Cape Town is a place that just has it all, don’t you think? From mountains to oceans, a bustling metropolitan centre and sleepy seaside villages, from beaches to rock faces and winding hiking trails…there’s always something to do, somewhere new to explore. And, the best part is: you can do all that exploration from the saddle of your bike.
There’s truly something special about seeing the city this way. In my experience, the connection of your feet to the pedals allows, in turn, for a greater connection to the world around you. As strange as it sounds, you gain a completely reimagined view of areas you may have seen a thousand times before.
Said connection is only heightened when nature is added to the equation. This is why the mountain-biking in Cape Town (and its surrounds) is so flipping mind-blowing. Here is a list of some of my favourites. I know they won’t disappoint.
Quick note: many thanks to Jacques Marais, die Oom himself, for the images used in this article. For some seriously in-depth route play-by-plays and other MTB-esque content, check out his site MTB Routes – Africa’s top biking resource – too!
Where: Arboretum, Tokai Forest
Distance: Various circular or return options, up to 40km. Duration of between 2–5 hours
Grading: Moderate – Extreme
All Cape fat tyre fundis eventually trek south in search of the single-track paradise that is Tokai Forest – a veritable mountain-biking Mecca for the more experienced riders among us. Blood, sweat and granny gears are the order of the day as you wind your way up the misty slopes of the Table Mountain range.
But, now that you’ve done the work, an expanse of trail configurations awaits you on the way down, criss-crossing through all the working plantations and indigenous forests. Basically, you’re railing a super-tube, banging across the dirt roads you just cranked up. Twenty minutes of white-knuckle single-track, and then some. What more could you ask for?
Red Hill MTB Route
Where: Pinehaven Village, Simons Town
Distance: 18 km return option. Duration of approximately 2 hours
Although Red Hill doesn’t quite rate up there with the likes of Tokai, it is within easy reach of Cape Town and affords beautiful views out across the Deep South. Thus, you should know where and what it is – especially if you haven’t spent much time exploring this specific neck of the woods.
Take a mid-ride dip in Lewis Gay Dam, crank the gnarly downhill and check out the Black Hill MTB track if you’re feeling adventurous. This section, should you choose to include it, is complete with butt-clenching table-tops, jumps and huge drops. In other words, it’s a whole lot of fun.
A word of advice: watch out for the extreme amount of sand come summertime; only undertake it if you’re a self-identifying masochist. Any other time of year and you should be golden (unless you run into some inquisitive baboons, that is).
Bottelary Hills Conservancy MTB Route
Where: Bottelary Hills Conservancy, Stellenbosch
Distance: Variety of options, ranging from 10 – 76 km
Grading: Easy to Challenging – route-dependent, of course
Spanning 20 farms in the Bottelary Hills Renosterveld Conservancy area just outside Stellenbosch, there lies a network of MTB trails. Think undulating hills, dusty farm roads, vineyards and gravelly singletracks. Heaven for riders everywhere. Plus, with 6 different routes to choose from, the trails are varied specifically to cater to all capabilities. You can count on finding an experience that meets your appropriate edge.
The hallmark of the region, as you may expect, is the scenic beauty and incredible views of the Winelands, Table Mountain, False Bay and other surrounding areas. And for the low, low price of R70 (aka the price of a day permit), you too can have access to it all. Almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, the funds generated by “bike tourism,” so to speak, are used to protect this slice of natural artistry and keep up the various paths.
Where: MTB parking area, Silvermine Nature Reserve
Distance: Approximately 20km, with various circular options to choose from. Dependent on the route you take, expect it to take anywhere between 1-4 hours
Silvermine North offers a good workout ride of intermediate difficulty. Although you will be following jeep-tracks for the majority of your excursion, you shouldn’t be afraid to beef it up by adding the Ou Wapad to your crank after completing the 9km Silvermine circuit.
Be warned: there is some hefty climbing involved – the highest point clocking in at 775m. But, that being said, the views over the peninsula are unquestionably magnificent. The panorama to the west encompasses the full expanse of Noordhoek Beach and in the distance beyond, Kommetjie can be seen.
And now, the fun really starts. Follow the front wheel as you blast down the spiral of s-bends carving the fynbos ridge. Watch yourself on those berm take-offs, though!
Deer Park, Table Mountain
Where: Chelmsford Road, Vredehoek
Distance: 16-34 km; there are various circular and return options from which to choose
Legend tells of a tangle of gnarly gravel roads traversing the CBD-side slopes of Table Mountain, for which Deer Park is one of the most obvious trailheads. From these elevated vantage points, you’re able to look out over the magical city of Cape Town in all its glory. It truly feels like a fairytale.
The route connects to the Tafelberg Contour Road at various points, so it’s definitely one of the “choose your own adventure” variety. Surface is of a reasonable hard-pack, but loose pebbles, ruts and rocks are bound to rear their ugly heads every so often. Broken collarbones are not unheard of!
Where: Hillcrest Wine Farm, Western Cape
Distance: Up to 25 km – return ride with optional, additional side-road adventures
Hillcrest Farm is another of the fantastic winelands tracks – forming an unmissable component of the Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club’s 120 km of trails in the Durbanville Hills. What better way to tour through the various vineyards than from your own saddle? This way, you get to see the farm’s orchards, grapes and quarries all in one fell swoop! Plus, you get to experience the fun little switchback sections.
