by Tamlin Wightman
on February 25, 2014
6 min read

Mountain bikers, I’ve discovered since joining the tribe, are a whole other breed of people. A unique species of human whose values, customs and appearance differ drastically from those of, say, urban cyclists. They have some fairly weird jargon, for one; shouting things like, “Give it horns!” as their muscled flanks in skin-tight second-skins push them up new rugged hills. They’re up before the sun and finished their day’s ride before other humans have switched on the Nespresso machine. Adrenaline, endorphins, lactic acid, blood, mud and sweat are their morning coffee.

The trail from Tokai to Silvermine

I’ve seen men fly through the air, like African tigerfish leaping from the water to snatch unsuspecting birds above. This weekend I watched one levitate next to me for a few seconds, a butterfly hot on his tail, as I walked my bicycle down the insane drop.

The single track riders gather in their own sect like a sub-culture apart from other jeep track riders. Wooshing past them on my ride down the craggy peaks from Silvermine to Tokai one morning before the baboons were up, I couldn’t suppress the urge to sing out, “All the single trackers, all the single trackers, put your hands up.” Weird things happen when you join the MTB tribe, like receiving divine inspiration from Beyonce. The wind is so deafening, at least when you ride at the pace we do, that I think I can be excused for singing it out one more time in case no one heard.

South Africa’s Big 5 Mountain Bike Trails The Mountain Biker

Other strange, almost spiritual, chants have overwhelmed me on inclines littered with boulders and wheels. Native American chants, not too unlike McConaughey’s chest pump in Wolf on Wall Street, hum from my over-exerted lungs. That’s another strange Mountain Biker phenomenon: even when their muscles are spewing smoke, they’re still having a ball. They’re happier than a Great White in Muizenberg’s surfer corner. We just want to sing! Well, I do.

South Africa’s Big 5 Mountain Bike Trails

But then I was clearly a smarter member of this breed, with only a few bloody grazes and puffy bruises on my knees (the scars of initiation). One Armstrong of the Mountain’s EPOs had obviously kicked in and led him to take life-threatening jumps, leaving half of his face on the gravel. Ag shame, better luck next time, china. Give it horns!

I could hear a few tribesmen up on the hills, like little testy springboks, shouting profanities at one another. “Ag no, $%$#%@# man! This is not my #$#@ idea of fun! Where are we?” And yet, they continue… their bikes almost wholly vertical in the air as they descend down to the car park to crack open a cold Energade and cheers the good life. Once everyone is down on even ground, life’s a beach for us dust sharks. We’re a fraternity apart from those pansy road cyclists. We’re real men! With stiff bottoms, jelly biceps and a don’t-stuff-with-me glare behind our sunglasses.

Read Eben Weiss’ article in the Guardian, “The bike snob’s guide to cycling tribes“, for more about why The Mountain Biker is the superior race.

A fellow mountain biker plots his path...

A fellow mountain biker plots his path…

The Big 5

Mountain bikers will travel the world over to find new, challenging tracks to ride and South Africa has just that – some of the most gruelling and scenic rides in the world. Take a look at our favourite mountain bike trails below, selected by our in-house MTB specialist, Ingo Brüggemann, who has pedaled far and wide across Africa, from the Cape’s vineyards to Namibia’s Damaraland desert and the elephant-lined paths of the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. 

Our in-house MTB specialist, speedy German, Ingo Brüggemann

Our in-house MTB specialist, Ingo Brüggemann (right)

Whether you’re a pro in town for a race, such as the ABSA Cape Epic MTB Challenge (in action 23 – 30 March 2014), testing new lands’ trails or simply on holiday and keen for some pedal time, make sure you hit these trails and add in some time to explore the surrounding areas.

1. Harkerville Trail | Knysna – Meandering through shady plantations, coastal fynbos and indigenous forest, halfway between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, this trail offers a range of stunning routes suited to all levels of riders. There are four colour-coded routes (our favourite is the Red Route), ranging between 12-27km, from easy family rides to fast-flowing single-track. Find out more here or visit

2. Oak Valley Mountain Biking Experience | Grabouw – The Oak valley trails are said to have euphoria-inducing properties, with scenic rides through oak forests, past farm dams and some MTB debauchery thrown in to get the heart pumping. There are several different routes, including a 14km, 24km or 32km. Our (Ingo’s) favourite is the Black Route as it offers steeper climbs. Web

According to, Oak Valley offers “everything you ever wanted in a trail ride”.

Oak Valley has everything you have ever wanted in a trail ride.

3. Jonkershoek / Assegaaibosch Reserve | Stellenbosch – Among the MTB fraternity I have often heard mutterings of awe about this particular trail. I think it’s next up on my initiation list. Ingo, however, knows the heavenly Jonkershoek mountain slopes and its gravel road loops like the back of his cycling gloves. There are 15 km and 30 km options and, as points out, “on any given day you will be sharing these trails with world champs and pros who train here”. Web

The Rhino Africa Mountain Biker Tribe The Rhino Africa Mountain Biker Tribe

Above: The Rhino Africa Mountain Biker Tribe. See the competition I’m dealing with…

4. Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park | KwaZulu Natal – Situated on the opposite coastline to the others above, this trail adds some diversity to the mix. As Ingo says, “It’s KZN, it’s hot and humid and wild. It’s a bike park and shorter, but lots of technical fun (not for the endurance athlete…)”. The four trails range from a short 1,2km downhill to a longer 10,2km route. Trained guides are on hand to help. Giba is also great for hikers, birders and backpackers. Web

5. Tokai Forest MTB Tracks – Now for my favourite… Tokai! I grew up around the corner from this never-ending forest but have only recently explored it by bike. I found myself constantly ooh-ing and aah-ing at the beautiful panoramic views, while trying to manourvre stretches of boulders and steep cliffs and get out of the way of white-knuckled single-trackers defying gravity. We cycled from Tokai Arboretum up into the Table Mountain range to Silvermine Dam and back, but there are various routes to take, from moderate to extreme – including up to the mast above Elephant’s Eye. “And it’s especially great for hardened downhill riders,” says Ingo. Web


“All Cape fat-tyre fundis eventually trek south in search of the single-track paradise that is Tokai Forest.” –

It kills us to exclude other great trails such as the Dirtopia Trail on Delvera Farm outside Stellenbosch; the Wolfberg Trail in the Cederberg, and Meerendal Wine Farm in Stellenbosch, the start of the world-famous Cape Epic race. So be sure to add them to your list too.

For more information and to start planning your trip to these cycling hot-spots, contact one of our travel experts who can recommend the best and closest accommodation options.

Take a look at photos from our last Challenge4ACause ride for some cycling inspiration!