12 Nov, 2014

Sharpen Up Your Skills


Do you battle with drop offs? Or perhaps you can’t quite do camel humps as effortlessly as other riders? Then you need to go to PWC Bike Park where you can practice that particular obstacle over and over again until you get it right. Raymond Travers tries to explain what makes this bike park unique.

I must be honest. The only thing I am actually scared of is heights. Since I was in nappies, I’ve been petrified of “falling off”, particularly heights of two metres or so.

Yes, I know it is weird for someone as adventurous as I am. But the fear of heights came back to me, as strong as ever, when I started this mountain biking malarkey.

Ask anyone who has ridden a trail with me – particularly in my early days – if I got to a narrow bridge or a drop off, I’d get off the bike and gingerly cross the bridge or I would slowly descend the drop off, cursing the trail builder all the way.

Now, after a few years – and a few thousand kilometres – I am a lot more confident with these two obstacles than I used to be. With bridges, I’m still a bit cautious but I am able to ride most I come across with relative confidence. But with drop offs, a miracle has happened. I simply love drop offs, and will actively try and find them and try and ride them.

This “about face” in my skill level is mostly due to what is now known as PWC Bike Park. Described by the park’s commercial manager Marc Fourie as a “beautiful piece of nature which you can experience in the middle of Johannesburg”, the PWC Bike Park is like no other cycling venue as it particularly caters for skills development.

Like many mountain bikers who have ridden there often, it is always difficult to answer the usual question I get asked: “how long is the trail there?” My usual answer is: “Err … there is no trail as such …” and a rather blank stare from the enquirer is the result.

So, to get it out there, PWC Bike Park consists of a series of graded routes, none of them longer than a few hundred metres, but each with a specific set of obstacles which let you practice your skills. Although they are currently being renamed, these routes have names like “The Green Mile” or “Ewok” or “Angle Grinder” and are numbered according to the specific lesson that you might want to learn.

If you a first time rider, you can hit the skills track which includes low (around 30 centimetres off the ground) bridges, “S”-bends, berms, drop offs and a few other “must have” obstacles.

When you have practiced those skills, you might want to try the various green routes, which include camel bumps, “S”-bends and berms. Once you’ve mastered those, check out the blue routes which test your bridge crossing and drop off riding skills. And then, once you find you are handling those, you can “graduate” to the black routes, which include gap jumps, narrow and rather high bridges and more serious obstacles.

So, to cut a long story short, at PWC Bike Park isn’t about riding 30, 50 or 70 kilometre trails through typical South African terrain but its more about practicing your mountain biking skills over a tight-knit set of obstacles for a set time. If you spend an hour or two hours there, you are guaranteed to fill that time with genuine “skill-learning” time.

Marc explained: “The fact that some of the top skills trainers and mountain bikers bring their riders out here to train their skills. And to get them over certain obstacles to get those skills. If it wasn’t a park that had that, you wouldn’t get the skills coaches bringing their students here to learn those skills. So that for us is key.”

And another thing about the PWC Bike Park. It isn’t all mountain biking. In actual fact, it is a venue which you can seriously consider for your next “kiddies party” or even corporate team building event.

Complete with kiddies track, pump track and BMX track – which caters for three different skill levels – the PWC Bike Park can be enjoyed by children of literally all ages, from nappy-wearing toddlers on push bikes to spotty-faced, attitude-filled teenagers with high tech BMX machines.

“We currently do between 10 and 20 kiddies’ parties per month, so this will result in around 400 new riders per month entering the sport. Many of those will start riding the school series, and then they really drive the sport because they then get their parents to ride,” Marc explained.

Marc explained further that people interested in having their kiddies’ parties at PWC Bike Park can now choose between various menus that include jumping castles, water slides, bike “rangers” (who will accompany the children when they are out on the routes), various food options and treasure hunts.

“We have brought providers on board and are now a one-stop shop. Just by checking the boxes, you’ll be able to give your child the most spectacular birthday and become a ‘superhero’ parent,” Marc smiled, “while the parent sits on the terrace and enjoys a glass of wine, the kids are having a blast on their bikes in a safe environment, complete with a medic on site.”

Corporate team building exercises could include treasure hunts, GPS activities or skills clinics.

So, if like me, you have a particular “bug bear” which gets you off your bike and walking every time, perhaps you should try out the PWC Bike Park. But don’t go there expecting long flowing single track, rather some pretty hairy drop offs and bridges that’ll make you dizzy.

But trust me, after you’ve done them a few times, you become a far more capable and skilled rider. And, instead of being your “bug bear”, those drop offs and bridges will become your adrenaline rush of note.

PWC Bike Park can be found on Libertas Road, Bryanston. Check out the website for more information and prices.