The Ride

Bicycling (South Africa) - - INSIDE - Chris Whit­field

What it takes to ride the world- class Cas­cades XC track!

As a Kaape­naar, I’d heard all the usual things about the trails in KwaZulu-Natal – they were smooth, man­i­cured, and nah, not much climb­ing. Well, I’ve spent the past three months on the slopes of the Cas­cades moun­tain-bike park in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, and they are noth­ing like that. Noth­ing.

Let’s start with ‘smooth and man­i­cured’: the ex­act op­po­site is true. They are grainy, rut­ted, some­times over­grown; and quite of­ten, with fallen branches in the way.

And ‘not much climb­ing’? At Cas­cades, you spend most of your time ei­ther climb­ing sharp as­cents or drop­ping down some pretty test­ing de­scents. A climb to the top of the old UCI World Cham­pi­onship down­hill course goes on and on, and is so steep, you have to lean well for­ward to keep your front wheel from lift­ing.

Com­ing down from there is not for the faint­hearted. But skilled down­hillers can take on the course and its se­ries of jumps, rock gar­dens and steep, bermed cor­ners. Or, if you’re a lit­tle less ad­ven­tur­ous, there are sev­eral trails that will test your skills with­out re­quir­ing that you spend time sev­eral me­tres up in the air.

Fur­ther down to­wards the park en­trance is a net­work of trails that range from fairly easy to fairly dif­fi­cult. They in­clude the UCI World Cup cross- coun­try course, and sec­tions where you might have watched Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kul­havy fight­ing for supremacy.

Most of it is man­age­able, if you have rea­son­able skills and can han­dle steep de­scents; but it’ll give you new­found re­spect for the way those rid­ers han­dle drop- offs, berms, hair­pin bends and other tech­ni­cal stuff. Where most of us (well, me, any­way) are hang­ing on to the brakes with our back­sides over the back wheel, they make it look ef­fort­less.

Fur­ther up, and flank­ing part of the down­hill course, there’s some flow­ing sin­gle­track you could take a new­bie to; but you’ll need de­cent tech­ni­cal skills to get the best out of Cas­cades.

If you’re look­ing for rid­ing that’s both fun and test­ing, Cas­cades is a great place to find it.

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