22 Jan, 2015

Thaba up the hill

Widely recognised as one of the best mountain bike trails in the Gauteng area, Thaba Trails is described by Wendell Bole as being “like a Picasso, it’ll never be finished”. But with permanent cross country, downhill and the normal green, blue and black routes, it must be pretty close. Raymond Travers, who often rides these trails, shares a few Thaba experiences.

After visiting Thaba Trails a few times, I thought I knew the place well.

I thought that I knew all the turns, all the rocks and all the uphills. And I suppose, I pretty much did know most of them.

Except one of them.

It’s on one of my little pleasures in life. A short but exciting “blue” addition called Yafta. This loop takes you off the “main” or green trail into a wilder, perhaps more challenging and definitely more exciting roller coaster ride over rocks, through bushes and down some pretty hair-raising descents.

It’s pretty short. No more than a kilometre in length, so I knew all its “ins” and “outs”. Or so I thought. But as many, if not most of us know, it’s exactly when your confidence level is at this point that your skill level is a few steps below where you think it is.

I crashed.

Now I suppose at this point you think I crash a lot. That really isn’t true. In fact, I’m a pretty cautious rider and take great pride in my ability of being able to ride most obstacles correctly. I use techniques which I have picked up while watching hours of footage of the likes of Nino Schurter.

So I’m really not that bad.

But on this particular day, I was bad.

So bad in fact that I took a tumble, landing up with my bike on top of me at the base of a rather thorny tree.

Like many “mistakes”, it was the line that I chose which was completely wrong. Instead of following the hill around the corner and passed the rocks, it was just too tempting for me to go straight over the nearest rock.

After all, the quickest way between two points is a straight line. Isn’t it?

And I’ve often been told that the dual suss I rode then was way better at absorbing the occasional thump than my previous hard tail.

That is the first lesson anyone visiting Thaba Trails should learn. Always, ALWAYS follow the correct line. Even if it looks and probably is much longer than the more direct route.

Another piece of mountain biking pleasure at Thaba Trails is called the “Fire Station”. Although it can be bypassed, you ride it when riding the normal green route and it is conveniently situated nearby the … you guessed it … Fire Station!

It starts with a few S-bends that weave their way through a clump of trees. It then “zoom climbs” up a sandstone rock and makes a sharp right onto the top of a berm. This then drops off to a rocky climb back up to the same level.

A roller coaster ride, incorporating a camel hump, leads to a very sandy incline which you must have speed to get to the top.

Fairly technical single track then leads to another drop off, followed by another sandy climb, followed by another drop off, then sharp left hand turn and another sandy climb.

It then takes a couple of sharp corners, including a small rock garden and plenty of roots, and you’re back where you started.

And that, dear fellow mountain biker, is what I call Thaba’s very own BMX track, especially manicured for us mountain bikers!

One of the other attractions of Thaba Trails are the various species of game on the property. This has resulted in me actually going on a game “ride”, complete with camera, long lens and monopod! And it was one of these animals that had me laughing so much that I nearly fell off my bike.

I was riding slightly behind another fellow rider and it was his first Thaba Trails experience. Seeing what I remember was a wildebeest, I gave him a head’s up, quietly telling him to look to his right.

When he saw the “fearsome” beast, he got such a fright he fell, clean off his bike. At that point, the wise wildebeest (black wildebeest for the wildlife enthusiasts), shook its head from side to side as if to say “are you stupid?” and wondered off.

I had to explain to my friend that wildebeest aren’t really human meat eaters and that he was perfectly safe.

So, with its animals, beautiful scenery and amazing single track, Thaba Trails is definitely worth a visit. But don’t take chances and stick to your line, otherwise you could become wildebeest food … eventually.
Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |