36. Wel­van­pas

Wel­van­pas is to cy­cling what the Nür­bur­gring is to mo­tor­sport – a test bed, to gauge just how fast, fit and ag­ile you are as a rider. For­mer pro­fes­sional cy­clist Oli Mun­nik takes Bi­cy­cling for a vert and hurt ses­sion through the di­verse and tech­ni­cal trai

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Contents -

Per­haps it’s the lo­ca­tion, or maybe it’s the ex­treme sum­mer tem­per­a­tures in these parts that scare peo­ple away; but Bains MTB Trails (or Wel­van­pas) in Welling­ton doesn’t get the credit it de­serves. It’s a long way from Cape Town’s CBD, af­ter all – even fur­ther, if you’re trav­el­ling from the depths of the south­ern sub­urbs – but one thing’s for sure: the trails are in the same league as

(if not bet­ter than) the ones you’ll find at Jonker­shoek or Tokai. But we’ll touch on that a lit­tle later…

Join­ing me for a blast around the black route is for­mer pro­fes­sional moun­tain biker Oli Mun­nik, or ‘Pin­ner’, as we like to call him – with a nick­name like that, to­day’s go­ing to be noth­ing less than, er… fast.

Each route (blue, yel­low, black and white) starts at the Wel­van­pas farm, lo­cated be­tween the beau­ti­ful Hawekwa and Groen­berg moun­tain ranges, near Welling­ton. The place is known for its heat, and can eas­ily hit fig­ures in the up­per 40s (that’s de­grees Cel­cius) in the sum­mer months.

While the black route is more shel­tered than the equally chal­leng­ing white, the hu­mid­ity in the forested sec­tions is pal­pa­ble.

I re­mem­ber rid­ing here dur­ing stage 3 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic – it was bru­tal. With 104km/2 150m to ne­go­ti­ate, as well as the ‘small’ is­sue of Bain­skloof Pass, it was a tough day, made tougher by the sear­ing con­di­tions in the Welling­ton Val­ley. Some of the Euro­peans took tremen­dous strain here; I re­mem­ber a good few of them sham­bling about in search of cooler tem­per­a­tures, like the walk­ing dead in a scene from Game of Thrones. Win­ter isn’t com­ing, I’m afraid; this is Africa.

Be­ing here again has brought all those mem­o­ries flood­ing back; and if I re­mem­ber cor­rectly, we’re in for some pretty amaz­ing rid­ing, given the qual­ity of the trails on

of­fer. I’m pretty amped, to be hon­est; and judg­ing by his an­i­mated ac­tions, so is Oli, in lo­qua­cious form as al­ways. “We need per­mits, bru…” Good point – rogue rid­ing has be­come a pest here in the Western Cape, and has led to a plethora of trail clo­sures. Best we keep things le­gal. As a Tyger­berg MTB Club mem­ber, my en­try here is free – even more rea­son to pay for an an­nual per­mit. Boards sorted, it’s time to slay some trails. But there’s no real time to warm up – con­trary to the other trails we’ve rid­den in this se­ries, the no­to­ri­ous Aap d’huez switch­back climb and its nine-per-cent av­er­age gra­di­ent con­fronts riders al­most im­me­di­ately. Ok, not im­me­di­ately… but you get my point. For the Strava junkies, the seg­ment starts af­ter cross­ing Bain­skloof Pass. While it’s not a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult climb, the switch­backs (es­pe­cially near the top) are ex­cep­tion­ally tight to ne­go­ti­ate. The trick here is to give your­self some space, find a rhythm, and grind it out – there are 21 switch­backs, and each one poses a unique chal­lenge, whether by roots, ruts or steep kick­ers. A bit of a rude awak­en­ing, if we’re hon­est, but a beau­ti­ful climb none­the­less.

I re­ally en­joy climb­ing on sin­gle­track sec­tions like the Black Route’s Aap d’huez. It’s bril­liantly con­structed, with 21 switch­backs – just like its in­fa­mous French cousin.

–OLI MUN­NIK, FOR­MER PRO

Still, the dev­as­ta­tion caused by the re­cent fires is hard to ig­nore – like Jonker­shoek, Tokai and Grabouw, Wel­van­pas too suf­fered tremen­dous dam­age. The trees are black and branch­less, and it looks very much like a for­est grave­yard – the trail­ing dust from our three­man cav­al­cade adds to the eerie feel.

Thank­fully, not all the trees are dam­aged; it ap­pears the fire wasn’t able to breach the up­per lev­els of the for­est, and the higher we go, the greener it be­comes. The con­trast in aroma is stark: burnt sed­i­ment soon morphs into the fresh scent of pine nee­dles, a har­bin­ger of high-qual­ity MTB sin­gle­track – at least, that’s what the smell means to Western

Cape riders.

The res­i­dent an­i­mals are back in full force too, and a fairly large and noisy troop of ba­boons echoes up and down the val­ley be­low. We could hear them fight­ing and play­ing as we climbed Aap d’huez – named af­ter these crit­ters, I’m sure.

The var­i­ous sec­tions of sin­gle­track can be reached us­ing jeep tracks that climb up one level at a time; but the ba­boons have thwarted our progress, by block­ing the road. Des­mond says he’d like to take some de­tail shots of the bikes and scenery – ei­ther that, or he isn’t too keen on an en­counter with Romeo, the al­pha (ged­dit?). But Romeo quickly loses in­ter­est in us and the troop moves on, al­low­ing us to move into the up­per ech­e­lons of the trail. And that’s one thing you need to come pre­pared for: climb­ing. There’s a lot of it. But the re­ward is some of the most en­ter­tain­ing de­scents in the Western Cape.

The black route com­prises roughly 27km, with 1 200m of ver­ti­cal gain. While it never feels like tough work rid­ing here, you do have to earn your de­scent; but the re­ward is su­perb – the Full Monty is what we’ve all been chat­ting about, and it’s taken us a while to get here. We’ll blame Des and his ob­ses­sive pho­to­graphic ten­den­cies for that… What scares me is that he’s packed his lens away, which usu­ally means he’s ready to go hell for leather.

The Full Monty sin­gle­track de­scent con­sists of three parts di­vided by two jeep tracks. It’s fast and flow­ing, but also pretty tricky in places – washed out, and rut­ted by brake marks. You can eas­ily have an oopsy: too much gas and you’ll see your ass, too lit­tle and you’ll prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­ence the same fate. I just let Oli and Des do their thing as they jump, bar-flick and tail-whip into the dis­tance. I won’t see them again un­til the very end. Cheeky bug­gers.

With so much trail good­ness on of­fer in the Western Cape, it’s ap­pre­cia­bly dif­fi­cult to cat­e­gor­i­cally rank any of these amaz­ing trails. I think hav­ing places such as Grabouw, Jonker­shoek, Tokai and Wel­van­pas is a priv­i­lege that too many riders take for granted. There’s a rea­son the Euro­peans come to train here: our trails are world class.

One thing’s for sure, there’s more tech­ni­cal rid­ing per kilo­me­tre at Wel­van­pas than on any other trail in the Western Cape. Fact. The ter­rain here is some of the most test­ing you’ll find any­where in the world, and it’s the per­fect place to bench­mark not only your fit­ness and skills, but your bike’s re­silience, too.

Moun­tain bik­ing’s Nür­bur­gring? Yes sir.

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