“THIS MEANS… RIDE WITHIN YOURSELF, SLOW DOWN FOR BLIND CORNERS, GREET OTHER TRAIL USERS”
Sanparks in the Western Cape have opened many of the existing hiking trails in the Table Mountain National Park area to mountain biking. I never thought this day would come. I have been riding on the various Table Mountain trails (including Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill) all my life and because you are not allowed to build any new trails on the mountain, most of the good single track is comprised of the existing hiking trails that are normally out of bounds for mountain bikers. Yes, I have ridden almost all of them illegally and at risk of being caught by the patrolling rangers, but honestly, most of the time I do it at night so that I am not disturbing any hikers or dog walkers. Now I can ride them during the day, and the patrolling rangers can focus on more important things than stopping MTBer’s, such as catching real criminals on the mountain.
The Sanparks My Activity Level 3 Permit is what you will need to ride on Table Mountain and its surrounds. If you live in the area, you should have already bought an annual permit, and if you are a day user, Sanparks will need to give you a few convenient locations to purchase permits (their current options are certainly not convenient). In the past, it was not worth the annual R500+ that it cost. No new trails were being built, no trail maintenance was ever done, you had limited access to trails (mainly jeep tracks) and Tokai Trails (the other main area that the permit allows you to ride) were closed. But now, with the opening of Tokai Trails imminent and the amazing news about the single tracks around Table Mountain opening, this permit is a must have. The R500+ spent may not actually go towards any trail building or maintenance (it never has in the past) but this time I am paying the fee and writing it off as a thank you gift to Sanparks.
Sanparks has promised to update the signage around all the trails being opened. It is going to be very satisfying seeing the “No Mountain Biking” signs removed and replaced. The trails being opened are mainly the trails around Signal Hill and lower Lion’s Head (e.g. Pat’s Track, the Glen, the Pipe Track), and an off-road route through Newlands Forest, Kirstenbosch and Cecilia Forest to allow a safe undisturbed ride from Table Mountain to Constantia Nek. That means that there will be trails for all types of mountain bikers… The Glen and Pat’s Track for those that want something a bit more gnarly (knee pads and a dropper post are recommended)! And the linking trails from Camp Bay’s Pipe Track all the way around Table Mountain, through Rhodes Memorial & UCT, Newlands, Kirstenbosch and all the way to Constantia (and hopefully soon linking into Tokai) will give the marathon riders a fantastic loop to do massive mileage! It also provides great options for people wanting to commute by bicycle to and from work.
Ok, so the timing is good because let’s face it, the sooner the better. We have been waiting for this for years. BUT 1 December right through to April is going to be very busy with both locals and tourists using those trails for hiking, trail running, dog walking and now mountain biking. This will be particularly true on the trails around Signal Hill and lower Lion’s Head where the trails themselves are packed with hikers but are technical, tight, twisty, rocky and fast to ride on. Be vigilant and considerate in order to limit the dangers that this overcrowding will bring.
In these first few months, the new information about the trails being open to mountain bikers is not going to have had a chance to disseminate to everyone, so it is critical that all mountain bikers behave themselves, are considerate to other users and ride passively during peak periods. This means… ride within yourself, slow down for blind corners, greet other trail users, use a bell or whistle to warn people you are approaching, slow down for other users especially if the track is narrow, stop for dogs and horses, avoid any form of confrontation and don’t shout Strava! We need to toe the line or we risk losing what we have all desperately wanted so long and have now earned – access to more trails, especially single track.
We need to follow the mountain biking “code of conduct” set out by Sanparks and Table Mountain National Park, where most of the points made mimic the comments I have listed above and in a nutshell they say “don’t ride like a spoiled brat entitled douche bag”. However, one of the points in the official code of conduct did make me laugh… “avoid unnecessary braking”. I like to think of myself as being faster than most riders on a technical downhill section and so I would argue that all of those “slower” people are “braking unnecessarily”. It makes me feel better about myself, but this is not the point that the code of conduct is trying to make. They are basically asking all riders to not lock-up their brakes and skid around like teenagers on a joyride. It creates unnecessary dust, flicks up stones, causes erosion and will scare unsuspecting trail users and animals. It may be fun, but in the effort of continued shared trail use, we must be considerate of other trail users which means “skids are for kids” only!
The fact that trail runners and hikers have had a free “ride” all this time with Sanparks, not needing to contribute at all through purchasing permits, yet still having full access to all the trails, still seems to be too much for them to appreciate. But it does not change the fact that they will be annoyed that we as mountain bikers are now legally allowed to use the trails. There will be people who put stuff in the trails that will be dangerous for riders, so watch out for sabotage in the form of sticks, logs, rocks and dog poo. Expect these snipers around every turn.
We are very lucky that these rad trails have been opened up for mountain biking. We need to treat all the users of these trails, as well as the trails themselves, with respect and consideration. Let’s all enjoy our magnificent mountain together. It really is mother nature at her finest.