12. Hans Se Kop

Ac­com­pa­nied by trail guide, cy­cling coach and for­mer pro­fes­sional moun­tain biker Lance Stephen­son, Bi­cy­cling tack­led the ma­jes­tic Hans se Kop climb in Grabouw.

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Contents -

The colos­sal moun­tains that bor­der the small town of Grabouw are known to strike fear into the legs of moun­tain bik­ers from all over the world. Groen­land­berg and Nuwe­berg are two such peaks – riders of the Absa Cape Epic will know them well; but to­day, we’re headed to a lesser-known but equally dif­fi­cult climb: Hans se Kop.

Hans se Kop is the only ac­ces­si­ble sum­mit in the Western Cape that pro­vides 360-de­gree vis­tas of the greater Cape Town area and the Over­berg re­gion. The views from the top are un­like any­thing you’ve ever seen in this coun­try, and it could eas­ily pass for one of the mono­lithic Hors caté­gorie climbs of the Tour de France. Again, Europe springs to mind – is this France? Or Switzer­land? The dis­tant view of Ta­ble Moun­tain reaf­firms that in ac­tual fact, we’re in Africa.

Join­ing me to­day is Lance Stephen­son. I’ve known Lance for years. We first met when I was a stu­dent, help­ing with de­liv­er­ies at Om­nico Im­porters. Lance was a pro moun­tain biker for the GT Team at the time, and we quickly be­came friends, partly due to our shared (and twisted) sense of hu­mour. He’s done it all – in­clud­ing run­ning the highly suc­cess­ful Epic Bike Shop, be­fore de­cid­ing to take up coach­ing for Daisy­way Coach­ing Sys­tems. He’s also a trail guide. There isn’t any­one more at home in this re­gion than Mr Stephen­son him­self; he knows every rock, stone and bush. And right­fully so – this his back yard and his play­ground, af­ter all. This morn­ing we’re headed for an amaz­ing ad­ven­ture that will take in more than 1 000m of ver­ti­cal gain, be­fore drop­ping into the sin­gle­track net­work of the A-Z trails.

Hans se Kop has to be one of the Cape’s best-kept se­crets. A lot of riders reckon the Tokai Mast climb is one of the tough­est and most re­ward­ing as­cents in the coun­try, but I beg to dif­fer. There are many vari­ables that make Hans tougher – such as the ex­treme fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture and wind ve­loc­ity. To­day the weath­er­man has pre­dicted a max­i­mum of 33°C, but right now it’s freez­ing out­side. Well; for

What I like about the place is the di­ver­sity it of­fers: you can do a long, tough climb, and then head straight into more tech­ni­cal rocky trails. And then there are the ex­quis­ite views…


me, that is – Lance doesn’t look the least bit per­turbed. His Game of Thrones-like ap­pear­ance, com­plete with flow­ing locks and rugged beard, is ob­vi­ously geared to these con­di­tions: it’s 6°C in the val­ley, and the chill from the thick blan­ket of mist filling the val­ley like cot­ton wool is quite… in­tense. But our lens­man Des­mond Louw is ready to roll, and we’ll soon meet the warmth of the sun. I hope.

The sin­gle­track that leads to the start of the climb was once cov­ered in pine trees, but all that re­mains is a lu­nar-like land­scape. The scent of pine nee­dles that once filled the air is long gone, re­placed in­stead by the thick aroma of charred bush and tree stumps – the af­ter­math of a fire that ram­paged through the re­gion not so long ago. While the pine trees were never go­ing to be here for­ever (they were due for har­vest­ing, af­ter all), they added a sense of drama to the sin­gle­track fun. But de­spite the des­o­la­tion, the land­scape re­mains ma­jes­tic, off­set by grey soil and black­ened veg­e­ta­tion.

The dirt road that leads to the start of the climb quickly be­comes tar­mac, a har­bin­ger of the steep­ness that awaits us. It’s not just any tar­mac, how­ever – the bil­liard-smooth sur­face lures you into putting down more power, and pre­ma­turely ex­haust­ing your en­ergy re­serves. I’m rid­ing the new Spe­cial­ized Cam­ber Comp trail bike. Not your typ­i­cal climber’s bike, but what it lacks in light­ness it makes up for in trail-slay­ing fi­nesse – the slack head an­gle and drop­per post should pro­vide a treat a lit­tle later, when we hit the down­hill sec­tions. Des­mond’s Spe­cial­ized Levo is hum­ming like a swarm of bees, and we’re all smil­ing at the lack of pedal as­sis­tance this elec­tric beast re­quires to pro­pel it­self up a gra­di­ent; it’s in­cred­i­ble. But ol’ Des needs it, with all the equip­ment he’s lug­ging about.

The Hans se Kop climb spi­rals up the moun­tain be­fore switch­ing back on it­self a cou­ple times, all the while kick­ing up in gra­di­ent the closer you get to the sum­mit. Com­ing in at a length of 6.2km, it’s not the long­est climb around; but the av­er­age 10 per cent gra­di­ent rises 619m, tak­ing you to a max­i­mum alti­tude of 1 151m.

Once at the top Lance points out the dam­age in­flicted by the re­cent fires, stretch­ing from Lourens­ford to the far cor­ners of Grabouw. Hans would have been forced to watch the car­nage, un­able to help, as the flames oblit­er­ated ev­ery­thing in their path. But what the re­gion has lost in veg­e­ta­tion (most of which was alien) it will

now gain in nat­u­ral fyn­bos.

I put my jacket back on for the de­scent

– it’s go­ing to be cold. And fast. I let Lance and Des­mond dart ahead, and watch as they fol­low each at speed, like a syn­chro­nised Olympic act. They’re pretty quick; a lot faster than me. Maybe they’re braver than me – see­ing 79km/h on my com­puter brings me to my senses, and I scrub off most of the speed.

A few more beauty shots, and we’re off to the fun stuff.

It’s easy to see why this re­gion is con­sid­ered the most di­verse place to ride a moun­tain bike. We’ve just climbed an outof-cat­e­gory moun­tain, de­scended it like rabid mon­keys, and now find our­selves on some of the best sin­gle­track in the coun­try. While it’s made up largely of flow­ing trails, there are rock­ier, more tech­ni­cal sec­tions higher up, such as the in­fa­mous Hole in the Wall and Xterra path­ways. Again, I’m blown away by this pic­turesque set­ting.

Des­mond pipes up: “Wow! Look there. We were just at the top of that climb, and

Hans Se Kop isn’t just a climb; it’s a bat­tle.

But when you reach the sum­mit, it doesn’t mat­ter how long you took – you al­ways feel like a win­ner. – LANCE STEPHEN­SON, TRAIL GUIDE AND COACH.

now it looks so far away. This is crazy!”

He’s an an­i­mated chap, but he speaks the truth here. In the dis­tance Hans pre­sides over his play­ground, and watches us closely as we dance through the sandy tracks of this lu­nar land­scape.

As we make our way down the last sec­tion of fun, rolling around the Eiken­hof Dam and back onto the tar – the no­tion of Pere­grine Farm Stall pies and cof­fee filling our minds – I re­alise this truly is my favourite place to ride a bi­cy­cle. Like Jonker­shoek, it tele­ports you to another place, un­touched and un­governed by man. This is na­ture in its purest form, a gift from God. It’s places like Grabouw that re­mind me why I fell in love with this ‘hobby’ in the first place. Not only is it one of the most di­verse places to ride a moun­tain bike – it’s un­doubt­edly the most spir­i­tual, too.

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