Words and pics Carlo Jonkerman and Elise Kirsten
Bored with Table Mountain post-Tokai closure? Don’t know where to go? Well, head to Tygerberg and CY the locals keep it a secret…
People from the southern suburbs of Cape Town like to mock their northern neighbours. If it’s not the ‘beyond the boerewors curtain’ jibes, or reminding them to bring their passports when they head to the city, then it’s talk of avoiding cars with CY number plates.
How ironic then, with the closure of fire-ravaged Tokai and dearth of mountain-biking terrain besides Table Mountain, that those self-same southerners are having to go cap in hand across ‘the curtain’ to find a lekker place to ride.
Luckily the northerners are a forgiving bunch. All they ask is you pop a few notes in their honesty boxes and respect their rules as you enjoy 120km of the well-maintained trails with beautiful vistas of the Cape Peninsula.
Thanks to the hard work and the dedication of the Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club over 20 years, the six trails in their network cover the rider spectrum – whether you’re a beginner or Cape Epic Amabubesi member, cross-country fundi or downhill freak, mountain goat or flat-track bully.
As is their right, though, the northerners have kept some of their favourite spots and shortcuts between the trails to themselves, but won’t prevent you becoming a member – even if you have a CA number plate.
Craig’s Conundrum at Meerendal © Carlo Jonkerman
Distance: Yellow 3.5km, Green 13km, Blue 17km
Time: 1–2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to intermediate
Honesty box cost: R30
Mention “cycling in Durbanville” to anybody not from that area and they’ll say, “Meerendal”. Then mention Meerendal to cyclists and they’ll say, “Stairway to Heaven”. Yes, that’s the power of the Absa Cape Epic; but (as you’ll discover) there’s more to riding in the ’Ville than Meerendal, and there’s more to Meerendal itself – which we profiled in depth in Ride May 2015 – than this widely known climb.
In case you’ve forgotten, the wine estate’s chilled vibe mirrors what cyclists find on the trails, which – owing to the farm’s Epic status – are well kept throughout the year.
The short, Yellow route is essentially a flat kiddies’ or beginners’ track, or serves as gentle warm down for the two longer trails – which are also intermediate-cyclist-friendly. These warm up gently before the steep, sometimes sketchy Mine Shaft descent spikes the heart rate until Dead-Sheep’s Crossing bridge momentarily distracts you before Stairway to Heaven.
The signboard says it took Braam (Louw) and Adrian (Windsor) seven days to create Stairway to Heaven, but if you’re reasonably fit, it won’t take that long to traverse. In fact it’s not so much the 7% gradient climb, but manoeuvering your bike around the hairpin switchbacks that’s tricky – though the second-last one (named after Braam) is particularly forgiving.
At the top, you have the choice to continue up to the 425m-high Dorstberg viewpoint, which differentiates the longer Blue from the Green route. It’s a climb up the main jeep-track road that divides the property, so do so on a good legs day, otherwise you won’t raise a smile for a selfie atop it. The top soil is usually loose, so it needs consistent cadence, and pick your line through the rocky outcrops near the top.
The summit at Hoogekraal © Carlo Jonkerman
At the end of the winding singletrack back down (keep right for the chicken run at Craig’s Conundrum) you’ll rejoin the Green route and cross the jeep track you went up earlier. This section is where you’ll be happy if you’re riding a dual-sus, but it’s by no means unbearable on a hardtail.
Also along here, the Burry Stander memorial bridge adds a touch of class, but the short, sharp climb that follows adds a hint of ‘pass’. However, before you know it, you’ll be sweeping your way back past the vineyard on the eastern flank of the farm towards the main jeep track. As you cross it again, you’ll wind your way into the free-flowing finishing straight – taking in the initial tightly packed berms, small jumps, Brent’s bridge, pump track and final section of bermed switchbacks home.
An alternate, shortcut finish starts just below the vineyard and heads over a poorly kept path before free-flowing alongside the stream over seven wooden bridges. Both are fun.
Distance: 8km Blue, 12km Blue plus Black section
Time: 45 min – 1.5 hours
Honesty box cost: R30
At just eight or so kilometres, the original Hoogekraal loop is by no means the longest in the Tygerberg network, but considering it was built by well-known trail expert Bennet Nel, it sure packs a punch. Add the 4km-long Cobra singletrack, and you have MTB nirvana.
As you pull out of the parking lot in front of Blacksmith’s workshop head up onto the farm over an A-bridge (it’s two-way, so watch out for finishers haring their way down). Thereafter, you pass the cows’ pasture and head up a gentle jeep track. We’re sure a new section of the trail is being built through the clump of trees on the left, but for now, freewheel down and over another A-bridge crossing which begins the existing trail proper.