Although the route itself is relatively short, it serves as a hub to the outlying trails of Contermanskloof, Majik Forest and Meerendal. So if 7.6 km isn’t quite enough for you, there are many options to incorporate more distance should you so choose. Cool off afterwards with a klein glassie wyn – you’ve earned it.
Signal Hill MTB Route
Where: Signal Hill parking lot, Cape Town
Distance: 2km – one way trail
Finally, an alternative to the classic Signal Hill Sundowners! Why follow the crowds when you can take in one of Cape Town’s classic viewpoints with 2km of gnarly downhill trail instead? Just you, your bike and a one-way switchbacking ticket along rock-shocked dirt tracks that, 2 km later, land you straight into the stairwells and alleyways of Bo-Kaap.
These same treacherous gravel roads go ballistic during the annual Action Cycles Urban Assault race, when the downhill hordes take on these death-wish slopes at warp speed – bombing all the way from the summit into the historic Malay Quarter. You too can be one of these daredevils, should you so choose.
Cape Point Nature Reserve
Where: Anywhere in Cape Point Nature Reserve
Distance: Up to 60km, with many a return option
Get stuck into this easy ride along a network of tarred roads meandering through the southernmost tip of the Peninsula. And, before you pass rash judgements, please don’t moan about the tarmac until you’ve experienced the views – I promise that it’s worth it all the way.
So treat yourself to a leisurely cruise through coastal strandveld and fynbos plains, with occasional encounters with anything from eland, bontebok and zebra to excellent sightings of marine and terrestrial bird species. The sunbirds and sugarbirds are especially pretty. Although this may not be where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet – contrary to popular belief – it is way more beautiful than Cape Aghulhas, so who cares?
Wild Boar Trails
Where: Val du Charron Trail Centre, Wellington
Distance: Options from 3.3–45 km
Grading: Moderate to difficult
Many mountain bike routes in the Cape claim to have the most amazing variety of routes and the sublimest single-track. Wild Boar Trails are no different, as they too make these claims. Except, in this case, you get exactly what is being advertised.
You’ll discover six routes starting at Val du Charron, plus a 4.5km Cross Country Course and a technical single-track loop of 20.5km. You’ll have options between challenging and very steep sections or their (equally) challenging chicken runs.
Nestled on the slopes of the Groenberg mountain near Wellington, the trails are mainly on single-track, winding through orchards, vineyards, pristine fynbos and past stunning waterfalls. In other words, they are definitely worth the little, 45-minute drive from the city centre.
Where: Corner of Jip de Jager Drive and Van Riebeeckshof Road, Durbanville
Distance: From 2 to 15 km – various options
Grading: Easy – Moderate
Majik Forest, aka a long narrow green belt between Durbanville, Bellville and Parow. As one of the first trails to be built in the Northern suburbs, Majik was – for a long while – the only alternative to Tokai in the area. Some even refer to it as the latter’s ‘poor cousin’, but it is nonetheless an amazing ride in its own right.
Most people’s first reaction to Majik Forest is to raise an eyebrow at the spelling, but, traditionally, that is how it is written. And since no one seems to know why, don’t question it! Perhaps even more strangely, there is no fixed routing or proper directional signage, so start riding these trails with someone who knows the area and can show you the ropes.
Palmiet River MTB Route
Where: Kogelberg Nature Reserve (Oudebosch office), Helderberg
Distance: 26 km return trail
The Kogelberg Nature Reserve: shale and sandstone mountains, wetland seepage systems, blackwater rivers, indigenous afromontane forests and coastal lakes… all combining to create the perfect natural playground, awaiting exploration by you. And what better way to explore than to do so on your bike?
The trail leads along a short, singletrack section and then joins up with the jeep track shortly afterwards, dipping and climbing parallel to the Palmiet River. In fact, the turn-around point – Stokoei Bridge – is the perfect place for a refreshing swim (or even a picnic, should you be that way inclined). The odd sandy stretch and rocky patch are to be expected, so don’t say that you weren’t warned. But other than that, everything should be pretty plain sailing, so kick back, enjoy the fynbos and keep pedalling.
Magic Link, Camps Bay
Where: End of Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay
The latest addition to your Table Mountain MTB stoke can be found above Camps Bay and Llandudno, created by the mad Belgian mountain biker, Walter Brosius. The Magic (sometimes called “Missing”) link is an amazing scenic trail with some of the best views in the world. Various trail sections, including Lobotomy and various links and extensions, form a kickass ride with connections onto the Camps Bay trail and Pipe Track.
The track snakes its way below the 12 Apostles peaks as it heads towards Llandudno. It used to be an out-and-back affair but now has a dedicated return trail, the Lower Magic Link. Do not expect an easy trundle: the route is quite technical with a mixture of granite gravel, sand and rocks with tricky climbs, fast corners and other trail users, so keep your wits about you.
Keen on reading more? Check out our interview with Jacques Marais, a brilliant photographer and well of information on adventuring in South Africa!