Thursday, December 29, 2011

Xtreme Dinner New Years 2012 - invite

 It's Xtreme Dinnertime again!

You are cordially invited to a celebration of (insert own reason) on 1 January 2012 at 7:00 on top of the Tugela falls (Amphitheatre, Drakensberg)

Dress code: Black Tie
We'll most likely leave Gauteng around Saturday morning (31/12/2011). Sleep in the mountain that evening, either at the top, or in Sentinel Cave on the way to the top (depending on numbers).
The Dinner will be on 1 January 2012, and than walk down & drive back later on 1 January, or on 2 January for those who want to explore more.

RSVP as soon as possible so that we can arrange transport/food/props. You'll need (among other things) a proper rain jacket, ball gown or tux (or similar), sleeping bag & place in a tent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mankele: Come join the Joyride

Mankele \Man'ke'le\
(adj) Superlative degree of huge: big grin, huge grin, makulu grin, Mankele grin. He had a Mankele grin on his face after they avalanched downhill.
(interj) An exclamation of extacy, usually after a specifically technical or fast piece of singletrack. Mankele, but that was a good ride!
source: Adri's Dictionary of Montainbiking terms

The first time I experienced the Mankele-grin was after the inaugural Mankele-Sudwala marathon way back in 2007.  Afterwards I vowed to go back there to explore at leasure.

Years later I criss-crossed the tracks on foot, this time during an adventure race.  The morning after the adventure race (while all other sensible adventurers were sleeping or recovering) team Lickety Split explored the singletracks.
Again I vowed to go back to explore at leasure.

When Team Clueless finished the 3 Towers and experienced the Mankele-grin again on all the faces around us, we knew it was time to share the Mankele Secret.

Quick-quick we identified a few friends, a weekend, a campsite and a menu. Game On.

The first few car-loads of people and bikes arrived on Thursday evening before the Reconciliation long weekend. They pitched tents in rain while the left-behinders frantically baked last-minute muffins. On Friday morning the early-arrivers tested their bikes on the orange tracks while waiting for the last carloads of people and bikes.

The weekend followed a pattern exploring different coloured bike routes, lazing around in the sun around the swimming pool, eating, tubing and more singletracking.

The camping kitchen is well-equipped with kettles, stoves, a fridge, a microwave, sunlight liquid and basins.
The bathrooms are kept clean and we had no issues with hot water.
There's 2 swimming pools, a small shop, powerwash for dirty bikes and outside hot showers if you'd prefer to shower with your bike after a particularly muddy ride.

Some notes on some of the tracks:
Orange - I didn't get to do the full route this time, but it's the cross country track and sufficiently technical without being too intimidating. About 8 km of good fun. Includes a climb to get the heart rate up.
Yellow - This is supposed to be the beginner route, but two search parties couldn't find it. When we asked the guide for instructions, he frowned and asked why anyone would want to ride a beginner route. Indeed :D
Green - A fair amount of climbing with some excellent rewards through the bushtunnels. The stuff Mankele is famous for, and the reason why we went there.
Blue - Around 5 km of moderate tracks, with optional techincal loops. An excellent track for night-riding, albeit a bit short. Add a bit of pink to up the night-distance.
Pink - Don't be fooled by the short distance. It includes a decent climbie and some seriously cool flowing singletrack.
Red & Purple - I didn't get to ride these the weekend, but from the grins on Mummy Man, Nadine & Donovans' faces, it was some good riding.
Black - The best parts, but not for beginners, and possibly not for night-riding. The hardtail managed, but it probably would have been a bit quicker (and safer) to tackle those trails on the Trance.
Fourcross-track and kiddies track: great for riding with the kids, night-riding, testing other peoples' bikes, and adding a bit of distance and smileage.
Tubing - Tubes are included in the camping fee; collect them from Christopher at the gate. Make sure he pumps them. Small (slighlty deflated) tubes seem to be quicker on the river than the big ones. Remember to lift your bum in the rapids!

All the cycling routes are well-marked (except the yellow, which we couldn't find.)

Batteries properly recharged. Life is too short to not have a Mankele weekend every now and again!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dark & Dirty Jinglebellride

Too soon it was the end of another year.

We couldn't remember the Jinglebell-lyrics from last year, so we had to invent new ones.
End of the World wasn't as gnarly as I remember (it looks like it could have been used as vehicle-access to either a Sanral project or a Gautrain project)
Gauntlet was every bit as cool as I remember.
The lights was pretty, the tar downhills in the rain exhilarating, the company exquisite.

It's got to be Dirty
It's got to be diii-i-i-rty!
Too many people take second best
I wouldn't settle for anything less
It's got to beeeee-e-eeeeee DIRTY

Lawley Street lights.

Eric's glowing frame.

Oupa Gerrit sorting out his fairy lights. Rainproof and accident-proof. 

It definately looked like rain, dear.

Zu thinking about how she'd beaten Mummy Man up one of the long steep climbs.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Van Gaalens Mood Enhancing School Bunk Ride: Thursday morning

"I'm going slightly mad
I'm one wave short of a shipwreck
Missing that one final screw
slightly mad ... it finally happened"

It's the usual end-of-year craziness. And the usual end-of-year irritatedness. So when Dawn mentioned that she desperately needs a mood-enhancing ride, I realised I'm also running out of space to hide the bodies.

So we decided to bunk school on Thursday and go ride the best mood-lifter that I know of: Van Gaalens Daggapad. We didn't think that we'd get anyone else that would be able to ride midweek mornings, but we sent out a few invitations anyway, and before we knew it Leon, Adri, Anja, Brendan and Andy were up for the challenge.

Van Gaalens opens at 8 on weekday mornings, but they left the gate open for us and we arranged to pay  when we came back.

The skies looked dark, but the singletrack called. Brendan would be late, and we decided that he would catch up with us. (He's training for Desert Dash, so need the speed :) )
We left slightly after 6, and soon it started drizzling. Absolute perfect weather to ride in. At the top of the cement track we waited for Brendan to catch up with us while Leon checked out the Pofadder tracks. (Why would anyone ride the Pofadder when the Daggapad is just next door?)

