Extreme(ly) fun trails in Darling

Sus the Darling Brew Extreme

Date: 31 May 2014

Distance: 57km

Total Ascent: 1 085m

Report by:  Seamus Allardice @SeamusAllardice

Misty morning in Darling

The morning of the 31st of May was misty to say the least, in fact I’ve ridden in rain that was slower to soak you to the bone, but nothing could detract from the amazing trails the organisers of the Darling Brew Extreme had in store.

The mist even delayed the start as race entrants had trouble navigating the narrow roads to Darling. We got underway heading out towards the king of the mountain climb, and the spot prize, at the 7km mark. The wet clay roads of the valley gave way to rocky jeep track for the climb and once we crested the summit we were soon in the first stretch of great singletrack. To get there the route crossed the first of many styles and as would become the norm on the ride there was a rider lying prone at the foot of the style.

Now it was wet and slippery under tyre, but the styles were all simple with a straight run in and out. Even if you’re nervous all you have to do is grit your teeth, forget the breaks and let your momentum carry you up and over the style. Locking up at the top is a sure fire way to get yourself hospitalised. Fortunately, as I’ve subsequently heard, none of the injuries were as serious they at first looked and all the riders in question will be back on their bikes in no time. I wasn’t immune to a bit of a fall myself mind you…

Seamus on the Cannondale F29

Riding the Cannondale F29 hardtail with Cannondale’s new leftie fork, I had a blast on the flats and the climbs, but the narrow Kendra tyres with their small block tread pattern just accumulated clay until they effectively became slicks. On the first switch-back descent down a little valley I lost the front end on a tight corner and ended up going over the bars in spectacular fashion. I’ve got a nice yellow and purple bruise to show for the effort which is a great souvenir – as Stirling Junior says in his column in the June/July issue of Full Sus “if you’re not falling at least every ten rides you’re not learning.”

The route then took us into the amazing Wolwefontein MTB Trail sculpted by Darling Brew Extreme route designer Gabri Steyn. The 23km of singletrack is now open to the public too (click here for more info) so you can go ride it at your convenience. And I’d suggest you do! There are sections that in the mist looked other worldly, with granite boulders, moss and aloes creating a natural garden even the most skilled landscape designer would be proud of.

After the singletrack the route looped through Darling before heading out on the first of three big climbs. The second of which was a real dusi. It went straight up a steep koppie on a badly eroded farm road. Very few riders made the top without resorting to pushing their bikes and those that did had to zigzag to find a smooth line making their progress slower than most of their fellow pushing riders.

The final climb had me cursing the co-worker’s farewell party of the night before (don’t drink cream based shots, skip breakfast and think you’ll have sustained energy levels for a 50km plus ride the next day). Once I’d reached the top our little group of four – featuring the Bigshot Media guys, David and Doug Le Roux, Andrew Robb and myself found ourselves leading a little peloton of tired riders into the icy North Wester. After bombing through the scenic streets of Darling we were faced with an agonising final stretch across the small holdings behind town towards the Gabriel Pharaoh Sports Grounds where the race village was already pumping with Darling Brew flowing freely and artisan food stalls catering for that post-race hunger.

Check out all the race photos here, and remember to keep an eye out for the Darling Brew Extreme Challenge on the 2015 mountain biking calendar or enter Ride the Rhino in September if you’ve got a hankering to ride those amazing trails again.

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