The small community of Piket-Bo-Berg has become many a mountain biker’s dream after the unveiling of some of the very best trails the country has to offer. The U stage race went down in October and BRENDAN BELL completed the challenge.

No wide open gravel roads here – just some tight and technical single tracks.
Photo: Chris Hitchcock

Hands up those who’ve been to Piket-Bo-Berg before? Very few I bet. It all happens about two hour’s drive up the N7 and on the other side of Picketberg’s Versfeld Pass… this is where you’ll find a small, but established, farming community. The valley is littered with orchards of lemons, peaches and pears as well as majestic proteas and the popular buchu bushes. I’d heard a few tales of how brilliant and technical the previous year’s event had been and this year it promised to be even better with numbers having doubled. The organisers’ idea behind The U MTB Stage Race is to create a once a year event that is exceptional in all aspects – the race village nestled amongst the old oak and willow trees, the food, the vibe and of course the trails. What started as a Residents Association Fundraiser for the local school has spawned into something quite magical. Eric and Michele Starke, owners of Mouton Valley Farm, along with their farm manager, Rickus Jooste (trail builder) and his wife Delanie ensure that everything rolls along smoothly. So let’s talk about the actual race, we arrived late afternoon on the Friday, claimed our tents and geared up for The Prologue. 7.3km with 198m elevation – not compulsory but helps to seed riders. After a solid warm up of 100m we bolted off like wild horses through a zig-zag of pine tree switchbacks. It’s short and mean, but gives you a glimpse of what’s to come over the next 2 days. This was followed by quick, punchy climbs over rocky strata, more ups and downs, a few berms and a bridge that I confess almost got the better of me. After a quick, embarrassed glance around to see if anyone witnessed my close call I was back in the saddle to tackle the steep rocky climb ahead and the edgy descent finished off with a sprint across the finish line. Holy vlok that was kiff!

Brendan ripping up the U’s awesome trails!
Photo: Chris Hitchcock

Episode One: 52.2km with 1 419m elevation. With Doug Bird babbling over the PA system we slotted into B batch alongside a lemon orchard. Being warned to take it easy over the first half of the race, despite the short distance and 95% of the race on singletrack with few free pedaling kilometres, seemed a bit strange. We set off up Yellow Cliff road towards Buglers Post. Then through a playground
“pumptrack” complete with seesaw, dual trails, ramps, hanging bridge and a sprint course. I have to say that Rickus Jooste and the Royal Engineers (rather colonial!) have crafted some incredible trails. We popped out at the top of the Piketberg and descended down the now infamous Livingstone & Stanley trail. All I can say is if you think dropping into the Umkomaas Valley is exhilarating then you gotta try this puppy! The climb out was a tough 5km slog only made easier by seeing those around me suffering as well. We snaked our way along the musty scented river bank and headed back for a well-deserved cold beer. Day One – done and dusted!

Purpose built switchbacks for a high adrenalin rush.
Photo: Chris Hitchcock

Episode Two: 49.2km with 1293m elevation. Sunday morning, we set off to the rattle and hum of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “My Achy Breaky Heart” and headed out westwards. Up … up and away … Along hard packed ground and bumpy climbs we made our way through many twists and turns to the highest point of the day. We were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Swartland, stretching as far as Lamberts Bay. This was followed by my favourite section – the Greystone Express – 1.6km of pure downhill delight! Sh*t that was fun! Next up Suicide Run, 1.5km of quick, corner-smashing berms and switchbacks to keep the adrenalin flowing and then on through the The Canyon, a cave section that leaves you wondering about the lives of the San that must have inhabited it many years back, and then it was downhill to the finish line and yet another cold beer. This was truly a remarkable and unique experience that I was privileged to have taken part in … not soon to be forgotten. So, in short this is a singletrack stage race for technically competent riders with good fitness. Don’t be fooled by the distances (no matter what some say about length!) if you’re into Dopamine spikes then this ride is for you. It’s well organised and I have no doubt it will just get better and better. It will become an exclusive sold out affair over time and one you won’t want to miss out on. So my suggestion to you is mark it off on your calendar (19 – 21 October 2018) and enter early next year if it “ticks all your boxes”.You will most certainly not regret it!