Then we went down - first the rocky bit, then the fast flowing bit, and then into the forest. Reward aplenty for the horrible climb. We were riding superb singletrack while other people were stuck in traffic on their way to the office.

By the time we reached the hidden singletrack next to the dirtroad, everyone was grinning- and our working colleagues probably would be arriving at the office.

The rain came & went, so we never were soaking wet. But it was wet enough to cause a lot of mud and slippery-ness on the river track. Some of the trails that were easy on Saturday suddenly became more tricky in the mud. (Good luck to the 24 hour riders this weekend - it would be interesting if the tracks don't dry out soon.)

Is it legal to have this much fun on a mountainbike?

Dawn, Adri, Leon, Anja, Andy, Brendan - you are the coolest crowd; thank you for an awesome morning out! THANK YOU!

Adri & Leon sorting an issue on Adri's bike while we waited for Brendan to catch up with us.

Anja showing Adri and Dawn how to ride one of the numerous bridgies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Van Gaalens: it really is that good.

I love riding at van Gaalens with people who' never tasted that singletrack. I love the grins on their faces all through the ride, and how they glow afterwards. I love how for days afterwards they still talk about how they rode all the genres of Mountain biking in one ride. A bit of gravel, a bit of climbing on cement tracks, a bit of technical climbing, lots of singletrack, higher grade technical stuff, a bit of cross country. Some parts of the ride feel like fountains, some parts feel like Groenkloof, some feel like Sabie. Mud. dust. Rocks. Gravel. Sand. Depending on the route there may be a bit of farmland, sandy roads, a gravel road or two, rivercrossings, gnarly downhills, rocky descents, fast flowing singletrack, bumps, forests. Wooden bridges, skinnys, bushtunnels. Kilometers and kilometers of singletrack. A cafe along the way for a Fanta Orange break. A hidden singletrack high above the dirtroad. Steep climbs and hairy drops.

When Donald discovered the Daggapad on Saturday, I wasn't disappointed. Big grins from start to finish. Just before we finished the ride, we spoke about how varied the terrain was, and how it covered all the genres of Mountain Biking.
'Except Floating Bridges', Donald commented.

Here's Donald on the floating bridge that we crossed shortly after that remark :D

... and here's Zurika on one of the numerous bridges.

All that the world need is more singletrack. Can't ride there and be grumpy. Just equip the Cop17 delegates with bikes and send them on the daggapad. All will be well with the world afterwards :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pop goes the Nevegal

I loved the Nevegal. It had grip on muddy treestumps and could climb up slippery steps where other tyres (and nerves) failed. It wasn't the fastest rolling tyre I've ever had, but it inspired confidence and that was all I needed.

It was a warranty replacement for a Karma that burst overnight in the shop after the bike shop topped up on slime/stans/magic_potion. The bike shop didn't have Karmas in stock so rather than wait, I trusted my trusty mechanic's opinion that I would like this tyre. As always, he was right; I did :)

Until Sunday Afternoon.
The Trance was in the shop, so I did the 10 hours on the hardtail. Saturday's MTB Orienteering at Groenkloof too, and Sunday's 94.7 Mountain Bike event.

Then, Sunday afternoon while catching up on lost sleep, I heard an unearthly 'bang' in the kitchen. (What? Dont your bike sleep in the kitchen too?) It took a while to gather the courage to go investigate the commotion.

Found a flat Nevegal, and a piece of the rubber about 3 metres away.

I have no idea why it popped. The bike shop also couldn't give an answer. There was still plenty of thread on it, and I still wanted to take it places.

At least it didn't pop during hte 10 hours, or the Orienteering, or the 94.7!

This was the second Kenda that did this to me :(
I hope the Maxis Crossmark stay in one piece for a while longer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

94.7 MTB (13 November)

The 94.7 MTB ride is not one of the most exhilirating rides I've done. Too much congestion, too many people, too in-the-town. Boring extra loop just to add distance. Horrible to have to brave traffic twice for different number pickups for the roadie-ride and the offroad ride.

But I do it because it's on my doorstep. Can't really travel to Sabie and Baviaanskloof when i dont do the events on my doorstep, right?

It was a hot hot day. The event was advertised as 50 give or take a few. In the spirit of the last few years, I expected it to be take, rather than give. It ended up being almost 60 kays.

- The start was a bit of a mess with the commentator calling the short distances before the slower seeded bunches of the longer distance were called to queue.
- Seeding was a bit of a mess with the SMS confirmation of my seeding and the actual batch where i started being different.
- Watertables ran out of water (on such a hot day?)
- Lots of congestion at the start.
- Number pickup was a waste of time. 1 1/2 hours in traffic to get there, collect the number, then drive back. I much preferred the number-pickup on the same venue as last year.

The tracks was much more fun than previous years. It had something of everything: wooden bridges, singletrack climb, a gnarly downhill or 2, long boring climbs, a few rivercrossings (eeeeuuuwwww dont want to know what's in THAT water) and overall some excellent riding.

The congestion cleared up after the first 10 kays or so, and from then on I could enjoy the riding. A very good day out, and I'll definitely be back next year :)

Mountain Bike Orienteering: Groenkloof (12 October 2011)

It was a bright beautiful morning. The first rains of summer came and went, so the singletrack was dustfree and fast - not muddy yet, as it will become towards the end of Summer. Groenkloof and Fountains was green and alive. As I got my bike ready, I could smell the aliveness in the spring air, and in my head i could hear U2: 'It's a beautiful daaaayyyyy!'

I haven't been to Orienteering much this year, so it was great so greet long-forgotten friends from adventure racing, orienteering, mountain biking and even one of our Swazi-Xtreme seconds :)

Alex (Pope) scouted Fountains, so it was the first time that it was included in MTB orienteering. Yaaaay!

Fountains is one of my all-time favourite places to ride, so I went by singletrack as far as I could. It wasn't the most efficient, but it sure was the most fun :D

After collecting all the Fountains checkpoints, the route took us out the gate and we collected a new map. Took me ages to figure out where I was on the new map. Then on towards Groenkloof. This time I deliberately didn't stay on familiar tracks, but rather tried to pick the most efficient tracks. interesting to see how my favourite pieces of singletrack connects - and next time we need a shortcut home, I won't have to first complete all the singletrack - i''ll actually know a shortcut :)

Winning time was just under an hour; I took double that time, collected all the PCs, and went home with a lucky draw packet of peanuts :)

Already checking out the Orienteering calendars for the next MTBO.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kargo National 10 hours

Kargo National 10 hours
Kloofzicht Lodge
6 November 2011

After we completed 3 Towers, Linden Cycles gave Team Clueless matching cycling shirts for their next event - so naturally we had to go find another team-event. We entered the Kargo National 10 hours as a team of two, and convinced Zu and Mummy man to enter too - mainly so that we had someone to talk to during the off-laps :)

It was a beautiful sunny day. Adri & Zu pitched the gazebo while Mummy & I went out on the first lap.

I loved the format.
  • Doing laps mean that you get to know the course and each round you ride the rutted downhills faster than the previous lap - until it gets irresponsible :)
  • Doing the laps in a due team means that you can fill your waterbottles and check the results (and the competition) while your team mate is riding.
  • For every lap you do, your team mate add another lap to the score for which you don't have to work: Ride one, Get one free :)
  • Sharing the gazebo with another duo team means that there's always some company while your team mate is out riding. (Ironically the only person you never get to spend time with, is your own team mate!) 
  • Lap-riding is possibly the most social type of mountainbiking there is - spectators get to see their riders, and there's plenty of time between laps to check out the results.
  • During your off-lap there's plenty of time to see the top riders in action and to cheer your other friends on.

Adri was fast! When you're riding in a team, you can't dawdle like you would have, had you ridden solo. So each lap I rode as fast as we could (which wasn't nearly as fast as my racing snake team mate!). When the first set of results came out about 2 hours into the race,  we were slightly disappointed to see that we were the only female duo team. We noticed that the first mixed team had a 10 minute lead on us, with the second mixed team just 2 minutes ahead of us. Due to lack of competition in our own category, we decided to chase those teams down :)

Mummy man wasn't feeling great, but when they realised they were just 30 seconds behind the second mixed team, they chased them, and on the very last lap caught and overtook the first team to take line honours in the mixed due category. Congrats!

The solo woman's category was a titanic battle between the two lead girls changing positions all the time. Very well done Nicky on that very well deserved second place!

The day was nicely concluded with a swim in the swimming pool with a stunning view, then a hot shower, prize giving and a braai.

A good day out :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

So, the Micra is not a sports car after all

I like to think that my Micra is the ultimate sports car: what could possibly be sexier than a Micra with a kayak and a mountainbike, ready for the weekend?  :D

But now it seems my Micra was not really designed to be a sport(s)car, after all :(

Last weekend on the way to Mankele I discovered a very noticable power decrease when driving up hills with the car's lights are on. Switch lights off, car goes. Switched lights off, car won't go. I took the Micra to the Nissan-shop; they discovered that the power-reduction does not happen when the Thule lightbar (model 976) is unplugged.

Their explanation:

My Micra (and all other small cars) was not designed to pull things, so the wiring does not have feedback-protection from single-contact light units. The single-contact lightbar feeds back and interferes with the ABS pump. This could damage the abs pump (among other things). Bigger cars dont have this problem, as they have built-in feedback-protection.

It's a Thule ride-on. I guess I could drive around without the lightbar (i have been for a while) - but the rack makes the car quite a bit longer - probably 1 1/2 metres. After dark I'd like other cars to know there's something between my car's taillights and their front bumpers.

The electrician that worked on the car said for R900 he could convert the lightbar to 'double-contact' ..... but i do not want to spend the money only for them to afterwards realise that that wasn't the problem.
I cant think that Thule could sell lightbars that would be a problem on (all?) small cars, though - it doesn't make sense? 

My questions:
Surely there are other small cars that carry bicycles around - has anyone else experienced this with a Thule light bar on a small car? If I can find someone else who had this issue before, then at least i'll know that the electrician wasn't just guessing, and a different lightbar would in fact solve the problem.
(Saturday at the Jacaranda-ride I searched for other small cars with ride-on racks, but I could only see hanging racks (and often the type that don't need a towbar) - so I guess finding other small cars with Thule bikeracks (and especially lightbars) won't be as easy as I thought. I'll keep looking though.)

The electrician said any 'double contact light unit' would work fine. What brand of lightbar would be plug 'n play, i.e. which light bar can i buy off the shelve, plug in, and it will work? 


Edit 13 December

The Micra MAY be a sports car, after all :D
Thule borrowed me another light bar (same model) and I haven't had any issues with it. The original might have had some or other issue. Thule swapped my broken light bar for their working one, so the borrowed light bar is now officially mine, and my car would be legal for the weekend's trip to Mankele. can't wait :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

3 Towers: Team Clueless

When Team Clueless entered the 3 Towers months ago, we dreamed of back to back training rides on weekend, conquering the magalies mountains and getting lots of playtime in the saddle. But life interfered, so when we left Joburg late on Thursday evening, I haven't been on the bike for 3 weeks, and Adri hasn't been training in sympathy with my cold and study deadlines and fighting her own flu. At least our bikes were serviced and Linden Cycles looked after us with a 'just-in-case' box of spares and a racing (podium contender) bike mechanic who could take care of any mechanicals. 

Day 1
80 km
total vertical ascent: just over 1700 m
total time: just over 7 hours (riding time was just over 6 hours, indicating a lot of time spent at the water tables)

It was warm. The day started with a long climb, and then we climbed some more. 
The highlight was a rivercrossing at Ryan falls. Adri in the river just above the falls.

The extreme deadly dangerous portage on the other side of the river.

