24. Tokai

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Contents -

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.

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