18. Jonker­shoek

Fire-scarred, yet mag­i­cal – flames could not di­min­ish this Mecca of Cape moun­tain bik­ing. Sil­ver­back ath­lete Neill Un­gerer shows Bi­cy­cling around the Swiss Alps of South Africa.

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Contents -

In the Cape, much the same as Tokai MTB trails are to the South, Jonker­shoek is the trail Mecca of the

North – one of the pi­o­neer­ing bas­tions of moun­tain bik­ing in South Africa.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties it shares with Tokai are in­dis­putable – not just in terms of scenery, tech­ni­cal­ity and beauty, but also in the veg­e­ta­tion’s propen­sity for burn­ing, hav­ing suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing blaze back in 2015. The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­build­ing of the trails over the past few years have seen a slew of new lines emerge, as well as the re­fur­bish­ment of some of the older and more pop­u­lar trails.

It truly is a mag­i­cal place. Set within the pic­turesque val­ley of Jonker­shoek,

the trail net­work and forestry roads are book­ended by the tow­er­ing peaks of the Boland Moun­tains – sen­tinels in their own right, hav­ing wit­nessed the rise and fall of many trails. Tucked away in this lit­tle nook, you’re trans­ported to a world seem­ingly un­touched by man, and teem­ing with flora and fauna.

Is this Europe, per­haps? It cer­tainly feels like it, and it’s easy to see why the Euro­pean set­tlers chose this re­gion and sur­rounds as their new home. It very much re­sem­bles the to­pog­ra­phy and beauty of what you’ll find in France, Ger­many and Switzer­land. On a re­cent photo shoot with Bi­cy­cling, Karl Platt com­mented that rid­ing here feels a lot like be­ing in the Swiss

Alps. It’s true, but there is a dif­fer­ence: the dis­par­ity in tem­per­a­ture. Right now, the mer­cury is touch­ing 31°C, and it’s only 9am.

Join­ing me is Sil­ver­back ath­lete and Ul­ti­mate Cy­cling Knysna am­bas­sador Neill Un­gerer – a new res­i­dent, hav­ing re­cently moved here from the Gar­den Route. It also hap­pens to be his birth­day, and he’s as ex­cited as pho­tog­ra­pher Des­mond

Louw and me to shoot some awe­some con­tent. Con­trary to what Neill tells me (he’s a mod­est chap), he’s been rid­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well of late, and has won the first two Western Cape XCO races in the Sub-vet cat­e­gory as a re­sult.

Coached by lo­cal MTB pro­fes­sional Matthys Beukes, Neill’s tech­ni­cal skill set and in­cred­i­ble pen­chant for suf­fer­ing have seen him reg­is­ter a string of com­mend­able re­sults, and Jonker­shoek has be­come his play­ground – a test bed to bench­mark not only his Sil­ver­back Sesta bi­cy­cle, but his fit­ness too.

Jonker­shoek com­prises many routes, for all types of riders. There’s a 10km jeep track that cir­cum­nav­i­gates the val­ley, show­cas­ing the trails on each side that stretch as far as the eye can see. Ow­ing to its lo­ca­tion it can get ex­cep­tion­ally hot or cold here depend­ing on the sea­son, but it’s gen­er­ally a good idea to come pre­pared for any­thing, and to al­ways wear sun­block. Hy­dra­tion is im­por­tant, but the crys­tal­clear moun­tain wa­ter from the Eer­ste River – one of three rivers that orig­i­nate high up in these moun­tains – en­sures you’ll never de­hy­drate.

“What’s that noise?” asks Neill. At first we mis­take the dis­tant hum­ming of bees for chain­saws (this place is af­ter all un­der­go­ing de­for­esta­tion, in a bid to stim­u­late the re­nais­sance of the once-nat­u­ral fyn­bos); but then we get a move on, to avoid a

The trails force you to leave your com­fort zone, and help im­prove your ap­proach to ob­sta­cles and tech­ni­cal fea­tures – both men­tally and phys­i­cally.

– AARON BOR­RILL

meet­ing with Maya. (The bee – ged­dit?)

Right now we’re on our way to the Fire­hut trails, lo­cated on the east­ern slopes of the val­ley. They’re ac­ces­si­ble via the main jeep track; riders can shimmy their way through the many forestry roads and onto the Fire­hut con­tour. These were some of the first trails to be com­pletely in­cin­er­ated by the 2015 blaze, and now they’re ex­posed and with­out shade, the pine trees that once shel­tered them all but gone.

A com­mon thread in this sec­tion is the use of nat­u­ral fea­tures – pur­pose-built and de­signed with the rider in mind, the many lines of the trails of­fer some­thing for ev­ery­one. The Fire­hut trails aren’t too tech­ni­cal, but ev­ery­thing here is gov­erned

by how fast you ride.

Back onto the main track, and we’re headed to­wards the western, lee­ward side. Here you’ll find such trails as The Never End­ing Story, Ben­net’s Red Trail, and the Ca­naries – all of which are quite ride­able, and ex­hil­a­rat­ing at speed.

Of course, there’s al­ways some­thing for the dare­dev­ils – such as The Plumber Trail, a gnarly 1.6km dou­ble-black-di­a­mond down­hill line fes­tooned with jumps, gaps and rocky ob­sta­cles tough enough to make most riders ques­tion their abil­ity and skillset. Like me; steeple­chase-like rid­ing has never been my strong point, and I’m not afraid to ad­mit it. Neill, on the other hand, is an an­i­mal – he lives for adren­a­line, and nails every fea­ture the trail throws at him on his Sil­ver­back Sesta.

The di­ver­sity of Jonker­shoek is very spe­cial, be­cause you have ev­ery­thing from smooth trails to tech­ni­cal and rocky fea­tures. It’s the full pack­age. – NEILL UN­GERER, SIL­VER­BACK ATH­LETE

Once the dust set­tles and Des­mond’s lanky frame emerges from the golden blur, it’s fairly clear our lens­man wants us to ride down the old XCO for­est sin­gle­track be­fore call­ing it a day. With the morn­ing light still fondling the pine-tree canopy above, and the sound of a bi­cy­cle thread­ing a dis­tant sin­gle­track, it’s times like these that re­mind us why we love this sport and life­style so much. It’s a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween man, ma­chine and na­ture.

No mat­ter where you live, if you’re a gen­uine moun­tain biker the trails of Jonker­shoek should be a bucket-list des­ti­na­tion. As lo­cals we’re blessed to have such a quasi-re­li­gious place so close to home, but we some­times be­come de­sen­si­tised to its beauty and al­lure. Don’t. There’s a rea­son many Euro­pean pro­fes­sion­als spend lengthy stints hon­ing their skills and build­ing their fit­ness base here in Stel­len­bosch and Jonker­shoek: it’s a world-class trail net­work, bar none – and that’s some­thing we should never take for granted.

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