A couple of years back the Tokai MTB trail network was gutted by a devastating fire, a blaze that subsequently cancelled the full route of the 2015 Cape Town Cycle Tour; but after a tireless refurbishing process by a committed team of builders and volunteers, the trail network finally opened its gates to the public. Bicycling met up with well-known bicyclist and Woodstock Cycle Works owner Nils Hansen, for a day of cloud surfing and trail slaying.
Me: “See that radio mast up there on top of the mountain? That’s where we’re headed. It’s tough work getting there, but the reward is an epic descent that leads to the real fun – the trails. We’re going to hit every jump, every berm and every piece of singletrack this place has to offer, and then we can do it all over again if you’re up for it. What do you think, Nils?”
Nils smiles. He just loves riding his bike. Truth is, he needs no introduction, particularly here in Cape Town where he’s well known for tirelessly restoring classic bicycles from his workshop located in Woodstock.
Armed with a steel-framed hand-made Mercer hardtail, Nils purposely eschews the sartorial direction of mainstream cycling with his eclectic style and quirky demeanour. Even on this steel horse, he’ll embarrass the most seasoned downhill rider.
“The mast climb sounds amazing! I’ve never been up there before, but I’ve heard it’s an epic climb. Is Desmond coming up too?”
Desmond (Louw) is our lensman, and is one of the best photographers around. He also happens to be fairly handy on a mountain bike, but he’ll have his work cut out for him today. See, Strava classifies the mast climb as HC (Hors catégorie), meaning ‘beyond classification’. It’s a nasty ascent, snaking its way up the mountain at an average gradient of 10 per cent.
But Des has a trick up his sleeve. He’s on a Specialized S-works Turbo Levo, compliments of Stirling Kotze Senior of Revolution Cycles. The Levo is a pedal-assist
electric beast that’s bound to result in a KOM or two; but the truth of the matter is Nils and I are just happy we won’t have to take turns lugging that godforsaken camera bag up the mountain.
It’s quite eerie being back here at Tokai. The pine trees are all but gone, and this has created a sense of disorientation. The original jeep track is off limits for now – Sanparks are still clearing out the last bits of debris, and are using the road to move through the lower levels of Tokai.
A detour has therefore been created. Bumpy and steep, it cuts left at the first boom gate and traces upwards, before darting right and merging with the top section of the original jeep track. Looking around, it’s easy to be confused – the tall alien pine trees that once ruled these parts and provided shelter from the sweltering heat have been replaced by small shrubs and natural fynbos-like vegetation.
A small break at the top of level 1 gives us a chance to admire the spectacular views overlooking Tokai, Meadowridge and the vast expanses of the Cape Flats. On a clear day you can see Sir Lowry’s Pass, Gordon’s Bay and even Hans se Kop in the distance. It’s moments like these that make you appreciate the beauty of nature. We’re very privileged to call this place home.
The climb up to the mast is tough; and for every kilometre you travel, you gain 100m in elevation. It’s a climb most love to hate – beautiful but torturous, a benchmark for riders to gauge their fitness and strength
The jumps on the way down and through the Vasbyt section are amazing! I just need the courage now to commit 100 per cent. –NILS HANSEN, WOODSTOCK CYCLE WORKS
against the Strava leaderboard. (The current record-holder is Matt Beers, who recorded 37 minutes for the 10km/992m Strava segment.)
An incredibly loose and rocky section eventually gives way to pristine tarmac
that snakes its way up the mountain for
5km. This is where the real magic happens, as you’re transported to terrain and views not too dissimilar to those of a Tour de France mountaintop finish. The radio mast is omnipresent – like a sentinel, it guards the summit, taunting and goading you to succumb to the pain and anguish it doles out at regular intervals. It never seems to get any closer. But as the cables that secure it become ever more clearly defined, you know the summit is nearing.
You can hit speeds of between 80 and 100km/h on the mast tar descent; so exercise caution, especially since there’s always somebody toiling their way to the summit. It’s still an exhilarating descent, and an ideal test for man and machine against gravity.
Your brakes will squeal and smoulder in agony as they slow you down for the many hairpin bends that punctuate the route. Once you reach the Bridle fork, gravel signals the imminent start of the singletrack. First on our list are the
In 16 years of riding mountain bikes at Tokai, I never took the time to ride up to the mast – until now. I was blown away at how beautiful it was. – NILS HANSEN
Snake trails, comprising four singletrack rollercoasters that bisect three jeep tracks.
While most of the trails are still smooth and fresh (for now, at least – don’t expect them to be this rider-friendly in the future), there are many natural features such as rocky drop-offs, tree stumps and roots making up the singletrack.
Tokai has always been held in high esteem, having hosted an ABSA Cape Epic prologue and many races and events over the years. It’s the complete antithesis to the manicured super-tubes of the Northern trails, and is a true test for any rider and their bike. The surrounding beauty and the many facets of the routes make it quite possibly the most complete trail network in the country.