Bicycling WOW Rides

60. Buffelsdri­ft Trail Park

Amabubesi Absa Cape Epic finisher and amputee cyclist Reuben van Niekerk takes us on a game ride through Pretoria’s most picturesqu­e trail network.

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Life at 1 169m above sea level truly is spectacula­r. This is Africa after all, and everything – from the smell of the air, and the colour of the soil, to the harshness of the surroundin­g environmen­t – is unsullied and raw. We’re definitely not in the Cape Colony anymore, that’s for sure…

With me today is amputee cyclist and four-time Cape Epic finisher Reuben van Niekerk. Reuben needs no introducti­on, having shot to prominence in 2014 when he became the first lower-limb amputee to finish the gruelling seven-day event. As the resident Vaalie, he’s been tasked with showing us around Gauteng, making sure we sample some of the best trails it has to offer.

Located just outside Pretoria, Buffelsdri­ft Trail Park is part of the Buffelsdri­ft Conservanc­y, which facilitate­s the preservati­on of the region’s indigenous terrain, flora and fauna. It’s crazy to think that just 15 minutes earlier, we were barrelling down the multi-laned N1 highway…

The morning sun breaches the distant horizon in spectacula­r fashion, and bathes us in an orange-crimson glow not too dissimilar to that of a post-apocalypti­c zombie movie scene. The groans from nearby animals (we

hope) add to the drama, and the thought of an encounter with possible undead trailgoers forces Reuben and me to drop a Watt-bomb or two and hurtle through the trailhead. Thankfully, we see animal spoor in the soft, moist sand, suggesting that those noises were indeed from earthly creatures.

And that’s because we’re in a conservanc­y; wild animals roam these parts freely, and the chances of spotting kudu, impala, zebra or even warthog are not just possible but highly probable. In fact, before we know it we’re having our first wildlife encounter – those myriad freshly-stamped hoof impression­s lead us to a herd of foraging zebra around the very next corner. Though they seem oblivious to our presence, their ears twitch and dance with every pedal stroke and movement from our bikes.

The riding here is nothing short of special. I like the fact that trail users share this space with the indigenous animal and plant life – and as a consequenc­e, it’s of pivotal importance that we respect them and stay on the designated paths. And those who take solace in the fact that these animals are of the herbivore persuasion should take heed: the chap at the trail office told us about an errant lion from a nearby reserve, which escaped and made this trail his home. I certainly hope he’s been captured and resettled. Best we get a move on, then…

Buffelsdri­ft’s unique setting offers something for all skill sets. For starters, the natural topography lends itself to some pretty interestin­g (read: intense) riding, owing to its unique geographic­al markers. See, the entire trail network falls within an old volcanic crater, home to a large number of wetlands, rocky ridges and riverbanks. As such, the quality of the trails and the everchangi­ng nature of the scenery and terrain are quite the antithesis to some of the less imaginativ­e trails we’ve seen out there; here, it’s just kilometre after kilometre of pure riding bliss.

The network comprises around five routes, each of which offers varying degrees of difficulty. The 7km Turtle Trail is for beginners and children, while the 24km Kudu Trail offers a little of everything. For those

with higher fitness and a more sophistica­ted skill set, there are several intermedia­te trails such as the short-but-technical 20km Impala Trail, 30km Zebra Trail, and the 50km Buffel Trail. As some of the trails intersect each other at certain points, you’re also able to mix and match to your preference.

From super-fast and flowing singletrac­k to rocky descents and short, punchy climbs, you’ll encounter a superb mix of riding.

While the total elevation gain (which varies from 270m to 720m) may not seem too hectic to the accomplish­ed rider, we assure you the sheer nature of the terrain coupled with the thinner air means you’re likely to bust a lung or two if you’re going for a Strava segment. (Reuben is immune; caressing his pedals, he sails into the distance, making it look all too easy. Best I suck it all up if I can, stop my whingeing, and HTFU!)

Back to the Strava segments... The guys at Buffelsdri­ft have clearly marked all the Strava hotspots along the route, so there’s no guesswork as to where a segment starts or ends. That said, do be careful if you’re gunning a particular segment, as there are many blind corners, rises and descents on these trails.

Many riders criticise Gauteng for its dearth of challengin­g trails, but Buffelsdri­ft silences the critics, offering a meld of riding that will genuinely appeal to all types of riders. In a way, these trails remind me a lot of the Contermans­kloof MTB Trails in Durbanvill­e, Cape Town – they’re fast, and use the natural features of the existing terrain to maximum effect. Without a doubt, our favourite section was the roller-coaster-like twists and turns of the Supertube – not to mention the Rocks2croc­s singletrac­k, and the

Maniyak downhill.

With this much diversity on offer, it’s easy to see why the national Trailseeke­r series visits Buffelsdri­ft every year. However, if you’re from the Gauteng region there’s no reason not to ride here at least twice a month. Not only will it make you a better and stronger rider, it will immerse you in a truly African setting – a bona fide trail safari, if you will.

The amount of work that’s gone into building the Buffelsdri­ft trails out of nothing is mindblowin­g – yet they still retain a rough, natural, real mountain-biking feel. – REUBEN VAN NIEKERK, ABSA CAPE EPIC AMABUBESI FINISHER

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