Puff Adder is the first third of the Blue route and is a swinging singletrack, with the main feature being ‘Beware Alley’ that twists and dips through a donga and back out over a bridge. You build up decent pace, so be careful of overshooting the undulations before the bridge.
As you now look out to the quarry on the left, be aware that you’re approaching the grunt feature of ‘Hoogies’, Spyker’s Hill. This singletrack climb takes you up through 18 switchbacks and 11 corners, but the gradient is not too steep. It’s up to you whether counting them will help you make your way up – we lost count, so it didn’t, but the ever-improving view does help.
As you reach the top of Spyker’s Hill, you’re given two options… if you don’t rate your technical skills, head straight onto the last third of the loop, namely Snake, Rattle and Roll.
However, if you trust in your switchback-descending skills over jumps, through a few rocks and on some sandy corners, then take on the Cobra. It’s 3.7km long and gains 154m… yes, what goes down must come up!
At the end of the Cobra, you’ll rejoin Snake, Rattle and Roll, the 2.6km section that includes the final climb to the highest point of the route, which provides a proper 360-degree view – in other words, a now sweaty photographer’s dream.
The descent home has flowing, bermed (though they could be higher) switchbacks but also has three testing technical challenges – though clearly marked with chicken runs left of them. The first is a drop-off, soon followed by the infamous Widow Maker set of stairs (not to heaven), and lastly, a jump. Make sure to suss them out first before attempting… they’re not for the faint-hearted.
The fun isn’t quite over as you round a body of water, dip and rise over a bridge, and then drop off and over an A-bridge before crossing the original A-bridge onto the farm. Now, breathe – it’s helluva fun.
Heading up the Bushvine Climb at Contermanskloof © Elise Kirsten
Time: 1.5–2 hours
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Honesty box cost: R40
Contermanskloof is at the heart of the Tygerberg trails with Meerendal to the north-east, Hoogekraal to the north and Hillcrest, Bloemendal and Majik Forest to the south. It’s also home to the local downhill community, so make sure to read the signs correctly or you’ll have a ride to remember… or one you won’t.
As you leave the parking lot, ride up the road between The Bike Shed and The Dairy Shed and follow the signs until you cross a wooden A-bridge with the working quarry in front of you. As you gently zigzag your way up towards the jeep track alongside the fence, where the shortcut from Meerendal links up, you’ll realise (or hear) that Conties isn’t suitable for a peaceful meditationary ride. Don’t worry, because hearing your heart thud as you descend through the lengthy singletrack ahead will make you forget the din from down below.
When you see the sign showing hang a right to Upper Super Tubes, get ready for the fun… unless you’re determined to climb to the masts you see up ahead of you (which is where the shortcut from Hillcrest arrives). Those stand at about 430m above sea level, and the concrete section you can see over the jeep track separates the buck mountain goats from their kids. However, even more expert than the climb there is the singletrack back to Upper Super Tubes – steep and rocky.
Upper Super Tubes switches back and forth freely down the mountain (keep left, as one corner features stairs) for what feels like ages until a drop-off alerts you that a brief climb is up ahead. Once you’ve completed this ascent, you’ll pass through a gate and encounter a massive jump on the downhill route into Die Kloof. Ride along a few metres until you see Cheeky Corners… that’s where you want to be.
This singletrack, apart from more switchbacks, also features jumps, so don’t get carried away with your speed but as you exit them let go of the brakes and marvel as you freewheel all the way to another gate with an A-bridge crossing. The road ahead is the shortcut back to the parking lot, but head left under the fallen tree, past a small dam and through a subway – and you’re now at the main entrance to Contermanskloof Farm.
Across the road at the historic start of the trail is another dam. As you round it, don’t be alarmed by the short, sharp rocky rise as you do – it’s not as daunting as it looks.
Next you encounter Bushvine Climb which is gently stepped, but save your legs and wits for the second half behind the tall row of trees – the second switchback next to the fence is sharp and off camber. With your lungs slightly burning you’ll cross a wooden bridge, bound for highest koppie of this side of the trail. A rather bumpy path takes you around the koppie, through a rudimentary rock garden between trees and back over an A-bridge.
You’re now on the last bit of jeep track home, release the brakes, feel the breeze in your face, and picture what you’re going to treat yourself to as you zoom towards the Dairy Shed.
Lombard’s Terra © Elise Kirsten
Distance: Green 8km, Blue 12km
Distance: Green 7km, Red 7km
Time: 1–2 hours
The remaining trails in the Tygerberg network, Bloemendal, the corridor through Nitida to Hillcrest, and Hillcrest itself, are for members only… and this is what you’ll find if you decide to sign up.