It was a short scramble / portage to the waterpoint where we lubed the bikes, ate lots of bar-one potatoes and filled up with huge blocks of ice. A long hot climb and we finally cycled past the first tower.

It wasn't all downhill from here, but there was a few break checks and a bushtunnel or two as reward for the morning's climbs. The last few kilometers on the cross country tracks made the Trance come alive: have to go back there to ride them when I'm fresh. It was good to finally see the BMX track. 80 km is far with not enough training, and 7 hours out there is a long time for untrained bums :) Dirtrider and his brother Anton cheered us in and we celebrated the first day with lots of vanilla milkies.

The sun (or the lack of training, or the vanilla milkies, or the potatoes flavoured with bar-one chunks) caught up with me, and Adri cleaned the bikes while I felt miserable all afternoon and most of the evening.

Day 2
78 km
total vertical ascent: around 1750 m
total time: just over 8 hours (riding time was about 7 hours, indicating even more time spent at the water tables and the mechanical)

The day started with a long climb, a downhill, a watertable, and then a neverending climb with no shade. The lack of food the previous day soon caught up with me. I walked long bits of the hill while Adri was kindly not riding circles around me - thanx Adri, much appreciated :)

It was a long way up, but finally, finally we got to the second waterpoint: the second tower. Yaaaaay :D

The watertable was well stocked with potatoes, bar ones and bananas. I was still a bit wary of 'heavy' food, so I stuffed my face with extra-salty potatoes. Yummie. We just started with the downhill when my backwheel went pst-pst-pshht-pshhht-pshhhhht. Stans all over the place spraying from a nice 2cm long sidewallcut in the tyre. The tube I had with me was a schrader valve which didnt fit the presta rims ... we were not team Clueless for *nothing* (grin)

Adri's spare tube had the right size valve.... we fitted it and pumped it ... and promptly broke the valve off in the pump. There was enough air in the tube, it wasn't deflating, we didn't had any more tubes ... so we continued with the downhill. Another water point, more salty potatoes and ice blocks, a very long dry climb with a nose-bleed incident, a sharp downhill to the last waterpoint, a sharp short climb ... and finally bushtunnels, bushtunnels, mega-fun, downhill uncongested undiluted singletrack, the BMX track and Dirtrider and Anton cheering us in. The second day was done.

We dropped the bikes at the bikewash (the BEST R15 per bike Dirtrider has spent this year) and then showered and caught a very short afternoon nap before the race briefing for the next day.

Day 3
50 km
total vertical ascent: around 1200 m
total time: just over 5 hours (riding time about 4 hours)

Dirtrider was not feeling well, and he decided to ride with team Clueless rather than his racing snake brother. Flash Gordon rode with us for the first few kays, but he was promptly fired from the back-of-pack when he rode circles around us on the first long climb.

By now everything was aching: arms, legs, feet, knees, hands, lower back, neck, shoulders, bums. Especially the bums. Next time we'll train a bit more. No - wait. Next time we'll train.

But this last day was everything that mountainbiking is: Climbies, major fun technical downhill sections with berms, drops and bridges, more climbs, more bushtunnels and lots of fun bits to distract from the aching bodies.

Dirtrider on the avalanche, the first serious downhill. This was FUN. THIS is why we have mountain bikes :D

Our bikes next to the track while we wait for the racing snakes of the short route to pass us. 

After the avalanche there was some singletrack and then a long climb in the forest. We heard the waterpoint at the last day's tower about 5 kms before we reached it. It was pure torture. The singletrack just before the lat 2 km of climb up to it compensated a little bit.

After the day's highest point there was some jeeptrack, singletrack, a high-fun high-speed deep-drop bushtunnel where I chased, but just coudln't catch Dirtrider. Huge grins, great riding, great people to ride with. 

We ate a LOT of potatoes at the last waterpoint, filled up with ice blocks, and then partially hiked the last little climbie before we finally got to the Sodwalla carnage downhill. It was shorter than I remember form the 'Lost in Da Bush' adventure. Too soon it was over.

A last few pieces of singletrack, round the BMX track for the last time, and the ride was over.

* Adri, it was an honour riding with you. Thank you for looking after me when I had no energy left on that long climbie of day 2. I know I can trust my adventure racing buddies with my life - and sometimes I have to.
* Dirty, I totally enjoyed riding with you. When can we do this again?
* Congratulations to our Linden Cycles Team Mechanic John-Michael, who won the mixed category - well done man!

* The last day of riding was absolutely superb ... for THAT i will do the ride again.

* There's a long weekend in December ... a perfect time to go back there and play on the bushtunnels, avalanche somes and downhill singletracks. These people know how to build tracks; my bike absolutely loved it and I will have to take it back there soon.

* And does team Clueless now have a clue? Well, maybe not really, but we will be back for more!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Freedom of the South African singletrack

Magaliesburg Breakfast ride

"Oooh you going to love these trails", Dawn said as she put her armwarmers on.
"Tall order", i thought to myself as i fastened the helmet. I was still on a high from the van Gaalens Daggapad/Greek church trails the previous day, and didn't think that better trails existed.

Studies kept me out of riding for a few weekends, but 3Towers is getting closer and when the invitation about a Magaliesberg breakfast ride landed in my inbox, i couldn't resist.

I forgot what a cool crowd these Freedom Challenge Friends are. Once you've carried your bike over mountains through snowstorms and into gale force winds - once you've blogged and tweeted the race experience back to the impatient news-hungry followers - there's nothing that you can't do. It's bad enough if you do this once - but in Sunday's group there were repeat offenders, people who went back as guardians, one who finished FC with a broken wrist, another who should have stopped in Rhodes due to knee injuries, but continued - almost all of them already on the list to do it again next year.

Maybe it's the type of person attracted to these types of rides - or maybe I was just extremely lucky to get to know this particular crowd. They never seem to be in a hurry, they never make you feel bad that you're (again) the slowest rider, always there to help, to support, to encourage without even being aware of it - sharing dreams and trails, discovering new ones - and a sense of humour above all.

But I digress.

So - Dawn said i'll love the trails, and I was sceptical, but i wasn't there to play (I had my fix the previous day at Van Gaalens) and I was quite willing to tolerate a boring ride for the sake of training.
We parked at the Zennex garage on the Hekpoort road, freewheel down the hill, and then onto singletrack. The morning was a mix of dirt road, gentle climbs, surprise-singletrackies that would have Dawn emerge with a big grin - and some fast downhills for even bigger grins.

After Wimpy 'brekkie buns' in Magaliesburg we climbed a steep hill, then more singletrack, a quiet dirtroad that might have been uphill - to provide the training for the day - with Dave, Doug and Dawn babysitting me and talking me up the hill - until we reached some more singletrack.

Dawn was right: I did love the trails. I would love riding anywhere with them, but it's always a bonus to ride spectacular trails. Hoping to have more free time next year for many more of these rides :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Getting high on the daggapad - with the xtc :)

Van Gaalens Daggapad 10 September

My favourite singletrack is always the last one i rode. And my favourite friends always those who shared the last ride. That's the easy part. The difficult part is picking a favourite favourite. Which part of the daggapad/greek church loop on Saturday was the best bit?

Maybe the technical(ish) climbie up the cement track and beyond. Or seeing the riding budies' grins after the first bit of rocky downhill. Or hearing the screams of pure joy as you enter the twists and turms on the foresty bit - surrounded by pink blossoms and the smell of jasmine and aliveness.

Then you ride next to the river for a while, a short piece of gravel road, and onto more singletrack next to the gravel road. technical, joyful, FUN with exclamation marks. A bit of gravel road to a cafe for a Fanta Orange, then continue on the tracks next to the railway line and on to more singletracks and finally on the river-singletrack on the homestretch - where everyone agree that they aren't ready to go home yet - so a quick detour to the Greek church. The climb up was on singletrack and much less a slog than i remember from the last time i was up there - and the downhill back even better than i remember. Finally onto the bushtunnels and play-bridgies, and then home for a well-deserved breakfast. 

This ride has everything: technical challenges, fast flowing singletrack, rocky climbs, rocky downhills, fun trails, surprises, floating bridges, high bridges - life doesn't get much better. 

Only one question remains: When can we do it again?

A fallen tree in the forest. Fun flowing twisty tracks - lots of them :)

Some pink flowers next to the river after the first bit of forest.

on the way to the Greek church. The bike-entrance was too narrow, so we just lifted the bikes over the gate.

Chilling at the Greek church.

A rickety bridgie on the last rivertrail.

The floating bridge.

A high-bridge on the rivertrail.

The bushtunnel.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Last ride at Teak Place: 9 August

Teak Place closes on Tuesday. My favourite part (the bridgies that criss-cross the river) is closed already, as is the part on the other side of the tar road.

I'm planning to ride the last ride on Tuesday at 8. Black route as far as it's still open, then coffee, and picnic-legs-allowing, blue/green afterwards. Followed by a cyclists breakfast and a huge orange rock shandy, just for old times' sake.

Join me. (For coffee, the fisrt ride, the second, both, breakfast, or all of the above :) )

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gauteng bikeparks: the good, the better, & the coffeeshops close by

... and then it was June.

Time for some feedback on the bikepark fact finding mission. I've lost my camera on one of these fact-finding rides - which means I'll just have to go back to take pictures :)

Here's some of the good, the better & the coffeeshops close by.

Teak Place
Teak place was my Joburg-to-Sea training ground last year, mainly because it's safe enough to ride there on my own. It offers a huge variety of singletrack. Some highlights:
The 2 steep technical(ish) climbs and quite a few shorter ones.
Some wooden bridges over the river (with low-hanging trees and roots to make it suitably technical)
Chicken runs if you don't like the bridgies, or if they are too slippery.
An excellent piece of downhill followed by fast-flowing twisting singletrack (the blue/black route from the viewpoint down - that's one of my favourite favourites)
Not too much congestion on the singletrack - can't rememebr that I ever had to queue for any singletrack there.
Safe enough to go ride there on my own.

The tracks on the other side of the tar road has a distinct 'Ride2Rhodes' feel about them and you come back on a fast slightly twisty awesome piece of downhill. Ideally done with friends - this one is too good not to share!
Double the vertical ascent per distance of Groenkloof or Rietvlei.

Theres a fun non-technical green route for your beginner-buddies. It's not flat, however - your beginner-buddies might be out of breath and pushing their bikes once or twice. But they will have big grins :)
The floating bridge was next to the dam last weekend - hopefully it's just in for repairs?

Take a dual suspension if you have one; hardtails are perfectly good, but some of the downhills are more fun with more control.

The running trail is sometimes sharing the route with the bike tracks - a mix of dirt road and singletrack.
A decent coffee shop where you could get cuppucinos, big glasses of rock shandy with ice, and a cyclist breakfast afterwards. A jumping castle to keep the kids busy if your wife's having breakfast while you're riding.
Showers and a bikewash if you have other appointments afterwards.
Parking in the shade if you're early.

Rietvlei (Zoo farm)
I've only seen Rietvlei during races - 2 * 24hours, a very wet cross country and a Dirt Festival.
This time, I met a few roadie-friends for a 40 km tar-ride before we hit the tracks. I felt safe on tar - not too much traffic, and a wide shoulder so that we could stay out of harm's way. The route was generally flat - only one long(ish) uphill to wake the lungs up.

Then we switched bikes for the bike park :)

The green route is big fun, lots of tight turns in forests, some climbs but not too technical.  An ideal place to take beginner-buddies after they learnt how to work the gears. It's flat(ish) and would teach them bike handling skills while keeping it fun. More people on the tracks than at Teak place, but not congested at all.

The blue tracks are detours off the green route, joining Green again. They are technical and at some places a bit more technical than the black routes at Teak - some of it reminds me of the black routes at the MTN bikepark. Don't attempt the Japanese garden and the blue tracks around there if your'e not comfortable on your bike. My hardtail would love the green routes; I felt a bit safer on my trance on the blue routes. While there were poepl on the green routes, the blue routes seem deserted. There were blue detours that I haven't seen, so I'll have to go back :)

There's a coffee-shop on site; I can highly recommend the chock chip muffins - they arrive heated up so that the chock chips are slightly melted. Have one between the roadie- and the MTB ride, and another one when your green-route friends leave before you go out on your blue-route-loop.

Safe parking - but in the sun.

There are very few places in the world where you could cycle on beautiful singletrack and then have to stop because there's giraffe or zebra on the track :D It's like a gamedrive from your bike - in the middle of town :)
Very popular, so if you like to bomb down singletrack, you'll have to make a gap between you and the people who went in before you. Excellent riding; enough people on the tracks that you won't have to lie with a broken arm for too long, should something go wrong on a solo ride.

Some technical climbies, favourite downhill switchbacks, bridgies and tree roots. Some recently added singletrack which means you'll have to do more than one loop to fit in all your favourite singletracks in one morning.

There's a whole network of hiking trails - excellent technical running in places. Sometimes there's runners on the singletrack - look out for them. There's often beginners on the singletrack - just leave a gap in front of you, and pass where the singletrack ends - rather than scaring them by trying to squeeze past. The singletracks are generally shortish, so you won't have to wait too long for a place to pass.

There's lots of jeeptrack for your beginner- and non-technical friends.
Stay off the hikingtrails when on your bike - it's unsafe for both mountain bikers and hikers, and there's enough custom-made singletrack to keep you busy for a while.

Bike and helmet rentals if you broke your bike and desperately need to ride.
Moyo is just next door; they do allow soaking wet muddy riders in for hot chocolate :)

Safe shaded parking, hot showers, bikewash.

There's hiking huts inside the reserve ... so theoretically you could make a whole weekend of riding / running / horseriding there if you feel it's too far to drive from jozi :)

Just next door to Groenkloof, getting in on the same access card.
More of the same - a great extension to the Groenkloof ride if you need more distance or less congestion. I don't feel safe riding there on my own - there's far less riders than on the Groenkloof side. But next time you go to Groenkloof for a ride with your buddies, do yourself a favour and go ride on the Fountains side first :)
Then go to Moyo for breakfast, before continuing on the Groenkloof side.

Make sure that your newbie-friends are comfortable on the Groenkloof-side before you take them to fountains - some of the trails may be daunting for newbies. Kids would probably love it :)

Voortrekker Monument
Around 12 kms of good training. The singletracks are much longer than Groenkloof or Fountains, so once you're in, it will be a while before youll get a chance to pass. Not congested at all - the only people I saw on the route, were our own group. The track seem to go up and down a lot, and at times (especially towards the end) I felt like they're adding twists (always in the forms of ups & downs) just to add distance instead of real value. Good training, rocky descents and climbs, but the fun-factor not as high as next door.There are some black detours off the blue route; these are usually steep ascents (I couldn't ride them) followed by steep droppies. Make sure there's a proper fork when you attempt those.

Don't take your newbie-friends or kids there. While it's not too technical, there's a lot of ups and downs towards the end without a big fun-factor. Good training if they want to learn to climb, though. I prefer fun.

Sadly, the tracks are not joined with Groenkloof/Fountains, and don't look like they would join up anytime soon.

Parking in the sun; for coffee go to cafe 41 in Groenkloof, or Brooklyn.

I will not drive through from Joburg to go ride there, but if there's a running event or orienteering event, I will certainly take my bike with to add some value while i'm there.

Northern Farms
This used to be a favourite, years ago - we would cycle there, do a loop or 2, drink coffee, and then cycle back home. After a few hijack incidents I haven't ridden there for a while.

Access is a bit tedious: you buy the access tickets at a totally different place than where the farm is. But a multi-entry tickets can be used for your buddies and there's no expiry date, so you could use all your entries even if it take more than a year.

I would not ride there on my own, but my last ride was with 2 girl friends and we never felt unsafe. Lots of singletrack added since i was there last. There are some definite favourites singletrackies next to the river. Lots of people out there, so you may have to make a gap before going in to the singletrackies if you like to go as fast as you can.

There's jeeptrack and river crossings for your newbie-friends & kids. The ride always ends with an uphill - but at least there's bacon&egg rolls & coffee waiting.

A bikewash and showers if you must be somewhere else. Parking in the shade if you're early.

Van Gaalens
My new favourite track at van Gaalens: the Daggapad.

You go up to the cement tracks on the way to the Pofadder, but then, just before you tackle the real Pofadder, you veer off to the left. The most excellent mix of flowing singletrack, green forests with ivy-covered trees, twisty tracks, then next to a river, or on an old railway line, or on a technical path far above the dirtroad below. The scenery and tracks keep changing. The route is never boring, a big fun-factor. Before you know it, you've cycled 40 kays ... and then you don't want to stop.

It's far out of town - an hour's drive from Randburg with all the traffic lights - but very much worth it.

I would not cycle there on my own - but i think it's time to get  few friends together for a van Gaalens ride.

MTN bikepark
Sharpen your technical skills on a Tuesday after work,. If you're not tired by sunset, put on some lights - the parks stays open a bit longer on Tuesday nights.

Don't go there on a weekend - there's too many kids.

Take a camera with - and a friend who will ride all the bridges on roller coaster.

Go play on the BMX track if it's open and there's no training sessions - or kids who will point and laugh :)
Don't attempt the black routes if you're not comfortable on the blue - and don't attempt the blue if you're not comfortable on the green. See how fast you could go down corkscrew or green mile; try to ride the bridgies on wetlands - lots of trails in a very small area to keep you entertained for a few hours. You could add a bit of distance by riding there & back home.

Still on the to-do list:
Haven't been to these, so still have to go check them out:
Rietvlei (Pretoria)
Owls Nest
Kings Kloof
Boskop (?)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

the Great Gauteng Easter Bike Park Fact Finding Mission

When someone ask me what my favourite singletrack is, the reply is simple: it would be the last one I rode. I have a few firm favourites among the bike parks in and around Gauteng ... which means that I don't often see new ones, or forget about old favourites.

How many bike parks are there, what are they like ... and how many bike parks can you ride before you get bored of singletrack? It's time to find out :)

8:00 22 April (Easter Friday): Groenkloof & Fountains
8:00 23 April (Easter Saturday): Rietvlei
24 April (Easter Sunday): TBA - maybe just a short loop through delta park & botanical gardens :)
8:00 25 April (Easter Monday): Van Gaalens
17:00 26 April (working Tuesday): MTN bikepark (it's open till late on tuesdays)
8:00 27 April (Freedom Wednesday): Teak Place
28 April Dark&Dirty Thursday ... I wonder if the Dark&Dirty crowd would include Xtacy park if i told them about the bikepark-a-day mission?
29 April - work & recover
8:00 30 April (Saturday): Northern Farms
1 May (Workers' Sunday): XCO Avianto
2 May (Worker's Monday): Boschkop? Owls Nest? Logwood? 

Which bike parks have I missed that should have been on the list?

These rides could vary, e.g. some of them afternoon rides, some morning rides.
Most of these have trailrunning-tracks too :)

Join me for all or some of these rides.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tubes, stans & mud don't mix well

Had a problem with the tubeless a while ago, so put a tube in. It was long enough ago that I completely forgot about it, except vaguely remembering that I can't just jump down & especially up pavements with too-flat tyres.

'Till Sunday. The Spruit was particularly muddy and very enjoyable. I felt the snakebite as i climbed up a pavement. (Yes i know: One day I will be able to lift the back wheel and not be a snake-bite danger to all tubes.)

It took 1 minute to get the wheel off (at that stage I was still trying to keep my hands clean), around 30 seconds to get mud on everything, and then 20 minutes to try to separate the old tube from the tyre, so that i could put the replacement tube one in.

Lessons learnt:
- don't ride in the mud if you dont have tubeless
- don't ride in the mud if you had tubeless but then put a tube in while there were still stan's in the tyre
- if a tubeless did get an emergency tube in, remove the tube before it becomes part of the tyre.

The whole mess is at the bikeshop now to get cleaned, separated and sorted.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Trans Lesotho Day 4

Motete to Khatse
89 km (including some minor detours)
2273m vertical ascent (including some minor detours)
just under 9 hours

An early start on a long wet muddy jeeptrack. The downhill-side was dry and fast; cold toes from wind on the still-wet shoes. At the bottom we turned off onto a singletrack and started climbing immediately. The bottom bit of this singletrack was a lot of fun to ride. It was wide, a smooth surface from years of donkeys and people, with the occasional obstacle to keep it interesting. It soon became steeper, and then it was a bike-carry-and-drag to get to the very top. A man with a horse rode next to me for a while, indicating something about his horse - i couldn't make out whether he offered me a lift on the horse, or whether he offered my bike a lift on the horse. A lift for the bike would have been well appreciated, but 'Lumelang', 'U phela joang' and 'Kea Leboha' only gets you so far ... Francois and Ray waited for me at the top. It was a pretty view ... and a spectacular piece of singletrack down. Mostly cattletracks, and sometimes a chosen line would just disappear, or dead-end in rocks. More technical at places, but THE BEST piece of singletrack of the whole tour.

At the bottom we joined a gravel road and followed it (up, down, up, down, up, down, steep up, down) till we met David along the way. After some ice cold cokes we were on our way again. Stopped at a spaza shop where we had more cold coke, then up a short tar climb and off onto gravel road next to the upper parts of the Khatse dam.

You would think that a road next to the dam would be kind of level .... WRONG. This road went up, down, steep climb, down, steeper climb, down, endless climb, down again ... up, down, up forever. (wellll all 22 kays of it).

I lost the front group due to all the climbs and nothing technical to slow them down. The only people behind me were those who had bike problems (Tumi singlespeeded after breaking his derrailleur, and Paddy fixed very muddy punctures) or those who got lost (Fiona went searching for a diamond mine and Nick, Hardy & Brian all rode a few kays extra on the other side of the river) -  so this was a solitary ride up and down between villages. The kids in these areas had more contact with travellers - there were frequent requests for sweets (which we haven't heard deeper in Lesotho)

Finally saw the dam wall. The last time i saw it, was about 20 years ago when it was still under construction -  there were flags high up the mountains indicating where the water levels would be. A whole lot of water.

Once over the dam wall, i realised i didn't have the last map with me - and had no clue where I was supposed to go. I cycled up the hill (if you go wrong, it's always better to have to come down to correct the error) and then cycled to the education centre to ask where the Khatse lodge was. Met McGregor (they cycled all the way to the bottom of the dam) and since he could speak Sotho, could easily ask for directions about where the other cyclists went.

Munchies at the lodge, then Tamara took us to our overnight houses. A celebratory dinner with lots of awards for all the riders - and then off to the white linen for a well deserved sleep.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trans Lesotho: Day 3

Oxbow to Motete
38 km
1073 m vertical ascent
around 10 hours

This day has the potential to be among the best singletrack that i've ridden ever. I say potential, because at many places what should have been a mindblowingly flowing singletrack, was frustrated by too many unridable obstacles and a too narrow too deep path against the steep slopes.

It was nevertheless one of the prettiest rides to be found - and some of the best swimming pools that i've seen. On high spurs you would see silhouettes of blanket-wrapped shepards with dogs. On other high spurs you would cycle past lone huts. The water in the river below is crystal clear, the surface below the water flat basalt. Here's Paddy at one of the river-crossings.

This area will probably be the highlight of future Trans-Lesothos, and I will certainly go back to ride this stretch again when enough riders has gone through there.

