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.