The whole of Bloemendal is a Green route and is ideal for those who want to build confidence and improve their mountain-biking skills without any significant (scary) obstacles. The route starts off near Bon Ami restaurant at the bottom of the hill, with about 2.5km of singletrack, known as the B-spot – easier to find than the more technical G-spot in Stellenbosch.
The B-spot singletrack is a rally of dips and humps, and manicured berms. There is a low bridge that winds through the poplar forest, not too high off the ground, but with a few twists and turns. After doing the B-spot, you’ll meander through more trees at D’Aria for a bit before hanging a right and heading up the hill on a wide jeep track.
The climb is fairly easy and you’ll soon meet up with the fence that divides Bloemendal from the Majik Forest section of trail on the other side of the hill, facing Welgemoed. After a little more climbing on the ridge, you turn right and head down Lombard’s Terra: a nice easy, playful section of singletrack, reminiscent of a bobsled slalom course, smooth berms with no hairpin bends and a few really tiny drop-offs with chicken-run options and a wannabe rock garden – a short stretch of smooth, flat rocks that are easy to ride, and there is also an alternative path next to it.
After you’ve done Bloemendal you can cross the road to Nitida, which provides the members’ corridor, linking Bloemendal to Hillcrest. Once again, you head up on jeep track next to a vineyard and turn left, and the path takes you past Nitida’s family restaurant, Tables, and a little further past the dam on the far side from Cassia restaurant. There’s some more fairly innocuous jeep track up the hill until you get to the locked gate that separates Nitida from Hillcrest. Tygerberg members receive the gate code with their invoice after joining the club.
Head through the gate and turn right up the hill again. This section overlooks the quarry/amphitheatre at Hillcrest where they hold concerts, and you can see all the way across Table Bay to Robben Island. Here, the climbing gets quite steep and we had some cowboys come flying down this section instead of coming down the singletrack, which was a little disconcerting. When you reach a small gate on your right, turn left at that point and head through some olive groves and then the vineyards.
Up again, and then either take the Green section of singletrack to your left – or head straight up for some more climbing on the Red route that leads you to the top, with some singletrack coming down in half a dozen tight hairpin bends on a moderate gradient. Or instead of coming down, you can head over the hill to Contermanskloof.
If you choose the singletrack down, you’ll meet back up with the Green route. It’s really pretty, winding through cool, forested sections and singletrack lined with fynbos shrubs, with magnificent views towards Table Bay. Other than a bridge at the beginning that has quite a steep drop and sharp turn immediately afterward, the Green route has no drop-offs or surprises, just simple singletrack fun.
When you get to the bottom of the singletrack, you’ll end up at the Hillcrest restaurant parking area. If you want to go back to Bloemendal though Nitida, just head around the right side of the restaurant and it will take you back to the gate.
For more information about joining the Tygerberg MTB Club, visit www.tygerbergmtb.co.za
Graze where the locals do
The Dairy Shed © Carlo Jonkerman
Rough and ready
The Dairy Shed
Not yet a year old, The Dairy Shed is an initimate coffee shop alongside the parking lot at Contermanskloof, open from Tuesday to Sunday. Park your bike in the racks post ride, wander inside, order your coffee, grab a muffin, or freshly made sarmie or omelette, and sit outside watching cyclists come and go.
Coffee in a hurry
Vida e Caffè
If you can’t do without your “mucho” espresso or meia de leite, there is a Vida in the centre of town next to the Giant Durbanville concept store, corner of Wellington and Oxford roads. There’s no ambiance, but if you’re a loyal patron and that’s your thang…
Crown Restaurant at Meerendal © Carlo Jonkerman
Tame the kids
Crown Restaurant & Wine Bar
Great for a post-ride breakfast (7–11am). Kiddie- and cycling-kit-friendly. There’s often a jumping castle out on the lawn for the little ones. There’s also wine tasting – the Meerendal Shiraz, Pinotage and Cab Sauv are worthwhile – and the deli’s a stone’s throw away.
Bon Amis at Bloemendal
Nice restaurant, good food and has a kiddies’ menu too. Caters for kids, but retains a somewhat elegant yet casual feel. More relaxed than Cassia and a nice play area for kids in front of the poplar tree mini-forest. Give the Waterlily Shiraz a go as they play…
Class it up
For lunch or dinner (after you’ve ‘cleaned up good’) – Cassia is not ideal with kids, though – it’s more fine dining. The food is delicious, and well presented – a relaxing, five-star experience set on Nitida wine farm (the MTB route from Bloemendal to Hillcrest goes through Nitida). It’s a place to enjoy the view with a glass of wine and some adult company.
Source: Ride Magazine