Words & pics Andrew Steer, Ride magazine
Thaba Trails in the south of Johannesburg was started in September 2011 when the passion of trail builder Wendell Bole outgrew the offerings for trail-building available at his first love child, the Rietvlei Cycle Park. Andrew “Average Andy” Steer didn’t need an excuse to revisit them in the new year…
Just around the corner in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, Wendell secured a 10-year lease to build his own trails on 450 hectares of pretty, pristine, privately-owned bushveld. Thaba Trails was born, and over the years – largely through Wendell’s endless passion – it has built up a bit of a cult following while serving as host to numerous XCO races, 12 and 24hrs, the Thaba Toughee and even the odd Enduro and Downhill race. In need of shedding some Christmas excess, I headed out towards Alberton to sample this playground once again.
Thaba has rightfully built up a reputation as having some of the toughest trails around, but if you bite off the right bits and build up your strength and skills appropriately on each visit, it will take your cycling and enjoyment thereof to new levels. There is something for everyone: An entry level 6km Yellow route, the more challenging 17km Green route with its guaranteed game sightings (its shortened 10km route is also a popular option for the not too fit) and the master track that is the 30km Blue route, a challenge for riders of pretty much any level. You can take on this challenge in smaller bits, though, as many of the technical sections are loops that branch off the main track.
Aimed very much at beginners, the 6km yellow route is a very simple undulating route suitable for riders of any fitness or skill level. Although a good chunk of it is still singletrack, it’s very easy and smooth riding and a great little route for kids and newbies alike. The fun switchbacks through the forest at the finish will put a smile on most people’s dial.
Green Route – 10 & 17km
For most riders, this is their bread and butter at Thaba. The main 17km loop is made up mainly of singletrack and is a relatively challenging, but highly enjoyable loop around much of the park. The main thing with Thaba on a whole, is that it’s just never really flat, you are either going up, or coming down one of the many koppies that litter the area. The green route for the large part sticks to the friendlier gradients, but there are still some little challenges (and some not so little ones – Wendell’s Way!) that will nudge you out of your comfort zone.
The toughest sections are avoidable towards the western side of the park and there is also a shorter 10km route on to which riders with leg and lung failure can cut short their ride if required. The 17km route as a whole is great fun, with a bit of everything in terms of riding challenges, while the game viewing is always a special bonus.
The blue route, at 30km in length, is a tough challenge for pretty much any cyclist. After doing a few of the little loops off the main path, it’s obvious to see why this is such a popular training ground for the more serious XC racers. When I say tough, though, it’s not as technically challenging as one might think, the biggest challenge is without doubt the gradients. Your heart rate is likely to be up near max most of the time and your legs will be screaming as you scramble for gears yet again. Yes, the course builder is a track cyclist of some serious pedigree.
It’s singletrack 90% of the time, and while the full 30km isn’t achievable by all cyclists in one bite (this one in particular), it’s great to push yourself by adding extra sections each time you ride the park, or even just alternating the challenges you take in from week to week. Another serious plus is that the Blue route, in Wendell’s own words, is never finished. He upgrades, adds and removes sections all the time to ensure the best possible experience for the riders.
Most of the little loops, varying in length from 600m to 2km (read the signs) (Prince, Lawrence, Yafta, Kudu, Mzuzu, etc) are made up of steep descents followed by equally steep climbs. Some of the rocky descents have been brilliantly crafted and as much as I suffered on some of the climbs (even walked), it was seldom not worth it!
The climb up Wendell’s Way (also part of the green route, although I am sure it gets skipped by most) is a real long slog, but the fast descent to the fun fire station section, makes it all worthwhile. And if the suffering ever gets too much for you and you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself, just remember: Wendell rides this route daily… and um, he’s well into his 60's!
Thaba has a huge amount to offer, the passion of the owner and his trail builders can be seen throughout the 30km of pristine, hand-built, largely singletrack trail that they have prepped and fine-tuned into one of South Africa’s finest and toughest offerings. The terrain has a great mix of everything, the bushveld is beautiful and it’s often hard to believe you are still in the city – and game sightings, well, it’s not bad to see wildebeest, impala, zebra, blesbok and even a springbok on your morning ride. Not to mention the littering of porcupine quills you will be dodging along with the centipedes out on the track. The neat shop for coffee afterwards is most welcome and if you’re looking for a bite, the Two Trees Bakery (in the same brickyard) is a great spot to refuel while the kiddies enjoy the great play facilities.
Open seven days a week, the trails are open from 6.30am to 5pm
Most of the trails hold up pretty well to the rain, but after typical Johannesburg thunder storms, you can expect some mud out on the course which can make some of the blue sections, in particular, extra challenging. Apart from that, sunscreen is a must during the warmer months as you will get pretty exposed out there.
R35 per rider, per visit. Just sign in at the small shop/kiosk and you will be issued with a number board.
Annual passes available.
101 Klip River Drive
Mulbarton (entrance via the Southern Brickyard)
GPS: S 26° 18' 02.5" / E 28° 02' 56.3" / 26.301206S, 28.048804E
Directions to Thaba Trails:
Directions from Johannesburg: From the CBD, take the M1 south-bound. Just after Gold reef City, take the Xavier street offramp. Head south down Xavier until you hit the N12. Head east and at the next offramp, Kliprivier, take the exit and head south. Travel south down Kliprivier road until you see the entrance to Thaba Trails and the brickyard on your right (you will have a shopping centre on your left).
Directions from Roodepoort: Take the N1 south and take the east split at the N12. Go past Southgate until you reach Kliprivier offramp. Travel south down Kliprivier road until you see the entrance to Thaba Trails and the brickyard on your right (you will have a shopping centre on your left).
Basic bike shop/kiosk (full bike shop at Rietvlei)
Coffee, juice and snacks
Thaba Eco Hotel
Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
T: +27 11 959 0777
C: +27 72 041 3483
Source: Ride Magazine