Ride Here – Big Red Barn
Words & pics Andrew “Average Andy” Steer
Big Red Barn is named after, well, a big (refurbished) red barn that is the base for all the activities at the 200ha Sunlawns Estate, just 15 minutes outside of Centurion in Gauteng.
Mountain-bike routes aside, the BRB (as it’s affectionately known) is a popular venue for the Jeep Warrior obstacle-racing series, hosts many local MTB races, and has a great restaurant. It is also home to Acrobranch tree adventures – an exciting additional feature that will likely appeal to the MTB fraternity. It may not be the biggest MTB park out there, but it’s a spot you’ll find yourself going back to time and again.
On offer are four trails, all within close proximity of the barn. They range from a basic entry-level track for kids, where they can get comfy on their bikes on simple singletrack, to a reasonably challenging 27km route (incorporating all the trails on offer) that will having you whooping with delight as you wind your way around the park.
The terrain is largely flat, and, short surges aside, there is pretty much no climbing in the park. That doesn’t mean you won’t work, though: the endless ramps, drops and berms will keep you on your toes and ensure you burn enough calories to enjoy a treat at the restaurant after your ride.
The trails start from just outside the parking lot and are graded according to IMBA standards: green for easy, blue for intermediate and black for advanced riders. It’s pretty much singletrack all the way and the routes are generally well marked, but I did find the white A4 name boards pretty much impossible to keep track of at speed – so I just followed the colours which were a lot more evident. Doing the longer route meant it mattered little – the worst-case scenario was an extra few minutes of fun!
Route 1 – Blast Off
The big one at BRB is Blast Off – an adrenalin-charged (for the large part) ripper of a route that takes in all 27km of trail that the park has to offer. The green bits are fast and flowing, the blue bits add a bit more spice (usually in the form of a little gradient and some supersized humps) and the black bits – well, they’re for advanced riders, so treat with caution.
That said, most competent riders will view the black-route obstacles as very achievable. Just keeping your weight back and hands off the brakes on 90 per cent of the steep drops will see you comfortably home. But grab a fist full of brakes and you’ll likely find yourself starring in some new YouTube/GoPro footage and touring the local medical facilities.
Blast Off's first half is the toughest, as the challenges come thick and fast, but it eases up later as the miles tick away on the green sections and many of the fun bits can be repeated. It takes around two hours for the average cyclist, so for those keen on a bit more distance, a second lap may be in order, especially since there is little in the way of climbing.
Route 2 – Easy Rider
Taking in the easier blue sections and all of the green route, this 16km stretch will appeal to most families and groups looking to ride together. It’s also ideal for less skilled riders with a decent amount of fitness.
It’s not boring, but it’s pretty safe and non-technical, so it's a comfortable way to spend a morning getting acquainted with your bike. You can always take on extra blue sections as you see fit, upping your distance and boosting your bike confidence.
Route 3 – Hallelujah
Hallelujah runs mainly through the forests of the park, but also through a few open sections, and you will cover most of the park on this fun, green-graded singletrack.
It’s easy enough for anybody with enough fitness to ride 12km. It’s also one of the dedicated trail running routes, but lends itself well to hosting both disciplines, so don’t let that put you off. It’s fast and fun; you’ll barely touch your brakes on this little roller coaster.
Route 4 is currently out of commission
Route 5 – Altogether Now
A gentle 4km cruise through the beautiful eucalyptus forest surrounding the barn, this is an easy ride for anybody and an ideal spin out for little kids. While still fun and interesting, there is nothing remotely challenging, and the gradient and smooth surface make for an enjoyable outride.
This is not a trail as such;¬ there is a little play area in front of the barn (in full view of the restaurant deck) for kids to practise navigating their bikes through simple singletrack and over basic humps and bumps.
It’s a great day out, and BRB caters for the whole family with its great facilities and activities. The riding distance may be a little on the low side, and the surrounds are sometimes a little too Gauteng-esque, but you’ll have a good time nevertheless.
You could spend hours on the endless berms, BMX track-like humps, switchbacks, wall rides, bridges and play sections that litter the trail. The overlapping routes also allow different-strength riders to enjoy the trails together. A huge amount of work has been done, and continues to be done, on the routes – so, for R45 a ride, it’s great value for money.
Open seven days a week; no booking required. Helmets are compulsory.
Winter: May – September, 6.45am–4.30pm
Summers: September – April, 6am–5.30pm
It’s warm most of the year round, and in the summer months in particular – but the relatively short route and its sheltered nature should keep you safe from the sun for much of the time. In the summer months, some sections become a bit boggy, but not enough to put you off your ride.
Purchase your tickets inside the barn before you ride.
Adults: R45; children under 12: R25; pensioners and students: R35
Group and club discounts available on request
Bike rental: adult, geared Momsen and Giant, all sizes, R175/bike, helmet included (R300 deposit); kids, singlespeed bikes, R100/bike, helmet included (R200 deposit)
Bike bookings: 078 343 6939 or email [email protected]
MTB guides also available at R150/hour
7 Nelson Rd, Sunlawns AH, 1666, Olifantsfontein, Gauteng
GPS Coordinates: S 25 55 639' E 028 13. 673'
An adventurous option for any family members not too keen on two-wheeled pursuits, or who just need to kill an extra hour while the others hit the longer trails. www.acrobranch.co.za; 072 957 5429; [email protected]
With a nice view over the kids’ track and playing areas, it’s the ideal spot to relax and refuel after a morning’s exertions. There’s a wide range of meals (pizzas, burgers, wraps) and beverages (coffee, cooldrinks, but sadly, no beer) on offer.
MTB and trail running: 078 343 6939 (8am to 4pm daily)
Restaurant reservations: 076 224 2684 (8am to 4pm daily)
Kids’ Parties – 072 617 7667
About The Barn
Sunlawns farm has been in the Cullinan family since 1906, when it was purchased by Sir Thomas Cullinan, founder of the Premier mine in Cullinan (where the world’s largest diamond was discovered). It is a working farm, growing berries, salad leaves, vegetables and organic herbs.
The Big Red Barn was the brainchild of Pamela Cullinan, and her dream was brought to life by her daughter and sons. Pamela and her oldest son Dominic salvaged the huge old hay barn, estimated to be over 90 years old, from a neighbouring farm and transported it to Sunlawns piece by piece, using a tractor and trailer.
A firm of architects was commissioned to create a design that is modern, yet retains the integrity of the original barn. The brief was to keep the openness and create a venue that would be both utilitarian and awe-inspiring.
Pamela’s son Sean project-managed the rebuilding of the massive steel structure and the interior, facebrick pods that house the kitchen and ablution facilities at either end of the barn. Her daughter Victoria scoured second-hand furniture shops for tables, chairs and light fittings. Dominic, a farmer and keen mountain biker, manages the cycle tracks. Benedict, an attorney, assists with legal matters, and Adam, a chiropractor, helps sort out stressed family necks and backs.
Source: Ride Magazine