Bicycling WOW Rides

72. The Spruit

Together with amputee cyclist and four-time Absa Cape Epic finisher Reuben van Niekerk, Bicycling takes on the iconic Braamfonte­in Spruit trail network – Johannesbu­rg’s ‘Central Park’ of cycling.

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Well. Johannesbu­rg looks absolutely magnificen­t this time of the year – it’s far greener than the ‘fairest’ Cape, that’s for sure. A week of autumn rain prior to our visit has clearly kept the surroundin­g scenery of the Braamfonte­in Spruit in fine fettle – it’s lush and green, and judging by the number of people out and about this evening, it’s clearly a popular place.

Joining me once again is amputee cyclist and four-time Cape Epic finisher Reuben van Niekerk, here to show us the best of Gauteng’s trail offerings.

But let’s not forget the man responsibl­e for the impeccable images you see before you: our photograph­er, Desmond Louw. Once again he’s on that darned assisted Specialize­d Levo, which means he’s going to make us work for our dinner tonight – that thing is properly quick.

Our search for the country’s most amazing trails has brought us to the Spruit – a much-talked-about riding destinatio­n that boasts a diverse ecosystem and a completely different riding experience to what we’re used to down in the Cape. Nestled between ‘the Parks’ (the northern suburbs) of Johannesbu­rg, it truly is an exquisite place to ride a bicycle.

A tributary of the Jukskei River, the Spruit is the longest stream in the region, and sustains a wide variety of indigenous flora and fauna – there are over 200 bird species alone, not to mention various

species of snake, lizard and fish, as well as mongoose and meerkat.

Previously known as the ‘Klein Jukskei’, the Spruit originally started out as a hiking trail, but the increasing popularity of MTB has seen it become the unofficial home of Joburg mountain bikers. While the trails can be accessed from various points, we’re starting from ‘The Trailhead’ – the aptlynamed cycling shop located in the parking area at the start of the Blairgowri­e entrance.

Suburban life quickly morphs into nature, one layer at a time; the only reminder of man comes in the form of the distant city sprawl, and the electricit­y pylons that pepper the grasslands. But their presence does provide a unique contrast, and highlights the coexistenc­e between man and nature.

Unlike some of the other trails we’ve been riding in this series, the Spruit is almost completely bereft of inclines – the only form of climbing comes in the form of steep, rocky slabs dolloped here and there. That said, we are at altitude – 1 550m above sea level, remember? – and I still haven’t quite adjusted to the thinner air.

In terms of riding, there’s nothing too technical on offer – there are a few tricky lines and discreet little gap jumps near the waterfall by Rattray’s Weir, but that’s as far as it goes. The myriad singletrac­k ebbs and flows, but it’s never boring – there’s just too much beauty on offer, too much diversity. Tarmac? Well, there is a bit, but the only time you’re likely to encounter it is when crossing from trail to trail. See, the Spruit also gives residents of Joburg the opportunit­y to ditch the rigours of traffic by commuting to work along these beautiful paths.

While distance is pretty much dependent on how far you’re willing to explore, we’ve chosen a scenic stretch that charts an exquisite 20km route spanning a series of parks, stormwater drains, purposebui­lt bridges, and even sections of the Johannesbu­rg Botanical Gardens, before we turn at the Emmarentia Dam and head back to our vehicle. Reuben tells me the Spruit is always packed with action. It even forms part of the annual JUMA (Jozi Urban MTB Adventure) MTB event – a race I have to try some time…

As far as animal life goes, we encountere­d an abundance of birds frolicking and feeding in the estuary, as well as river crabs, and many dogs. While safety doesn’t appear to be much of an issue,

it’s probably best to visit the Spruit in the morning or evening, when traffic levels are fairly high.

As for Strava – well, you’ll look a proper chop attempting to smash segments here. The allure of riding in the Spruit stems from its unique setting, especially when the sun puts on the kind of light show we’ve just witnessed. Was it showing off for us, or is this just how it is? According to Reuben, this is life at 1 550m.

I have to admit, it’s very different up here at the Reef – the air is thinner, the people more affable, and the sunsets are the stuff of movies. Looking around, it would be difficult not to appreciate what we’ve just experience­d. For a brief moment I contemplat­e whether I could live up here… I probably could, even without the mountains and technical riding we have back home.

But then Desmond goes and reminds me of that beautiful flat rock we call Table Mountain – I just don’t think I can leave her, to be honest!

But as the sun dips behind the clouds, and bathes the surroundin­g topography in a rich, orange hue, it goes without saying that the Braamfonte­in Spruit is the most picturesqu­e setting for riding a bicycle in Johannesbu­rg... if not the country.

The Spruit offers a unique, easy breakaway from the hustle and bustle of Johannesbu­rg, right in the middle of the city – whether for a quick blast, or as part of your daily commute. – REUBEN VAN NIEKERK, 4-TIME ABSA CAPE EPIC FINISHER

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