We crossed a river, promptly lost Nick (the third time in so many days), and then followed the newly built singletrack downriver. At one point there was another bike-dragging episode for a climb of 100 metres or so. At this point Tumi decided to go back to search for Nick, and the rest of us continued on some wide-grin singletrack. That petered out and we followed the newly-made singletrack where we could find it. The slopes was steep and the track deep and narrow. This made cycling very difficult - if a pedal catches on the slope-side, you'd roll down and come to a stop a few metres below the track. Where the track was wider, there were too many stops for obstacles that could have been avoided by building the track around it :(

Grant (the-photographer-who-hadn't-ridden-a-bike-for-30-odd-years-but-joined-us-because-how-else-would-he-see-the-valley) was concerned about his photographic equipment, and often opted to carry his bike rather than riding it:

When Tumi and Nick caught up with us, we had the tour group's 2 biggest talkers in the slowest group for the day. At every river crossing, and often in between, they started telling stories - the problem was that these were often funny, so everyone wanted to hear the end of the story before anyone could continue riding.

Carrying & dragging bikes rather than riding them, together with all the stopping at rivercrossings, made the group very slow and we knew we would not outcycle the oncoming bad weather.

The already technical singletrack became slippery and muddy with the rain, which made the going even slower.

When we reached the jeeptrack where Dave has arranged to pick Grant up, we left him with the sweeper and picked up the pace ever so slightly. The jeeptrack was of that kind of mud that sticks to the bike and adds 20 kgs of weight in a few minutes. I enjoyed riding in the rain. Although Paddy and Fiona was riding with me, it felt like a solitary ride - peaceful with just me, the bike and some bad mud. Just the way I like it.

When we reached the top of the pass, it was a quick downhill and then a very slippery singletrack to the village. We washed the bikes inside the river when we crossed it the last time, and then continued to the school that would host us for the night.

A lovely day, and it would be awesome riding once the technical problems are cleared up.

What I particularly liked about today:
- Knowing where i was all the time. It was very easy to match the map with the surroundings.
- The deep clear swimming pools in the river.
- The short pieces of excellent riding.
- The speed with which Alice, David & Tamara organised hot showers and tea when we arrived cold & wet:)
- The school choir that welcomed us. The program was short and well thought-out, leaving us feel welcome, but with enough time to sort bike-admin out.
- The slapchips with lots of salt & vinegar in the head master's office.
- The dining hall decorations.
- The evening program that included a bit of interactive background about Lesotho without being intrusive - well done Motete School!

Trans Lesotho: Day 2

Libono to Oxbow
distance: 28 km
vertical ascent: 1100m
time: around 6 hours

The day started with a lovely few kays of climbing on a jeeptrack between fields of Cosmos, and then Grant and Alice (the friendly camera team) joined us on horses on a handmade singletrack cut into the mountainside. After a while the track disappeared and we dragged the bikes up the mountain. Aaargggh bikes were made to ride!

A picnic at the top, and then we found some cattletracks on the other side. A few streamcrossings, some tumbles caused by hidden potholes in the long grass, and generally pleasant riding with Tumi (Lesotho's National Champ; the trackbuilder/sweeper), Fiona (who's writing a book about mountain bike trails), Ray (who was our 'guardian' on ride2rhodes 2 years ago), Francois (a Freedom Challenge finisher) and Paddy (who made it his mission to find and fall into all potholes first).  

When we reached the tar road, Ray and Francois opted for the short way home (some tummy bug issues) and the rest of us crossed the road in search of more singletrack. Tumi lead us off track because there were dogs on the planned track ... more pushing, carrying & dragging bikes - so when Fiona said she had enough and is going to take the tar road home, Paddy & I followed without even thinking about it. We dragged the bikes back to the tar road where I found a stream to fill the empty camelback. It was a short climb, and then a long steep tar-downhill to Oxbow.

Pete and buddies arrived just after us with big grins and stories about a magnificent downhill on the singletrack - i was just  too tired to drag my bike over more obstacles for another hour.  awwww well, next time :)

Swimming with some trout in the deep blue pools of the river below the pub, an afternoon snooze, some bike maintenance and a very good supper.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trans Lesotho: day 1

Liphofung to Libono
distance: 63 km
vertical ascent: 1700m
time: 8:33

The day started with a most excellent singletrack up along a river with plenty of Cosmos, fun flat rock surfaces and a stream crossing or 2. We crossed the river at a rickety bridge. On the other side the singletrack made way for some jeeptrack, in a nice bad condition with some mud every now and again. The jeeptrack petered out into a not-always-ridable singletrack contour. My bike pointed itself downhill very quickly, but I realised soon that there were no bike tracks where the bike was heading - luckily Tumi (the track-builder and sweeper) saw my tracks going off-track and followed me to show the shortest way to the right track. The less-ridable singletrack changed to very enjoyable singletrack, more flat rock surfaces, and then we joined up with a gravel road.

We filled up with water at the first checkpoint, then climbed a mountain before Tumi led us off the path on a very long downhill-singletrack. We had to catch some cyclists who went the wrong way, and then continued downhill - fields of  cosmos and sunflower; the track was rough but ridable because it was mostly downhill. At this stage Francois and Ray were voicing concerns that we were off the map. Tumi suggested that we cross over to the South-African side of the river. Here we're crossing over to the other side:

We followed a gravel road with huge strange cathedral-like rock formations around us, and crossed back to arrive at the second checkpoint a few minutes before Tamara (who was driving the checkpoint-bakkie). The front guys (who followed the real path in stead of venturing off the map) arrived shortly after with stories of wicked climbs (and presumably some downhills to match).

A very nice lunchbreakspot under trees next to the river. Sandwiches with (discarded) thick slices of pink polonie and apples. Filled up with water, and then continued on a gravel road between maize and cosmos-fields - this soon became a long hot climb.

From here on it was just boring - around 25 kays of gravelroad that just went up and down and on and on. The last km or so we were surrounded by horsemen who escourted us into Libono. (pronounced Dibono - under certain conditions an L is pronounced as D in Sesotho)

David (Freedom Challenge) organised some hot showers :D

The rest of the afternoon was whiled away in the shade on the grass while watching the Libono Arts Company in action. here's Grant taking pictures of the first act:

After dinner at the community centre we were off to local huts for the night.