking in the Western Cape. Meurant Botha and Arina van der Vyver stage events, build and maintain hiking and biking trails and assist other organisers with the routes and management of their events. Seemingly tireless in his passionate dedication to the sport, Botha has not only been actively involved in organising the opening of many of Table Mountain's trails to mountain bikers, but has built and maintained many of them himself.

Contact details

City Cycling Club - Tel: 021-943-4700
Pedal Power Association - Tel: 021-689-8420
Peninsula Cycling Club - Cell: 082-417-8419

Did you know?

The Tokai Arboretum is a national monument maintained by Safcol. The aim is ?to provide an educational and recreational resource by preserving, growing and displaying forest trees?. The 1 555 individual trees represent 274 species. Each one's location is indicated on a large map at the entrance to the area, prompting visits by botanists from around the globe. Among the other regular visitors are Capetonian foodies with baskets in hand, who carefully select the edible mushrooms found amongst the 15 fungus species that are represented.

Chacma baboons

Cyclists on the Peninsula are accustomed to the sight of baboons, so might find it surprising to learn that after they have lived here for more than a million years, their existence is now endangered. Road cyclists will be very familiar with the Smitswinkel, Plateaux Road and Slangkop troops, with mountain bikers often finding themselves watched by the Tokai troop in the plantation, or the Da Gama Park and Klein and Groot Olifantbos troops en route to the Red Hill, Black Hill and Scarborough rides.

Those baboons with the distinctive red, swollen buttocks are the females in oestrus, prompting much fighting amongst the males. Their sharp teeth, however, are only used for fighting amongst themselves and they are unlikely to attack riders unless provoked. Do not, however, try to retrieve stolen items from a baboon. Baboons feed mostly on plant parts, such as fruit, shoots, roots, bulbs and flowers, small animals such as tortoises, and bird eggs.