01 Oct, 2014

Hot and Humid Hills


The Lowveld heat can really get to you.

Unlike most Johannesburg-based cyclists, I am really qualified to say this because I lived in the Lowveld for 15 years.

And mountain biking can really get to you.

Yep, you guessed it. I can also speak with experience and conviction as I even have scars to prove it.

And hills can get to you too!

That feeling where your rear wheel spins, your front wheel lifts and you just don’t seem to be able to control your bicycle up a steep, rocky climb which trail builders seem to love building at most of my regular haunts.

So imagine if you put all these things together?

You get an exceptionally steep climb up a forest single track in one of the most humid areas in South Africa for your mountain biking torture … I mean, pleasure.

Simply put, you get Mankele.

Situated about 30 kilometres from Nelspruit – take the Sudwala Caves/Sabie turn off from the N4 and you’ll see it on your right hand side – Mankele Mountain Bike Park was established in December 2007 by Greg Anderson, Geoffrey Anderson and Mark Meyer.

According to Mark, the main focus has always been on the riding experience.

“Mpumalanga is by far not the flattest province in South Africa so we always try and reward riders with some fast flowing single track after a climb,” he said.

And again, I speak from experience. Shortly after eventually hauling my bike to the top of that hill, I was rewarded by fast, beautiful single track.

Winding down beautiful single track with the grasslands on either side of you, you get back down to the lower levels and the grass gives way to bush.

Then, almost before you know it, you’re back in that roller coaster ride through dips, over chicken wire-covered bridges and, even, under a bridge or two. Taking on an almost BMX-like experience, this is an amazing part of Mankele’s trails which tempted me to ride this section over and over, ad infinitum.

Had I not had other commitments in the Mpumalanga capital, I might have done just that.

You see, Mankele has camping sites, and both tented accommodation and log cabin options. Just right for that mountain biking weekend away. (Check out or email for more information).

Those in the know, I’m sure you know the type as every bike shop has at least one of them, the guys who use words like “gnarly” and seem to think “the pain locker” should stock blood as well as pure muscle pain, tell me with some authority that Mankele is one of the best bike parks in South Africa!

They will probably tell you that the only other park that rates better is Jonkershoek, which is situated in the land of the mountain that looks like a table. Where mountain biking isn’t just a sport … it’s a way of life.

Now that should tell you something.

And what should also tell you something is the fact that Mankele has a number of trails that have been built to suit every rider.

Options include a five kilometre, a seven kilometre, a 20 kilometre (which I attempted to ride with various degrees of success on that fateful day I discovered the hill!), a 35 kilometre and a 55 kilometre trails.

“Mankele has got more of a marathon-based trail network than most of the other trail networks in South Africa,” said Mark, “and the various trails can also be connected to increase or decrease the distance, depending on what the rider wants.”

This trail versatility has resulted in Mankele becoming a popular venue for various mountain biking events, including the Isuzu Three Towers MTB event, the Sappi Mankele MTB Marathon Challenge and the Mankele Valencia Avalanche. It also hosted the SA National Cross Country and Downhill MTB Championships a few years ago.

One great feature about the well-marked trails are the sign boards situated at all the splits with the distance to the finish printed on them. Arrows and danger signs make up the rest of the trail signs.

For me, it was almost a let-down when I returned to the parking lot. From the trial itself, its mostly downhill and you freewheel into the grassy area with a jeep track that skirts the entire camping ground.

I felt a bit “let-down” because I honestly didn’t want that single track to end.

In spite of the heat, the hills and the mountain biking pleasure that is called Mankele. Those that have ridden it before, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Those that haven’t, well, go and try it out. It certainly is a must do of the South African mountain biking world.

And I can say this, you see, because I have been there so I speak from experience.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |