14 Apr, 2015

Snakes Alive!


Bridges, berms, switchbacks and drop offs! With obstacles like these coming thick and fast, it’s no wonder why most riders clench more than their fingers while riding Paul Cluver Estate’s impressive network of trails. Raymond Travers went to find out why most of the loops are named after snakes and nearly got bitten … again!

The smallest loop I found is called Skaapsteker.

My Strava records say it’s all of 400 metres long with most of that downhill. On the “slidy” thing on Strava, I found a descent of minus 12%.

Personally, and probably because it was the first time I had ridden Skaapsteker, I don’t particularly remember this as being an incredibly steep drop off. All I remember is that it was quick, with lots of clenching.

Fortunately, I wasn’t bitten by a Skaapsteker.

But I was nearly bitten by the dreaded Mamba … again!

The Mamba, together with its cousin called The Real Mamba, is an intricate section of interconnected bridges, drop offs, switchbacks and … did I mention bridges? … It is a shade under two and a half kilometres in length and riders would have to be made of stone not to come out of it without showing any emotion.

It was just before what can only be described as a technical section of drop offs, bridges and switchbacks under a canopy of trees where this Mamba bit me during the second stage of the FNB Wines2Whales Adventure last year.

And, as I approached the same switchback, my mind automatically reverted to the memory of that crash. But pushing all thoughts of “I’m-gonna-crash-again” aside, I handled that switchback. Ok, there was a bit of a wobble, but I made it though. Still firmly upright on the bike and cleated in. And more importantly, with everything intact.

With the benefit of a more relaxed pace and the fact that I pretty much had the trail “to myself” that day, it was as if I had made peace – instead of pieces – with Paul Cluver’s snakes and rode them for what they are. Simply put, they are some of the most exhilarating mountain bike trails I have ever ridden.

Believe me, there was plenty of “clenching” as I rode a combination of red, blue and black routes (I like doing that at most trails I ride), but there were a few times that I decided “I enjoyed that” so I’d turn around at the next jeep track and find the entrance to that particular loop again!

And, if you are younger than the average mountain biker age, you simply have to try the “play park” adjacent to what is called the “Amphitheatre”. Situated near the parking lot and “clubhouse” (which is used as a water point on Wines2Whales), there is a section of trail which looks a bit like a pump track but with wooden bridges, camel humps and all sorts of interesting obstacles. I’m told the younger bikers bring their BMXs and trick bikes to this park and do their utmost to get stitches or broken bones. I suppose that is the ultimate “brag” for someone that age.

But do try the “Amphitheatre”, even although you might feel you are too old for it. It is really fun and starts with a mini-pump track (believe it or not, this is actually included in the Wines2Whales route). And then the route starts in earnest and it has everything, including suspension bridges over a relatively deep ravine.

Built specifically for the Wines2Whales event a few years back, the suspension bridges carry you backwards and forwards over the two opposite banks. Although they have wooden decks, chicken mesh wire is draped over the riding surfaces to give your tyres grip during the wet and reassurance during the dry.

But Paul Cluver’s Thandi MTB Trails (as it is called) is more than that. It has a number of differently graded trails (eight, 12, 30 and 44 kilometres in length) which should suit all visitors’ skills and fitness levels. It is picturesque too, with rolling hills, dams and mountains in the background.

And, the estate is a proper wine estate, so a restaurant, called The Fresh Restaurant, and wine tasting venue is definitely part of the experience.

Like most Cape bike parks, you pay R40 at the gate – R20 if you are a Pedal Power Association (PPA) member – or at the wine tasting venue. Paul Cluver Estates is situated just past Grabouw/Elgin on the N2 as you drive towards Botrivier. If you reach the Houw Hoek Inn, you’ve gone too far!

Flicking through the Strava “slidy” thing again, I found descents of minus 26% and ascents of 20%, so this is definitely a mountain bike trail with plenty to offer, no matter whether those offerings result in smiles or clenching.

So go and enjoy it (the routes are colour-coded and relatively easy to follow) but be sure to avoid being bitten by a snake or two. After all, you might just want to return for your second visit!

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |